There is a growing conversation within the global Christian community about childcare ministries, global missions, and more. Last month we discussed some important questions around childcare. This month we’re joining the conversation around international missions to look at a couple of common questions from a unique, Agape point of view. Let’s start with the most common question I’ve addressed since joining Agape:

Question #1 – “Benevolence” is great, but evangelism is obviously better. Isn’t it more important to tell people about Jesus than to help with physical needs?

I’ve heard this question raised countless times and it’s understandable when people say that the eternal is more important that the temporary, a person’s soul is more valuable than their body, and there’s no end in sight to issues like poverty and orphaned children. But to be blunt, it seems insincere or short sighted to claim that Christians should choose between “benevolence” and “evangelism”. Jesus Himself modeled a holistic approach to ministry, addressing both the spiritual and physical needs of those He encountered. He very clearly loved his neighbor in tangible ways while working to make disciples.

But I think this this question comes from a very real place. Many of us have seen Christian ministries that focus solely on benevolence. Too often, that results in unending hand outs, no real life change, and no one hearing the eternally important message of the Good News. We have also seen the opposite be true. Missionaries and churches sometimes focus solely on an abstract idea of God and faith, but never choose to address the real difficulties that our brothers and sisters are facing. It’s as though we’ve forgotten the words of James 2:16, “If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”

So what’s the answer?

 
At Agape we think it’s simple – do both! Our mission is to raise up the next generation of Christians in Asia by sharing the Father’s love with abandoned and vulnerable children. Caring for abandoned children is a powerful example of Jesus’ holistic approach to missions. Over and over again, we see that as our partners in Asia provide for the needs of vulnerable children in tangible ways, the soil of their hearts is prepared for the seed of the Gospel message. The Greatest Command has two parts – loving God and loving our neighbor. We think the healthiest ministries find ways to do both.
We see this holistic approach with almost of our partners and recently heard about it from a friend in Myanmar.

This leader’s family has taken multiple orphans into their own home over the years as they have been leading a growing house church. While praying recently, they felt led to begin sharing the Gospel with a nearby community where there is no church. And what was their first step? Several people from their house church began visiting the new community once a week to care for at-risk children and gather them in Children’s Clubs. As these leaders demonstrate the love of Christ through their actions, they earn the trust and respect of their communities, paving the way for meaningful conversations about faith and salvation. Then as people in this unreached community begin to walk as new disciples of Jesus, they will grow into a faith that includes speaking the Good News and showing it to those who need it most.

 

Question #2 – Aren’t missions too “western”? What if you end up importing the American way of doing things in addition to the pure Gospel?

It is true that missions efforts have sometimes been associated with cultural imperialism – and I’m not casting stones at others! My family served as missionaries in Asia for ten years, so we know firsthand the good that God did through us as well as our own shortcomings and blind spots. Today there is a growing recognition of the importance of working with local leaders and communities to ensure that missions work is culturally sensitive and relevant. That’s a movement that Agape has gladly joined with 100% of our ministry being led and carried out local Christian leaders across Asia. By partnering with indigenous leaders who have a deep understanding of their own cultural context, we can avoid imposing foreign ideologies and instead empower local communities to take ownership of their own growth.

Working with local leaders also offers several advantages over relying on foreign missionaries. According to recent research by the Lausanne Movement, missions efforts that prioritize indigenous leadership are more likely to result in sustainable and long-lasting impact within communities. Local leaders are often better equipped to navigate the complexities of their own cultural context, build trust and relationships within their communities, and tailor their approach to effectively communicate the Gospel message in a way that resonates with local customs and beliefs. Additionally, empowering local leaders fosters a sense of ownership and sustainability in the spread of the Gospel, resulting in leaders who are able to continue the work of missions long after foreign missionaries have left.

It’s easy to say words like “equip” and “empower”, but much harder to do well. Over the past year, Agape has been figuring out exactly what this means for us. We don’t have it fully figured out yet, but here’s what it looks like so far. We know that we’re blessed to partner with some amazing, godly leaders in Asia. We want to help them develop other leaders in their own circles who share our heart for children and the Gospel. We have done that by connecting local partners with discipleship trainers in their own countries and plugging others into international leadership cohorts. Instead of figuring out how we can directly do more, we’re transitioning towards a model where we’re helping these leaders multiply themselves and multiply their impact.

We are seeing this take shape today in Nepal. We have a handful of great leaders who are busy caring for at-risk children and sharing the Gospel in their own region. We want to see more of that – not by sending American missionaries, overseeing local churches, or supporting local preachers. Instead we’ve been able to get quality, ongoing leadership training for key leaders there. They are now turning around and training a dozen emerging leaders so that their ministry can multiply in ways that make sense to them.

By partnering with these local leaders and helping them multiply, we can potentially care for hundreds more children and share the transformative message of the Gospel with thousands!

I’m thankful for the Christian leaders God has put in our path. We are learning so much as we listen to our Asian partners and see how God is working. Let me know if you’d ever like to learn more about our approach to discipleship or if you have advice to give!