Go to any third-world country and the immensity of the need is overwhelming. It's tempting to despair of making any difference. When you leave and return home, normal routines can insulate you from this sea of lack, from the images, sounds, and smells of a world deprived of the most basic of necessities. What are you to do? Assuage your guilt by sponsoring a child? Try not to think about it?
From his first trip to the third-world country of Uganda, Richard Stearns, President of the Christian relief organization, World Vision, has been asking that question: What do I do? What, in fact, do we do? The Hole In Our Gospel is his attempt to wrestle with those questions, challenging both himself and the American church to a whole gospel, to a gospel that puts feet to its words. Part biography, part catalog of need, and part sermon, Stearns issues a wake up call to Christians in America. By our pietistic emphasis and distraction by materialism, he says we have robbed the Gospel of its core, of it life-changing, society-renewing power. Appropriately beginning with the Gospel, he demonstrates how it extends beyond just a simple transaction, a decision point of faith, to kingdom living. Whatever else he says in the book, he roots his challenges in Scripture, in a Gospel of faith and works.
This is personal --- so much so that as the reader you never have the sense you're being lectured or talked down to. The tendency not to trust God, not to act in faith and obedience, is one Stearns recounts from having lived it. A Christian, a churchgoer, and the successful head of a major corporation, Stearns gave up a great deal to take the job as President of World Vision. More than lost income, though, was lost pride, as he felt like he had nothing to offer the organization. As successful as he was, he could not see what he had to offer the organization. He felt scared and helpless. But the question he wrestled with then is the same one for us all: Are we willing to be open to God's will for our life?
There are plenty of statistics here, numbers that numb the mind and stir the heart. 854 million people do not have enough food to sustain them. 25,000 people die each day of hunger. Lacking access to clean water, five million people die each year to water-related illnesses. One-third of the world's population is infected with the TB bacillus (that's two billion people). And yet he balances this bad news with good news. The under-five mortality rate has been cut in half since 1970. Polio has been virtually eradicated. Adult literacy has increased from 43 to 77 percent since 1970. Shockingly, he points out that the tithe given by Christian churches averages two percent of income, demonstrating how adept we are at holding onto our money and yet how much need would be met if we simply gave the full tithe. There's more, bad and good, but the point is that he doesn't beat us up with statistics but simply opens a window into the challenge, helping us take the focus off ourselves and our felt needs that pale in comparison.
Statistics and scripture are animated by abundant personal anecdotes, stories of families and children encountered in other countries and how simple things made a tremendous difference in their lives. The cynic in us wants to say so what, what does one person matter, and yet some of these stories show the power of one person who does small things with great love. He challenges us to take our time, talents (all that is uniquely ours), and our money and use them, to fill the hole in our Gospel by beginning where we are. In the end it's a challenge to do two things: Go, and give. That's all.
So, will you? Will I? As I told a friend the other day, rather than asking why you should go, or why you should give, rather ask why you shouldn't go, and why you shouldn't give. Presume that the love of Christ always pushes us out, even to the edge. Let God stop us. Let's begin here. Now.
He took me a while to read this book. It's not that it's long, but simply required self-examination along the way. It comes with a helpful study guide that may make it suitable for missions committees or small groups. Just read it. You'll change.