The motive for charity in missions
Going around Swaziland, all over one will find proof of the involvement of the church in this country. The same will also apply to most other “mission” countries. Everywhere one will find schools linked to churches: Methodist, Reformed, Catholic, Evangelical. Our church also have five schools linked to the church. Because of the high costs involved, Christian hospitals are less common, although the Church of the Nazarene has a large hospital in Manzini in Swaziland.( In Malawi there is a huge hospital together with a very good ophthalmology centre at Nkhomo, run by the Dutch Reformed Church.)
In my early years of study, a topic which was often raised in our missiology class, was what the motive is behind these services and facilities. I am pretty sure that most of these facilities were started as a way to help the local people get access to these services. Often (not always) the Christians schools have a much higher standard of teaching than government schools. Hospital facilities are often better. These facilities were therefore often started as an honest desire to help the people.
But behind this, there was also often the hope that people would come to repentance through these facilities. And I think that many of these facilities were started not because there was a special need for them, but because the church saw this first and foremost as a means towards evangelism. In my earlier days in Swaziland, when we had our annual report meetings with the bodies which subsidised our work, one of the standard paragraphs was to report on the preaching of the gospel at the different schools linked to our church. I for one am becoming more and more convinced that this has very little if any positive influence on the children’s lives.
The question about our motive was recently highlighted in a movie that someone recommend that I watch: The Motorcycle Diaries. Be warned: The language, especially at the start, is not intended for sensitive viewers. It is an excerpt from a part of the life of Che Guevara, the well-known guerrilla leader in South America. Regardless of whether one agrees with his political viewpoints or not, the movie does give some insight into certain episodes which influenced his way of thinking. After he had finished his medical studies, he and his close friend Alberto Granado went on a motorcycle tour throughout South America and eventually ended up at a Roman Catholic leprosy mission where Che Guevara spent a lot of time helping these people. At one point the two are shown where they enter the dining room to get lunch, which is then denied to them. The reason: You may only eat if you had attended mass – and they did not attend mass!
When we started with our home-based caring project in Swaziland, I had to struggle through this issue. Why am I doing this? What is my motive? Is it to recruit members for our church? Is it to try and break new ground for the Lord? It took a few months for me to sort these things out in my mind. Eventually I came to the conclusion that I want us to do this merely because I believe that Jesus would have done it if He had been living as a human being in Swaziland today. And we have to be His hands and feet today!
While reporting back at our annual meeting last year and having shared the exciting things that we had experienced since starting with this work, there was a moment of silence as some of those who had heard for the first time the story of how God led us to do this work tried to comprehend what had happened. And then suddenly one person started speaking. He told us that we were all wrong! That we were doing this in the wrong way! That we were putting the horse before the cart! I wondered what he was trying to tell us. And then he said: Before you help people, you need to bring the gospel to them. Before they receive clothes and medicine, they first have to repent first!
I felt as if someone had kicked me in the stomach. Feeling totally disheartened, I replied meekly that we are building relations with our patients and that we truly hope that the time will come when we can also share more with them than food, clothing and medicine. But for the moment, we are happy just to do what we believe God has called us to do!
People can never be tricked into becoming Christians. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:4, it is the Holy Spirit that persuades us. Obviously we honestly hope and pray that through our actions and through our words, people whom we work with will come to faith. In fact, we are convinced that some have already come to faith in this way. We have even had a few people who decided to join our church because of the testimony of what we are doing. But this can never be the motive for our actions. Ultimately, we are just doing what we believe Jesus would have done, even to those who decide to reject Him.
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