When Jesus announced the beginning of his ministry he did so by declaring he’d been sent to help the poor, the prisoners, the blind and the oppressed (Luke 4:18). The wonderful news of the gospel is that there is a God who offers hope for those whose lives are grim.
Following Jesus’ example the ministry of the church, both locally and globally, has rightly focused on providing health, education, relief and opportunities for the needy. One of the delights of being in the Frontiers community is seeing how our teams are making disciples while providing fresh water for desert communities, operating health centres, creating meaningful employment for the poor, or serving refugees, drug addicts and orphans.
But what about the ever-increasing number of people in the Muslim world who aren’t ‘poor and needy’? Shouldn’t we be concerned about the lostness of those who seem to be comfortable in this life?
In the Bible it’s easy to see God’s heart for the poor, but we also see his longing that all people turn to him whatever their status. Many times he fulfilled his purposes through those who had wealth and influence: He decided his chosen people would come through the offspring of the prosperous Abraham. Job, who God highlighted as ‘the greatest and most blameless and upright of men,’ was also one of the wealthiest. In the early church God sometimes hand-picked key influential people through whom the gospel would spread: An Ethiopian in charge of the royal treasury (Acts 8), Lydia, a wealthy business woman (Acts 16), and of course the well-educated Apostle Paul who had contacts in high places prior to his conversion (Acts 9).
Bringing the gospel to the upper and middle classes, and the leaders and influencers, can create particular challenges. Serving the poor gives us easy access to them and provides a platform where the good news can be naturally demonstrated and shared, but in what contexts can we demonstrate the love of Christ to those who don’t appear to have obvious needs we can minister into? Jesus said it’s so hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God, but does that mean they’re a hopeless case?
The reality our workers report is that while appearing secure on the outside many affluent Muslims are starving for spiritual food as they realise that education, wealth and opportunities just don’t fill the void in their souls. One of our workers reaching out to the upper classes in South Asia said, “We’ve found the primary ways of going deeper are through talking about real life issues: relationships, parenting, work-life balance. They’re the kind of topics that have driven the explosion in self-help books in the west. These people are often longing for purpose and love that only God can fulfil.”
He went on to say, “Some of our greatest inroads were through my wife interacting with the women about their marriages. Almost all of the families had difficult marriage relationships. My wife would listen and pray with the women and go deeper in spiritual conversations.”
Another one of our workers points out that there is the added blessing they’ve seen that when wealthy Muslims respond to the gospel and begin to follow Jesus it has opened up doors and resources to pour on their not-so-wealthy compatriots.
The world of missions is changing as God is calling many more to go not just to serve the poor but as marketplace professionals. Those who recognise that God created them to love medicine, or engineering, or science, or art, or media and realise they don’t have to give these things up to be effective gospel witnesses in unreached nations. In fact these passions and professions provide meaningful access into places like the Gulf, featured in this magazine.
As we continue to take the good news to all creation let’s remember that God’s love for the upper classes is just as strong as it is for the poor. When Jesus was approached by a wealthy young man who was overtaken by love for his money Mark tells us that “Jesus looked at him and loved him” (Mark 10:21). Let’s do the same.