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I just finished up another evangelism conference, this marking my sixth opportunity to hold such an event here in the Yucatán. With more experience comes more confidence in sharing the material, but that experience also brings a certain familiarity with the topic–an anticipation you could say of the inquiries and the reaction of the audience, but during class this last Thursday, a question was asked that I hadn’t anticipated.

We had been studying Mark 6:30-44, the account of the feeding of the 5,000, and contrasting the disciples’ reaction to the crowd’s needs with that of Jesus. Analyzing the context, we concluded that the disciples’ inaction and Jesus action was related to a key element, compassion. Jesus saw the plight of the crowd and the compassion that he felt moved him to action even though he was in the midst of extreme personal sorrow. The disciples, coming off of a successful preaching tour, failed to react because their lack of compassion.

Usually, the anticipated question is “How do we learn to react in the way Jesus did?” a question that I anticipate and answer within the lesson follow-up, but this time an unanticipated question was raised; a student asked: “Should we act compassionately first and then preach, or should we preach first and then display acts of compassion?” Caught off guard, I had to think a bit about the question. I wanted to know what it was that this student was trying to clear up in his mind. His clarification clued me in. Some organizations emphasize compassionate acts, feeding programs, rehabilitation centers, and medical clinics while others emphasize teaching and preaching engagements. This student was trying to understand what stance we should take in the debate between presenting evangelism as a moment of decision or what what some call the “social gospel.”

The question illustrates the danger of thinking in predefined categories. It can cause us to limit our outreaches to traditional activities like preaching, teaching, and passing out tracts while avoiding food distribution or medical clinics in an attempt to show our emphasis on “telling the good news,” or it can cause us to add mandatory evangelistic events to our “social outreach” in order to justify the undertaking, a practice that can lead others to criticize us as evangelicals for opportunistic proselytizing, or can lead to the phenomenon of “Rice Christians,” those who confess Christianity as long as the hand outs keep coming.

Separating compassion and preaching/teaching into separate categories should make us ask the questions: “Is our preaching without compassion?” and “Is social outreach condemned or considered second-class by scripture?” Obviously the answer to both questions is no. The real question, therefore, should not be, “How should our evangelism look?” but rather, “How should our evangelism be motivated?”

Returning to the passage in question, we see that Jesus taught and fed the needy crowd. There was no separation of his actions into evangelistic and social. Rather compassion motivated him to meet the need before him. Jesus wasn’t checking off items on his list; he was instead showing us that the compassionate response considers its recipient as a whole person.

Interchanging the word compassion for love can perhaps clarify the point. Paul, in trying to settle church division in Corinth, culminates his argument for unity with the famous love chapter of 1 Corinthians 13, which he introduces as “the most excellent way.” In his opening words, he lists both “spiritual” (prophesy and tongues and the practice of faith) and “compassionate” (giving to the poor) acts as worthless without love. It’s little wonder then that 1 John 4:12 says that we would be known to be true, not for our excellent Bible teaching or for our hospital building, but rather for our love, and this is fitting because love when perfectly applied led to eternal life. (Jn 3:16)

Reaching out to a lost world in love then enables us to push past the categories and throw away our checklists. Ultimately it allows us to utilize the appropriate means to communicate God’s love, be it through a cup of cold water or an offer to pray the sinner’s prayer.

Learning and encouraging the most excellent way here in the Yucatán,


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Dave distributing a despensaWe’ve returned from our 3 day trip to Tabasco, the region of Mexico that had experienced devastating floods in late October through early November. We loaded up two SUV loads of toys, vitamins, diapers, and powdered milk and drove the 8 hours from Mérida, Yucatán to Villahermosa, Tabasco to bring relief to families, especially those with small children.

Entering the city, we found that life had returned to its hectic pace with people and cars everywhere. The only visible remains of the inundation was the construction taking place to repair and clean roads affected by the floodwaters. Still, the stories we heard were incredible. People told us that many had remained in their homes, thinking this to be just a routine occurrence during the Tabasco rainy season, but that, as the floodwaters rose, they found themselves waiting on rooftops for helicopter rescue. The pastor’s home where we stayed took on more than 5 feet of water. He and his family stayed in the upper level and were able to save the majority of their appliances and furniture, but mold on the walls and ruined tile floors spoke of the work ahead to restore what the flood had ruined.

The countryside surrounding the city was a different story as floodwater remained on the roads and in the low lying areas that surrounded the houses. While no longer threating homes and schools, the stagnant water poses a health threat especially to the small children who choose to play in the contaminated pools and through mosquito borne illnesses. This is where we focused our efforts.

Entering Tabasco on Thursday night, we pooled together with Pastor Ruben, his family and several members of the church to put together relief packages with food, vitamins, diapers, milk and other essentials for the residents of these needy areas. It was touching to see the desire of these people, who were themselves victims, giving of their time and effort to help those who had needs greater than their own.

The following day, we handed out the supplies and toys to the children and their parents. It was for them clearly a “big deal” as at one point we were accompanied by one of their local government representatives. We were given complete access, even the ability to interrupt the activities of a elementary school to meet with the students.

Food was distributed, toys were given away, and much needed supplies were handed out, but something much bigger was accomplished. These victims received a much needed infusion of hope. They received it realizing that they were not alone in their struggle.

There is something amazing in the fact that God touches people to go and share his love with those who most need to experience it. At one point in the distribution, Paul Kazim, a fellow missionary, prayed. I think it was then that the reality of what we were doing came into focus: Jesus ministered to the people in Mark 6:30-44. He did that even though he was experiencing the loss of his cousin and herald, John the Baptist. He did it because he had compassion. In Tabasco, fellow citizens were putting their lives on hold, lives that had themselves been completely changed by the floods, to reach out to those with greater needs. What was the reason? I believe it to be nothing less than the same compassion that Christ portrayed to the 5,000 that were fed in the Galilean countryside.

We’re planning to go back to Tabasco January 10-13 to provide medical treatment and spiritual counseling to the needy suffering in Tabasco, to the people now being overlooked as efforts are being made to restore a sense of normalcy in the region. We as missionaries will take part, but I think the most effective counselors will be those who have lived through these floods. Those who, because of the compassion that only God can provide, have thought of others as better than themselves.

(You can see more of our recent trip by clicking on the picture above or through this link.)

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