The Ultimate Disaster Relief


I’m teaching a class for teen girls (a total of about 125) on the topic of personal evangelism every day this week. Exhausting though it may be, I absolutely love being able to do this at Horizons every year. I see some of the most beautiful hearts in the world in the eyes and sweet questions and comments of these girls who sincerely just want to do right and go to heaven. I just hope I am able to bless them as much as they bless me by their sweet spirits and courage to boldly live for God when their peers and Godless high school culture are trying to destroy their faith.

In collecting my thoughts for my class theme this week, I began to ponder what has become a HUGE trend among young people in our culture. Currently and over the past 10 or 15 years, a movement has swept over the youth of our nation. To my generation, at least, it was introduced by books like “Irresistible Revolution” by Shane Claiborne and various books by Rob Bell and other writers. It began entering every aspect of the lives of young people—even fashion. Everyone knows the cool thing is to wear Toms shoes, whether or not they know what the purpose of the organization actually is.

It’s cool these days to use your time and energy to serve others in ways such as providing food and/or clean water for the hungry and thirsty, reliable shelter for those who have a shabby, broken house—or no house at all—giving money to charitable organizations, doing random acts of kindness in the community, sending clothes or shoes to some third world country, and other wonderful works of kindness and love.

So why would that bother me? Before I answer that, let me just say as a disclaimer that I have MANY friends who I love and respect who love to involve themselves in organizations like these. It gives them a feeling of accomplishment and fulfillment, and for the record, I get that.  But I’m still bothered by it.

Here’s why.  I’m hearing at so many youth devotionals, camps, and seminars that if we want to be more like Jesus, we will do things like feed and clothe the homeless, send shoes and clean water to Uganda, and other good works. But here’s what most of those speakers and counselors are failing to get across to these kids—maybe because they themselves don’t see the big picture: When we help to take care of the physical needs of people without making a serious effort to make sure their spiritual needs are met, do we really love them? If, in all our worthy efforts to provide food, clothing , and shelter without helping them make their souls right with God so that they can spend an eternity with Him, do we really love them?

If you think about it, one might argue that what we’re doing is enabling them to continue living in a lost state—just more comfortably due to  the new roof we’ve built them or the new fleece blanket we’ve sent to them. When we volunteer to serve at soup kitchens for the homeless and when they return to wherever they sleep, we make sure they go with warm coats and blankets, yes, we are providing comfort and a solution to meet an immediate, albeit temporary physical need. And that feels good. It’s rewarding to know you’re making someone feel better. But when we meet those temporary physical needs, and neglect to try to meet their eternal spiritual needs, we are sending them away to live more comfortably in their lost state, not thinking about eternity at all.  And, in the cases of many homeless people, we’re enabling them to continue in their lazy, entitled lifestyles when we provide them with the physical needs they themselves could obtain were they to get a job and work hard to provide for themselves and their families.

“But Hannah, Jesus was so benevolent! How can you possibly take issue with caring for others?!” That’s probably what you’re thinking right now. First of all, please understand that I am NOT suggesting we stop helping people. On the contrary, I think it is our duty as Christians to help people. I just think it should be accompanied by an effort to save their souls rather than just their earthly bodies. Second, Jesus was benevolent, but his benevolence was all for a spiritual, eternal purpose. If the purpose of his benevolence was merely the desire to meet people’s physical needs, would he not have healed ALL the sick and provided food and shelter for ALL the poor? Obviously, he didn’t do that. He could have, but he didn’t. Indeed, Jesus Himself was criticized for allowing a woman to worship him by pouring a precious ointment on his head rather than selling it and giving the money to the poor. He scolded them for their shortsightedness: “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” (Mark 14:6-9 NKJV) I think Jesus was implying that physical benevolence is good, but it’s not what truly matters forever and ever. What truly matters is making sure the souls around you know how to go to heaven because of your teaching and influence. Indeed, Jesus did state his purpose, and it wasn’t “The Son of Man has come to provide warmth, nourishment, and shelter to all those in need,” but rather, “The Son of Man has come to seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:10 ESV)

“Well, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” you may be thinking. I couldn’t agree more. That’s why I wish church leaders and youth ministers and anyone else in the church who stresses physical benevolence to others would drive the point home into the beautiful hearts of these well-meaning young people—the point that benevolence is needed and important, but we should always pair it with teaching that will help these people to not just live comfortably on earth, but to dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Have you ever thought about the fact that the roof, the coat, the shoes, and the soup will one day all be ashes, but the soul will still exist either in eternal tormenting fire or around the throne of God? So many times we can offer both temporal and eternal disaster relief simultaneously, but if we’re content to just offer temporal comfort, it is just that—so temporary. True love is being involved in the ultimate disaster relief. Hell is the ultimate disaster.

I know this post might be controversial. That’s why I want to encourage you right now to comment and if necessary, help me in my own understanding. Am I wrong about this? I covet your thoughts.

 Request: Please review my comments policy before commenting below.

15 thoughts on “The Ultimate Disaster Relief

  1. A note about the final judgement and getting into Heaven… from Jesus-

    “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

    “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” -Matthew 25:31-46

    Other thoughts from God’s Word-

    “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.” -Psalm 82:3
    “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.” -Proverbs 19:17
    “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” -Luke 14:13-14

    My Thoughts (not as important as those above)

    I felt what you said “in the cases of many homeless people, we’re enabling them to continue in their lazy, entitled lifestyles.” that it was a lot too strongly worded. Maybe you didn’t mean to be judgement to “many” of the homeless community, maybe you haven’t had the opportunity to sit and learn from those who have served the homeless community, or possibly you haven’t given much though to their situations, but saying that “many homeless people” are in “lazy, entitled lifestyles” is pretty judgmental, is based off of no fact at all (I didn’t see you share with us where you figured this out or had interviewed homeless people, etc.)

    Getting a job, especially in this economy- especially one that provides enough for you to provide for yourself, adequate housing, food and healthcare, isn’t easy. Most homeless lack clean showers, transportation, a permanent address, phone number and email address (all of which are necessary to get a job). Test it for yourself… go apply for a job, even with a college degree, and put your name, birthday and SS #. Leave the home address blank, leave your phone # and email blank and let them know you don’t have a car and will be relying on public transportation & friends for your rides to work. Let me know who calls you back, even with your college degree.

    Living on the streets is not easy, it takes lots of work- meaning… they probably aren’t that lazy. They are often sleep-deprived, cold, wet, and sick (physically, mentally & spiritually). Yes, help is available, but without a cell phone, computer or many friends and the possibility that you can’t read… finding the help is like being in a maze. In addition to that… you have no personal transportation and little money… you may spend all day trying to get food and find a place to sleep. It’s not an easy lifestyle and surely all that work to just stay alive wouldn’t classify them as lazy.

    People don’t choose being homeless. Men lose their jobs, women flee from domestic violence, children aren’t educated. These people may have issues and experiences that are traumatic and they simply don’t know how to cope with life, finding a job, paying rent, living fearlessly. They may have made poor life choices in what they did at work or who they were in a relationship with, but they didn’t go into it thinking “I want to be homeless”- don’t you think?

    Homeless people often can’t just pull themselves out of it. IF they lost their job, their home and sometimes their families… and they have no address, phone number, email or references… they can’t just go get a job, EVEN AT MCDONALD’S! Often these people find themselves in legal trouble with the police, because they are targeted by police so they can “keep the streets clean,” causing even more problems in getting a job and getting back on their feet.

    Now, to address what you were talking about… Yes, we must find ways to share The Gospel (Good News) about Jesus with those in need, but it doesn’t have to be our job and duty each and every time- does it? Doesn’t God’s Word say that “true religion” is to take care of the widows & orphans (the marginalized of our society) AND to keep ourselves from being polluted by the world. We’ve got to live up to that call. We must want to help the marginalized AND keep ourselves (hearts, minds, souls) from being polluted by the world. Now, we also know we are to share The Gospel with the world and teach others to be obedient to God.

    I suggest we not make this a battle about who is right or wrong, but we applaud & further encourage those who are bringing a revival to the church through service to the marginalized of our society, to those in need and those of us who are comfortable and confident in sharing and teaching the Gospel to step in beside those who are gifted, talented & passionate about serving others in need and to teach and help others see how to share The Good News.

    We can all argue and point out what we think is most important in The Kingdom work. I have my own list! We each need to do our part, fulfill our purpose, and continue to grow in our relationship with Christ. So, I would recommend that you find those who are serving and caring for the poor, homeless and needy… and stand in right beside them helping share the Good News with those they are serving. We aren’t all teachers, we aren’t all musicians, we aren’t all Shepherds, we aren’t all leaders, we aren’t all given the same spiritual gifts and talents. WE must work together to bring Him glory.

    “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

    Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” -1 Corinthians 12:4-11

    I hope you know I wrote this in love, so that we all could become better people for His glory. I hope that what I wrote can ” stir up one another to love and good works.”

  2. Hannah,

    I am glad to hear that you care about evangelism and not just benevolent ministry. Both our necessary if we are to be witnesses of the gospel Jesus proclaimed, which is the kingdom (reign) of God.

    Two observations as an about to turn 40 year old minister. First, I wouldn’t make the separation between the physical and spiritual the way you are making it because Jesus didn’t make such distinction. Jesus came to redeem our entire life, not just our “souls.” This is why Paul speaks about the resurrection of our bodies in Roman 8 and 1 Corinthians 15 and why Jesus was raised in a bodily resurrection rather than just his soul being raised in a “spiritual” resurrection. When it comes to ministry, it’s not just helping people how to go to heaven but rather how to live under God’s reign or kingdom and this includes both meeting people’s physical needs as well as proclaiming to them the truth of the gospel. This way they can live free from the tyranny of a fallen world, both their sin and the sin of others that is done to them.

    Second, I don’t know how much time you have spent with homeless people but I have encountered more than a few homeless people throughout my lifetime…in Brazil, in Memphis, TN, in Ithaca, NY, and even in Columbia, MD which happens to be an affluent culture. You write, “in the cases of many homeless people, we’re enabling them to continue in their lazy, entitled lifestyles when we provide them with the physical needs they themselves could obtain were they to get a job and work hard to provide for themselves and their families.” That is pretty judgmental of you. Have you sat down with the homeless and listen to their stories? I have. And while many of the homeless do make poor choices which continue to exasperate their problems, many of them have been victimized since they were children in ways that we would consider to be a nightmare (wait until you meet a homeless military veteran who is suffers permanent mental and physical injuries received in war; or wait until you meet a 25 year-old woman dying of AIDS who began using Meth when she was eleven because her father was prostituting her out to his friends). Listen to their stories, get to know them, and build a relationship with them before you criticize them.

    Grace and Peace,


  3. Great observations, dear! I think you were very balanced. If you have anyone who disagrees, it is probably because they failed to mentally digest your article in its entirety.

    This issue, basically, is the difference between someone driven by the ‘Social Gospel’ and someone driven by the Biblical Gospel. Could you not say the difference, in practice, between these two types of people is the Social Gospel people are likely to send 10,000 pairs of shoes to an impoverished African state, while the Biblical Gospel people are likely to send 10,000 pairs of shoes to the same country *along with* literature about salvation and the Lord’s Church?

    It seems to me that, ideally, benevolence should be a means to evangelism, and not the ultimate aim.

    Again, great thoughts. Ignore anyone who tries to bully or persecute you over this. I love you!

  4. I struggle to believe you have visited a third world country, otherwise you would see that caring for those in need is just as much the Gospel as your idea of salvation education and may be the only opportunity for Jesus to be seen by them. “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” -Mahatma Gandhi

  5. I love the quote from the last paragraph – “the roof, the coat, the shoes, and the soup will one day all be ashes, but the soul will still exist either in eternal tormenting fire or around the throne of God? ”
    If more of us (including Christians) believed that hell was really a reality for most of humanity, we would spend everyday trying to reach our friends, family, strangers and especially the homeless and forgotten of the world. I think there is a complacency problem in the church, and that it is far easier to give someone our worn out clothes or a hot meal than to take the time to really reach them with the Gospel of Christ.
    You are challenging me to do my small part in the world to reach others for Christ.

  6. 1. I am not advocating that following the mission of Christ does not include ministering to the physical needs of people. Of course, not only is that something we should do, it’s commanded! We have to be doing it! I never said otherwise and never would.

    2. I did not say that ALL homeless people are lazy. I simply said “many” are. And yes, I have had many conversations with homeless people. I have taken them food. I have taken them in restaurants and fed them. I have sat and listened when they just needed a listening ear. I HAVE been to a third world country (several actually—and on several occasions) and HAVE ministered to the physical needs of homeless and poverty-stricken people in all of those places. I have listened to their stories and have cried real tears with them and for them. I have also shared the gospel with them. In fact, one formerly homeless person fits Rex’s description—She was homeless in NYC at age 13. She was raped, has been involved in prostitution…as a result of a rape, she became the mother of a mental handicapped child (a drug baby). She has recently tested HIV+. She is now a faithful member of Christ’s church. It was my family who did listen to her story and taught her the gospel. A few months ago, doctors told her she would die within the year. When she dies, she will go to heaven. This particular woman, while receiving many gifts from members of the local church, has borrowed $1300 from this same church. She is now responsibly paying it off. If this money had just been handed to her without the teaching of the gospel and the responsibilities that come with it, where would she be now? This process has taken seven years and we are still working to help her remain faithful. This wasn’t a temporary fix, but a long-term commitment of service to help her have a better life here, but most importantly, to help her go to heaven.

    ***As a side note, in response to Drew, Matthew 25, the long passage upon which he relied, DOES say, “in as much as you have done it to the least of these my brethren….” The people about whom I wrote are not brethren of Christ. Obviously, when I write about people to whom I taking the gospel, I’m referring to people who are currently outside of the family of Christ. They are NOT “the least of these my brethren.”

  7. It is very, very hard for me to believe that any Christian can take issue with the fact that ministering to the physical needs of people without addressing their lost condition is a tragic mistake with eternal consequences. She didn’t say we should let people go hungry or naked. In fact, she said we disobey if we pass up opportunities to help those in need. She just said our ultimate goal must always be heaven for as many as possible. What can be wrong with that? The MOST important thing we can give someone in the plane that we know is going down is a warning and parachute and/or flotation device– not a sandwich, a cup of coffee and a good book to make the last flight more comfortable.

  8. The fact is that Jesus expects his followers to teach men the gospel(Mark 16:15-16,Matthew 28:18-20). The great commission is a reality and a command whether men are in a 3rd world country or the victim of unfortunate circumstances in the U.S.While many times physical aid opens the door ,if I clothe the homeless tonight and he doesn’t wake up tomorrow regardless of the situation he will be lost.Jesus expects are benevolent acts (James 1:25,Matthew 25) However we must teach the gospel.This article hits the nail on the head and we need to couple our benevolence with teaching.In Matthew 6 when Jesus deals with worry of material necessity he commands men to seek the kingdom first.In James 1:27 where it discusses the care of orphans and widows in this same context is the command to look into the perfect law of liberty .Lets take pillows,blankets and bread but let’s also take bibles ,truth and love.

  9. What a great post! What I think everyone needs to take in account is that Hannah was adamant about the fact both in the post and in a recent comment that she is completely advocating addressing the physical needs of people that need it; however, to just leave it at that is not TRULY helping those in need. While it may seem harsh, we, as Christians, are blessed in the fact that we already know Christ and it is our duty, and privilege, to share it with others. We must feed people both physically and spiritually in order to completely fulfill our Christian roles.

    Great Post, Hannah!

  10. What a powerful post. I do see your point on focusing to deliver both spiritual and physical life saving skills to those who are destitute in whatever way we find them. Yes-Christians are far too complacent in assisting physically and not planting spiritual roots to lost souls. This is something I have taken to heart as I’ve gotten older and appreciate the efforts of teachers like yourself and your family to care for souls first. And if we can help people to know Christ then they too will savor the thought..”Let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we faint not.” Galatians 6:9. May God bless you and may we as the body of Christ strive to meet ALL needs of those who are hurting. Perhaps we can have an Evangelism class soon??

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