Earlier this year, I was in Honduras with a group of World Vision supporters to see how, after 18 years, World Vision has helped a community transform from poverty to fullness of life.
Hoping to view this transformation through the experience of a man named Francisco Rodriguez, our group asked him questions about his farming techniques and vegetable business. We didn’t get the answer we expected.
You see, Francisco received agricultural training from World Vision at a local church, and it changed his life. He no longer needed to travel for days to find work as a laborer. Francisco could spend time raising his children, providing for their education, and farming his own land.
Francisco’s agricultural training enabled him to turn his life around economically, but there was much more to the story. He had been an abusive husband and father, as well as a drunk. For him, agricultural training was the catalyst for many other changes.
He also joined a Bible study and entered marriage classes, which gave Francisco a new hope and strength. After a while, he was mentoring other fathers and husbands in the community. It turned out that farming techniques only helped Francisco because his life was being transformed from the inside out.
This is why World Vision’s work as a Christian organization is so important. What Francisco experienced was the Great Commandment and the Great Commission all rolled into one. Before Jesus’ death and then before his ascension, he gave two basic instructions.
First, we are called to love God with all our hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves. But this call to a renewed heart is not the end. We are also called out of ourselves to “go and make disciples of all nations.” This is the kingdom of God — loving our neighbors, demonstrating the good news, and inviting others to join God’s great mission in the world.
The gospel in action
This gospel doesn’t have a hole in it. Too often, Christians have emphasized evangelism through word to the exclusion of deeds. On the other hand, some Christian social organizations are motivated by their faith to action but may neglect the importance of words in sharing the good news.
Instead, the gospel is most potent when people see it in action and hear it proclaimed.
During our visit to Honduras, I got to see just how powerful it is when we share God’s love for our neighbors in both word and deed. The transformation we saw in Francisco had spread throughout the community. It was a glimpse of the kingdom of God in all its fullness.
Once poor, despairing, and without hope, the community now bustles with life and optimism. Crop yields and incomes are increasing. Women meet in groups to weigh their babies, assess family nutrition, and help new mothers learn to raise healthy children.
Financial groups are providing loans, which help families to boost their incomes and assets. Children, as well as adults, are learning to lead change in their communities. Local churches are equipped to serve, and God’s love has infiltrated this community.
When Jesus told his followers to preach the gospel of the kingdom to the ends of the earth, he asked us to show the world a different way to live. He asked us to reach out to people who have been broken, exploited, forgotten, and ignored. When we demonstrate his great love to restore, redeem, and renew the brokenness in our world, it is the most powerful invitation to the fullness of life God offers to us all.
World Vision U.S. President Rich Stearns is the author of The Hole In Our Gospel and Unfinished. Follow him at twitter.com/richstearns.