A significant amount of our annual JOSHUA team is made up of Youth Group members, but plenty of adults go too. I remember working for a few days at the JOSHUA mission when I was a youth. At that time, the kind of work I was doing was totally new to me, and I had a hard time getting my mind about why I was doing it. Unbeknownst to me, I was participating in social justice ministry.
At the time, I wondered, "If we really want to make a difference with these people, why aren't we sharing the Gospel with them?" This week I discovered an article that addresses this concern, "Social Justice vs. Evangelism." Maggie Canty-Shafer explains that they are really two sides of the same coin. They both contribute to what she says is "holistic ministry." She quotes Dr. Ron Sider, who wrote a book about this topic, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger:
Sider says that without social works, evangelism appears to be all talk. But without sharing the hope and good news of the Gospel, ministry lacks the Holy Spirit’s transformative power. Neither side of social justice ministry is complete without the other. “People are both spiritual and material beings,” Sider says. “Addressing only half the problem only gives you half of the solution.”Social justice ministry is the arm of evangelism through which we care for the physical and emotional needs of our neighbors. It isn't just a prelude to a carefully-prepared rendition of the Romans Road. In social justice ministry we become the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus Christ. We are Christ's presence with all who are suffering. Just as Jesus communicated God's saving grace in his gentle touch and kind words, we do the same here and now. While some Christians get the idea that God will judge them based on how many people were saved because of their witness, Matthew 25:31-40 tells us that God will also judge our lives based on how we treat those whom society casts aside:
‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”Jesus' ministry included proclaiming God's love with his mouth and showing it with his hands and feet. We are called to do the same. Our Christian walk with God is not only about our relationship with God; it's about how we relate to all God's children. Social justice ministry is one of many facets in our relationship with God.
JOSHUA is a great chance for our youth (and young at heart!) to learn about social justice ministry. Please join me in holding our team in prayer during their spiritual and physical journey.