In his great autobiography Voice in the Night, South African pastor Surprise Sithole shares an amazing event that happened shortly after he had met his present co-worker Heidi Baker, director for Iris Ministries, for the first time. Cholera had struck a community, and being a highly contagious disease that could lead to death, most people would run the other way. However, Surprise and Heidi went straight into the fire.
They had to argue with the health workers for a long time before they could enter the hospital tent. Inside, the stench was horrible and the suffering of the people even greater. Surprise writes:
“Heidi walked straight into this disgusting, foul-smelling, life-threatening mess. She knelt down beside people to pray for them. She lovingly wiped the perspiration from their foreheads. She took the children in her arms and hugged and kissed them – pouring out her life again and again. Her courage and grace amazed me, and I tried my best to follow her example.”
As they prayed, more and more got healed, rising from their beds with their symptoms gone. For those who weren’t healed, they loved and hugged them and brought them clean water. Amazingly, neither Heidi nor Surprise came down with Cholera after this event.
Healing grows out of compassion. It is when we love the sick and share their pain that we will be able to pray effectively for them. Likewise, poverty reduction and humanitarian activism grow out of compassion. If we like to talk about and pray for healing, but aren’t passionate about alleviating suffering and saving lives through supporting aid relief, are we really driven by compassion? If we really care for people’s well-being, we cannot ignore poverty.
The needs are enormous. One billion people live in extreme poverty, that is on less than 1.5 dollars a day. 800 million go to bed hungry each night. Every year, 200 million people are affected by natural disasters. Billions lack sufficient health care. Billions lack a toilet.
1 John 3:17 says that if we have material resources and see our brother in need but close out hearts for him, the love of God cannot abide in us. If we are able to help, we have to help. 20 % of the world’s population consume 80 % of the world’s resources. The West is plundering the Rest. But God wants it to be equal for all (2 Cor 8:13).
People like Surprise Sithole and Heidi Baker are good at combining healing with poverty reduction. Let’s join them in that cause. Jesus Himself said that the signs of Him being the Messiah are that “the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Mt 11:5).