Readers of the missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul will know that the grace of God operated through him and Barnabas in mighty ways. Besides the exciting teachings given by them in city after city, there were numerous examples of healings that accompanied their labors. So great were these events that reports had to be given whenever they returned to Jerusalem to see the elders and Apostles, or revisited the home church (at Antioch) or returned to one of the fellowships previously started by them. During one of these homecomings, however, Paul and Peter entered into conflict over how new believers in Christ were being dealt with by Peter. Peter’s behavior had been less than exemplary. Peter had acted in an extremely hypocritical way Paul thought. Paul confronted him because he did not want to see Peter’s conduct imitated in other Christians. Peter’s influence was great enough that Barnabas even was influenced by it.
Paul confronted the issue, rebuking Peter face to face. And when the unity of the faith was finally restored, and reconciliation between them became a reality, Peter (and James and John) gave to Paul and Barnabas the ‘right hands of fellowship’: essentially it was an acknowledgment between both groups that full approval of their ministries was being extended: Peter issued one caveat though, that Paul and his team would remember the poor. Previously, Jesus had told his disciples that poor people would always be on the earth (Mat. 26:11), even in his absence. Poverty certainly was not eradicated in Israel during Jesus’ earthly career. Yet He came to preach the Gospel to the poor specifically (Lu. 4:18). Anyone engaged in worldwide or nationwide travel will be able to take notice of the varying degrees of poverty that exist, and quickly discern that the poor remain among us; nevertheless, the Gospel can save and empower them, therein changing their circumstances.
City missions, shelters, Bible-based drug rehab centers and so forth continue to provide temporary residents and visitors with provisions useful for keeping body and soul together. However it is the Gospel that transforms a person’s thinking. Poverty in the earth exists for many reasons. The solution to every reason for it’s existence is Jesus. Memory lane is a nice road to wander down, so I’ll do it again. Years ago in an urban mission center in Tennessee, God did wonders. The site had been started by a former pimp and prostitute who had done their time and then exited different prisons simultaneously. While incarcerated they both found the Lord were and freed from their sin. I still remember walking through the facility that first day. To be blunt, meeting them was rather daunting: there were some wild and untamed souls waiting to be fed. The precondition for receiving a meal was that they must sit and listen to a Gospel message. They filed in, and I could tell by their body movements that the bulk of them did not want to be there. I preached about a Gospel, full and free to all. Midway through the sermon I knew I had struck a chord with some of them. Later, during the altar service God healed a man wearing cast in a wheelchair. They cut it off, he took off running and the revival was on. On that day God once again remembered the poor as they heard the Good News.
These things we should continue to do. I would like to remind WMF members that here at the office we welcome 5th Sunday offerings, large or small, seeing that they are utilized for the express purpose of ensuring that the Gospel is proclaimed. Both wealthy and poor are in need of the inward assurance of the faith which the Holy Spirit is able to give. God’s grace makes the biggest difference, even in the smallest of villages abroad where the fewest attendees are present at a meeting. So we celebrate the work of God in the earth that is being accomplished by our ministers. Soon Kay Baker will return to Guatemala for extensive ministry. Continuing the work she and her late husband Jim began four decades ago.
Let us hold up her hands in prayer, and may WMF be able to assist her also as she presses toward the mark of the prize just before Jesus returns!
Director of International Missions for WMF