Advent Week 2: Live out your faith

by Dr. Larry Sthreshley 

This reflection is part of our special Season of Hope Advent devotional series. Be sure to check back each week as we share reflections from a diversity of people whose prayer and support make the mission and ministry of Lutheran World Relief possible. You can read the entire series by pressing the button below.

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“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, ‘Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name’; and again he says, ‘Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people’; and again, ‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him’; and again Isaiah says, ‘The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.’ May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing,  so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” --Romans 15:4-13  

This passage is a great example of the timelessness of scripture. At the time it was written, there was obviously tension with the idea of accepting gentiles into a faith group that many thought was just for Jews. Even though this group had only recently heard the gospel and accepted it as their own, they were thinking of the gentiles as being outside of their chosen group and therefore ineligible to be a part of the church. We hear of similar thinking today both in the church and in society. We read about divisions over race, immigrants, sexual orientation and economic inequality every day. It is human nature to see the world as us and them, but God’s nature is to see us as one. This passage admonishes us to “follow the example of Jesus Christ, so that all of you together may praise with one voice the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The passage goes on to quote several scriptures from the Old Testament to point out that it was God’s plan from the beginning that we all worship one God. 

I have spent the majority of life in Africa. I was born in Congo and my wife and I have been mission co-workers for the Presbyterian Church USA for 32 years. The last 18 years I have been seconded to IMA World Health, which has recently joined with LWR. It has been an atypical role for a mission co-worker, but one that has allowed me to live out this Roman’s passage every day. The IMA/LWR team here in Congo is made up of multiple races and nationalities all working as one to serve the people of Congo. We bring comprehensive primary health care to 9.7 million people and specific assistance for HIV, tuberculosis and malaria to another 10 million. The work includes providing essential medicines, vaccines, insecticide treated bed nets, training, construction of health facilities and many other health related activities. Most of the funding comes from British and US government grants, but as country director I try to instill in my team that this is what God has called us to do and it is part of what it means to live out one’s faith. 

Many people reading this devotion might not have given much thought about what is the nature of missions today. There are many, like the people for which the Roman’s passage was written, who think of the Gospel as something that is conveyed to a non-believer to adopt.  There is of course an element of this in the Gospel, but primarily it is the living out of one’s faith that makes a difference in the world, and causes people to accept the source of that change as their Savior. A critical look at missions makes this abundantly clear. In Congo 150 years ago, there were almost no Christians. Today 95% of the population identify as Christian. As proof of their faith in action is the fact that about 50% of the health care and over half of the education in the country is carried out through the churches. IMA/LWR help facilitate this health work and make it more effective both through the projects we have and the support we give to the churches.  

How might you live out your faith today? 

Dr. Larry Sthreshley is Country Director in the Democratic Republic of Congo, based in Kinshasa.