Christ's healing of the man born blind, recorded in chapter nine of John's gospel, was an act of compassion that touched both the man's physical and spiritual being. Yet it was much more. When His disciples asked why the man had been born blind, Christ said, in effect, "You're asking the wrong question." As was the case throughout His earthly ministry, Christ saw in this man's physical condition an opportunity to do God's work, with implications that extended far beyond the healing of one individual.
In China today, ministering to the physical or emotional needs of an individual touches lives on at least three levels.
First is the life of the person directly assisted by the act of mercy. The fundamental life change he or she experiences becomes an irrefutable apologetic for the agent which brought about that change. The man born blind, when asked to offer a theological assessment of the One who healed him, said simply, "One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see" (John 9:25). We cannot improve upon Christ's proven practice of meeting people where they are and engaging with them at their point of deepest need.
Secondly, ministering to the whole person touches the lives of those close to him or her. Mans Ramsted's cover story in this issue mentions Mr. Nai, whose economic and spiritual life was transformed as a result of seeking medical help for his daughter. Meeting the needs of one person can profoundly impact family members and others within that person's network of relationships.
Finally, demonstrating concern for individuals' physical, emotional and economic needs sends a clear message to the society at large that the church cares about the important matters facing China as a nation and, in fact, has a role to play in addressing these issues. The result is often appreciation and acceptance of Christians for their positive contribution to society. In a city paralyzed by the SARS epidemic, Beijing officials could not help but notice that Christians were one of the few groups actively reaching out to the hundreds afflicted by the disease.
Such courage and compassion are demonstrated wherever God's people respond to the felt needs of those in their midst.
China offers no shortage of opportunities to follow Christ's example in ministering to the whole person. Figures from the early 1990s put the number of people with disabilities in China at 60 million; the total is probably much greater today. A growing elderly population and a shrinking number of younger relatives to care for them portend a serious social crisis in the years to come. If the current spread of HIV and AIDS cannot be slowed significantly, China may have 10 million cases by the year 2010. Of more immediate concern is the specter of an avian flu pandemic that would endanger millions of lives not only in China but throughout the world. These impending crises loom large against the backdrop of a medical infrastructure that is itself in crisis as the laws of the market take hold, leaving many without access to even the most basic medical care.
We can, like the disciples, look at these gaping areas of need and ask, "Why?" Or we can recognize God's larger purpose and get busy. Jesus said, "As long as it is day, we must do the work of Him who sent me" (John 9:4).
Image credit: Journal Entry (Joel Montes de Oca) by Chris Lott, on Flickr.
Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of China Ministries International, and from 1985 to... View Full Bio