By Mark Kelly, Baptist Press
RICHMOND, Va. — All over the world, International Mission Board’s health care missionaries are living out “word and deed” Christian faith, and people are responding with decisions to follow Jesus — some of them in places where the good news of God’s love is only just now arriving.
During the Global Medical Alliance meeting June 1-5 near Richmond, Va., a steady stream of reports illustrated the wide variety of ways Southern Baptists merge proclamation of the gospel with demonstration of God’s love for suffering people:
n In West Africa, as the Ebola epidemic exploded, IMB workers focused on raising awareness and teaching prevention techniques in Liberia, Togo and Mali. About 424,000 people were reached through a combination of fliers, TV spots, speakers, hand-washing stations, music concerts and food distributions. Thousands heard the good news and more than 200 professed faith in Christ.
n In South Asia, a Vacation Bible School offering from First Baptist Church of Lafayette, purchased health and hygiene items that could be shared with terminally ill patients, along with health lessons and Bible stories. The distribution gave believers access to communities where they had been unwelcome before, and about 350 people accepted Christ — one of them on his deathbed.
n In Europe, missionaries used fitness programs, addiction recovery ministries, health seminars and hands-on medical service in communities plagued by alcoholism, obesity, smoking addiction, suicide and mental illness. About 4,200 people heard the gospel, and 790 decided to trust Jesus — including members of an unreached people group.
n In East Asia, health care strategies helped national believers conduct “word and deed” outreach in remote villages where the gospel was unknown. At the same time, health clinics in more than a dozen urban factories created opportunities for Western health care volunteers to partner with Asian counterparts. More than 1,000 people decided to follow Jesus — four of them among an unreached people group.
Authentic Christian faith helps suffering people in both body and soul, said Terry Lassiter, IMB’s lead strategist for reaching American peoples.
Jesus and his disciples followed a “preach and heal” strategy that combined presenting truth with meeting physical needs, Lassiter told the group. In fact, about two-thirds of the encounters with Jesus and the apostles recorded in the New Testament involved both proclamation and demonstration, he said.
Followers of Jesus must resist the temptation to favor preaching over healing — or vice versa, Lassiter added.
He quoted one writer who said: “The Social Gospel is like a body without a soul — it’s a corpse. Proclamation without a concern for the social dimension is like a soul without a body — it’s a ghost. We are neither atheists nor Gnostics. Gnostics reject the body and embrace the soul; atheists reject the soul and embrace the body. We are Christians, and we embrace both.”
During the annual Global Medical Alliance gathering, IMB health care missionaries discuss new approaches to their work and strategize about using health care strategies to enhance work among people groups where the good news of God’s love is not known.
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By Mark Kelly, Baptist Press