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Health care ministries move by ‘word and deed’

RICHMOND, Va. (BP) — Christians in health care ministries are living out their faith by “word and deed” throughout the world, and people are responding.

Among those making decisions to follow Jesus are people in places where the message of God’s love is only just now arriving.

In South Asia, a Vacation Bible School’s offering from First Baptist Church in Lafayette, La., purchased health and hygiene items that could be shared with terminally ill patients, along with health lessons and Bible stories.

The distribution gave Christians in the region access to communities where they had been unwelcome before, and about 350 people accepted Christ — one of them on his deathbed.

A steady stream of reports illustrates the variety of ways Southern Baptists and their local partners merge proclamation of the Gospel with demonstrations of God’s love for suffering people.

Among the reports during a meeting of the IMB-related Global Medical Alliance in June near Richmond, Va.:

— In West Africa, as the Ebola epidemic exploded, International Mission Board workers focused on raising awareness and teaching prevention techniques in Liberia, Togo and Mali. An estimated 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.

— In East Asia, health care strategies helped local 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 made decisions to follow Jesus — several among an unreached people group.

— In Europe, missionaries utilized fitness programs, addiction recovery ministries, health seminars and hands-on medical service in communities plagued by alcoholism, obesity, smoking addiction, suicide and mental illness. An estimated 4,200 people heard the Gospel, and 790 decided to trust Jesus — including members of an unreached people group.

Authentic Christian faith helps suffering people in both body and soul, said Terry Lassiter, IMB’s lead strategist for reaching South and Central American peoples.

Jesus and His disciples followed a “preach and heal” strategy that combined presenting truth with meeting physical needs, Lassiter told the missionaries who work in health care roles during their June 1-5 meeting.

About two-thirds of the encounters with Jesus and the apostles recorded in the New Testament involved both proclamation and demonstration, Lassiter said.

Followers of Jesus must resist the temptation to favor preaching over healing — or vice versa, Lassiter added. He paraphrased the words of the the late missionary and theologian E. Stanley Jones: “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.”

Lassiter also cited an unnamed teacher quoted by an Internet blogger, Daniel Davis: “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.”

IMB President David Platt, who addressed the gathering about the IMB’s overarching goals, often has underscored the tie between word and deed in missions, writing in his book “Counter Culture”: “It’s far easier to give a cup of water to the thirsty and walk away than it is to give that same cup of water and stay to share about the living water that comes through Christ alone. But … as Christians we don’t have the choice of disconnecting these two. We must proclaim the Gospel as we provide for others’ good. We are compelled to speak as we serve. We testify with our lips what we attest with our lives.”

During each year’s Global Medical Alliance meeting, IMB missionaries discuss new approaches and strategies to enhance work among people groups where the good news of God’s love is not known.

To learn more about the group, email [email protected].

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  • Mark Kelly