Is the Church Doing Any Good?

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In my work at GAIN, I hear and write about stories of desperation, help, and hope in struggling places like Zimbabwe, Liberia, South Sudan, and East Africa. Recently, I attended a trip debrief meeting to hear what took place during an assessment in Zimbabwe. GAIN distributed seeds to some communities in previous years, and our team returned to learn the progress and to see what other development projects we could aid. We heard stories like this:

Two pastors in one village have huge vision. They realize their job is not just to preach, teach, and visit, but to love. They caught the attention of their community by doing things like building desks for the school, helping repair water wells, and clearing land for a community garden. They mobilized pastors from other churches and denominations to labor with them. The people watching this unfold were astounded. Pastors working together in this way was unheard of in their culture. As a result, respect of the church was elevated, and hearts were open to receive the Gospel message.

A female pastor in another village was inspired by the two pastors. She began a church garden to help feed people in her village. She recognized the requirement to expand her garden because needs around her were great. She took out a loan to purchase more seeds, a water pump, and other necessary supplies. She has been able to sell excess produce and is close to repaying the loan. In her village, people have taken notice. They understand the church cares for them.

There are many more stories like this. What struck me is how in story after story, the church gains credibility by helping the community accomplish what they might not otherwise. Why is that not the case in affluent countries like mine?

The good news is there are many churches in the US working hard to help others. Some help the elderly by doing home repairs or yard work. Some pack weekend food for children who don’t get meals other than those they get at school. Some help immigrants apply for citizenship. Some pack seeds or rice and bean meals to send to developing countries. Some take food to homeless in downtown areas. Some regularly send teams to other countries to build churches, drill wells, or teach about AIDS prevention and Biblical love. Some visit people in prison. The list goes on and on.

But, do we hear about these things? Not usually. Sadly, the media loves to tell stories of church mistakes. Yes, churches make mistakes. And unfortunately, some are misguided. We are all flawed. We are all learning – together.

Thankfully, there is One who forgives our mistakes and misguided understanding. God has seen it all. He isn’t taken by surprise. His desire is for the church to become like His Son by the power of His love.

Church, let’s be bold in our good deeds so that the love of Christ will flow through us. Let our communities take notice!

In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. Matthew 5:16

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Learning to Bless

It’s likely people say I bless them in one way or another, and maybe this is a frequent occurrence. While I’m grateful that I am a blessing to people, I realize I generally don’t go out of my way to bless, especially people I don’t know. Starting up conversation isn’t my forte. I know people who can befriend a stranger within the first five minutes of meeting them. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for me. Apparently, I need some schooling. Being intentional about blessing others is part of God’s lesson plan for me.

IMG_0186My family recently vacationed in beautiful San Diego, California. As we walked down the sidewalk near the harbor, I noticed two men sitting on separate benches, each with their possessions stacked beside them. In front of them sat a plastic cup for passers by to drop in money. We didn’t stop. In fact, after mentioning it to my husband, he hadn’t even noticed them. (That comment isn’t meant to put him down. He’s very task oriented, and we were heading to a specific location, and that’s where his focus was. There’s no looking around at people and things when we have somewhere to be. Ha Ha!) It made me wonder that those guys must feel invisible.

IMG_0179A while back, we decided to purchase some McDonald’s gift cards to have on hand for such occasions. We remembered to bring one with us on that day. As we walked back past that spot a couple hours later, one of the guys still sat on the bench. As we approached, I noticed he picked up the cup in front of him and dumped out a few coins that had been dropped in. I envisioned someone walking by, dropping in the coins and continuing to walk. My husband had the gift card in hand. We stopped, spoke briefly to him and handed him the card. My husband told him we’d be praying for him. I hope that action was a small blessing to him. We didn’t just drop the card in the cup and keep walking, but we offered him dignity by placing the card in his hand and speaking directly to him. I also know we could have done better by sitting down with him for a few minutes and having a conversation, or going and grabbing lunch for us and him and eating together. Intentional blessing is a learning process.

IMG_0173Through my work with Cru and GAIN, I believe I will have opportunities to bless people intentionally. Of course, the work I do as a writer for GAIN is an indirect way of blessing suffering people who live in some of the hardest places in the world. Closer to home, I pray that I am able to be more relational with people around me, blessing them with actions, words, and maybe even by challenging them to grow in their relationship with Christ.

A wise friend and pastor explained in a recent sermon that focusing on small changes eventually leads to big changes. He challenged our congregation to think of one word and a corresponding verse to focus on over the next year. My word is BLESS. What is yours?

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. I Peter 4:10