I write this having just returned to the hotel with our South Africa ministry team from a day at Hugenote College. That's an academic institution in Wellington that some years ago was adopted by The Dutch Reform Church. Its intent is to educate students for the work(s) of Evangelism and Social Work.
I used the parenthesis in the previous paragraph intentionally. The reason is that what some would call two separate "works" are probably inextricably bound together, creating one actual "work." Officially, Evangelism and Social Work are two distinct emphases. But philosophically, theologically, and biblically the distinction is not that clear. How do you do the work of sharing The Good News of Christ (which is what "evangelism" means) without doing what Christ commanded (to love and to serve "the least of these" whom He called brothers and sisters)?
Throughout this time in South Africa I have seen people faithfully marrying those two disciplines (faith and works). In Johannesburg, the people at Mold/Empower/Serve work long hours in a variety of inner city locations - feeding the hungry; giving shelter, nutrition, and pre-school training to homeless and marginally-housed children; equipping out-of-work adults with job skills; and providing free HIV testing in a mobile clinic. Meanwhile, they gently remind every client that the love they share is offered in the name of Jesus and that His love and friendship are available to each and every one. In Botshabelo I witnessed gifted, well-educated social workers provide care for orphans; recruit, properly vet, and train prospective foster and adoptive families; work long hours morning and night six days a week; and make a profound difference in an area of extreme poverty (with a 70% unemployment rate). I also witnessed those same social workers lead a two-day Christian conference about the role of families (especially fathers) in cultivating a safe and loving environment for all children, and I worshiped with those workers in a beautiful church on Sunday. In that service, both social workers and some of their clients stood up and made personal testimonies about their faith in Jesus. In Wellington we learned of the ministry of a Christian college with seven hundred students, most of whom cannot afford the costs of higher education. The administrators, professors, lecturers, and staff there are highly competent and degreed individuals. They consciously have decided to work for salaries 30% less than they could earn at public universities because they believe in the mission of educating young students to make a difference in the world as people of faith. In every instance, I observed individuals who are deeply committed to Christ and deeply committed to serving the needs of people - and who could not imagine one of those attributes existing without the other.
In the New Testament epistle of James, we read the words: "I by my works will show you my faith." James was convinced that what we believe will fashion how we live. He believed that we don't serve God with our words only, but that our words are validated by our deeds.
Too often it is too easy to develop a consumer mentality about Religion. "What will God do for me?" That is a valid question, but not if it stands alone. It is complete only when conjoined with another question: "And what does God call me to do for others?" Throughout this trip I have seen devout people providing sacrificial service because they cannot imagine believing in Christ without following where He leads. They have humbled me. They have inspired me. They have motivated me. And, they have reminded me of a biblical truth: "I by my works will show you my faith."