Foursquare Disaster Relief (FDR) has sent critically needed emergency funds, supplies and recovery teams to some 80 countries in the past few years. But why does Foursquare invest in this type of social justice ministry? It seems to cost a lot. Is it even making a difference? And is that the church’s responsibility? We spoke with Chad Isenhart, FDR’s international response director, to learn more.
Social justice has become a hot button issue, in both politics and the church. The term itself is even controversial. What does it mean?
Chad: The journalist Jonah Goldberg has described it as “code for good things no one needs to argue for—and no one dare be against.” Essentially, we’re talking about equal rights, equal opportunities, people not being marginalized. People by and large have an innate desire to help the underdog, whether or not they have a biblical worldview. There are many secular nonprofits and organizations doing good work for humanity.
As Christians, what should our approach be to the issue?
Chad: It starts by looking at the life of Jesus, what He did and what He calls us to do. He obviously cared that people didn’t go to hell, but He was also concerned that they didn’t suffer while they were on this earth. In the Great Commission, He told us to “go and make disciples” (Matt. 28:19, NIV), and in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, He said to “go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). This has been described as the “integral gospel”—meeting people’s physical and spiritual needs.
There are organizations bigger and better equipped than FDR. Wouldn’t we achieve more just supporting them?
Chad: We do already. Working with others in the body of Christ is one of our core Foursquare values, and we will partner with others in places where we don’t have an existing work. But because we have Foursquare churches in 150 countries, we are well situated to be able to respond quickly, even on a small scale. Not everything has to be big; sometimes you just bring your lunch, like the little boy when Jesus fed 5,000. We took a small water filter to the Bahamas after the recent hurricane. While we were there, we were given one that could handle 20 times the capacity by a group that had to leave, and there was no one else to operate it.
Does FDR’s ministry always have a proclamation element to it?
Chad: Not always immediately, at least in words. It isn’t always appropriate, maybe for practical or language reasons. But we do proclaim Jesus in the way we do what He tells us to do. We are often working in areas where there are Foursquare churches that can develop long-term relationships by leading with compassion and care. That goes back to that old saying that “people don’t care what you believe until they believe that you care.”
“It starts by looking at the life of Jesus, what He did and what He calls us to do. He obviously cared that people didn’t go to hell, but He was also concerned that they didn’t suffer while they were on this earth.” —Chad Isenhart
When you do get to share the gospel, isn’t it taking advantage of people in desperate circumstances?
Chad: What better time to share with them about the love of God? People may not have any kind of faith, but in their darkest hours they will often cry out for help from someone or something. They are asking serious questions. It’s not taking advantage of the situation to answer them; actually, it would be wrong not to. And God can use crises for good. After the tsunami in Japan in 2011, we got to take aid to an area where there had been no gospel presence for more than 400 years. Over time, we developed relationships to the point where we were baptizing people, and there was a small church. People had been praying for that part of the world for years.
Is there room for the Holy Spirit in FDR’s ministry?
Chad: Absolutely. I was just in Uganda, where a feeding program ended with prayers for salvation and prayer for deliverance for someone under demonic influence. We had about 200 toothbrushes to give away in an oral hygiene presentation. About twice as many people came—but somehow everyone left with their own toothbrush.
How does FDR’s ministry fit with Foursquare’s long-term work?
Chad: It can be a catalyst or a complement. Project Nourish in East Africa began helping to feed some of the starving refugees in camps in Uganda. People were able to begin building homes because they didn’t have to focus on foraging for food. We have dug wells to provide fresh water, and have provided health and sanitation training. Along the way, we have seen new believers and the start of a dozen or so churches that are now part of the national church.