Many Christians are cynical about truth and the proclamation of the Gospel, says Ajith Fernando, who spoke to students last week as part of the Rom Lecture Series. People generally like it when Christians care for the poor and help the vulnerable. But they don’t like the preaching of the Gospel, says Fernando.
“Battling abuse and working for justice,” Fernando says, “are important aspects of our mission. But what if that becomes the standard for our programs?” If so, people won’t hear the Gospel. “The person and work of Christ is the answer to people’s greatest need,” Fernando says.
This privilege, he says, is more than enough of a reward for the preacher. “The human need is great,” Fernando says, “but God’s grace is greater. We have an answer to the greatest human need.” This passion for people to know the grace of God makes the preacher willing to become their slave.
Paul says he would be willing to die so that people would come to Christ. Fernando recalled Jeremiah, who said his eyes were a fountain of tears. And Jesus wept over Jerusalem. “This is counter-cultural,” says Fernando. “Tears are incompatible with our idea of cool.” But in a world where people often view Christians as arrogantly attempting to impose their beliefs on others, the type of devotion Paul exhibits will overturn the idea that Christians are arrogant. “They will realize these people are not arrogant. Slavery is for us the gateway to glory.”
Fernando says that most of his plans he had to give up because of the needs of Youth for Christ and the political situation in Sri Lanka. However, he says, while he gave up his plans, his dreams came to pass—only about 10 to 15 years late. Books didn’t get written, but messages got out. Sabbaticals were interrupted by organizational needs, but people were cared for.
Fernando had scheduled time in early 2005 to write a book, but in December of 2004 the tsunami hit Southeast Asia. Instead of a book, Fernando was writing fundraising letters. Talking with staff, he jotted down a few notes about how to respond to the tsunami. Encouraged by the message, the staff begged Fernando to write it out. He did and sent it in an email to supporters. Suddenly, people began asking to reprint the email. A Dutch newspaper printed it. A U.S. ministry published 100,000 copies of a booklet containing the email. After an earthquake in Pakistan, it was translated into Urdu and distributed. Following the Katrina hurricane, a TV show asked Fernando to appear. Fernando couldn’t write the commentary on Deuteronomy that he’d intended. But, making himself a slave to his organization’s needs, God did much more. “You obey God,” he says, “and you think you’re making a sacrifice, but God has a better plan than whatever you think you’re giving up.”
“Evangelicals in the U.S. are in a tough place,” Fernando says, “because the world sees us resenting that our cultural power has declined.” But, he says, “Our weakness may take away their negative feelings. It doesn’t matter if people hate us. It doesn’t matter if the government is hostile. We have a job to do: to be servants of people. We’ll come to them as weak people and through weakness they’ll see the power of the Gospel.”