Sunday, September 11, 2016

Saving People & Leaving the Saving of Souls to God

Living Hope: Even in the Darkness of Despair
A David Kiern Film, 2014, narrated by Joel Smallbone, and starring real people as themselves.

This movie, at its simplest, appears to be about ‘missions’. More correctly it’s about, in the words of Mother (now Saint) Teresa, Christians going to the poor of South Africa to “love Jesus”. And she implies, when you see the hungry, the naked, the sick, you are seeing Jesus in disguise. So love --  them.
The setting is the Capetown area, including Oceanview where one in three women and one in four men test positive for HIV, the average life expectancy is under 50, and the infection rate is 44%. This is a story of men and women, who with these statistics in their heads were compelled to take their families from the comforts of home to the social battlefield thousands of miles away.
I’ll let you discover the players for yourself, but suffice it to say, that each one had to surrender to God’s will ‘one day at a time’ not knowing what God wanted them to do tomorrow. We share in their agonizing and from that come some memorable thoughts.  When Joey Lankford was concerned about what his wife would think about taking the family to Capetown, his father comments, “If God is calling you to the mission field, you won’t need to sell the idea to your wife.” How true that is and how different from those men (in particular) who wrongly drag their wives and families there only to meet defeat and discouragement. Courtney Lankford needed no selling. She was just waiting for Joey to catch up to her.  Later in the movie, in reference to how her marriage with Joey was strengthened by their ministry in S.A., we hear Courtney observing that “When you take two people and put them through a trial, they will cling together for dear life.”  Joey on the other hand, who was always worried about his wife’s happiness and his responsibility for it, had to hear and accept these words from God: “Her happiness is not found in you anymore; it’s found in Me; I’ll provide.”
The film addresses the age-old dispute about the social gospel (Christian faith practiced as a call to social reform) vs. the salvation gospel (Christian faith practiced in pursuit of helping people make personal conversions). John Thomas clearly answers the question when he says, “I thought Jesus wanted me to save souls; I discovered He wanted me to save people.”
Thomas is the founder of and the rest of the film showcases the four areas of ministry Living Hope focuses on with some gut-wrenching true-life stories that will amaze you.  There is Living Care (focusing on healthcare); Living Grace (focusing on the homeless and those dealing with addiction); Living Right (HIV/AIDS education and prevention); and Living Way (Economic Empowerment).
In the Living Care section we experience the story of a lady dying of AIDS who fought Christianity for a long time until one of the team finally got through to her. She held on and eventually wanted to get baptized but moving her anywhere was out of the question. What happens next, just six days before she dies, will, I believe, impact each viewer immensely and unforgettably.
My favorite part of the movie is that of Dana Perino, currently an American political commentator and author, and the 27th White House Press Secretary, serving under President George W. Bush. She was there when the President selected Living Hope as one of two faith-based organizations eligible for grants under a “stop AIDS in Africa” program he implemented. Dana tells the story and shares her feelings when she and her husband went to serve with Living Hope after her W.H. stint. Her presence, at least for those of us who watch her regularly on television, helps us ‘click’ with the reality of Living Hope in today’s world. She asks, “If you have the means to help people (the pill for AIDS), don’t you have a moral obligation to give it to them?” And that’s exactly what Bush did through so many organizations. When the President met John Thomas, he remarked, “I’ve always wanted to meet the pastor of the one local church that the U.S. government funds.”
Throughout the movie one could feel the dependence on prayer shared by the team and those they were working with. From the seed project in Living Way to the provision of funds for a major surgery of a worker’s wife – another moving story in itself, prayer made the difference.  And then there’s a fourteen-year-old mother with AIDS who named her baby (born with advanced stage of AIDS) “no hope”.  Can you imagine being at such a point in life, that this what you do? Living Hope staff saw this as just an amazing opportunity to minister to this young lady in a way that enabled her, months later to remark, “You people showed me Jesus.” And then asked to be taken down to the registry office to officially change her child’s name to “The Lord Is My Hope”.
Many churches would do well to show this movie one Sunday morning instead of their regular program, warning people that it won’t be a 30-minute sermon that day.
The players have one final piece of advice for us – if you’re going to do this kind of thing, you need to do it properly. You start by spending a lot of time with God.
For most of us, I recommend starting with seeing this movie. If after seeing it, you still feel like pitying those poor missionaries, you’ve missed the point. Being a missionary in this kind of setting, is rather something to be envied – for it is there, one gets to really see God at work.

--  By Ken B. Godevenos, President, Accord Resolutions Services Inc., Toronto, Ontario, September 11, 2016.

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