It's not uncommon for my social media feeds to contain updates from missionaries or organizations doing relief work in developing countries. Sometimes these updates have something to do with lives being saved—often a mother who needed a C-section, a baby that would have died without prompt medical care, or a man who fell and suffered severe injuries. Every life is valuable, and we should celebrate that these lives were preserved.
But there is also part of me that can't help thinking, "What difference does it really make if a life is extended for a time, only for the person to die a little while later?" Whether it's months, years, or decades, the reality is that we can only delay the inevitable. It's not that I don't value each life, but if our acts of compassion only impact people on this side of the grave, our endeavors are ultimately an exercise in futility. Only when accompanied by hope of new life in Christ does this life have true and lasting meaning.
In the church I grew up in, the primary focus of missions and outreach (both local and cross-cultural) was on "saving souls". This was not to the exclusion of ministries of physical help, but the emphasis was definitely on calling people to repentant faith in Christ. The stories that moved us and motivated us were concerned with the lostness of those who were perishing without the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and the fate of those who reject Him.
But this kind of talk seems to have fallen out of favor. It now sounds egotistical and ethnocentric [and since I'm behind the times, feel free to throw in some modern buzzwords here] to talk this way about those who adhere to other "faith traditions", or no faith at all. Who am I, after all, to presume that you are lost and I am found, that you are perishing and I am saved? It's much more comfortable to call the Church to works that don't require these distinctions. Why don't we just focus on good things like education, clean drinking water, social justice, racial reconciliation, creation care, addressing systematic injustice, and ending human trafficking? Nowadays, these are the issues that tug at our heartstrings—and rightly so! The world we live in—one that contains all of this pain and suffering and injustice—is not as it should be.
There is much that could be said about our future hope, which involves the resurrection and a new heaven and new earth, where everything is set right. Delving into that would require a much longer post. So I'll just say this: When Jesus came into the world, He proclaimed that the Kingdom of God is at hand. God is reconciling the world to Himself, and He has called us Christians to be agents of reconciliation. But this does not just mean alleviating suffering in this world. Jesus clearly cared about the sick, the poor, and the downtrodden. But his works of healing were accompanied by a call to repentance and faith in Him.
2 Corinthians 5:16-21 is a "go-to" verse for me, and is one of the passages that motivates me to do what I do:
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.I am thankful to be part of a mission that is passionate about bringing physical help to people in remote places, and that also proclaims the Good News of forgiveness, hope, resurrection, and life eternal to those whose faith is in Jesus. Let me not shy away from sharing this message, even in a culture where it is unpopular. Let me not fail to do good works, but let these good works not be done in vain!