The Hole in Our Gospel

This weekend we’ll have the privilege of hosting Gordon and Cheryl Roedding, missionaries to Mali. The Roeddings work with professionals and university students in the capital city of Bamako. They will present their missionary work, beginning with a Friday night bonfire at a local farm and ending with a potluck banquet Sunday noon. It will be a treat and not only for our stomachs!

When missionaries visit, I’m always curious about the culture shock they experience upon their return to the States. If the frog-in-the-kettle syndrome is real (and I suspect it is), returning missionaries can sense social and church temperature changes the rest of us miss. In this case, the Roeddings will be returning from one of the poorest nations on earth. That’s a huge contrast when landing on U.S. soil.

Most Americans practice their faith in isolation from the poverty experienced by most of the world. Even the poorest among us, if we have clothes on our backs, a roof over our heads, and food on the table, are wealthy by the world’s standards. When we’re confronted with the unsettling statistics and gut-wrenching reality of poverty, we confront an overwhelming urge to change the channel in our minds.

Richards Stearns is a formerly rich American who has confronted poverty head-on. Here is a taste of his sacrifice and courage:

“His name was Richard, the same as mine. I sat inside his meager thatch hut, listening to his story, told through the tears of an orphan whose parents had died of AIDS. At 13, Richard was trying to raise his two younger brothers by himself in this small shack with no running water, electricity, or even beds to sleep in. There were no adults in their lives—no one to care for them, feed them, love them, or teach them how to become men. There was no one to hug them either, or to tuck them in at night. Other than his siblings, Richard was alone, as no child should be. I try to picture my own children abandoned in this kind of deprivation, fending for themselves without parents to protect them, and I cannot….

“Not 60 days earlier I had been CEO of Lenox, America’s finest tableware company, producing and selling luxury goods to those who could afford them. I lived with my wife and five children in a 10-bedroom house on five acres just outside of Philadelphia. I drove a Jaguar to work every day, and my business travel took me to places such as Paris, Tokyo, London, and Florence. I flew first-class and stayed in the best hotels. I was respected in my community, attended a venerable suburban church, and sat on the board of my kids’ Christian school. I was one of the good guys—you might say a “poster child” for the successful Christian life. I had never heard of Rakai, the place where my bubble would burst. But in just 60 days, God turned my life inside out, and it would never be the same …”

To read more of Stearns’ story, click here:$file/hole-in-our-gospel-study-guide.pdf

If you’ve read Richard Stearn’s book, The Hole in Our Gospel, you know he’s radically committed to addressing poverty. It’s not easy. His answers have raised questions from reviewers. Here’s a review by Kevin DeYoung:

“Is it possible to write a review that is at the same time sympathetic and critical? I hope so, because that is my goal with Richard Stearns’s The Hole In Our Gospel (Thomas Nelson, 2009). Stearns, the president of World Vision, has written a book that is winsome, compelling, and often inspiring. The Hole in Our Gospel is also theologically flawed and economically misguided. In other words, I have some serious criticisms of the book, but its overall charge to care for the poor and put our faith into action is a good and necessary challenge.

“It’s hard not to like Richard Stearns. His love for Jesus Christ and the church is evident. His concern for “the least of these” and disdain for many aspects of the American Dream are admirable. His tone, even in rebuke, is warm and humble. No doubt, World Vision is doing a lot of work near to the heart of God. And Stearns, no doubt, is on the side of the angels. There is a lot to be gained from reading The Hole in Our Gospel. But there are also a number of problems with Stearns’s book. Let me mention three….”

To keep reading DeYoung’s review, click here:

National poverty, such as in Uganda and Mali, is a difficult problem to solve, especially when it’s up front and personal. We can be armchair quarterbacks if we wish, but we should hear from those who daily face the effects of national poverty. The Roeddings work with both ends of the social spectrum in Mali. If you want to engage Gordon and Cheryl in a meaningful conversation this weekend, ask them about the cultural backgrounds of college students they serve and the poverty which surrounds them.