Prior to our trip to Northern Iraq some time ago, an acquaintance asked us whether we were going to be involved in word or deed. He wanted to know whether we planned to engage local people in true gospel ‘word-based’ ministry or whether we were just going to do some nice (and necessary) physio training, ie deed. ‘Because if it’s just good deeds that you’re doing, then why are you calling it mission?’ he said.
It was an interesting question and I thought about it during our time in Iraq. I thought about the issues that lay behind his question, as well as the dichotomy within word and deed that can sometimes arise. In our healthy desire to avoid a purely social gospel, we can sometimes place high value on words only – and we can rate our ministry accordingly.
Of course, I can see why the dichotomy arises. We want people to come into a living, breathing relationship with Jesus Christ. We want them to know repentance and forgiveness and hope. And for that to happen, they need to hear the gospel in words that they can understand. So we pray and plan for those opportunities to share the gospel in words.
But while Darren and I were in Iraq, for a limited time and without local language, the challenge struck me in new ways. The opportunities we had for word-based ministry were small. We had a few good conversations with the Kurdish physio students. I gave away one of my books to a Muslim student who seemed particularly interested in our story. We mentioned Easter and talked about the biblical stories that took place in their land. But that was all.
And the opportunities we had to love and serve were many. In a land and a people group decimated by war, the opportunities we had to listen and form relationships and teach and love and show respect were enormous.
But were we putting too much time into one, to the detriment of the other?
I don’t think so. When we live in relationship with Jesus, we want it all to come together. We want our words and deeds to come together. We want our faith and actions to come together. We want them to come from the same heart and life and belief – so that everything we do and think and say shows that we believe in him. That’s why we treat people with compassion and respect. That’s why we serve them as whole people, made in his image. That’s why we train physios in countries where there are no national graduates. That’s why we support sustainable projects in countries where there are no social security systems. That’s why we sit down and listen to their stories of trauma within civil war. That’s why we help our friends in the fields and hug their babies. It all comes out of a life that is integrated in our desire to serve Jesus. And then, as we train and serve and listen and touch, God gives us opportunities to share about him. And as we befriend and care and give and love, God uses our actions to work in people’s hearts over time and draw them to himself.
So, on the day, the answer was easy. ‘We want to do word and deed, together, always together, never apart. It’s never word or deed, it’s always both of them together because our actions come out of our faith and our faith without actions is dead.’ The answer was easy… but actually living the answer, keeping word and deed together – that’s the hardest part of the Christian walk.
Naomi Reed is a former Interserve Partner. She is also a bestselling author and gifted speaker. Her latest book, The Plum Tree in the Desert shares stories of faith and mission from Interserve Partners over the last 25 years. Naomi is also speaking on the Australia-wide Unfolding Grace tour. For more information, see Unfolding Grace.