By Doug Inglish
The world is full of people who need help. Jesus told us that the poor would always be with us (Mark 14:7) and, in another setting, expounded on what kinds of poor would need our help–prisoners, underfed and under-clothed people, sick people, etc. (Matthew 25:35-37). It is a blessing that our church takes the challenge seriously, and that we do many outreach ministries for those in need.
Of course, we are not the only ones doing good works in this world. I will deliberately refrain from citing specific organizations because the one I might mention could have a scandal that I don’t know about, and we don’t need letters coming in over that. Besides, I’m not here to do PR for any of them. Whatever group you can think of that is relieving suffering, consider them to be the ones to whom I refer.
I’m not taking anything away from our efforts. I love our health work, our educational system, and our local food banks. I am proud that we dig wells in small villages and operate clinics where medical work would otherwise not exist. I have been in the trenches of prison ministry, visiting and corresponding and performing baptisms. This is what we are supposed to do, and those who are not able to go themselves are generously giving so that the appeal of our Savior is put into practice.
After that set up, I am going to say something that some of the staunchest among us might find heretical. It’s not a sin to support good works done outside our system.
Years ago, I lined up with volunteers to stack sandbags along a river before the flood arrived. The consequences for a lot of people in a poorer section of town would have been devastating had no one shown up. We worked through the night, finally securing the area about an hour before sunrise. My church didn’t organize it, and as far as I know, I was the only Adventist there, so of course, the next day when the residents were on the news expressing gratitude, we never got a mention.
So, was that the right thing to do? To give to a secular charitable effort? I didn’t make a monetary offering but giving up a night’s sleep to do heavy labor is a very tangible contribution. Other times, I have made monetary contributions to hospitals, relief agencies, youth organizations, and other groups that were not only outside of our formal church structure, but not a supportive ministry either, people who may not even know who Seventh-day Adventists are, and maybe don’t even believe in Jesus. But there are such groups out there who are, nevertheless, doing at least a part of the mission He instructed us to do. Are they not worthy of receiving some form of support?
Don’t get me wrong, I support our missions and institutions, and I believe you should as well. But I also believe that while charity begins at home (Ben Franklin, not the Bible), it doesn’t end there. Hungry people don’t care where the food comes from, and maybe we should not care as much either.
I hope, pray, and do what I can to make sure the efforts we make to ease suffering in the world are the best available avenues for people to get relief. But it’s a big job, and when someone else joins the work, I don’t think it’s a sin to accept their help and support their organization before I know their views on the investigative judgment.
–Doug Inglish is RMC vice president for administration and stewardship director. Photo by Jonathan Ford on Unsplash.