"we’re there to help, period"

Thus opines an ordained minister of a Christian church. The context is this story concerning the rescue of Indonesian tsunami orphans and their placement in a Christian home:

A Virginia-based missionary group said this week that it has airlifted 300 “tsunami orphans” from the Muslim province of Banda Aceh to Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, where it plans to raise them in a Christian children’s home.

That is the story, but it is the subtext that is also worthy of note. The presumption appears to be that it is acceptable for Christian missionary groups to render aid, but only on the condition that they don’t evangelize. The group is World Help, and they are really stepping up and into the gap.

Unfortunately, it appears that may have run afoul of the mainstream media’s presumption that Christians are ok, just as long as they don’t try to convert the heathen. The heathen in this case being Indonesian Muslims. Sadly, the media has company in the form of some Christians who appear more concerned with making nice with Muslims than with spreading the Gospel. From the story, the tag line explained:

The Rev. Arthur B. Keys Jr., president of Arlington-based International Relief and Development, a non-religious aid group that has a U.S. government contract to rebuild the water and sanitation system in Banda Aceh, said he feared overt evangelizing could produce a backlash. “I think there’s a danger that all international groups could be tarnished by this,” said Keys, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. “I think we have to go out of our way to assure people that we’re there to help, period.”

By which Mr. Keys means, we will help tsunami victims, but not spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is not to criticize any who help; much is needed. And there is something unseemly about so-called Christian missionaries who, right off the bat, hand out Bibles and start singing hymns while villagers are starving.

It’s just that the mindset seems to be, even among many churches and missionary groups, that there is something a little bit embarrassing about preaching the Gospel as part of helping. We should never be shamed out of declaring that we are there to help in the name of Jesus. And that to come to know Jesus will also help.

Of course, medical attention, food, clothing, and shelter come first. But, aside from a false sense of embarrassment, or political correctness, there is no reason we can’t preach the Gospel while providing these other essentials — for the Gospel is also an essential.

That the locals may be offended? Hard cheese. We are there to help. That the powers that be are not Christian is at the heart of why we must preach the Gospel. The down side? The locals, being perhaps self-righteous, will feel threatened. And, since Muslim governments are generally not known for their religious tolerance, may simply refuse the proffered aid. In which case, the people suffer.

Which Christians will not let happen if they have a choice. In such a case, my advice to the mission groups would be to smile sweetly, thank the locals for letting us provide assistance in their nation, and go underground with the Gospel message. Providing the aid, and getting the Gospel message across as best we can without causing those in need to go without just because their government is cruel.

Update: Sadly, the plans to save, in the worldly sense, those 300 tsunami orphans, have been canceled due to the Indonesian government’s cowardice. Washington Post story here.

It’s worth considering this, from Rev. Vernon Brewer, president of World Help:

In the message Thursday, Brewer said he makes “no apologies for the fact that World Help is a Christian organization.” He said the organization was now seeking other orphaned children in need of a home and was making every effort to ensure that all funds raised for tsunami children are used as designated.

“We’re really not trying to proselytize,” Brewer said in an interview with Reuters. “It’s no different than what Mother Teresa did by taking Hindu orphan children and placing them in a Roman Catholic children’s home in Calcutta, and she won the Nobel Peace Prize for doing that.”

Res ipsa loquitur.

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