Large portions of Mozambique had just been destroyed in a flood, and all I could see was miles and miles of water. Inhabitants huddled together on the small ridges of land that remained. From our boat I asked a woman named Lydia, "Where is God in all this?" Lydia's reply is vividly imprinted in my memory: "I don't think that God is around here anymore."
For me the last five years as president of World Relief have been a revelation. Even as I have watched mothers laying their children on the ground to die from malnutrition, even as I have seen people going through their last days of life after innocently contracting AIDS from blood transfusions, and even as I have watched churches working night and day to provide refuge and hope for those who have been forcibly ejected from their countries and given little chance of survival, I have seen the hands and feet of Jesus at work through His people.
In Rwanda I met Dancilla. She looked quite hideous, the pustules on her cheeks were broken, and chunks of flesh were falling off her face. She was gaunt and emaciated from the ravages of AIDS and clearly dying. Yet beneath the grim exterior shone the love of Jesus. She has led more people to Christ than most of us would ever dream of.
One church leader in southern Sudan said to me, "Clive, my people will not die." I was watching people starve right before my very eyes, and then he added: "We will not die because we are part of a family. We have brothers and sisters in the West."
It is so easy for us to distinguish between proclaiming the gospel and providing social action to meet the needs of the poor. Yet it is a little difficult to preach the gospel to someone who is dead. Perhaps the most logical response for us in the West is to strive to keep people alive and then to explain that the reason we do it is Jesus.
For many of us, missions is our outreach to countries such as Brazil, Costa Rica, Nigeria, Uganda or Kenya. Yet these countries have a measure of infrastructure. They have transportation, communications and an economy.
There is a huge difference between various nations. While there is a Second World consisting of countries such as Costa Rica and Kenya, there is also a Third World of countries such as Eastern Congo, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Mongolia, Cambodia, Mozambique and so many others. These are poor countries where families struggle every day to feed themselves.
Most of us are unable to embrace these brothers and sisters--but we can demonstrate our care and our commitment. Because 80 percent of the resources for God's people worldwide have been entrusted by the Lord to the people in North America, we have a huge responsibility to meet not only our own needs, but also those of the rest of the family.
That is why I believe that a world falling apart needs a people coming together. It needs the church to show that the compassion of Jesus reaches across boundaries. It needs love shown in compassion that goes way beyond sympathy.
In Mozambique today, nearly 10,500 children attend World Relief's 118 Bible clubs. To me this is a genuine hallmark of the kingdom. Many pastors have told us of their churches growing because children came and then brought their parents. Lydia was wrong. God is still around. We are His hands and feet extended to give, to go and to embrace.
In answer to the question, "What is the future of Africa?" I once said, "The grave of a child." I am not sure I was right. Based on my last trip to Mozambique, I now think the answer could be, "It is the birth and growth of a church."
Clive Calver is president of World Relief. For more information on the ministry's work worldwide, visit www.worldrelief.org.