Friday, August 29, 2014

Rhinestone Jesus and Samaritan’s Purse

I’m reading a fascinating book by a regular mom—kids who melt down at Target, the whole “I’m no superhero” nine yards—who has done something really special. Rhinestone Jesus is the story of how Kristen Welch has enabled a Kenyan woman to head Rehema House, a home for unwed mothers in one of the poorest slums in the world. Of course, she didn’t do it all on her own. She’s an engaging writer, and through her blog she has recruited dozens, maybe hundreds, of pray-ers, donors, and even some short-term “boots on the ground” in Kenya to turn talk into substance.
She started from scratch: she had none of the training most missionaries get before they go to the field, and—I say as one who received a lot of praise in my day for going to the middle of nowhere as a Bible translator—she went to about as tough a place as exists anywhere apart from literal war zones. I get the feeling that before she undertook this project, going to the next state was fraught with culture shock for her, so her story is clear testimony of God’s ability to bless people more than they can possibly imagine by stressing them to the limit and allowing them to grow.
I also took a suggestion to watch Healing for Hewa, a video put out by Samaritan’s Purse, about a medical team headed by Dr. Allan Sawyer, a doctor in Papua New Guinea, that spent two weeks in a remote part of that nation—much like my part of the middle of nowhere—to teach mothers how to have healthy pregnancies and keep their newborns healthy. Again, for every pair of “boots on the ground” there are dozens of folks back home praying and giving to make it happen.
What the book and the video have in common is the theme of dozens of people back home praying and giving sacrificially to help a few dozen poor people live better. The number of mothers and babies helped directly by Kristen Welch’s friend Maureen is in the dozens, though of course the ripple effect is certainly much greater. Same with the number of Hewa women helped by the medical team. Kristen Welch, Maureen, Dr. Sawyer, and their teammates at home and on site all love Jesus and are concerned about the health of mothers and babies, and they put their concern into practice through prayer, giving, and sheer dogged endurance.
What bothers me is that these same people—or most of them, anyway, judging by what I see of evangelicalism—who will sacrifice so much to save a few dozen mothers and babies in Kenya and Papua New Guinea think nothing of supporting wars that kill mothers and children by the hundreds in Afghanistan and Iraq as “collateral damage”—and don’t forget the ripple effect. These wars have cost every man, woman, and child in the US almost seven thousand dollars apiece over the last thirteen years: for a family of four, that’s almost twenty-seven thousand dollars. How many families of four have given over two thousand dollars a year, every year, to missions? Yet they give that to Uncle Sam who, whatever else he does, kills more babies than Maureen and Dr. Sawyer can save.
Did God put the Great Commission on hold so that we could “defend our freedoms”? (This leaves aside, of course, the question of whether “the enemy” overseas is a greater threat to our freedom than Uncle Sam is.) Or should we be evangelizing the Afghans and Iraqis—perhaps I should say “should have been,” since so many of them are dead or likely hardened against anything an American would say—instead of bombing them?
I remember a story from the 1970s of a US Army commander coming to a town in Japan and expecting a fight but finding he was welcomed by the local populace. Apparently there were so many Christians in the town that, as the story goes, the commander said to an assistant, “Maybe we should have been dropping Bibles instead of bombs.”
Kristen Welch recounts more than one situation she entered in Kenya feeling sorry for someone who was living in abject poverty only to find that because that other person had Jesus in a way Kristen didn’t, it was she who was the poorer. Is it not worth asking if having the most powerful military the world has ever seen has made our church the poorest in history?
How much more good could those people who give sacrificially to Rehema House and Samaritan’s Purse do if they took the money they give to Uncle Sam’s military and gave it to those charged with fulfilling the Great Commission?

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