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On Helping without Being a Fool

3 Mar

Helping people is complicated.

It is always complicated, and becomes only increasingly so, when you are attempting to cross cultures. Now obviously there is a big difference between complicated and impossible. And as believers, we have tremendous advantages as we go to help people, in that we have a Word that transcends cultures, a God who is not bound by our culture, and the Spirit who speaks to people in all sorts of different cultures. But, we are going to have a difficult time really benefiting from those advantages, if we don’t at least acknowledge, that helping people cross culturally is complicated.

In an interesting article on what’s happening with the non-profit, Invisible Children, the author quotes someone who tries to help us appreciate just how difficult helping others cross culturally can be.

He writes,

“Imagine you had some really well-meaning Japanese high school student who is really motivated by what he sees on the television about Ferguson. He shows up in Ferguson and he wants to help, he wants to make a difference. He doesn’t speak English, doesn’t have much money. What’s that person going to do other than get hurt or cause trouble? Nothing whatsoever.

“Now imagine this guy was a millionaire. Whatever this guy does is just going to be a disaster. How could it not be? You look at that and it’s obvious. Just try to put yourself on the other side of this. Now we’re the Japanese billionaires. We’re just as foreign. We’re just as clueless. We’re just as relatively wealthy.”

Again, I don’t think this kind of illustration means it’s impossible to help. In some ways it is a bit of a caricature. Because, it is assuming the person is foolish and not willing to learn and listen. Plus, the reality is, sometimes people from different cultures can see things that those within the culture cannot. But, with all of those qualifications, it does make a point, doesn’t it?

It is very difficult to help others if you don’t at least start by recognizing your own difficulties in understanding and then moving from there to really loving them and listening. I personally think one of the best helps I have had towards becoming a missionary was receiving training in biblical counseling, because when it comes to helping people, truly biblical counseling emphasizes the importance of involvement, entering into the world of the people you are counseling and asking questions and listening to the answers.

Helping people doesn’t end there, but that’s a good place for it to start, and it seems especially difficult for many of us, who are American Christians.

Need Compassion, Need Knowledge

7 Feb

Helpful article on the group that allegedly took children out of Haiti illegally…

Cry out for Justice!

12 Jan

Sad stuff.

Yet another reason to pray for our Savior’s return.

The Bait and Switch and the Motive of Love

21 Dec

Nice post from 9marks…

To enjoy it, you have to live it…

1 Jun

A little article I wrote for the Plumstead Christian School Newsletter

I love talking to high school students after they have returned home from short -term missions trips. I especially like asking them how things went even though I pretty much know how the conversation is going to go before it even begins.

It doesn’t really matter who I am talking to, it doesn’t matter where they went or how long they were there, after they bring up stuff like sleeping on the floor and eating strange foods, they almost always start talking about the trip as being one of the best times of their lives.

And you know in spite of the fact that I have had that conversation something like a thousand times, it still makes me stop and think. What is it exactly that brings these students such intense joy? Why are these students who are used to such comfortable American lives so satisfied serving God in what most would think of as fairly miserable living conditions?

I don’t think it is the goat meat. I am pretty sure it’s not taking cold showers or going to the bathroom in an outhouse. Instead I am convinced it is God graciously revealing to these students what has to be one of the best-kept secrets in the civilized world:

True joy doesn’t come from living all out for yourself.

True joy comes from living all out for Jesus Christ.

I tell the students (I actually sort of plead with them) to remember those moments of joy. I want them to make a commitment to remember how they felt on that trip because I know that as they grow older they are going to be tempted to forget it. I know that because I am growing older and I am tempted to forget it. You see, there’s this lie–this unbelievably powerful, persuasive, nothing short of Satanic lie—that if you really are going to enjoy life you have to live all out for yourself and for comfort and for pleasure—for the now.

I mean, isn’t that the American dream?

As one writer has pointed out, “dreams by definition are supposed to be unique and imaginative. Yet the bulk of the population is dreaming the same dream. It’s a dream of wealth, power, fame . . . and exciting recreational opportunities.” The sad reality is that when you make those sorts of things your primary pursuit, you find yourself becoming less and less joyful, satisfied and content. And what makes it all the more tragic is even God’s people often buy into it. The world’s dream becomes their dream and they can’t figure out why that dream is not satisfying and why they are so discontent.

C.S. Lewis once said the problem with most of us is not that our desires are too strong, but too weak. “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink . . . and ambition, when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

It has to make God’s heart break. The prophet Jeremiah put it like this, “Has a nation changed gods when they were not gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this, and shudder, be very desolate, declares the Lord. For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.”

What I am trying to say is that the Christian life is not only the right life—it is the best life. It is life the way God designed it. But the only way any one of us experiences the fullness of the Christian life is if we actually live it.

Christianity has to be lived . . . to be enjoyed.

When I look back at some of the amazing things God accomplished in the lives of the students this past year at Plumstead – we’re talking, students with an intense desire for prayer, students getting together on their own to study the Scriptures, students starting small groups because they wanted to promote spiritual growth, standing up in chapel and pleading with their fellow students to follow Christ – I think about the joy on their faces as they shared what God was doing in their lives, the love the senior class showed me by making this jaw-dropping sacrificial effort to put on a surprise missions fund-raiser to help me and my family move to Africa – I think to myself, you know, I think they got it.

I think this is exactly what many of the high school seniors figured out during their trip to the Dominican Republic.

The gospel is too important to spend your life doing anything other than giving everything you have got to see Jesus Christ lifted up. Jesus Christ is too precious to spend your life doing anything other than giving everything you have got to help everyone else see how supremely beautiful He is. God is too great to spend your life doing anything other magnifying Him in everything you do.

Wess Stafford on Social Justice…

10 Apr

Social Justice, Relief and Development Ministries Still Seen as a Lesser Priority


Prominent Christians, like Rick Warren, have recently taken up humanitarian work — to the delight of some Christians and to the chagrin of others. When it comes to the Church’s role in humanitarian efforts, Christians often seem to divide into two camps — spiritual and physical ministries.

One camp believes they shouldn’t get involved in humanitarian issues, but, instead, should focus on sharing the gospel with people. Their motto is, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?” The other camp believes their main role is to help the poor and sick. Their reply to the first group is, “But an empty stomach has no ears.”

I pitch my tent where the two camps meet. I grew up observing that the most loving and strategically effective ministry is not either-or. It’s both-and.

My parents were missionaries in Ivory Coast, West Africa. Often I tagged along with Dad when he traveled to remote villages to share the gospel. When I was eight, we discovered a village in mourning. Children were dying, and no one knew why.

My father met with the village chief, who held a very sick young boy in his arms. His mother wept in despair that she had already lost her two younger children to this mysterious illness. My father’s tears fell with hers. He knew that the message we came to deliver would fall on deaf ears.

He asked the chief, “Where do you get your water?” The chief led us to the village water hole. Animals roamed around the mouth of the well, and signs of their waste were everywhere. The ground around the well sloped so that spilled water ran back into the well. It was a health hazard of gigantic proportions.

“I think I can help you with the problem of your sick children,” my father told the chief. Along with some of the village men, we got to work cleaning out the well. A thorn bush barricade was raised to keep the animals from roaming nearby. The mouth of the well was raised so that spilled water ran away from it. Meanwhile, a mission hospital provided medicine for the sick children.

As the children’s health improved, my father’s credibility grew. Now when he spoke at the village meetings, people leaned forward to hear his words. At one of the gatherings, the chief asked my father, “What was it about us, sir, that so pleased you that you did for us this great kindness?”

Even as a young boy, I sensed this was a divine moment, a breakthrough. Here was the opportunity to reach the village for Christ. Physical needs had opened the door to spiritual ones. My father’s demonstrated love for these suffering people had illustrated his God’s love for them. Dad shared the gospel that night. It wasn’t long before many of the villagers became Christians.

But when Dad told the story in our family newsletter to financial supporters, he left out the part about the well. When I challenged him on it, with downcast eyes he explained, “Wess, the people who sent us to Africa expect us to do spiritual things, like preach the gospel and translate Scripture. I don’t think they would understand my spending three weeks deep in the mud digging a well.” That was my earliest realization that a false dichotomy existed between spiritual and physical ministries.

Certainly, headway has been made since then. Formal declarations were drafted by the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization and others emphasizing the value of holistic ministry. But sadly, the ministries of relief, development and social justice are still viewed by a number of churches and mission organizations as a lesser priority.

Meanwhile, other groups are quite willing to feed the hungry and bind up the wounded, but they get skittish about using the “J word”: Jesus. They are afraid to clarify their motive for humanitarian assistance. In contrast, our official tag line at Compassion International is: “Releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name.” Children need not be Christians to receive Compassion’s assistance. It is our privilege to serve everyone, with dignity and respect, through indigenous churches that are challenged and equipped to live out the whole gospel. And last year alone, 102,159 people who were helped by these churches gave their lives to Christ.

To present a gospel that does not integrate the whole of our beings as God created us — spiritual and physical — is shortsighted and often unproductive. The most compelling reason why we should minister to the whole person is because that’s what our Lord taught us to do, by modeling this in His own earthly ministry.


Wess Stafford (’75), Ph.D., is the president and CEO of Compassion International, one of the largest Christian child development agencies, and is based in Colorado Springs, Colo. Stafford earned a degree in communication at Biola.

© Biola University 2006

Get Emotional…

5 Jan

Be zealous.

Paul tells us in Titus 2:14 that Jesus Christ gave Himself up for us that He might purchase for Himself a people who are zealous for good works.

You could translate the word, “one who is deeply committed to something…”  It looks like a synonym is an “enthusiast.”  Another Greek dictionary defines it as one who is stirred to action by strong emotion.

Something is drastically wrong when Christians are not emotionally charged about doing good works.  Jesus died on a cross that we might be emotionally charged about doing good works.

I’ve found you know that often when I talk about our desire to work with orphans people aren’t always that excited about it.  Sometimes it doesn’t even seem to phase them that are literally millions of orphans in the world.

I’ve often thought about why.  I struggle with why to be honest.

Some could do with me, maybe I am just not describing it well. 

Another could be the fact that people are passionate about different things.  I get that.  And really I am almost o.k. with not everybody being as excited about helping orphans as I am, I am just not o.k. with them not being excited about sacrificially doing good, at all.  Have something that God says is important that you are passionate about.  Emotional about.  It’s not that we all have the same gifts, the same exact callings, the same opportunities, God’s wired us differently for a reason, but we all need to be passionate, emotionally charged about doing some sort of good in this world.  Apathy is not an option when God specifically says that He sent His Son to die that we might be zealous.

Maybe another reason that we are often affected by the needs in the world is that we are selfish.  I guess I probably should wipe out the word maybe.  I’m totally this way when I am sick.  If my wife is sick, I sometimes have had a hard time empathizing.  But when I am sick, man, I know it is awful.  That’s not right and I have to recognize that part of the reason I can be like that is because I am too focused on me. 

Another reason may be a lack of imagination.  This goes along with being selfish, but I wonder if people when they hear some of the needs going on in the world don’t ever stop and imagine what it would be like to be in that position.  I wonder if maybe one of the links between just knowing there are needs in the world and actually being emotionally affected and zealous about meeting those needs is imagination, slowing down and considering those needs more carefully.   

Get emotional man.  Get charged up about doing good.

1.  Stop and think about how passionate Jesus was about doing you good.  It wasn’t a take it or leave it matter for him. 

2.  Consider the mercy that God has shown you.  Ask yourself, why is it is so amazing that Jesus died for me?  Why was it so difficult?  What sacrifices did he have to make?  Refuse to leave your consideration of the cross and the love of God until your heart is burning within you.

3.  Recognize that Jesus said when you give a cup of cold water to someone in his name you are doing it to him.  Start looking at people as opportunities to show how much you love Jesus by serving them.  Say to God before you go to serve, this is for you Jesus.

4.  Think about where you would be if Jesus hadn’t stepped up to do good to you.

5.  Compare the rewards that God promises those who serve Him by serving the needy in faith with the rewards of seeking your own gain.  It’s so crazy.  God has not only made it so that we’ll blessed in the future by passionately serving others, He’s made it so that we are blessed in the now with joy and peace and gladness.  Why is it that the happiest people on the planet are the least selfish and most giving and that when you meet a miserable person you always find that he is focused on himself? 

6.  Meditate on the emptiness of merely saying you love God or saying you love other people without being passionate.  What kind of love is devoid of emotion? 

7.  Go out of your comfort zone.  Go hang out with the poor somewhere.  Go ask questions of someone who has been in a difficult situation.  Ask them what they felt, what was it like, what they were afraid.  Be interested in other people.  Imagine yourself in their shoes.

PLEASE, these are just ideas off the top of my head, I don’t even know how good they are but pray, do something, cry out to God that He would not let you be a cold hard stone when it comes to doing good, but that you would see the fruit of the Spirit in your life, ZEAL.