he lasagna was amazing—never thought to add the asiago—but the conversation was even better.He leaned across the table at the Second Avenue ristorante
, food half eaten, talking passionately about those who will probably never taste lasagna or sample flavorful cheese. In their name, and reverently, we shared a meal in which they will likely never share.
A cynic wandering by our table might have termed it “preaching to the choir”—as if the chorus could ever be large enough or loud enough when singing about the world’s poor and hungry.
“Yes,” Daniel* said, building on my latest line, “and so few understand that helping the Lord’s little ones is often more effectively done by what we do—by lobbying, by advocating for them—in the centers of power. Unless someone stands up for them here, we will end up sending even more food trucks and digging more wells.”
My friend is one of a new and important breed of Adventist professionals—men and women with excellent educations and beating hearts who have discovered that serving the dispossessed and marginalized does not require a church credential or a denominational paycheck. Hundreds, yea thousands, of Adventists now labor in a vineyard wider than church employment, propelling Adventist ideas and witness to the highest levels of international aid and humanitarian organizations.
Trained as agronomists, hydrologists, distribution specialists, and yes, well-drillers, they bring both the cup of cold water in the name of Jesus and the likelihood that their advocacy with dozens of governments will actually change the structures and systems that perpetuate poverty and injustice.
Let’s not minimize the importance of actually sharing our bread with the hungry. Even the crust cast on the waters of the world’s need will not come back empty of its reward. But let’s also chorus a resounding “Amen” to those who build bakeries in barrios and who persuade the powerful to keep the price of corn needed for tortillas within reach of those whose diet includes little else.
Church employment, privilege that it is, was never intended to offer a comprehensive description of all that Adventists ought to be doing in the world. There are jobs worth doing—such as offering legal services to the poor and building Habitat for Humanity houses in broken neighborhoods—for which the church is sometimes ill-equipped and understaffed, and will always be. God’s church is just the vanguard of what He wants to accomplish on earth, not the sum and substance of it. This movement, even at ADRA’s finest, can never do all that must be done to defend the widow and the fatherless. It will always seek to make common cause with those who go on errands of mercy, whether in the name of Adventism or under some other name.
And it should encourage and inspire more of the tens of thousands it graduates from a hundred colleges and universities to serve the homeless and hurting wherever they can, supported by a paycheck of whatever source, gathering glory to no other name than that of Jesus.
Adventists like these are the seeds growing in secret about which Jesus prophesied. Now planted in a hundred causes and in dozens of aid and humanitarian organizations, they are building justice one brick at a time, one food bank at a time, and one piece of legislation at a time. Their day, our day—actually, the day of the Lord—will yet come, and because of their service thousands will rejoice in the amplitude of a kingdom always larger than the church that can be seen. The witness of justice, of compassion, of advocacy, of building, counts for the kingdom, even if it never finds a place in the written record of the church’s service to the world.
Honor them, the faithful but no longer the few—all hail to Daniel’s band. When you see them, greet them in the name of the Merciful One. Tell them that you value what they are doing for the least of these. Wrap them in prayer and encouragement.
*Not his real name.
Bill Knott is editor of the Adventist Review.