Monday, March 7, 2022

Sung Il Lee: Integrating Jubilee and Disaster Mission

Today's post is by Rev. Dr. Sung Il Lee. Rev. Dr. Lee is a missionary of Global Ministries and Missionary Practitioner in Residence at Candler School of Theology. It is part of an occasional series on mission and jubilee.

In this post, I share what our Christian attitude should be toward disasters. Natural disasters and social disasters will happen constantly. We should serve those who have suffered with the eyes and heart of Jesus, who came as the Kinsman-redeemer, the realizer of the Jubilee. Jesus healed the sick, freed their souls from Satan's bondage, and restored their hearts as he traveled through the cities and countryside of Galilee.

What does it mean to stand in a mission or pastoral field with the spirit of jubilee? I believe that the heart of the Triune God, that is, compassion and grace, must be revealed in our words and actions. I believe that we must become true comforters to those who have suffered disasters as God's spokesperson.

I believe that doing missions from a jubilee perspective is faithful to the following three principles.

Seal the past with love!
Whenever a disaster strikes, we ask, Why does that happen? Did God cause disaster? However, we can't get a reasonable answer, and the tragedy is not explained. Sometimes in explaining a disaster, the words of religious leaders have brought more destructive damage than the disaster itself. Wesley wrote that the question of why “has been a question ever since the world began; and the world will probably end before human understandings have answered it with any certainty.”[1]

This realization makes us shift our focus to the works of mercy instead of exhaustive questions of theodicy, making God's grace known to those who suffer from calamity. Wesley wants us not to "lose an excellent means of increasing your thankfulness to God, who saves you from this pain and sickness, and continues your health and strength; as well as of increasing your sympathy with the afflicted, your benevolence, and all social affections."[2] I believe that our call to action in times of trials and sufferings is to seal the problem with "a missiological approach based on jubilee law thinking."

I clearly remember that during the earthquake in Nepal, Korean missionaries in Nepal used their personal expenses to help the victims by providing relief supplies. They served Nepalese with the mind of Jesus Christ, who feels with humanity and takes on the pain of their suffering.

But problems arose in unexpected places. A relief worker delivered a Bible with relief supplies. This simple act brought strong opposition from locals. "Why are they forcing religion in these difficult times? Even Nepal Christians didn't like their way of mission."[3] A good but thoughtless act at the most sensitive time caused strong opposition.

At the same time, a relief team from the United States served disaster victims and delivered relief supplies. Whoever asked why they helped, their answer was simply "God loved you." A surprise happened a year later:

One Tibetan Buddhist priest embraced Jesus Christ and became a Christian pastor. He converted after seeing the love of Christ shown by a group of Christian workers who helped out and provided relief goods to the people of the region after a major earthquake struck the area.[4]

In an update, Asian Access reports that 62 other Buddhist monks with 200,000 believers have decided to follow Christ as well, due to Christian workers who provided hope and healing to the people of Tibet.[5] Director Joe Handley of Asian Access said:

They haven’t seen Buddhists, Hindus, or other religious groups helping in the midst of the rubble. Rather, week after week, it is the followers of Jesus who have proved the test of time, sacrificed their own lives to serve and been the hands and feet of Jesus.[6]

The locals are watching. Only pure loving service can seal and comfort their past pains. If a sheet of an evangelism tract is telling people a little bit of God's love, their labors of love and works of mercy leave an indelible impression. Authentic Christians in times of disasters and calamities are not “disaster-causing comforters” (Job 16:2), but ones with “faith that worketh by love; all inward and outward holiness.”[7] They are the ones who seal the aching hearts of those who suffer and suffer with love.

Serve the present with humble heart and mind!
The service of love should be carried out with a humble attitude. Wesley urges us to serve the afflicted in “the whole spirit of humility, lest if pride steal into your heart.”[8] Without humbly asking for the Holy Spirit's help, in the process of helping them, we often could not become means of grace to the sick and afflicted because we were not able to accept their anger, bitterness, and stubbornness that emerge from the wounds of sudden disaster.

In his sermon “On Divine Providence” (#67), Wesley affirms God is always with us, even during tragedy. He shares, “It is hard, indeed, to comprehend this; nay, it is hard to believe it, considering the complicated wickedness, and the complicated misery, which we see on every side. But believe it we must” (#67. §13).[9] Through our experience, we know that disasters happen to both Christians and non-Christians. As Jesus said, “your Father in heaven … causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45). The good news we proclaim is that God is with us through it all.

Dónal P. O’Mathúna in his book “Christian Theology and Disasters: Where is God in All This?” says, “believers are called to aid the poor , the sick, the oppressed, orphans, refugees,” because all humans are made in the image of God, which confers everyone with both inherent dignity and moral responsibility.[10] We as his disciples are called to join Jesus in displaying God's mighty works as an extension of God's presence in the midst of the tragedy.[11]

Look forward to the future with hope!
Natural disaster “is not a whip that is easily wielded when God is angry. Nature is still beautiful, and when the seasons change, it presents flowers and leaves, red sunsets and green seas, and produces precious grains for human consumption.”[12] However, it produces constantly 'thorn bushes and thistles' that makes the farmer's forehead sweat and his hands bleed.

As Paul mentioned in Romans 8:19-22, it is evident that the ferocity of the earth, which scratches people and sometimes devours them, is perhaps the scream of a 'slave of corruption', the 'groaning' and 'pain of childbirth' of the land. This is a pain to endure until it will be released on the day when humans who have been enslaved by sin will be fully revealed as 'children of God.'

Therefore, what are the consequences of Western theology, which hardly includes nature and creatures, and narrow soteriology, which only regards humans as the object of salvation? As a result of cruelty to the natural environment in the name of construction and treating nature only as an object of conquest, we are experiencing an unprecedented disaster. It is believed that many natural disasters are a request to look back on God's will, which also commanded the rest of the earth during the Sabbath year, and at the same time, we must discern whether it is God's warning against our endless greed.

Paul referred to the fall of Adam and the cursed nature and the suffering of all creatures, saying that they were waiting for the emergence of new creatures. The new creation refers to a Christian born again in Christ. It refers to the saints who live by the Spirit who dwells within them.

When we practice the spirit of Jubilee in the church and in the field of life as Jesus played the role of the kinsman-redeemer and realizer of the Jubilee, a wonderful thing that the indwelling Holy Spirit works and speaks through us will restore the true reconciliation and koinonia by cancelling debt, liberating the oppressed and returning the land. Caring for the afflicted in the Jubilee spirit will set us free from the narrow soteriology that only I and my family need to be saved and bring us to a wider one that embraces my neighbors and even this land where we stand. Is it not the will of the Lord who called us and saved us in order to co-work with him in terms of Jubilee?

[1] Recited from “How do we understand suffering from disaster?”,

[2] Sermon 98. On Visiting the Sick. I. §2.

[3] Park Jun-seong. “The Nepal earthquake is due to Hinduism?...” Believe in Jesus, 5/16/2015. articleView.html?idxno=290524. 2021/3/19.

[4] Speaklifedaily. “62 Tibetan Monks Follow Christ,” 22nd December 2016. 17th March 2021.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Sermon 62. The End of Christ’s Coming. III §6.

[8] Sermon 98. On Visiting the Sick. II. §1.


[10] Dónal P. O’Mathúna, Christian Theology and Disasters: Where is God in All This? Ibid.

[11] AsktheUMC. Op cit.

[12] Shin Jiyeon. “The fallacy of the theory of judgment on natural disasters in the Bible.” 2011/3/18. 2020/12/20.

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