A friend of mine for many years teaches ESL, or “English as a Second Language,” at a small college in the Southern Appalachians. His students are of various backgrounds, their native language ranging from Spanish to Arabic. My friend is well suited for the job.
When he was younger he was a missionary in Mexico City. Later, he served an international development organization in Kurdish Iraq. His last overseas post was in the mountains of Yemen, where he worked at a hospital. The hospital was operated by one of the largest evangelical mission organizations in the world, an organization that decided the hospital should be closed.
Why? The results were not what the executives were hoping for, frankly. They refused to continue to pour dollars into a remote locale without seeing more converts; more “Christianization;” and more church start-ups. My friend, along with his peers, begged the mission board to reconsider – not for the sake of their employment – but for the sake of Yemen.
The hospital, meager as it was, performed life-saving surgeries every day. Tens of thousands of patients came through the doors each year. And more importantly, attitudes were changing. In the villages surrounding the hospital, locals found it increasingly difficult to hate or be suspicious of those who were saving their children.
My friends laid all of this on the table and was met with the coldest rejection possible. “We have not obligation,” one of the executives remarked glibly, “to the bodies of those whose souls are going to hell.” Within a few short years the hospital was closed, my friend came home emotionally and spiritually crushed, and an entire region lost the only medical care available for scores and scores of miles.
Today, Yemen is enduring one of the worst humanitarian crises seen since WW2. Thousands have died as Saudi Arabia has bombed the country into the apocalypse, and 80% of the population needs daily, basic, humanitarian assistance: Food, water, medicine, and shelter. The country is dying.
It is not the Gospel – literally meaning the “Good News” – to abandon suffering people, no matter who they are or how different their religious beliefs. Shame on those who defame the compassion of Christ by turning their backs on the poor, the outcast, and the marginalized; the sick, hungry, and thirsty; the imprisoned, the foreigner, or the immigrant.
Faith requires that we remain engaged, doing all the good we can do, where we can do it, for as long as we can do it, serving those whom Jesus called, “the least of these.” For the Good News is not so much a golden parachute that will eventually allow a few to float away to a harp-playing, cloud-riding, hymn-singing heaven.
Rather, it is an evil-rebuking, society-changing, personal-transforming, status-quo-reversal that brings liberation and healing to the world – in the here and now. And ironically, it may be in the saving of others’ bodies, that we find salvation for our own souls.