Friday, August 3, 2007



Pedro, Isabella and their five malnourished children lived in a favela (slum) near Fortaleza, Brazil. Pedro, a day-labourer, worked about every third day. To stop their kids crying from hunger Isabella would feed them little balls of moistened newspaper, sprinkled with sugar. These had almost no nutritional value, but Pedro might get some sleep. The police, bribed by a wealthy landowner, had driven them off their little black-bean farm.

'What do you need?' Isabella replied, 'I would like a blanket for each child.' Pedro: 'I need a job every day to feed my family.' What else? Pedro: 'I want my farm back.' Anything else? 'Yes, where is God when are we treated like "the scum of the earth"'?

Every relationship in the universe - between God and creation, between humans, and between humans and creation - is driven by three dynamics: justice, mercy and faith (see e.g. Micah 6:8, Matthew 23:23).

Justice is about 'fairness', the right use of power. Social justice is the strong helping the weak, not exploiting them. Mercy addresses our immediate needs. 'What do you want me to do for you?' asked Jesus. They might include survival needs - food, clothing, shelter, well-being; or emotional needs - respite from depression, a sense of belonging, greater self-worth etc. Faith is the ultimate dimension of any relationship. Can I trust God to care for me? Can I trust you to accept me (Romans 15:7)? Do you have my interests at heart, or do I exist mainly for yours?

A preoccupation with justice can lead to violence and terrorism; a preoccupation with mercy can issue in paternalism ('do-goodism'); a preoccupation with evangelism - inviting people to exercise faith in God - can lead to our treating them merely as 'souls to be saved'.

Pedro and Isabella want their farm back - justice; they need food, clothing, adequate shelter, a job - 'mercy'; and they need to know they're loved by God, and others - 'faith'. These are the three essential dimensions of a biblical understanding and practice of 'mission'.

Every healthy church practises all three, all the time, though it may be called to major on one of these dimensions of mission.

For more on the church and mission visit these articles.

Rowland Croucher

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