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Human needs ministry shares gospel hope with hurting world

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Honduras: Umberto Mayan picks through the mud looking for anything he can salvage from a 35-year-old business that’s been destroyed. At least he has the building. A raging river swept away his house.
Dominican Republic: Everything Yolanda Abrea owns is soaked. When the wind blew the tin from her roof, it left all her belongings unprotected. She thanks God that everyone in her family survived the 120-plus mph winds.
Bangladesh: Thousands of families crowd the embankment of an elevated dirt road cutting across endless miles of water. Floods have destroyed millions of homes and the road is the only dry refuge.
And the list goes on: Earthquake victims dig out in Bolivia; war refugees fight for survival in Bosnia; at least five countries in South America experienced severe flooding due to months of El Nino rain; drought in West Africa is causing famine.
Creation is groaning and millions of people feel the effects.
In the midst of these tragedies, Southern Baptists and their International Mission Board representatives stand as a beacon of hope. They follow the example and teaching of Jesus by presenting the hope of the gospel as they minister to human needs.
“Ministry and evangelism are not one and the same,” said Bill Cashion, director of the volunteers in missions department at the International Mission Board and formerly the director of human needs. “But to separate the two is biblically abnormal. I think our Lord is the example of balance in Luke 10:9. The Christian minister is also an evangelist.”
John Cheyne, longtime Africa missionary and developer of the human needs department at the IMB, agreed.
“Meeting human needs is not a means to an end but is a part of our total concern for a lost world,” he said. “But we should be overt in our witness. No other religion in the world gives people hope like Christianity does. We must share the hope of salvation in Christ with those we minister to.”
Opportunities for both ministry and evangelism were plentiful in 1998. The IMB responded with relief in the wake of disasters that struck nearly every continent. Requests for human needs ministry funds rose 115 percent. The demands depleted the general needs fund, used for items such as blankets, roofing materials and medicine.
But Southern Baptists responded. After the flooding in Bangladesh and Hurricane Georges swept across the Caribbean, word went out to Baptists concerning the desperate need for funds to help in general relief. Within a six-week period, more than $400,000 was received by the IMB for use in disaster response.
Human suffering will never be alleviated this side of heaven. Christians face the paradox of both knowing that task can never be accomplished and fully doing whatever is possible to model the compassion of Christ. It is a commitment to the “long haul,” Cheyne said.
“We are not a relief agency that rushes in after a disaster, feeds people and then is gone in six weeks,” he said. “We are in it for the long haul. We have missionary personnel living in the places where these disasters take place. They have a network with the local churches and oftentimes with key governmental leaders. We need simply to trust our missionaries because our most effective means of meeting needs is through their networks.”
The way Southern Baptists respond to disasters often is the key to unlocking a door a missionary has been trying to open for years.
Missionaries Larry Johnson and Ken Bowie had tried for years to reach the mountain people near Cajamarca, Peru, with the gospel. But it was after wells drilled by Southern Baptists provided clean drinking water during the cholera epidemic of 1991 that a harvest of souls began that is still being reaped eight years later.
“The people aren’t dumb,” Johnson said. “They know the water they’re drinking is contaminated and they shouldn’t be drinking it. But it’s the only water they’ve got. When you give them a glass of clean water in Jesus’ name and the diarrhea stops with the children, and their families are healthier, they’re going to listen to you.”
Sometimes the harvest is gathered more quickly. In July, a group of medical students from the University of Texas Medical School-Galveston worked with missionary Sam Jones in the mountains near Olanchito, Honduras. Fourteen people accepted Christ during a clinic and formed the foundation of a new church start.
Three months later, after Mitch ravaged that area of the country, the group of new believers shared half the food they’d received from Southern Baptists with a neighboring community where there was no church. Almost immediately, 49 people began regular Bible study and several have accepted Christ.
The International Mission Board and Southern Baptists have been ministering to human needs since medical doctors went to China more than 100 years ago. With such a rich tradition, Cheyne said Southern Baptists need to capitalize on what Southern Baptists do best.
“In terms of who we are, … I’d say that we do a superior job in terms of our purpose for being, and that is ministry to the whole man,” he said. “Jesus was always concerned about the dignity of people. But he always taught them spiritual things as well, all to the glory of the Father.”
How you can help bring aid and the gospel to those who suffer:
— Call 1-800-866-3621, press 1, then press 6 for up-to-date information on hunger and relief ministries. Also check the IMB Internet website, www.imb.org.
— Call the IMB PrayerLine at 1-800-395-7729 or connect to CompassionNet on the IMB website (www.imb.org) for specific prayer requests updated daily.
— Send gifts for the general relief fund to: Office of Finance, International Mission Board, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230.
— Call 1-800-888-8657 or check the IMB website (www.imb.org) for information about volunteering for relief projects.