I receive emails from various missionaries and mission groups. Not long ago, I was one of those who sent such prayer letters. This brief report, that I read this morning, really spoke to me, not only for what it said but for the challenge it implied. I edited it a bit, to remove identifiers and to make the brief account clearer. I'll share a few comments afterward
From the world, where things like this happen (the request contained the missionaries place of service):
We marvel at God’s workings! A coworker from a social ministry project regularly attends a meeting of a group of subsistence farmers. He noticed that one of the female participants had not planted a field next to her house. It turned out the woman had been accused of having used magic to kill her nephew. The boy had died of malaria. As a result of her familynand church believing this accusation, she was beaten so severely, she couldn’t even move for a long time. So the coworker and associates planted a field with her, even though they weren’t sure there would be enough rain to produce a good harvest. "We also tried to point to reconciliation through God," as all those involved in the beating incident attend the same church.
They report, "How happy we were, when three months later we were able to have a thanksgiving service on that woman’s field – not only for a good harvest but also for the joyous news that she has forgiven her family. Later we heard that her brother, acting as the head of the family, had asked her for forgiveness."
- In the environment where this story originates, this field represented an important part of a family's livelihood. It is probably not saying too much to say that whether or not this field was planted was a matter of life and death.
I, and you, need to be looking for places where we can step in and interrupt the flow of evil in this world. The church has an impressive history of doing this. From the early church rescuing abandoned infants in the Roman Empire, to Christians stepping up to care for victims of the Black Plague in the middle ages, to modern-era missions erecting hospitals and aiding with agriculture all over the world, dedicated Christians have chosen to light a candle rather than merely curse the darkness. Thanks, Coworker, for this example.
- Whenever tragedy strikes, sin is usually lurking around. The "father of lies" looks for any opportunity to damage the church. Here is a church in an agricultural community minus all the tractors, silos, and equipment that mark farming in the west. These aren't folk who grow tomatoes because they can grow better ones than those available at Walmart. For these folk, if their field produces they eat. If it doesn't they don't. The devil is smart enough to know that someone attending the funeral(s) that would have taken place, had not Coworker and his band stepped in, would draw the clear conclusion, "This is the church's fault. The beating this woman received was a sin not only against her but against those dependent on her. Worse, it doesn't take too much imagination to see that but for Coworker, this would have resulted in a stain on the reputation of the church--even The Church.
- Did you note that Coworker didn't plant the field alone? "Associates" helped. Further, the group of outsiders didn't do it for the injured woman, they did it with her. There are times when brave, dedicated Christians need to step up on their own, but those occasions are rare. Usually, the pattern one can observe in the book of Acts--partnership--should be the mode of action.
- As important as it was for this family to be fed, that wasn't most important. The brief praise and prayer note didn't say for sure, but I take it that "the brother acting as the head of the family" is the father of the boy who died from malaria. If so, it makes the forgiveness that was offered all the more powerful. The Apostle Paul tells his son-in-the-faith, Titus, to teach his congregation "to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. . . . to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people." (Tt 3:1–2 & 8). This is part of the lifestyle that results in "the word of God . . . not be[ing] reviled" (Tt.2:5), and "condemned" (Tt 2:8). In fact it results in the "adorn[ing of] the doctrine of God our Savior" (Tt 2:10). Can you imagine that people like you, me, Coworker, and Associates have the opportunity to make the truth about Jesus Christ more attractive to those who live around us? We do!