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Called to Love Our Neighbour
Evangelical activists are working out their Christian faith and meeting immediate needs. They continue a long and venerable tradition.

When people think of evangelical activists, their first image is likely not an itinerant preacher on horseback moving through the Canadian forests and fields on his way to the next settlement. Nor is it the pioneering missionary going to the ends of the Earth to tell others about the new life they can find in Jesus.

We might not describe missionaries this way, but in fact they are activists…

We seem to reserve the descriptor “activist” for people engaged domestically and addressing injustice.

We might not describe missionaries this way, but in fact they are activists: passionate about their faith and driven by a compassion for others.

Historically when missionaries found a place to stay and be present with individuals and communities they met, they rarely restricted themselves to telling the story of Jesus. If there was a need for education, they would educate.

If there was a need for medical aid, they would share the medicine and knowledge they had. If they needed to stand up for the marginalized, they did.

Contemporary missionaries are no different. They operate hospitals and run orphanages, build schools and dig wells. They don’t do this as a reward for belief, but as an expression of belief.

Witness the reports on the tragic and devastating earthquake that rocked Haiti. How many newscasts included reports involving missionaries: people on the ground who had developed networks and relationships and were caring for the needs of others and had been doing so for years and even generations? Yes they were there to witness to their Christian faith, but that witness ranges to include various responses to brokenness, be it the result of human action or natural events.

Evangelical activism is love in action: meeting the needs of others where they are at, and often forming networks to ensure long-term contributions to the greater social good. Evangelicals volunteer more and donate more to charitable endeavours than the average Canadian.

Historically that activism resulted in the development of schools and hospitals, social service agencies and innercity missions. Over time governments have expanded and assumed the primary care for a lot of these services. But evangelical witness has not ceased to exist. It has taken on a different form of expression.

Many began to “keep their faith to themselves” while serving in these agencies. Some began new ministries to fill emerging gaps. So there was a shifting and splitting of opportunities and expression which in turn led to the idea that faith was something that could be split from everyday life or that it only expressed itself in private or charitable terms. This again is shifting. There is a renewal of a broader understanding of the gospel and its implications for all of life – and with this latest shift, evangelical activism has been refocused.

There remain gaps in government systems, and there are people who need care and support – that’s where you will find many evangelical activists today. As governments cut back on services, these gaps will increase.

There is still a need to provide a safe place to teens to gather and play. There is still a need to comfort the grieving, to welcome the stranger, to visit the prisoner – here too you will find the activists.

Evangelical activism is not new, although the faces of the activists, their stories and the expression of their engagement with others is continually being renewed. We should continue to tell their stories as an affirmation of what God desires among us all.

Bruce J. Clemenger is the president of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.

Originally published in Faith Today, March/April 2010.

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