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March 18, 2014

Sandwiches and Salvation

Guest post by Paul Tatham

Few South Floridians will forget August 1992. That month a compact but devastatingly powerful hurricane called Andrew buzz-sawed its way ashore south of Miami.

More like a large tornado, Andrew was the second-most powerful hurricane to make U.S. landfall last century. Entire neighborhoods in South Florida were leveled. The town of Homestead was essentially erased from the map.

The Christian school where I served, 60 miles north of Miami, called an emergency administrative huddle to determine our response to the calamity. We sent out an APB to parents, asking for donations and workers willing to load relief trucks.

The response was overwhelming. Parents rallied to the cause and trucks quickly filled with canned food, bottled water, diapers, flashlight batteries, propone canisters, medical supplies, and anything else we thought dazed victims would need. Supplies were then assembled into “CARE packages” for easy delivery.

As we were mapping out the details of the effort, I remember suggesting to my fellow administrators that we enclose a gospel tract with each package. I had been rereading the familiar John 4 account of the woman at the well, where Jesus ministered to her physical thirst but focused on her more vital spiritual need for “living water.” Since it was our usual practice to include a little plug for God in similar past drives, the suggestion was quickly adopted.

It was our prayer, of course, that some of the recipients of those packages would read the tract and, perhaps learning of God’s simple offer of salvation for the first time, open their heart to the Savior. Only Heaven will reveal the outcome.

But in a slew of similar acts of kindness in which I have participated over the years, I am sad to say that that has not been the norm. They ministered solely to physical needs. We believers are quite good about “sharing the love of Christ” in material ways, but when it comes to sharing the gospel, we often fumble the ball. We’re great at handing out sandwiches but not so great at handing out the vastly more important good news of salvation.

Now the old adage is true: people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Shoving a gospel leaflet in someone’s face without coupling it with some act of kindness is not the best approach. We need to include a sandwich with salvation. But often the “spiritual” part of our efforts is missing entirely, and I wonder just how much good they actually do.

This is what I appreciate about the indigenous ministries assisted by Christian Aid Mission: they always include spiritual with material aid. While many of the projects and missions call for material resources, the sharing of Christ is always front and center. Christian Aid has a 60-year history of taking great care that the indigenous ministries they supply have the sharing of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection as an essential part of the effort.

The gospel is what distinguishes the Church from good, charitable organizations; without the hope of eternal life Christ offers, eternal benefit for the recipient is diminished or extinguished. As Jesus once asked His disciples, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).

Is ministering to the physical needs of a lost and dying world important? Absolutely. Will such good works attract people to our Savior? Certainly. But often only if we help them make the connection.

*Paul Tatham is a retired Christian educator living in Orlando, FL and a Christian Aid ministry partner.

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