Size — no doubt it has become an obsession with our civilization today, hasn’t it? The biggest dream of all organizations, both for-profit organizations and nonprofits alike — is still the same; it is all about size.
This parameter is what we use to measure success. That’s what makes Amazon, with its electronic transactions reaching 8.6 billion dollars, the idol of commerce of this century. “Bigger is better,” we say.
Among evangelicals, it is not very different. Things like the number of people attending a church or the size of the annual budget have become measures of a church’s success. To some extent, we have uncritically equated financial and numerical growth with God’s favor.
“How big is your program?”
“How big is your portfolio?”
Those are the most common questions people ask me when I introduce myself as the Indonesia country director of a Christian international development nonprofit called Food for the Hungry (FH). I must admit that questions of these kind often intimidate me. Not infrequently, in order to hide my feeling of being intimidated, I will quickly respond to these questions by presenting statistical data that indicates how FH Indonesia is developing rapidly as a nonprofit organization with an increasingly large portfolio. I share the numbers behind the growth of our staff, and the volume of budget increases. But honestly, I share these facts because I want to hide from the intimidation.
Please don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that all things related to size alone are wrong. But after reading Matthew 25:34-36, Jesus presents a countercultural teaching about size and importance. Inevitably, we are invited to rethink and become more contemplatively critical of all that we glorify as a sign of excellence and success: that is size, portfolio, volume, budget, etc.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’” – Matthew 25:34-36
What we read in the text is surprisingly shocking.
A piece of bread to a hungry person on the street, a cup of water to a refugee, a pair of clothes to a disaster survivor, a warm welcome to a stranger in the city, a sympathetic visit to a sick person in the hospital or a prisoner. To our surprise, these are the measurements Jesus uses, which changes one’s eternal destiny.
Aren’t these all small acts? What’s so special and significant about giving someone a cup of water or a slice of bread?
Surely everyone can do things such as these. Doing these deeds do not require specific skills, let alone a specially designed or expensive training.
I believe these small things do not attract attention from talented people. Perhaps that is the reason why those who are cast off to eternal darkness are not interested in doing these things. These things are too small to impress us or catch our attention. They are too easy. They are “insignificant.” Yet, Jesus uses a different lens to measure our actions. These small, easy and insignificant acts of love and compassion are pivotal in His eyes.
Apparently, within the perspective of the eternal king — size is not the most important measurement. There is another one. What really matters is our ability to recognize His presence among the needy. When that happens, our small deeds of compassion turn from merely acts of charity to worship. This will keep us away from seeing the needy as an object of our program — rather, they are our altar where we meet and worship the eternal king of the universe, Jesus Christ.
I am convinced that all at FH believe in this. We do not treat the poor and the needy as an object. Yet, in this industry of so-called relief and development, we still can fall into the trap of racing to become larger and larger without realizing we are called to meet and serve Jesus among the poor. The tension between becoming more and more professional, yet remaining missional, will likely remain our cross to carry as an evangelical NGO.
Despite all the temptation of becoming bigger and bigger, we need to push ourselves to become more and more able to see, meet, and truly serve and worship Jesus. He is the one living among the most vulnerable in every community that we serve — at home or abroad.