Clothed in Compassion

We wear God’s love


“When the faceless woman came to us, she wouldn’t let us see gruesome features,” an Alliance international worker in West Africa wrote recently. “This woman was almost dead from her burns; my wife, a nurse, went to her home every day for three weeks and spent an hour bandaging her wounds. She had to amputate the tip of the woman’s nose and a third of each ear.

“My wife’s heart broke for this woman’s suffering. But through prayer, her patient began growing new skin, walking and feeding herself. Unfortunately, the woman recently passed in the night. Thankful mourners mobbed us at the funeral, and we were an emotional wreck. Family members pleaded: ‘We want to come by your house and talk more about this prophet you follow named Almasihuu, the Messiah!’”

Who Is My Neighbor?

When a Jewish law expert asked a leading question: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responded by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10): After several types of Jewish leaders walk past a man who had been robbed, beaten and left for dead, a Samaritan shows pity toward the stranger. He washes and dresses the victim’s wounds and then spends his own money to ensure the man’s full recovery. This was a shocking narrative to Jesus’ audience—Samaritans and Jews despised one another.

Love our enemies? Winning the nations for Jesus requires that Christians demonstrate radical compassion to those who are dead in their sins, enemies of the cross of Christ. This is no easy task in a world increasingly hostile to Christianity; 60 nations have closed their borders to traditional missions workers. Hundreds of millions who live in these nations are without hope, having never heard the good news. Many struggle with poverty, human-rights abuses, hunger, wars, disease—conditions that invite comparison to the man in the parable left to die.

In 1926, Alliance founder A. B. Simpson wrote in The Challenge of Mission: “. . . this movement stands for a commitment to reach the most neglected fields . . . to preach the gospel where Christ has not been named.” The C&MA’s mission nearly 100 years later remains the same, but the methods for taking the good news to unreached lands are changing. Today, Alliance people are extending compassion to their neighbors in more than 20 closed nations (creative-access countries) on work visas that allow them to employ their professional expertise through refugee care, disaster relief, small business development, education, medicine, well-digging and more.

Show and Tell

“Compassion is expressed in a variety of ways, from sharing a cup of cold water to teaching,” says Phil Skellie, president of Compassion and Mercy Associates (CAMA). “It is the strongest word in Greek for ‘pity’ to describe Christ’s response to people in need. In Matthew 15, when He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them and He fed them; in Matthew 14, He had compassion on them and healed them. In Mark 6, He had compassion on them and taught them.”

Compassionate ministries aren’t a guise for entering a creative-access country to share the gospel, Skellie points out. “Understand that whatever we do has to be done with excellence. I like to say ‘business is mission.’ For example, if we had gone in [to Indonesia] as missionaries disguised as community development workers after the 2004 tsunami, we would have been quickly exposed and thrown out.

“In creative-access countries we do good deeds, good work, which provoke questions to which Jesus is the answer. But we must be ready with the answers when the questions come, especially in countries where we’re looked upon as infidels.”

Why Are You Here?

In a creative-access country where half the population lives in poverty, CAMA has started a profitable salon that offers beautician training. Voluntary, daily Bible studies are conducted for the staff. As a result, several people have come to Christ and are now being discipled and integrated into local fellowships, where possible.

“Locals have said, ‘It’s difficult to start a business in this country, so why are you doing this?’ We can’t stand on a street corner and pass out tracts, but we can respond to personal questions,” Skellie says. “Opportunities arise that allow us to talk with people about Christ because we’re doing something that provides them a job, allowing them to develop vocational skills.”

Bill D., director for Alliance marketplace ministries, agrees. “In a creative-access country, people will notice that your life is different. It’s not so much that you’re keeping your faith a secret; if so, that’s a problem. It’s making sure that the community understands why you’re there. If it’s to create an advantage for the community, they’re very open.”

Creative-access workers must be clear about their motivations for compassion. “If we’re not careful, we can confirm people in a false worldview,” explains Skellie. “In Central Asia, for example, the dominant religion requires its adherents to make merit through doing good works. People may think we’re doing the same. We make sure to tell them we are doing this out of gratitude for what God’s done for us.”

Marketplace Mercy

“Love translates in any culture,” observes Bill, who deploys more than 150 lay professionals serving in creative-access environments. “When people see someone dedicated to loving them in a tangible way, it makes a big statement.”

After decades of war, a Central Asian nation has one of the highest densities of land mines in the world. Many adults and children are missing parts of their legs and arms. The country’s lakes, streams and water aquifers are polluted; as a result, child mortality rates are high.

In this land, a couple serving with marketplace ministries oversees a water filtration project and a small, low-tech prosthetics factory that employs nationals. Children and adults are receiving new limbs, and child deaths are decreasing because many in the community now have clean drinking water.

“In marketplace ministries we look to come alongside the people in a closed-access country to help them in a way that’s sustainable. We don’t just throw money at a problem, which just causes larger problems, especially when we leave,” says Bill.

Trust and Safety

“Our work in marketplace ministries is driven through relationships. This can be a cliché, but in order to have some credibility, especially in a foreign place, you need to have relationships that are based on trust and safety,” Bill notes.

“Our workers are able to supply not just jobs but also useful things that produce trust and safety. This couple has been here for years, and the villagers know that they’re not going anywhere, even though they’re in danger. Believers are also employed by those companies, which gives them a small income as well as the opportunity to share their faith.

“When nationals meet Jesus as the Savior and share Christ with their neighbors, this is the best way to reach a country. Lead nationals to Christ, disciple them, allow them to speak to others and let God lead others to Him. This way it’s not about our efforts, but God’s.”

Seize the Day

Recently, Bob Fetherlin, vice president for U.S. C&MA International Ministries, received a letter from an Alliance national pastor in the Middle East. In partnership with CAMA, this pastor is leading a team that is providing relief to thousands of refugees in the region.

“The people ask, ‘Why are these people helping. What is the secret?’” the pastor wrote. “I tell them it is to serve God. They invite us to visit; some homes have three or four families in two rooms. We pray with them—in Jesus’ name. We are one body serving the same God. This is the Alliance church going to the people. Not just the local church, it is [The Alliance] all over the world.”

Plans are under way to increase the number of Alliance creative-access workers currently on the ground. “We face the greatest opportunity we have seen this century to bring the liberating truth of the gospel to more than 300 million people,” one of our workers writes. “Let’s not lose this chance. Let’s seize the day!”

Resist the Great Omission

I learned while serving in Mali that hungry bellies have no ears. When Alliance people were able to supply food after famine gripped the country, Malians responded: “People who love and follow Jesus are the ones who came to help us in our need. We know now that you love us!”

My concern is, if we’re merely good people who do good things for others and never lead someone to know and worship Jesus, what’s the difference between us and nice humanists, Hindus, Buddhist, Muslims or atheists?

In a world increasingly secularized, and with the growing embrace of pluralism, I’m concerned that many evangelicals have an eroded confidence in sharing their faith. More and more people scorn and berate Christ followers for thinking they have an exclusive truth. Yet this is exactly what we have in Him.

The ideal is to integrate words and deeds; weave together the Great Commandment—“Love the Lord your God with everything you have and your neighbor as yourself”—with the Great Commission—“go and make disciples of all nations.”

Jesus demonstrated this in His work on earth, and we’re to follow His example. To engage in one without the other quickly becomes the Great Omission.

—Bob Fetherlin

Sowing in Tears, Reaping in Joy

We minister in a nation that is growing increasingly intolerant, even violent, toward Christians. Five years ago, a massive earthquake struck here. Our family loves to serve people when they are hurting—this gives us many opportunities to love in Jesus’ name—so we went to the hard-hit area. We found shelter in a warehouse and were privileged to provide blankets, tarps, water and food to the suffering survivors.

One of the villages to which we ministered was especially friendly and responsive. We built a small house there, and a student evangelist and his wife moved in. This couple modeled Jesus’ compassion, providing rice seed to the villagers, helping them to rebuild their homes and sharing the good news. Four small fellowships have since been established in that devastated area.

On Thanksgiving Day 2012, I received the following text message from someone close to this situation: “Praise be to God! One more new believer baptized in the village. There are now 27 new believers and five baptized since the big earthquake!”

We have learned that loving hurting people in Jesus’ name allows us to plant seeds of truth that often sprout new life through Him.

—a CAMA worker serving in Southeast Asia

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