I can’t imagine what it would be like to have my entire livelihood swept away in one fell swoop. I don’t even like changes to my routine and think life is great—as long as its trundles along unhindered. Then life throws an unexpected curveball and brings a different perspective on things. It’s wise to plan for the future, and it’s much easier to handle challenges when you’ve been taking care of business along the way, but sometimes events are way beyond our control.
Imagine one minute driving home in your car, the next minute you are being carried away by flash floods. A few weeks ago, Pakistan was affected by the worst floods in living memory, killing at least 1,400 people. It left hundreds of thousands injured and homeless; millions were affected in different ways.
Natural disasters can be incredibly unpredictable. Changing rainfall patterns, floods and drought affect the poorest most because they are the least able to adapt to these climatic changes. For example, in Pakistan, many of those affected by the floods were people dependent on agriculture and the destruction of their crops and livestock left them facing hunger and uncertainty. They now face the soul-wrenching task of having to rebuild their lives from scratch.
I work for Christian relief agency Tearfund U.K., and I’m in daily communication with supporters on all aspects of Tearfund’s work. Our phone lines have been red hot for the past few weeks. What started out a gentle stream soon turned into a raging river: A lady couldn’t go on her holiday unless she’d done something to help the flood victims; an older gentleman donated despite barely even having enough money for himself; and a young man gave despite his recent redundancy. Hearing these stories was a humbling experience for someone like me. I flinch whenever I have to share my last piece of chewing gum, and I seem forever preoccupied with work that needs to be done.
However, it’s not necessarily about striving to have more; because when God establishes His upside-down Kingdom … less is more.
And while these phone calls were happening, and while people across the globe turned on their TVs and thought about whether or not to respond, the Church was already right there at the epicenter of the disaster distributing food, clothes, temporary shelter, carrying out door-to-door visits and identifying people in need. They reminded me of the early church, a community where members voluntarily shared their possessions with one another, even selling their personal property as required when funds were needed to help the poor. Things happened just because Jesus was among them. They didn’t have iPhones or flat screen TVs, but simply lived with a love for Christ and each other and proclaimed the Gospel with their lives, not just with their mouths.
I simply love that about the Church. In many parts of the world the church is the first place people run to in times of trouble because it’s at the heart of poor communities. It’s there for the long term with a promise of sustainable development and doesn’t haphazardly parachute down into theaters of poverty and suffering only to disappear the following week. This means that as the focal point of many communities, it has consistence and stability when other NGOs fail or governmental structures prove unreliable. Crucially the local church is rooted in culture and local history, and therefore has the credibility, knowledge and expertise to maintain trustful relationships. People are empowered to shake off charity dependence, and to once again experience the dignity of earning their own livelihoods. Poor communities are equipped to identify root problems and build ownership of development initiatives to help them solve those problems themselves. Secular NGOs might struggle to match this.
It got me thinking, what would happen if we, the church in the West, rolled up our sleeves, got our hands dirty, got to know people’s struggles and let our own struggles be known?
Through my work over the years, I have witnessed how God has called seemingly ordinary people to extraordinary action. Time and time again, I hear about life-transforming ideas beginning with only a few inspired individuals. Their visions became tangible movements that spread across local and national boundaries like wildfire. And the successes of those visions have not solely depended on their gifts and training or even available resources, but on a connectedness to their community and a desire to use their God given passions to reach out to their neighbors.
A recurring pattern starts to emerge. It’s a question about relationship, not merely a question about money, power or social justice. It’s about knowing the names and faces of our neighbors and letting these relationships change us from the inside out because Jesus did not just leave changed individuals, He left supernatural community, a group of changed individuals together operating in the power of the Holy Spirit.
They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:42–47 (NIV)