Others argue that when you meet physical needs the people just say what you want to hear to get those needs met and are not really believing or understanding the truths of the Bible. These are typically called "Rice Christians".
Complicated. There is really no other word for it. I see both arguments as valid, but I also live with a people group who need help that I can provide. So how do I ignore a physical need from my friend and neighbor? I can't.
NTM missionaries struggle with this as well. The focus of our ministry is to do literacy, Bible teaching, and translation all in the heart language of the people. That takes time. A LOT of time. Medical and other works take a lot of time too, and could slow down the work of the translation. Here in PNG missionaries work with a program called the "Village Health Volunteer" where villagers can get medical training and supplies to take care of the basic medical needs in their tribe. It is a win/win for us because it frees up missionaries and is something that the people can continue when we finish our works and phase out.
Our tribe's medical situation is a little more complicated than most, though because we are so remote. Many people from all over Hewa territory refer to our village as the "Hospital". That is completely scary for us, but the cold hard truth is that we are the best medical care that they have access to. So, my sweet co-worker, Susan, ends up doing A LOT of medical work. She is trained as a nurse and does all the training of our village medical workers. Those workers are very competent and caring, but they are not always in the tribe, or there may be "epidemics" at times where our village is full of very sick visitors each needing lots of attention from a medical worker. This spreads all the workers thin and keeps Susan very involved simply because of the high demand.
|Susan teaching some medical workers|
I am always in awe of what she accomplishes in the middle of the jungle with very limited supplies. I have had the privilege to watch her save lives, and I could tell you countless stories that would put you in awe of her work.
But this is my favorite...
A little family with a very sick newborn baby showed up in our village several months ago. Susan looked at this tiny baby boy who was almost lifeless and felt his rock hard belly full of infection from an umbilical cord being cut with a dirty razor blade (or some other sharp object). She fully prepared herself (and me) for the likelihood that his baby would not make it. But that didn't stop her from trekking her way over logs and up muddy paths to the house where the family was staying to give the baby medicine four times a day. The baby even got a huge umbilical hernia because his tiny stomach could not hold all the infection it contained.
The baby was so weak he didn't eat for days, and the mother was starting to loose her milk supply, so Susan took a very ancient and difficult breast pump into the house to extract milk from the mother and feed the baby through a syringe.
This was above and beyond what any medical worker would or even could do. And it was a special testimony to this family who lived in a neighboring village and had not heard the Gospel yet. Traditionally, no one would ever work this hard to save an infant younger than three months old because babies are believed to not have "spirits" or souls at until that time. In their own village, it really just wasn't worth it to anyone else to help this baby. But it was worth it to these new parents and it was worth it to Susan. Her tireless care made such an impact on this family that they decided to move to our village to "hear God's talk" and they even went back to their village to get more family members who needed to hear as well.
|The baby is free of infection and the hernia has even gone down some|
It was a huge testimony to how meeting a physical need can truly have a great impact for the Gospel, and how even though there needs to be a balance, compassion works cannot be completely ignored in ministry.
Our God is a God of compassion. Just do a keyword such on it and see how many pages you get to scroll through. How can we not show compassion to people when we are supposed to teach them who He is and how to be like Him?
Matthew 14:14 says, "When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick."
Jesus had compassion on them and healed their sick. He didn't just preach and teach. He didn't just challenge Pharisees and tell parables. He had compassion on their physical needs as well as their spiritual. And I have heard people argue that all that healing was just to prove His authority, so people could believe in what He was teaching, but if that were the case, then I think that is exactly what this verse would say. But it doesn't. It says He had compassion. The Greek word here means "to be moved in one's inward parts". It wasn't just the job He was sent to do. He really felt for these people and their physical needs. Did He know how short and brief this life on earth is? Did He know that the best thing for all of us is to focus on heaven and not our daily struggles and earthly suffering. YES! Of course! He is God after all. But he still cared for their life here on this earth and the suffering they endured no matter how brief. Yes, His end goal was the care and restoration of their souls, but He truly loved people as they were right then. Flesh and blood. Physical beings.
So, if Jesus himself cared about the physical. Then I have to also. And I know there has to be a balance, but I have a great example to follow in His life and ministry to figure out how to minister to the physical as well as the spiritual.
And I am blessed with a coworker who figured this out years ago, and has been filled with compassion for the Hewa people ever since.