We have already seen that evangelism is both the proclamation and its content is the good news. How then can this relate to the poor, the needy, the homeless – the least in society? Let us bear in mind that every Christian – or every believer – is commissioned to evangelize, if you like, according to Jesus’ command to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19). This is a commission for every believer, including those mentioned above, the least in society.
Too often evangelism has been perceived as proceeding from one group (giving) to another (receiving). As a result, the poor are on the receiving end while those serving them are on the giving. That may be true in material terms but not true with the good news. The poor can share the good news too. Most of those who serve the poor testify to spiritual benefits they receive in return, and that is evangelism.
I pointed out previously that the overemphasis on personal salvation may have some flaws both in perception and also in reality. The most serious flaw is the perception that the poor lack a personal relationship with their Creator. This often leads to the poor being blamed for their situation. The second error is the assumption that a personal conversion automatically translates into a reversal of poverty.
The fundamental claim of evangelism, therefore, is “to bring good news to the poor (and to all)…to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18). Jesus declared the fulfillment of this Isaiah’s prophecy in his ministry (Isaiah 61) and his followers continue the ministry through evangelism.
Some people, particularly non-Christians, are repelled by the term evangelism because of the dictionary definition I cited previously – especially the “missionary zeal” part. Nevertheless, no person of good will is nonplussed by good news, or healing of physical and spiritual illnesses, none of which are exclusively missionary.
I grew up in a small village, one of hundreds of villages that dot the slopes of Kilimanjaro. I still remember some of the missionaries in my childhood and their work. Those of my generation – third generation Christians – and earlier, know that the material prosperity we enjoy today has its roots in the evangelism of the missionaries. They did not carry the bible alone – important as it is: they built schools and health clinics. They did as much for agriculture as they did preaching.
That is the essence of evangelism.