Editor's Note: This article by Cru founder Bill Bright originally appeared in the November 1981 issue of Worldwide Challenge. Given his expression of concern for helping the poor and oppressed, I suppose this also makes Dr. Bright the founder of our Gospel In Action initiative.
Throughout history, Christians have demonstrated God's concern for the poor and oppressed. Cru is enhancing its discipleship ministries with a growing social conscience...
INSIDE a converted factory on Chicago's South Side, several black teenagers are going all out on a makeshift basketball court. A few adults, puffing, seem always a few steps behind.
In a nearby room, a group of black Christians from an inner-city church are listening to a Cru staff member explain how to introduce others to Christ.
In a smaller room, a volunteer is counseling a teenage girl concerning dating relationships.
The converted factory is the still-developing Agape Community Center. Started by Cru staff member Dave Scott in 1980 to expand the Chicago inner-city ministry, the center is one of many expressions of Cru's social conscience.
Most Christians in this generation adhere to a partial gospel. They know Jesus as Savior, accept the Bible as the holy, inspired Word of God, pray, witness to others, and seek to live holy lives and to obey God's commands. But they have given little thought and attention to His command to care for the poor, the widowed and orphaned, and the imprisoned. They have ignored the victims of discrimination, leaving civil rights issues to lawyers and politicians.
Although Jesus is our model of compassion for society's outcasts, God's concern for the poor and oppressed did not begin with the birth and ministry of our Lord nearly 2,000 years ago, but long before. The Mosaic Law contains many commands in favor of the poor, from lending money without interest 1 to leaving behind fallen grain in the field and fruit in the vineyard for the needy to gather. 2 Widows and orphans are objects of His protection. 3
Being just and upright, God demands justice among men, even in an imperfect world. Part of Israel' s woe announced by the prophets was brought upon the people by their social injustice. In Jeremiah, for example, God accused His people of deeds of wickedness: "They do not plead the cause, the cause of the orphan, that they may prosper; and they do not defend the rights of the poor." 4
In fulfillment of prophecy, Jesus preached the gospel to the poor. 5 Upon His return to earth as King, He will separate the righteous from the wicked. As Matthew 25 narrates, those who have fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, sheltered the stranger, clothed the naked and visited the sick and imprisoned will inherit eternal life. Those who have ignored the needy will be condemned to eternal punishment.6
The early church reflected this concern. The Christians in Jerusalem "had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need." 7 Because of this, Luke confidently and joyfully wrote, "For there was not a needy person among them." 8
Through the centuries since then, Christians have pioneered in demonstrating compassion and initiating needed social reform. Perhaps most noteworthy are the reforms of the British Isles in the 18th and 19th centuries. Lawlessness and immorality characterized England in the 18th century. Heavy drinking was common in all classes of society. Gambling was rampant, the government corrupt. The masses lived in deep poverty.
Similar conditions in France contributed to the bloody French Revolution, but in England the influence of the Wesleyan revival initiated a more peaceful reform.
After his personal experience with Christ in 1738, John Wesley traveled across Great Britain, preaching for more than 50 years. He could not resist the needs of the neglected, and has been called "the first great friend of the poor."
He denounced slavery as a scandal. He encouraged prison reform and opposed intemperance. He prepared and distributed inexpensive literature to enable the poor to gain basic education. For many years he devoted his leisure hours to the study of medicine and conducted several medical dispensaries for the poor. The great reformers who followed him owed their inspiration to his life and message.
John Howard, father of modern prison reform, gave Wesley the credit for inspiring him to fight against indescribably foul prison conditions. Wesley also influenced Robert Raikes, founder of the Sunday school movement. In 1780 Raikes became concerned for the "miserable mobs of children" running the streets of Gloucester on Sunday, when the factories and shops were closed. The Sunday school gave children religious training and elementary instruction in reading, writing and simple arithmetic.
William Wilberforce dedicated his life to the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. Just before his death in 1833, slavery was ended in British possessions. This achievement would have been impossible without the work of Wilberforce and his evangelical friends in Parliament.
After his conversion to Christ in 1859, young Tom Barnardo volunteered for missionary service. Instead, he founded Dr. Barnardo's Homes, the largest private orphanage system in the world.
George Williams founded the Young Men's Christian Association to meet the need of young men in the city for exercise, social life and lodging in a Christian environment.
Henri Dunant, a Swiss businessman and prominent evangelical, was horrified by the suffering of the wounded and dying on the battlefield. His influence led to a Geneva Convention in 1864 and eventual founding of the Red Cross.
Similar works of benevolence crossed the Atlantic to America. Historian J. Edwin Orr writes, "The decades following 1830 in American life have been called by writers 'The Sentimental Years,' for they were times when organized good works flourished as never before. There was scarcely an object of benevolence that lacked a dedicated society or institution, and all of the organizations—whether church-related or not—were directly indebted to the evangelical awakening of the times." 9
These good works included city rescue missions, orphanages, hospitals, schools and societies to promote prison reform, stop prostitution and abolish slavery.
If we are to follow in the steps of these believers, we cannot limit the lordship of Christ in our lives only to areas directly related to evangelism. We must recognize from these biblical and historical examples that, as God's Spirit directs men's lives in a revolutionary way, both a burden for the lost and a desire to arrest the influence of sin in society inevitably result. To be sure, many churches and organizations today devote considerable effort helping the poor and disadvantaged and providing emergency relief, but on the whole Christians are having very little impact on society.
Though Cru's number one priority continues to be discipleship and evangelism—helping to fulfill the Great Commission of our Lord in this generation—we also are committed to doing more to meet the pressing physical and educational needs of people we are reaching for Jesus Christ, especially in the inner cities.
As a new believer almost 35 years ago, I recognized my responsibility to needy people. As a deacon and director of deputation ministries in the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, I spent the first five years of my Christian journey working with the poor, prisoners and inhabitants of skid row in Los Angeles. Again and again my heart was broken as I witnessed the desperate needs of the neglected.
That same compassion and concern remain a vital part of my life and have found expression in the ministry of Cru on a worldwide scale, most notably through The Agape Movement.
A few days following EXPLO '72, which brought 85,000 students and lay people to Dallas for a week of Christian training, the Lord impressed me to pray for 100,000 men and women to invest two years or more of their lives to help take the gospel to the ends of the earth and, at the same time, meet social needs. Could God raise up Christian doctors, teachers, agricultural workers, tradesmen and others with vocational and professional skills to help meet the needs of the hurting multitudes of earth?
From that vision The Agape Movement was born in 1973. Since then, more than 300 Americans have been sent to other countries. Before leaving the United States, they received extensive training in discipleship and evangelism to enable them to meet spiritual as well as physical needs.
One of the first teams comprised two nurses, a doctor and a dentist. They provided medical attention for an area of nearly 60,000 people in South Korea. Patients often lined up at 4 a.m. to wait for treatment. Sometimes nearly 200 passed through the clinic in a single day. While they waited in line, patients received the gospel message. In one month, as many as 600 Koreans received Christ through the varied witnesses of the medical team.
Another medical team opened a clinic in the Philippines in a remote village known as a "barrio of thieves" because of the number of residents who stole for a living. In a few weeks, many of the hundreds of adults who came for treatment had indicated decisions for Christ, including the village captain and his wife. They began a literacy class to enable more residents to read the Bible. At the end of six months, when the medical team ended its project, more than 1,000 people had become Christians. When the crime rate dropped 80 percent, the barrio's name was changed to Easter Village to indicate the spiritual transformation of a community.
Increasingly, the complexion of the prayed-for 100,000 people has changed from North American to international. Countries in Africa, Asia and Europe have sent out Agape Movement personnel. A year ago at the '80 World Evangelization Crusade/Here's Life, South Korea, approximately two million Koreans responded to the invitation to commit themselves to go as missionaries or to pray for and support those who would go.
P.S. Ministries, the prison ministry of Cru, began in 1974. Although conditions have improved considerably since the days of Wesley, prisons still are places of fear and inhumanity. Prison authorities warn of overcrowding and the potential rioting that poses. Most prisoners struggle psychologically, having no concept of authority, respect, love and acceptance.
Larry and Beverly Benton began P.S. Ministries after Beverly was beaten in her home by a former prisoner. He had followed her there from a shopping mall, intending to kill her to "force society to put me to death, and thus, in my own weird way, prove to the world and myself that society hated me." Eventually, the Bentons were able to forgive this man. Over a period of two years, they persisted in loving him, offering counseling and Bible study, and he accepted Christ as his Savior. His life was changed.
Since then, Larry and Beverly and their staff of 35 have helped hundreds of prisoners find new life in Christ. P.S. Ministries staff emphasize discipleship and evangelism, but educational and psychological needs are not ignored. Regular counseling sessions with inmates and their families are an important part of P.S. Ministries' approach. Included in seminars that teach basic principles of the Christian life are classes on the biblical principles governing anger, forgiveness and authority.
The Chicago inner-city ministry is representative of Cru's ministry to the poor living in several of America's cities. Crawford Loritts' burden for black America is helping to mobilize black Christians for full-time ministry. The recently launched Here's Life, Inner City movement, which we want to establish in every major city, is designed to help meet spiritual, physical and educational needs of those to whom the Lord has commanded us to proclaim the gospel.
As I have already stated, Cru will continue to emphasize discipleship and evangelism, for that is our primary calling. Indeed, Jesus' purpose in coming to earth was to seek and to save the lost." 10 Attempting to meet physical needs has only temporary results, but a person rightly related to God will live eternally with Him. In the process of winning and building people for Christ, however, we must not forget that there is more we are commanded to do.
When we hold hatred in our hearts for other ethnic groups or when we refuse to love or when we think of ourselves as more valuable than other people groups, we rebel against God’s best intentions for us. This divides us and turns us against one another. Yet we are not without hope.
There’s no perfect recipe to listening and lamenting — no three-step plan to change your own heart. But there are steps you can take to open yourself up to the voices of others and prepare yourself for the changes that God wants to work in you.
Discussing race in America can be uncomfortable. But as is the case with many important issues, becoming uncomfortable is the only way to make positive change. Only when people leave the comfort of ignorance and choose to enter into the messiness can we work together to bring about positive change.
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