I know many Christians who have a passion for social justice and helping the poor. I love these people but I was never in love with their mission. Their words might say “I want to tell people about Jesus” but their actions express that their mission is accomplished when someone hungry is fed.
This article, written by an experienced missionary, really resonates with me. Steve Saint says:
When we try to meet phantom needs of people who live at a lower material standard than we have learned to consider “minimal,” we not only fall into a trap that keeps us from seeing their real needs but we also tempt them into a snare that can raise their perception of need beyond what their economy can support.
I highly recommend reading the whole thing to get the full picture of what he is advocating for. So, what is the “real need” he speaks of? It is the same real need everyone on earth has. They need to follow Christ. It’s possible to give aid to someone and not help them, even hurt them. I think Christians do it all the time. I’m not saying to never help someone who is cold, hungry, thirsty or being abused. That would be an over-reaction to this idea. Always love others please. I am saying, you are not doing the Great Commission if you are not making disciples. I am saying, help others to love God and love others.
This good book, When Helping Hurts, is probably helpful in understanding more about this issue.
We need to redefine correctly what poverty is. We live in a world where there might be a guy living in a hut that is more content than a rich man living in his condo. A universal definition of poverty is needed to make more sense of all this.
For me, a place like Japan is in great need. Not because they were recently hit with a devastating earthquake and tsunami and certainly not because they lack nice things. They are in need because they lack faith in Christ. Some surveys say Japan is the most secular nation in the world. In a way, that could mean they have the most in need the world! If there can be a mission to go to Japan and help them meet the need of knowing and following Christ, then sign me up for that mission. That’s a mission I can fall in love with.