“What are we supposed to do with a thousand pairs of flip-flops?”
I imagine this was the question for a pastor at BCC a few weeks or months ago. A local school had a fund raiser for a missions trip to Kenya, and they chose to collect flip-flops for the African children the team would meet.
They weren’t expecting a thousand pairs, and getting that many shoes from Nebraska to Kenya no doubt meant logistics and expenses and effort.
They get to the city and meet the couple who are running a ministry to children orphaned by AIDS and other diseases, and they find out that–oddly enough–the wife has been specifically praying for flip-flops for the 700+ kids she cares for.
On top of that, the team brought clothing and sundry goods, stuff we don’t even stop to think about like toothpaste and soap. It was like they were handing out treasure.
The team built two church buildings, visited with orphans, provided for needs, and even supplied joy in the form of soccer uniforms and balls. They saw returns on work they’ve been doing for over ten years, contradicting the thought that missions teams just show up for a week or two, then never come back to build relationships or follow up.
Teams I’ve supported or even traveled with have brought cases of medical and dental supplies, pulling rotted teeth and distributing basic vitamins and medicine. They have brought basic food, meeting the practical and real-life needs of the people.
Back on Okinawa, that one church partnered with several others to perform medical missions twice a year, to the Philippines and then Cambodia.
I know from a trip to the rural parts of the Philippines how much I take for granted.
A woman brought her infant to me and asked for prayer for his fever. I felt the baby’s head and ulled my hand away shocked. I thought about if it had been me with one of my kids. Jonathan was about four months old at the time, and so I thought of him. I would have been flying down the highway to the emergency room. My baby would have been full of Infant Motrin and Infant Tylenol and any other thing I thought might help.
This woman didn’t have any of that.
She and her child stand out as the memory of that trip for me. Her desperation and need for something we could meet with no real great expense or thought still haunts me. The unwillingness or apathy of Christians regarding meeting these needs… That frightens me.
Despite it being generally understood that Jesus’ last order to His people was to go into all the world and make disciples, we don’t always see a church that looks out past its building, past its community, past even the borders of its country.
In spite of common sense telling us that people need more than Bibles and “decisions for Christ,” that sometimes turns into the image we have of “reaching out to the world” with the love of God.
More than all of the above, we provide ministry to churches and we preach the Gospel to those who have not heard… Or who have seen no reason to believe before.
There are stories of missionaries handing out Bibles and being rejected. “Do you think I want your book? Will this feed my children? Will it keep them warm? Can your book be a roof or a bed? I don’t need this.”
We come not just with a Bible and a sermon, but with aid for real needs because our sermons based on the Bible tell us to do more than just give out a book or a tract. Sometimes we need flip-flops to deliver our message.
Some of my agnostic and atheist friends would say to deliver the latter, the real needs, while leaving the former at home in church.
They would ask, shouldn’t we do this practical ministry just for the sake of doing it? Should the goodness of the deed be enough to motivate the deed? Should we do this without such an obvious emphasis on Christ?
Maybe it’s not enough to clarify that the response to evangelism is not connected in any way to the services received. But we’re out doing something about the suffering and tremendous need in the world, and we’re putting every cent and every bit of the supplies and support we raise into the people we encounter.
If you can find a better organization that does what you want more effectively, great. Support them. But if not, consider partnering with those who are meeting practical needs in the lives of others.