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For many in the developing world, Christians are a lifeline – Mercy Ships

Christians have always made history, by following the model of Jesus. The church has led the way for centuries, caring for the poor, helping the sick, speaking up for the voiceless, and exposing injustice for the vulnerable and oppressed. William Wilberforce, Elizabeth Fry, Florence Nightingale and John Wesley, to name a few, spring to mind.

But why doesn’t God simply get rid of the injustice and suffering in our world? This is a question we’ve heard and, perhaps, asked ourselves. I was thinking about this recently, when climbing with Caleb, my seven-year-old son. Far from an avid climber, I will dabble when the rock-face is made of plastic and, ideally, decorated to look like a solar system. When the chance came for this intrepid dad to demonstrate his climbing prowess, I adorned a harness that was designed for maximum ignominy and reached for the dayglow planets.

Like his namesake, Caleb was bold and strong. He ascended with fearless agility, at rocket speed I clambered, slowly, towards the moulded sun, hoping the endeavour would mould my own son, watching below. My bravery was bolstered by a safety rope system above my head, which is designed to take the strain and then lower you gently down to the ground. The safety rope saved me from certain death – well, injury at least – and it teaches us about injustice.

When we think of injustice, it’s easy to start with someone else. Perhaps someone bad’, who causes others to suffer. Truth be told, we all play our part in the problem of evil, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Thankfully, God’s grace catches us in love and lowers us gently into His forgiveness. We have a safety rope in Christ. God has saved every believer from Eden’s fall. His amazing grace…saves a wretch like me” and every other wretch out there. So, clearly, God cannot simply remove the bad people’ who contribute to injustice, without also relieving this world of every person alive today.

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Injustice always begins with sin. Persecution and poverty emanate from sin, like poisonous fumes from a dump. Perhaps it’s why Jesus said: The poor you will always have with you”. Today, our lives can be insulated from the suffering of impoverished people around the world, or even nearby. It is more likely to be headlines about the poor that we always have with us” on our phones. They remind us that all is not yet as it should be. Selfishness and greed cause the most vulnerable to suffer.

More people are trapped in slavery in 2019 than were ever forced onto wooden ships during the 1800s. More than 40 million people worldwide are in slavery today. Innocent people are suffering miscarriages of justice, undergoing beatings, imprisonment and even facing execution. And, we have not yet eradicated armed conflicts that cause starvation and misery. I remember seeing one distraught mother scoop up her lifeless child. Her agony embodies the reality of injustice.

The Father’s heart breaks with that of every mourning mother and bereaved father. Our Bibles are crammed with verses about bringing justice to the poor. Prophets were sent by God in response to nations’ injustice. My favourite is Micah, who told rich oppressors: The Lord has told us what is right and what He demands: see that justice is done, let mercy be your first concern.”

When we hear the word rich’, we naturally imagine billionaires with luxurious mansions and yachts. But you may be rich, in global terms. If you earn £25,000+ a year, you’re among the one per cent of highest earners in the world. Even on minimum wage, you will be in the top five per cent. A quarter of the world doesn’t even have a toilet.

So, you actually woke up in paradise this morning, from the perspective of someone living in extreme poverty. You turn on the tap and drink clean water, you have a flushing toilet, and you probably ate breakfast. The safety ropes’ you depend on are not in place for everyone.

Confronted with such injustice, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed. So, what would Jesus do? Jesus modelled compassion for the poor. He began by declaring: Good news to the poor”, and He spent time with the destitute, blind and lame. He even turned the tables of injustice physically, when He confronted rich money-changers who were exploiting the poor.

Jesus taught when we feed the hungry and visit the sick, we are serving Him. Christians are called to bring hope to the poor and healing for the sick; when we do, we find Jesus in the faces of those we serve. The early church never preached good news without tending to people’s physical and material needs. The Acts 2 church gave to anyone who had need”.

Progress has been made in the fight against injustice, as churches support movements and charities that empower the poor. Extreme poverty has more than halved in the last 25 years. Last year, five of the fastest growing economies in the world were African. But, there remains a chasm of disparity. In sub-Saharan Africa 7 out of 10 people still live on less than £2 a day. Poverty is caused by several factors, but when it comes down to it, it’s a simple equation: our
world is not fair because people don’t share.

There is an abundance of resources in our world so, as my son would say, That’s not fair; sharing is caring.” Take healthcare: we don’t worry whether we’ll be able to afford a doctor or a life-saving operation, because in Western Europe, less than three per cent of people don’t have access to medical treatment. In sub-Saharan Africa, nine out of 10 people are living without access to medical care and surgery. When they fall there’s no safety rope to catch them.

Children are the most at risk: 80 per cent of children living in poverty need surgery before they’re 15. Every child is a precious life, such as Gamai. Gamai fell when she was one year old, but there was no safety rope’. She pulled a pan of boiling water over herself, but her mother could only afford a tube of ointment. Gamai’s burns were left untreated, so they contracted. Her fingers tightened and her arms fused at the elbow. They stayed like that for four years.

Hope and healing

Moved by the plight of children like Gamai, Don and Deyon Stephens followed the model of Jesus. Today, the organisation they founded, Mercy Ships, operates the largest charity hospital ship in the world. The Evangelical Alliance member partners with African governments to provide more than 2,000 free surgeries a year, and we train up surgeons and renovate hospitals.

Mercy Ships is crewed by volunteers, who heal cleft lips so babies survive, straighten bowed legs so children can walk, and repair cataracts so the blind can see. Driven by our values of loving God, loving others, and acting with integrity, we pray with patients and worship on the wards. For Gamai, Mercy Ships met her needs free of charge: surgery, pain relief and physiotherapy. Today, she plays with her friends and can stretch out her fingers and lift her arms.

Get involved

The gospel requires that each of us play our part in bringing about justice. You can:

1. Pray: Stand with the needy in prayer. Stay informed and seek out news about inequality and poverty.

2. Volunteer: Many Christian organisations, like Mercy Ships, offer opportunities for volunteers. From a few hours a month in the UK, up to a few months onboard a hospital ship, where only half the roles are medical. Visit our website to find out about our roles: mer​cy​ships​.org​.uk/​s​e​r​v​e​-​o​n​b​o​a​r​d​/​v​o​l​u​nteer

3. Give and fundraise: Find a cause or charity that’s overcoming an injustice and partner with them financially. Regular monthly donations are best, to help organisations plan.

4. Share: Social networking makes it easy to share videos and articles. You can also invite a speaker to your church or discuss injustices with friends. God is bringing justice to our world, but there is a catch: He uses us, His church, to do it. We are God’s safety rope for those who suffer injustices. 

Take some time today to pray and reflect on how you can follow God’s call to bring justice. Like Caleb, you could scale heights you never dreamed possible and change the lives of people like Gamai. (You can watch Gamai’s story video at: mer​cy​ships​.org​.uk/​c​hurch)

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