How do you picture a missionary? Long, exotic-print skirts and t-shirts holding orphans in Africa? Suit and tie going house to house under a blazing hot Guatemalan sun? Perhaps it’s that guy with gospel tracts and a bull-horn on a street corner in Japan or maybe the one white guy sweating in the midst of a group of Indian seminary students. Whatever your view of missions may be, I can bet we’ve heard it. One doesn’t embark on the task of becoming a “missionary” without hearing plenty of assumptions about what you will do, how you will dress, and even how they think you should make a living.
As we have been on the road raising support for these last few months we have had even more opportunities to explain the mission God has called us to. To some, our calling seems to be more about compassion, to others it appears to be evangelistic. Missions philosophers and thinkers would probably consider our calling to work with orphans as “compassion ministry,” that is, ministry that shows the love of God to people and helps them overcome injustice, poverty, sickness, or some other “worldly” ailment. Compassion ministry is extremely important. Jesus healed the sick and the hurting everywhere he went. To exclude compassion from our ministry is to exclude one of the core elements of the gospel. No missionary can profess to preach the gospel without also showing compassion to those who are hurting. One Mission Society, the missions group we are a part of, has seen this and therefore considers compassion ministry to be a part of their four key emphases along with evangelism, church planting, leadership training, and partnership. Our work in Taiwan among the orphan population and particularly those with special needs fits every requirement to be considered compassion ministry.
But its more than that…
Its bigger than that…
To help the sick and heal the wounded is a worthy calling. To bring justice to the weak and freedom to the oppressed is admirable. Compassion ministry is the type of thing every missions group or organization wants to be a part of. It’s nice, it feels good and it looks good on a church website or missions poster. But none of it is enough. No amount of medicine or treatment can save a soul from the pain of being separated form God. No amount of political freedom, equality, or social justice can make a person truly free. Only the powerful life-changing relationship that God calls us to can truly heal our souls and set us free to love like God loved us. No matter how many orphans we “save” or children we “heal,” we will be doing them injustice if we do not introduce them and their families to God and let him complete the work of transforming their lives. All the compassion in the world is not enough to save a soul.
Just a few years ago there was a tragic landslide on the coast of Taiwan that killed several people and leveled many homes. The Buddhist monks were the first to provide aid and
were by far the most successful at providing medical care and rebuilding communities. In 2015 when that tragic earthquake struck Nepal the first responders were again Buddhist monks in the area. They follow a doctrine that preaches social justice and compassion on a level that surpasses most churches in America. Yet in spite of this, their efforts are done purely to achieve personal satisfaction and not to bring glory to God; in the end they will be utterly useless. As Christians we can do good deeds and even miracles in the name of compassion but these things are useless unless they are done to bring glory to God and to bring people closer to him.
That is why Jessica and I will always consider our ministry to be one of compassion and evangelism. We will never settle for merely helping the physical worldly needs of the Taiwanese without also inviting them to meet the only person who can truly save them, Jesus. Our ministry is compassion ministry, but it is also evangelistic. It is our desire that as we take care of the orphans that have been abandoned and ostracized by society, daily portraying the love and compassion of Christ, we will have the opportunity to explain why we have the freedom to do these things.
One example of what this looks like is shown in the daily life of my mom. As we mentioned in an earlier post, my parents care for a 3-year-old orphan named Champ. Champ has several severe disabilities and when my mom is taking him around in his stroller many people stop and stare. Partially this is because she is a white woman with a very obviously Chinese baby, partially it is because of the noticeable disabilities he has, but partially too is because of the way she shows him love, freely and unashamedly. Since fostering Champ my mother has been asked countless times how she manages to care for him. Almost always the same expression is used “You must have so much love!” And every time my mother has the opportunity to respond “It is not my love, but it is the love of the God I serve that allows me to love him. I am a channel for His love.”
This is what it means to do compassion ministry. It is not a matter of living a good life and simply hoping that someone will notice so you can awkwardly share that you are a Christian. It is putting yourself in a position so countercultural and so radically different that the only explanation for your kindness and love is the freedom that God has given you. This is why we have been called to go to Taiwan and serve the orphans. It’s not because we love orphans more than anybody else or because we want to accomplish some good deed. We are going so that the Taiwanese can understand and see what the love of God looks like. So that they can see the freedom Christ brings and that they too can live and love with that freedom.