We recently had a conversation that I’ll never forget.
We were meeting with a man named Chuck, who is on staff at an organization called Partners Relief and Development. The goal of the meeting was to see how our organization, Bridges Myanmar, can learn from and work alongside Partners. Both of us work in a country called Myanmar, formerly Burma, with people who come from some of the most urgent situations imaginable. Some of these groups include internally displaced, orphans, the persecuted church, refugees, oppressed ethnic minorities, war ravaged villagers, victims of land mines, and more. Tragically, you name the human rights issue and it exists in Myanmar.
As Christians, it seems clear that it’s our job to care for the “least of these”, and that in Jesus’ economy, those who we see as the “least” are actually the “first.” When Jesus gives us a mandate to love and serve those in need he does not specify what institutions we work through. Unfortunately, many Christians are only willing to serve those in need if it’s done through our church.
“Unbelievable, that’s incredible!” I exclaimed. ”You are able to bring food and supplies to a group of people that had been isolated and closed off to outside support for many years! How did you get into that community, who let you in?”
“I’m scared to tell you this and I know a lot of people may not like it…” Chuck said. ”But it was through a Buddhist Monk.”
Without hesitation one of our board members spoke up, “We totally understand. Christians don’t have a monopoly on what God is up to in the world.”
Those words seemed to put Chuck at ease. Apparently other groups had not been as receptive to their methods as we were.
But how come? Why is it that so often as Christians we only want support humanitarian/missions/relief work if it comes from our churches, or has our name on it?
My friend Rachel is doing incredible work to prevent human trafficking in Thailand through her organization SOLD. Her organization has been consistently turned away by churches who do not want to support their cause because it’s not explicitly a “Christian” organization. Why do we as Christians think we have a monopoly on God’s work in the world?
Isn’t it possible that God is at work outside of the church? In fact, don’t we believe that God is omnipresent and incarnate in our world? Throughout the scriptures we see that God’s purposes for the world are often accomplished outside of Christian institutions. Just a few examples:
- In Exodus 4 God works through Pharaoh by hardening his heart in order to display his power and eventually free the Hebrews from slavery;
- In Numbers 22 God’s voice is heard through a donkey;
- In John 10 Jesus speaks of having sheep that are outside of the immediate sheep pen;
- In Colossians 1:20 Paul writes that Jesus has reconciled “all things” to himself through the cross, not just the things within the church.
If God can work through dictators and donkeys, and is at work in other “pens”, and is reconciling “all things” to himself, why can’t God work through a Buddhist monk?
In reality God is at work outside of the church, and I’m incredibly grateful of this. Thank God that He is working, redeeming, healing, and reconciling the world outside of the Christian community because the needs of our world are far beyond our scope and capacity to meet.
I believe it’s not our job to bring God to the world, but rather to find out where God already is and join in on what He’s doing. If that means joining hands with a Buddhist monk to feed the hungry or partner with a public school to provide education, then let us find God there.