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Change that Lasts

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Many Alliance people are amazing change agents, pouring themselves out to see lives transformed. When Hurricane Katrina hit, teams from dozens of Alliance churches rushed to help people in hard-hit areas rebuild their homes and lives. When the high rates of infant mortality and maternal morbidity in Mali, West Africa, became known, the response in building the Koutiala Hospital for Women and Children was overwhelming. Many Alliance churches have helped refugees find housing, taking food and furniture to them and helping them get on their feet. All of this done in the Name of Jesus touches my heart, making me thankful to be part of The Alliance.

There’s a subtle danger lurking in all these expressions of Christ-like compassion. It’s a value embraced widely in our culture: the solution to human misery is material. If we help the homeless find shelter, enable the unemployed to find jobs and assist in bringing healing to the sick, this value says we have solved the problem. Helping people get a better education, getting more money into the hands of the poor and improving nutrition and crop production could be included. The priority of helping people have better lives during their temporary, earthly pilgrimages dominates our North American cultural agenda.

Relief and development projects can be incredibly helpful. The work of CAMA (Compassion and Mercy Associates) and so many other Alliance people charges me up! My hope is that we, as people of the Kingdom, always have a heart for the poor, the hurting, the sick and the millions around the world who haven’t had the opportunities we’ve had.

But helping people have more materially does not address a deeper problem:

Development for wealth, health, and power will not furnish significant gain to any community or society. People may have a slightly longer life, and perhaps more things while they live, but development will, in the final sense, make absolutely no difference. The people will certainly die, and after that face the judgment spoken of in Revelation 20. (Sherwood Lingenfelter Agents of Transformation, Baker Books, 1996, p. 266)

Christ is the power that ultimately transforms. As we do relief and development in His Name, we demonstrate His love and compassion. In this process the motive of “having more for self” has to be replaced by the Kingdom value, “having more to serve Christ and others.” When people hear and believe the good news about Jesus, embracing Him as Savior and Lord, an inner transformation takes place. This impacts the outward, dimensions of their lives as they begin to love their neighbors as themselves. As people of the Kingdom, Christ followers increasingly promote development to serve, not to have.

Our good deeds providing temporal help in a passing world can take on an eternal dimension when they are integrated with the living Word of Christ. Consider this story from a C&MA medical missionary in Mali:

Ami delivered her baby at the Koutiala hospital and then became ill with a high fever and dangerously low red blood cell count. We treated her with antibiotics and blood transfusions, but she didn’t improve.

One evening she prayed to put her faith in Jesus. The next day she began acting and talking strangely, and the Malians, including our chaplain, quickly recognized that she was suffering from demon possession. Pastor Enoch rebuked the spirit in her, commanding it in Jesus’ Name to leave. The demon yelled out of her mouth. It was obvious Ami herself wasn’t speaking. It was a beautiful thing to see Pastor Enoch sitting at her bedside all day praying over her. One of the nurses hardly left her side that night, singing praise songs over her.

Ami was herself after a day but still very physically ill. Our hospital staff has battled for her complete healing. Four nurses donated blood. Our team poured care into her and showed the real love of Jesus. I am grateful that I serve a God who is so all-powerful that even the demons shudder at His Name.

This most encouraging story could have ended with Ami’s physical healing. But thanks to an incredibly committed team of Christ-filled servants at the hospital, she also experienced spiritual transformation through the power of Christ. The compassion Ami felt in the physical care she received was used by God to open her heart to Jesus. Deed and Word were powerfully integrated. The eternal dimension to Ami’s healing makes for change that lasts . . . forever!

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