Evangelism After Tsunami Relief

2nd April 2005

Ajith Fernando

We face a new problem within the church in Sri Lanka. Evangelism is going to be a real challenge to us in the post-tsunami period. People are tired after the emotionally and physically draining tsunami work; some are close to burnout. We are immensely gratified by the response of non-Christians to the relief efforts. We are well aware of all the funds that relief work has generated. We could not expect to raise funds like this for evangelism.

In this environment I feel that people are finding it hard to get back to evangelism which includes draining spiritual warfare, and for which raising funds is tough work. Many of the non-Christian people who appreciate the relief work will not be appreciative of the evangelism. In fact it will give rise to persecution. To add to this an anti-conversion law is about to be presented in parliament.

Then there is the complication that Christian relief organisations have so much money after the tsunami that they are offering jobs to Christian workers with much higher salaries than they get doing the work they were originally called to do. When you are struggling to feed your children adequately, there is great lure in such offers. Several YFC staff workers have been approached, and so have those of other churches and organisations.

Many workers have got used to handling big money. That does not help when one is trying to do incarnational evangelism among the poor. Isn’t it strange that often organisations specialising in relief to the poor are also known for their lavish spending on things like vehicles and hotels? You cannot reach people with the gospel and develop trusted leaders from among the poor with such a lifestyle. Though most church and para-church workers stayed away from such things during tsunami relief, they did experience the ego-gratification of handling big money. Can they go back to the lifestyle of the one who did not even have a place to lay his head?

This is going to be a time when many Christians are going to clarify their call. I fear that some will choose financial and social security and move away from their call. When they do that, they will also move away from the joy of living under the exciting providences of our faithful God which come from following Christ to a life of hardship. They will be condemned to a life of prosperous unfulfilment.

I am not trying to downplay the wonderful role that relief organisations have in the plan of God. Neither am I saying that people who were involved in church and para-church ministries may not be called of God to go to relief organisations. They could and perhaps need to go to such places of ministry. I am only saying that those called to evangelistic vocations must get back to doing evangelism: verbal evangelism.

I believe that through this terrible calamity and the church’s magnificent response to it, God has prepared an unprecedented evangelistic harvest in Sri Lanka which will ripen during the next ten years. To reap that we will need to clearly proclaim the message of Christ. The gospel is so different to the worldviews of other faiths that if people are to accept it there will need to be a lot of proclamation, reasoning, explanation etc. Good deeds won’t be sufficient; words will need to be used. We had to stay away from verbal proclamation while we were doing relief work because of integrity issues. And that was right. Now we must get back to it, making sure that people do not see the relief as a bait to win souls. This is going to be a tough call.

Pray that many would choose the path of faithfulness to God.

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?” (Matt. 16:26).

Ajith Fernando