Responding in Word and Deed
ell, that ought to be rather obvious, shouldn’t it? Aren’t we supposed to help when we see a pressing need: a child dying of starvation, a community destroyed by an earthquake, a people group annihilated by genocide, a region of God’s world wiped out by a mudslide or an earthquake? Many readers of Mosaic have taken heed to the stern warnings of books like When Helping Hurts and Toxic Charity which warn Western Christians of the potential harm we can inflict on the Global South through uninformed financial support distributed to the poor. Others may think that their meagre means are not enough to make any difference. Or, and I often hear this, the needs in our community nearby are so great that we should be taking care of our own neighbours. But rest assured, friends, helping truly helps.
As I write this today, the world is facing the greatest economic and health challenge of the past 100 years. At the same time, farmers in the Horn of Africa are confronting unprecedented swarms of locusts, destroying food supplies for millions of people. Venezuela and Yemen are facing their worst humanitarian crises in their history. Earthquakes of 7+ magnitude have inflicted havoc on communities in New Zealand, Russia, Mexico and Jamaica. Forest fires have destroyed large swaths of land in California and Australia. There are looming food crises in Lebanon and India.
On Canada Day, July 1, I received this urgent text message from a close friend in the DR Congo: “Terry, can CBM help us urgently? Our people are dying of starvation because they haven’t received any stipend for food purchases in the past 3 months. I don’t know where else to turn.”
That morning, I was reflecting on 2 Cor. 8 & 9, where the Apostle Paul pleaded with the (wealthy) church in Corinth to come to the aid of their brothers in sisters in the (much poorer) church in Jerusalem during a time of great famine. Others had given generously, even when they had less means. Make good on your promise of solidarity and follow the example set out by our Lord Jesus who, though He was rich, made Himself poor so that we might be made rich. Give generously. “You will be enriched in every way so that you may be generous on every occasion, which is producing through us thanksgiving to God, because the service of this ministry is not only providing for the needs of the saints but is also overflowing with many thanks to God.” (2 Cor. 9:10-11 New English Translation). In other words, helping helps. How can we possibly say no to such a dire appeal for aid from one of our closest partners?
There are, broadly speaking, two types of disasters – rapid and slow. Rapid disasters include cyclones, earthquakes, floods, etc. that are often seasonal and regional. Slow onset disasters include famine and drought. These are typically the result of deforestation, climate change and environmental degradation. Some are man-made, due to human actions that cause inestimable harm to ecosystems. Others are natural phenomena.
During my tenure as a director at CBM, I have received many pressing requests like the one mentioned above, from partners in Indonesia during the tsunami, El Salvador during mudslides, Kenya during times of drought, South Sudan during civil war and Lebanon, during the Syrian refugee crises. I could go on and on. Inevitably, these are the most dire messages we receive. People’s lives and livelihoods are in the balance. How can we help?
CBM is not a mission agency specializing in disaster response. Thank God that others are! The costs are typically very high. The standards are rigorous and the restrictions can be prohibitive. However, by God’s grace, His people – the Church, are almost always present and able to provide help and care wherever disasters strike. Former CBM General Secretary Gary Nelson shared with me a conversation he had with the President of Canada’s largest Christian humanitarian aid agency at the time of the Indonesia tsunami. Gary told him that we had thousands of agents on the ground the moment the disaster struck. “How could that possibly be, when we have to charter airplanes and hire hundreds of staff?” he was asked. “Oh, that’s obvious,” Gary responded. “We work with local churches and they are present everywhere.”
By partnering with local churches, we can channel Canadian Baptist aid almost immediately to the people on the ground. As a result, help is given, the Church shows God’s love and the witness of the gospel is strengthened in word and deed.
In this very exceptional edition of Mosaic, you will read the stories of some of our true heroes – men and women who were present during earthquakes, famines, genocide, droughts and civil wars. But their testimonies are not about their own heroic deeds as much as they are the witness of Canadian Baptists who responded to global crises. Please read their accounts slowly and ask yourself how you can be part of a movement of God’s people who know how and when to respond when disasters strike. Can you invest not just your time and finances, but also your heart into the dark places of human suffering and help heal a broken world?
Or, as the English poet, Ted Hughes, wrote “The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.” Because helping helps.
CBM Executive Director