The Bible, Pure Religion, & Transformed Communities

by Rob Martin

James 1:27, the Bible, pure religion, evangelism and good works, Rob MartinBernie May, a former president of Wycliffe Bible Translators, could tell stories that would make the impact of scripture come alive for me in ways hardly anybody else ever has. When Bernie started out with Wycliffe, he flew planes for the mission in the Brazilian rainforest. One of my favorites stories of his came from that time. It took place in an isolated village that had a cultural imperative that when a man died, his widow was sent away deep into the forest to die as well. Their belongings were then distributed among the remaining families.

The village was the setting for one of the translation projects Wycliffe does so well, that is by taking a small language group that will never hear the gospel in their heart language until some trained linguist sits down with them sometimes for many years and brings scripture to life. This village had such a project where a missionary, working with the village’s chief as his translation helper, was slowly working through the New Testament.

The missionary had noted their practice of pushing widows away to die and decided to work on a portion of scripture from James 1:27: “Religion that God our father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after widows and orphans in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” As it turns out, the very day they were translating these words, the village was preparing to send out a recently widowed elderly woman.

When the chief, who had developed a respect for the word of God and a belief in Jesus, discovered for himself that scripture abhorred their practice, he jumped up exclaiming, “We must stop this practice! God, our father, says we are to look after the widows.” He then organized a schedule for the people in the village to share meals and provisions with the woman. In time, the entire village came to Christ.

I was reminded of that story this morning as I was preparing to write this blog entry. I was talking with Kehinde Ojo of IFES when he told me about his home church, The Family Worship Center, in Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria. The church was founded some 30 years ago by a young couple and has grown to several thousand members attending at various campuses. The church has a very active missions and outreach program, fully supported by the congregation.

Though located several thousand miles away from the Brazilian rainforest and with a vastly different culture, the word of God is just as alive in Abuja. The ongoing violence in the northern reaches of Nigeria has had tragic consequences for Christians living in that region, especially the Nigerian missionaries and pastors working from various denominations, many of whom have been martyred. But their widows are not without help. Family Worship Center is partially supporting more than 1,600 of these women with a monthly stipend drawn from donations averaging $40,000 per month. And they are continuing to send missionaries into the region with additional support from their congregational donations.

Elsewhere in the letter, James wrote, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22). From the crowded and teeming capital city of Abuja and from a remote village in the Brazilian rainforest, we couldn’t have two more perfect examples of what James meant.

Rob-Martin2Rob Martin is a partner with the First Fruit Institute, serving ministries and colleague foundations as a coach on a variety of organizational issues. He also serves as senior associate for global philanthropy with the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization.