Acts of Mercy

By Kara Crawford
What does it mean to reach out to our communities with Christ's love? How are we, as Christians, called to respond to the needs of our communities? These two questions, for me, are inextricably linked, and I believe that they are important questions that all churches should ask themselves for the sake of self-examination and are then called to act upon their responses. Missions and service work is an integral part of who we are called to be as Christians; Jesus calls us to feed the hungry, give a drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned in Matthew 25. Part of loving our neighbors and our communities and demonstrating to them the love of Christ is meeting these needs. A quote often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi (though the origin is unknown) is "Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary." Missions and service work is a great way to preach the gospel, to share Christ's love. 
What can a local church do to engage in this form of sharing Christ's love? Every church has the potential to engage in this important facet of ministry; even the smallest rural church can do something. First your church must ask itself questions - who are the people with needs in our community? What are those needs? What resources do we have such that we can respond to those needs? Maybe there are families in your community who are unable to afford their groceries in a particular month or presents for their children at Christmas; your church could take up collections to help meet these needs. Maybe there are a lot of shut-ins in your community who would appreciate a visit from time-to-time; your church could have people periodically go to visit them. Maybe your church could establish a means (such as establishing an emergency reserve fund) by which it can respond to immediate and emergency needs in your community; when a family's house gets flooded because of heavy rains, your church could assist them in clean-up efforts, or when a family's home is damaged or destroyed due to a fire or tornado, your church can be ready to provide them the necessities they lack until they are able to return to their home. There are many ways your church can respond to the needs of your community and, in doing so, demonstrate Christ's love to the community. Examine the community's needs, be creative about the ways that your church's resources can meet those needs, and act accordingly, and your church will share the gospel and love of Christ with your community, using words only when necessary.
Kara Crawford is a member of Tuscola UMC (Iroquois River District) and a senior at DePaul University majoring in International Studies and Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies. Kara is also a member of the General Board of Church and Society.