One of the ministries EPM has long supported is MedSend, a group that funds qualified healthcare professionals to serve the physical and spiritual needs of people around the world. Our friend John Brose was one of EPM’s original supporters since our beginning in 1990. Dr. Brose was a member of our church, a beloved physician, and a former missionary physician to Burundi who served on the board and was vitally involved with MedSend. He often talked to me about this important ministry and told me stories of what God was doing through them.
John Brose was particularly excited about how MedSend offers student loan repayment grants to healthcare professionals who are headed for career healthcare missions service. He explained to me how medical missions has been greatly hampered through the extreme debt often involved in going to medical school. Those who have aspirations to go overseas to places of greatest need often owe so much money that they are hindered from following their heart to serve in poor countries. MedSend exists partly to help pay off the medical school debts of missionaries while taking them to serve Christ among the poor.
Dr. Geoffrey Moses, serving with his family in a country in West Africa that has had the highest infant mortality rate and the lowest life expectancy in the world, is one of those medical missionaries who has received loan help through MedSend. They recently sent this short and deeply touching video featuring him. Dr. Moses details what happened when he met a woman in a remote village in Western Africa who had metastatic breast cancer that had gone undiagnosed and untreated:
Watching the video of Dr. Moses reminds me that I often hear it said that we should just get people the gospel and not talk about physical, social, and justice issues. But exactly the opposite is true. When we advocate for people and care for them in their distress, that’s when the words of the gospel have the most impact. Why? Because people know we love them, and we are giving ourselves for them. Nothing opens up doors for evangelism like need-meeting ministries.
When he read aloud Isaiah in the synagogue, Jesus applied to himself and his ministry these prophetic words: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…” (Luke 4:16-19). To him, the Gospel was inseparable from tending to people’s spiritual and material needs.
Of course, instead of advocating acts of compassion and justice alongside the Gospel, some offer it in place of the Gospel. That’s neither truly compassionate nor just, because to leave out the Gospel is to leave out Jesus.
Consider these well-known figures in church history who cared for people’s spiritual and physical needs:
- John Wesley actively opposed slavery, and encouraged mine workers to unite in order to resist the inhuman treatment by their employers.
- Evangelist Charles Finney had a major role in the illegal Underground Railroad, saving the lives of many blacks, all while under criticism from fellow Christians because of his civil disobedience. His college, Oberlin College, became a major stop on the Underground Railroad. (I need to make clear that this example is not an endorsement of Finney’s theology, but his humanitarian and anti-slavery efforts. As do others, I have serious disagreements with many of the theological statements Finney made, related to perfectionism and the atonement. See this article.)
- D. L. Moody opened homes for underprivileged girls, rescuing them from hopelessness and exploitation.
- Charles Spurgeon built seventeen homes to help care for elderly women, and a large school for hundreds of children. Spurgeon and his church built homes for orphans in London, rescuing them from starvation and vice on the streets.
- Amy Carmichael intervened for the sexually exploited girls of India, rescuing them from temple prostitution. She built them homes, a school, and a hospital.
We remember each of these Christians for their evangelism but forget their commitment to personal and social intervention for the weak, needy, and exploited. Perhaps the effectiveness of their evangelism was due to the fact that, unlike many other Christians of their day—and this day—they lived out the gospel they preached. There’s no conflict between the gospel and social concern and action. In fact, there is a direct connection between them. The Great Commission is not our only mission, but to love God and to love our neighbor is. But properly understood, standing up for the weak and needy and vulnerable and speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves is not a distraction from the Great Commission or “the main thing”— rather, it’s an essential part of the main thing.
Love isn’t just something we display on a wall hanging; it’s something we do: “Little children, let us love not in word and speech, but in action and truth” (1 John 3:18, BSB). Jesus said, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching” (John 14:23, NIV). Jesus’ teaching often centered on loving people, as in the story of the Good Samaritan who freely gave of his time and money to care for a stranger who’d been beaten and robbed (Luke 10:25-37). Jesus told us to love the poor, even to put on a feast for them (Luke 14:12-14). He said we should tend to the disadvantaged just as we would if He Himself were the one in need (Matthew 25:31-46).
Jesus also said to love the spiritually poor by bringing them the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20) and by praying that God would send out workers to reach them (Matthew 9:37-38). He modeled evangelistic outreach that took into consideration the unique needs of the individual (for example, John 4:1-42).
In my book Giving Is the Good Life, I write about how in India, people rely on a family member or a paid assistant to care for them in hospitals. When a team of Christ-followers met a man with no one attending him, the first thing they did was wash him. He made it clear they could help him as long as they didn’t try to convert him from his strong Hindu faith.
Days later the hospital discharged the man, as there was nothing more they could do—he was dying.
The team placed the old man in a home for the elderly, where they visited and cared for him regularly. The day the man died, a Christ-following staff member asked him where he thought he would go when he died. The believer held the man’s hand while sharing the good news of God’s love with him.
The Christian asked the old man if he’d like to repent of his sins and live forever with Jesus in Heaven. Unable to speak, but clearly responsive, the man squeezed his hand to indicate agreement. The old man squeezed his hand again when the staff member asked to pray for him. The faint smile on this man’s face was a great encouragement to the team that loved him right up to the moment he moved from this life to the next. By showing love through meeting his physical needs, the team was able to prepare this man to hear the gospel and ultimately meet his spiritual needs.
By Randy Alcorn, Eternal Perspective Ministries, www.epm.org. Used with permission.