Author’s Note: This article intends to share with readers what I believe is a major concern when it comes to the overall understanding of the church with regards to compassion ministry.
In the mind of most Seventh-day Adventists, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), as its names suggests, concerns itself mainly with two things: 1) introducing programs designed to better the life and environment of people in countries referred to as developing, and 2) providing immediate relief to areas hit by some natural calamities and sometimes areas decimated by war.
Over the years, ADRA has been widely recognized for the work it does, one evidence of that is the willingness of governments to make funds available to ADRA for its engagements in many countries. I vividly remember the conversation I had with Mr. Don Mazankowski, the Minister of Finance of the Canadian government, who happened to occupy the seat next to mine on a flight to Ottawa back in 1988. When I mentioned that I was a Seventh-day Adventist minister, he began to talk about his appreciation of the work that ADRA Canada was doing, and for some reason he mentioned Thailand in particular. He alluded to the significant funds that his government provided. Significant because, if my memory is good, the ratio was four dollars for every one dollar that the Church raised. Canada is not the only country that has over the years recognized the value of ADRA’s contribution. That we should be proud and supportive of ADRA is something that we should not have to worry about.
I am personally involved in a rather particular work of ADRA that is probably not part of the awareness of the church members. Indeed, not many members, even in Australia where I live, know that ADRA Australia runs a counseling service in Blacktown, a suburb of Sydney. ADRA and counseling do not seem to go together. At least in the minds of most members. Providing free counseling to people who need it but cannot afford the cost (around $100/hour set by the industry) is what we do. We can afford to provide high quality service because of the commitment of qualified counselors who donate free service to the centre.
But back to the opening point at the beginning of this article. My observation over the years is that most Adventists, and that includes people personally involved in ADRA’s work, consider what they do only from the perspective of compassion. Indeed, compassion is high on the list of virtues that characterize God’s children. A significant portion of Scripture in one way or another refer to the way believers should relate and help people in need. Jesus did say that even the least service given to someone in need is in fact given to him. Compassion is basic to selfless service. Having said that, I will now come to the issue that I find concerning.
I believe that most Christian agencies, maybe all, ignore what I consider to be the fundamental reason for any work that the church engages in. As much as compassion is a key aspect, it is not the most important one. The resurrection of Jesus Christ when properly understood should be the truth that drives any work that a Christian engages in. What do I mean by “properly understood”?
The resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ was not simply just that. If that were so, his resurrection would not be any more significant than Moses’ who also died, was resurrected, and taken into heaven. Indeed, Mathew writes that a numerous throng of people were resurrected with Jesus and also taken into heaven (Matthew 27:53, and also Ephesians 4:8 though this verse is given a different meaning by some commentaries. See also Desire of Ages, the chapter “The Lord is risen”).
To Paul, the resurrection of Christ was the evidence of God’s righteousness meaning that in and through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God fulfilled what he had in mind all the time. God had created the earth to be inhabited, but Adam’s sin was a significant setback. The flood returned the earth to the pre-creation abyssal condition. Noah was given the mandate to repopulate the earth but things went awry again (Babel). God chose Abraham and entered into a covenant with him solemnly promising that through his descendants the world would be blessed. To Abraham, the blessing could be nothing less than the resuming of the creation work by which God’s space (heaven) and man’s space (the earth) were to be brought together.
The Exodus story must be seen in that light: God bringing a people out of the waters (the Dead Sea) into a land where honey and milk abounded (Eden and the earth renewed). From then on Israel was given the mandate of introducing the nations into God’s new creation. Again and again the prophets would sing about the land where the lion and the lamb played together, where the glory of the Lord would shine in all its brightness (Isaiah 35, 45, and more). Going to heaven one day was not a concept that ever entered the mind of Israel. In fact, I think that it is safe to say that heaven was never meant to be the permanent abode of God’s children except for the one thousand years mentioned in Revelation 20.
Isaiah 45:18 states, “For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens; He is the God who formed the earth and made it, He established it and did not create it a waste place, but formed it to be inhabited.”
The resurrection of Jesus inaugurated the beginning of the final stage of God’s ultimate plan. N. T. Wright, the well-known Anglican scholar writes,
“For Paul and the early church, the resurrection was the launching-point of new creation itself, renewing the world rather than abandoning it, affirming its goodness and beauty and power out the other side of the judgment that falls on its corruption and decay…That the resurrection can bring to life both in the ultimate future, in the new heaven and new earth, and in the penultimate future, as God’s life-giving power is unleashed in works of justice and mercy and healing and beauty and hope already, in the present” (God in Public: How the Bible Speaks Truth to Power Today, SPCK, London 2016, p. 9).
With that in mind, I suggest that the Church is given the privilege of participating and working with God in bringing his plan to completion. This should be the thing that sustains any work that the church engages in and in particular the compassion ministries. When the staff of the Blacktown Community Centre provides counseling designed to free individuals from their addiction, their depression, anxiety, and stress, when they counsel about anger management, abuse (emotional or physical, including domestic violence), they are doing what Jesus did, bringing the saving rule of God to many. “That is what the resurrection is all about: God’s world put to rights, in the present anticipating the future” (Wright, p. 11).
Because of the above, I believe that ADRA (not to mention the other ministries of the Church) is inherently different to the many other compassionate agencies whose work is nevertheless to be lauded.
ADRA workers need to see their contribution in the light of the resurrection, which since it happened has been impacting the world in ways that Christians do not readily understand. God’s new creation is well under way and ADRA is a key player.
Eddy Johnson is the director of ADRA Blacktown in New South Wales, Australia, and a retired pastor.
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