Unashamed of Our Teacher
In South Asia where we work, many Christian humanitarian organizations strictly prohibit Christian witness, so as not to lose favor with host governments.
These agencies freely admit that Jesus inspires them to help people, yet they believe that it would inhibit their work to discuss Jesus with the people they help.
I understand their decision up to a point. In areas hostile to the Gospel, it might do some good for beneficiaries to see that Christian organizations are concerned for them, even though there is not any discussion of Christianity per se.
What concerns me, though, is the prevalent opinion that religious dialogue has no place in humanitarian work.
In general, I believe that the peaceful, respectful exchange of ideas about all sorts of things – science, economics, health, education, and, yes, religion – promotes progress.
The alternative to dialogue is mutual ignorance, which in the long-run promotes neither peace nor progress.
Unfortunately, there are societies that repress this dialogue.
The Great Commission is not simply a command to evangelize, but more broadly Christ’s mandate to teach all nations how to apply what he taught (Mat 28:19-20). This involves sharing ideas and values that promote human dignity, peace, and progress.
- Our value does not depend on our race, ethnicity or gender, because all of us are created in God’s image.
- We are not victims of blind fate. We have real responsibilities and make meaningful choices.
- Benevolence should be motivated by love for others, with genuine concern for their long-term good, rather than by the desire to earn rewards for our good deeds.
- We are not trapped by misdeeds from the past, but are offered forgiveness and new lives.
- We have an obligation to love and to do good to people who are different from ourselves.
- In conflict, we should seek reconciliation, not revenge.
Views such as these were not commonly held until Jesus taught them, and they still are not universally believed.
Yet Christ’s influence has been substantial even in societies that remain, in other respects, non-Christian.
In India, for example, Christians comprise only 2.4% of the population, yet Christ’s teachings have had a markedly positive effect.
Until modern times, Indian society oppressed women through unthinkable practices such as female infanticide, child marriages, and sati – the practice of burning a widow alive on her husband’s funeral pyre.
Society was stratified into religiously sanctioned castes. People born into lower castes were blamed for their misfortune because of the law of karma, which attributes our current conditions to decisions made in the past, perhaps in previous lives.
Even today, these injustices linger to a lesser extent.
Two hundred years ago, the missionary William Carey traveled to India to teach the ways of Christ. He fought for the humane treatment of lepers, created schools for people of all castes, advocated for women’s rights, and promoted better agricultural methods.
In 1818, Carey and his partners started Samachar Darpan, the first newspaper printed in an Indian language, and Serampore College, India’s second college, which was open to people of all castes, races, and creeds. (The first college was also started by Christians.)
Today, Indians are proud of their media, higher education, agricultural advances, and progress in human rights.
Carey led the way on all these fronts, inspired by Jesus.
A generation later, the great Indian reformer Jyotirao Phule recognized the religious roots of social justice.
He concluded that nations that followed the teachings of the Jesus progressed, whereas others did not. Inspired by Christ, Phule laid the groundwork for Mahatma Gandhi by fighting courageously for the rights of women and people trapped in lower castes.
Meanwhile, his wife Savitribai became the first female teacher in India. At a time when it was considered sinful to educate girls, Savitribai operated three schools for girls and pioneered numerous innovations in education that remain today.
The Phules contribution is incalculable. Gandhi kissed Phule’s feet in deference to him, and Indians now revere Savitribai as “the Mother of modern education”.
The Phules’ inspiration was Jesus.
We do not need to choose between helping other people and proclaiming the Gospel.
The Gospel not only reconciles individuals with God; over time, it also benefits whole societies.
Harvest Bridge provides help to those who need it, without a religious litmus test. But we are not ashamed of Jesus or his words (Luke 9:26) because they give life.
Many blessings in Christ,
Dr. Tim M.,