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It was 1:14 p.m. on September 19, and I had just hung up from a phone call and was returning to work on my next series of sermons, when suddenly the floor started roaring and shaking. As a native of Mexico City, I knew exactly what to do. I left everything behind me and jumped into the stairway to reach the street exit of the church building. When I was standing in the middle of the street, I heard the crash of glass, and that was it. Another earthquake had passed, I thought, and I went into the building again to gather my belongings.

When I once again returned to the street, suddenly everything had changed. People were screaming and running in every direction, our building was on fire on the eighth floor, and there was the sound of explosions all around. In the midst of the chaos, I heard my name. It was like I was dreaming when I saw Teresa, my wife, and Hugo, my son. They came running from our home to see if I was all right, and the first thing they said was that a building on our street had fallen down. I was in shock and could not think of what I should do. I sat down outside our apartment building and stared blankly into space. This was my “spiritual and brave” response to the tragedy that had just occurred in our city.

When I pulled myself together again, there was only one thing that I could think about: How can our church help our neighbors in the midst of such a great need? People needed food. Teams of rescuers needed medicines and construction tools, as well as extra people to help remove rubble from fallen buildings. Thousands of families saw their homes damaged or destroyed. Too much was needed, and there seemed to be so little that we could do in contrast to the magnitude of the catastrophe.

Jesus said that we will always have poor people around us who need help (Matt. 26:11), but we cannot think that it is only people whom we consider poor whom we should have in mind. Jesus was referring to all those in need around us. In the same gospel, but before He speaks about the poor, Jesus expresses with clarity the importance that He places on working for the well-being of the needy. Our identity as children of God is demonstrated by a strong commitment to serve those who suffer. This is so important that Jesus says that on the day of judgment, we will be judged by our deeds:

Then they also will answer, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” Then he will answer them, saying, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matt. 25:44–46)

Of course, we need to understand that He was not saying that salvation is the product of our good works, but rather that genuine faith in Him will be expressed as we do everything we can for those who need us.

Our identity as children of God is demonstrated by a strong commitment to serve those who suffer.

The church is always surrounded by the regular needs of people, and it should be involved in the relief of those needs. The church should be generous all the time, looking for opportunities to help others and to use its resources to supply what is needed, first in the church, and then in the surrounding community. When a church mobilizes its people and its resources regularly in behalf of the needy, it will be better prepared to respond when a natural disaster comes along.

When an emergency comes to our door, these are some of the things we should consider to serve others in a way that brings honor to our Lord:

Start at home. Use your available resources to first help those who are closest to you or to your network of relationships. There are many needs everywhere, but start with those closest to your church’s community (1 Tim. 5:8).

Empower people. When people come with ideas to help others or want to do something in their area of expertise, encourage them to organize and lead if you think their concerns and plans are legitimate. Share with them the financial resources that the church has for mercy ministries. Trying to control every aid effort or to use the church’s structure for every endeavor will make your church ineffective in helping others when you face an emergency (Acts 2:45).

Think long term. When you find a need that you can address, consider that sometimes people will need long-term support. Conserve resources so that you can continue helping others, especially when the flashlights are gone and people are tired (Luke 10:34–35).

Serve all the time. Your church should be involved in mercy ministries on a regular basis. For instance, we all know that much is done by the church during the Christmas season for those in need. However, after the Christmas season is over, lots of ministries and organizations that work for those in need or who are suffering do not have the same support. Keep your church working all year long on serving your neighbor. This will make it more effective in responding in the face of disaster, should the time come.

Be aware. We live in a time of selfies and instant fame. As Christians, we need to be aware of the danger found in promoting our good deeds (Matt. 6:3). It is very tempting to think, “But we can find more help and support if we share pictures of our efforts to comply with Jesus’ command to love our neighbors.” I am not saying it is bad to communicate what we are doing for others, but be aware of the fine line between keeping your friends informed and boasting about what a great job your church or ministry is doing.

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The Simplicity of God

Keep Reading Hope amid Disappointment

From the May 2018 Issue
May 2018 Issue