The following is a guest post from Sarah Ann Schultz from HOPE International.
Chacos plodding on red clay, I made my way home through zigzagging rust-colored roads from the Ugandan school where I was spending a semester working. Chatting with my teammates, I was startled when a man abruptly stepped into my path.
“Tell me the gospel, ” he said, his English stilted but confident.
My jaw popped open a bit, while my heart leaped. This was the moment I’d been longing for—a chance to see someone come to know Christ! Eagerly, I began telling him the story of Jesus, how He loved the world enough to come and die for it.
Fervently, Emmanuel raised his eyebrows, the Ugandan equivalent of nodding. “I want to receive Christ, ” he told me.
My heart somersaulted with uncontainable joy, we prayed together, and he accepted Christ. My eyes grew misty—it was every 20-year-old missionary’s dream.
But immediately after we said “amen, ” I was assaulted with an unexpected request: “Now, you give me money.”
I’d been warned about this—Ugandans manipulating Westerners into giving them money. When most white people they encounter are missionaries, they quickly realize that accepting Christ can be a ticket to the prosperity train. At the training camp I attended in Atlanta before leaving the United States, I’d been strictly warned not to reinforce this mentality. My mind rewound to what I’d been told: “The people we’re working with need Jesus more than they need food, water, or shelter, ” the instructor had said. “You can’t feed everyone—so we ask that you not give food or money to anyone you meet. Instead, pray for them.”
When I had heard these words, a bell went off in my head. Instead, pray for them. I remember sensing the tension before ever encountering extreme poverty. Their logic made sense—right? Silencing the mental alarm, I reminded myself that I had never been to a developing country before—what did I know?
Blinking, I recited the lines I’d been given: “You have Jesus, ” I heard myself saying. “What else do you need?”
“How is it that you can pray for me, call me your brother in Christ, but you won’t give me the food that’s in your hand?” Emmanuel asked.
Standing in front of Emmanuel, the warning bells were chiming louder than ever before.
“I can’t give you money—but I can pray with you, ” I heard myself say. “Jesus will supply your every need. What else do you need but Him?”
As I walked away from empty-handed Emmanuel, his words played on a loop in my head. “How is it that you can pray for me, call me your brother in Christ, but you won’t give me the food that’s in your hand?”
Months later, as I waded through a fog of jet lag and culture shock upon my reentry to the United States, my conversation with Emmanuel continued to nag at me.
In Uganda, I’d experienced a depth of poverty that I’d only seen in pictures before. I thought that a first-hand experience would bring me to a new realization of Christ’s power—instead, I felt more helpless than ever. I had prayed over children in the streets, over beggars, over babies in a clinic, over prisoners in their cells, over the lame and the blind and the drunk. And though I was still an ardent advocate of the power of prayer, I felt like a huge component was missing.
Later, I realized that my encounter with Emmanuel had been an eerily similar replica of a passage in James:
If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled, ” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
Was my faith dead? The more I waded through my questions, the more I began to understand the fallacy of caring for people spiritually without addressing the real, tangible needs that they face every day.
As I delved into this question, I looked first to the example of Jesus. When Jesus encountered poverty, I found that his approach was pretty simple. When they were hungry, he fed them. When they were sick, he healed them. When tragedy struck, he wept with them. He met each person in the tactile realities of the world they inhabited.
But beyond that, he dealt with their souls, intent on spreading good news to the people He encountered: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach good needs to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind.”
In the process of meeting needs, he built relationships with people, sharing the best news the world had ever heard.
It takes words and actions. Or, as The Message translation puts it: “Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-works is outrageous nonsense?”
As much as I believe in the power of prayer and evangelism, there is still a crucial element of “getting our hands dirty” in the world’s most gruesome problems.
Still, I had to admit that there was some truth in the logic that I’d been taught by my sending agency. Both research and my personal experience told me that handouts often create more problems than they solve. As I studied the topic, I learned more about how traditional models of charity could be both ineffective and harmful.
Yet, on the flipside, I’d experienced firsthand the perils of addressing the soul of a person while dismissing the body it inhabits.
Was there an answer? Was there a way merge the needs of the body with the needs of the soul?
With graduation looming before me a year after I left Uganda, I began praying for the Lord to lead me to a movement that combined these things, where poverty was approached in a way that aided people both physically and spiritually.
Jesus (aided by Google) led me to HOPE International, a Christian microenterprise development organization, where I have been employed for nearly a year. We provide financial services—savings services, loans, and biblically based training—coupled with discipleship.
It’s a mission that restores dignity, and, more than that, it’s a mission that doesn’t put us in the role of a savior. We don’t come in to the communities we work in with a handout or a message—we walk alongside people as they work themselves out of poverty. While it’s by no means a perfect mission, I believe that we seek the things that Jesus sought—to lead people to Himself while having deep and active compassion for their present circumstances.
The more I explore the world of development, the more I’ve found that we’re not the only organization that pairs word with action. International Justice Mission is committed to ending violence worldwide in the name of Jesus. Living Water International uses clean water as an entry point to preach the gospel. Advocates for Christian Transformation enables residents of inner city Dallas to fight crime in their neighborhoods.
If I met someone like Emmanuel today, I’m not sure what my response would be. More than ever, I’m aware of how complex poverty alleviation can be, and how easily good intentions can unwittingly inflict harm. But I pray that the longer I walk with Christ, the more my response looks like Jesus’.
 James 2:16-17.
 Luke 4:18. Emphasis added.
 James 2:17.