“Progressive social concern, both private and political, was nearly eliminated among evangelicals between 1900-1930.”
This is what I learned in class. To add context, at this point I had 6 days of OnBoarding completed. This training is required for anyone joining Mercy Ships as a long-term crew member. It includes discussion and lecture about the foundations and structure of the organization, the foundations of the faith we share, personal development, and cross-cultural training.
This particular day we talked about the influence of Christians such as William Wilberforce, William Carey, Mother Theresa, Florence Nightingale and Bono. They all had something in common. Their faith compelled them to action and they are responsible for some of the most applauded changes to society.
I saw in them a desire to help, to change society for the better. Social reform was initiated and injustices were righted because men and women of faith were acting out their beliefs. It’s inspirational. Orphanages, improved health care and sanitation, the abolition of slavery, scientific blending with religious… these advances were spearheaded by people who thought their belief in Jesus should affect their world.
“Godly principles are to be a blessing and have a profound positive effect on societies.” This was also taught in class. This thought defines what I believe and endorses the aim of Mercy Ships.
In the early 1900’s, the tide changed. Somewhere along that road, there was a shift from a holistic, social gospel that alleviated poverty, to a Gospel that only cared about salvation.
At this point my thoughts ran ahead of me and spiraled out of control. I remembered all the times people ask if and how we share the Gospel with the patients. The short answer is no, we don’t. I’m too busy giving them medicine, practicing my Malagasy with them, wiping their intimate areas, explaining what to expect after surgery, making sure they understand what surgery they’re having, encouraging them to walk in the halls, being a nurse! All for free! It comes at no charge to them.
|Photo Credit Josh Callow|
That’s where I got emotional. My tears welled up and I couldn’t hold them in anymore. My heart felt grieved and I was angry. How far have we come? How many people have we pushed away over the decades? I left the room to sob. I had never felt so passionately disappointed at missionaries of the past.
Thankfully, I had forgotten mascara that morning. It would’ve been smeared around my eyes at this point.
All of a sudden the fight between incarnational living and proclamational living seemed mute. Offering Jesus to the patients in the form of the ‘Roman’s Road’ or a call to repentance reminds me of the European missionaries to Africa many years ago. They came with good intentions and built beautiful chapels. You can find European traditional churches throughout Africa. To me, they represent a culture pushing much more than religion on Africa. Rather, they are pushing their culture on Africa.
How often have we done just exactly that?
Am I getting to know them as people first? Am I learning their language?
Am I meeting their physical needs first? Am I caring for them holistically?
Am I ushering in the kingdom of God, which touches every aspect of life, not just spiritual?
How can we offer her the name of Jesus and salvation for her soul while we ignore her broken body?
But the truthful answer is yes, we share the Gospel with every patient that comes aboard, and even some that never make it on board. We just don’t do it the same way each time.
A hospital stay in any African nation means they pay for their own medicine, food, and hospital supplies. The care from nurses is minimal; family members are the ones that feed them and wash them. On the Africa Mercy, the nurses care for the patients as if we were all family.
So we don’t always ask them to repent from their sins and follow Jesus. Sometimes we do. But usually we are carrying healing touches of love in our hands and our smiles.
Of course, I don’t know the answer. I believe Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. My life makes no sense without Him. But as a nurse caring for African people, there is more to being a missionary than the eternal consequences of my actions. There is a very long, hard life ahead of these people, and I believe Jesus wants to enter there as well.