I had not heard the words, Immortality Project, in my prior trips to Africa. My friend in Tanzania said there are many such projects. Projects that were funded by persons or organizations after seeing a need and wanting to provide a solution. Sometimes the donor’s name is attached to the project, but not always. It’s not that the project isn’t well-intentioned or isn’t attempting to help someone. The project may save lives. In the past week, I’ve had several conversations with persons in the mission field who have shared a similar frustration even when they have not used the words, Immortality Project.
Let me explain. Let’s say that a person from the US makes a trip to Africa and sees the dire needs of the desperately poor. I’m going to do something about this, the well-intentioned person says. Health care is lacking and so the person wants to make a hospital or at least a health clinic possible. Funds are raised and given and the clinic is constructed. The project is dedicated and soon the clinic begins seeing people. Suddenly, the desperately poor have somewhere to turn. Two problems emerge – there was no plan for how the clinic would be funded longterm or become self-sustaining, and no one took the time to determine whether the clinic was the significant need that needed addressing. And the desperately poor, though now with some health care, are still desperately poor.
In his book, Toxic Charity, Robert Lupton writes: “Mercy that doesn’t move intentionally in the direction of development (justice) will end up doing more harm than good – to both giver and recipient.” To better understand what he means, I encourage that you read his book which I completed this week.
I am reflecting on the words of Micah 6:8. “[the LORD] has shown you what is good and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with the LORD.” In some translations, it is “mercy” in place of “loving kindness”. The Hebrew is “hesed” – mercy.
We see or hear something and mercy tugs at our hearts. Mercy also becomes a window to the heart of God. But mercy is short-term and without justice, without a longterm plan, the needs becoming overwhelming. Justice also needs mercy so that heart and head work together. Add humility and God’s greatest work can be accomplished through us.
In Acts, when Peter and John encounter a lame man who begs for money, they do not give any money. Instead they give something greater – healing. It is the gift that brings long lasting change. That’s justice. And given in the name of Jesus – that’s humility.
Every day that I’ve been in Africa, I have been approached by someone asking for help. Today, it was a woman in the marketplace who was begging. We didn’t give money but a carrot after her plea that she was hungry. But then she begged for us to take her with us and when that failed, pleaded that we not forget her. There is a heart-wrenching moment everywhere we turn. My mercy meter is working overtime!
We could give money, but is that justice? We could give money to an organization, but is that mercy? I don’t have the solution, but I want to do more than offer a bandaid.
Henry Blackaby writes, “Find out what God is up to and get in on it.” I met a nurse two days ago who moved to a remote area of Kenya to start a clinic. His advice to me: Enter a community and spend time getting acquainted with the people and God will show up. Do that and you will begin to see miracles happen that equal anything you’ve read about in the Bible.
Micah says: the LORD has shown you what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?