My friend Deanna reminds me that miracles still happen in 2016.
A few weeks ago, I was getting ready to preach at my home church in Bakersfield, California. Prior to my sermon, Deanna—a physician’s assistant—shared a testimony about her most recent mission trip to Guatemala. For almost 25 years she’s been leading medical teams to this impoverished country to provide basic health-care services. This year when they arrived, more than 3,000 people were already waiting in line.
I was slightly sidetracked as I silently rehearsed my upcoming sermon. But then, in the midst of her slideshow, a picture popped up that was both captivating and disturbing. A middle-aged woman had a round tumor that completely covered one eye. Deanna shared about how the team operated, removing the tumor and restoring this woman’s dignity and sight, and the opportunity to live a normal life. They successfully operated on 93 people who had some level of blindness.
“Growing up in church, you remember your teachers telling you the stories from the Bible,” Deanna said. “But I’ve actually seen those stories be true. I’ve seen lame people walk, deaf people hear, and blind people see. I’ve seen people near death come back to life.”
As I sat there, I couldn’t help reflecting on Shawn Brace’s recent piece, “Will the Real Church Please Stand Up?” (AdventistReview.org/realchurch). As Brace reflected in his article, we’ve become experts at building programs and taking care of buildings, but somewhere along the way we’ve sometimes allowed that to define the meaning of church.
Perhaps your church is ready to begin practically implementing the “pure and undefiled religion” set forth in James 1:27.* Here are a few ideas to think about without having to travel to a developing country.
Turn your Thirteenth Sabbath School into outreach. In his book Reinvent Your Sabbath School, Chris Blake talks about the importance of giving group time to serve others. One practical way to do that is to dedicate the Thirteenth Sabbath each quarter to outreach. Organize classes to serve at soup kitchens, shelters, and other places where Jesus would hang out.
Take on a community project as a church. I just finished a yearlong leadership program through the Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce. In addition to learning about our community, the class was divided into groups to do a service project of our choosing. How cool would it be if our churches picked an annual project to assist local nonprofits or create new community programs?
Take time to heal. As Jesus ministered spiritually He also met physical needs, whether through miracles of healing or simply providing food. In January, our church in Bakersfield put on a free event in our community, providing basic health and dental services to residents in need. We also have an ongoing ministry that provides food, toiletries, and clothing to those in need. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel; we just have to follow the example Jesus gave us.
Jesus said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:40).
Jimmy Phillips is executive director of marketing at San Joaquin Community Hospital.