Community Outreach, Community Transformation

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8 (NIV)

Author’s note: This is the founding article for a series of articles highlighting the community outreach ministry of Formation Counseling Services (FCS).

Beginning in the year 251 A.D., a devastating plague pounced upon and swept through the Roman Empire, wreaking incredible misery and destruction. What became known as the Plague of Cyprian, after St. Cyprian, the bishop who chronicled the events, killed 5,000 people per day during its zenith. Understandably, many, if not most all people who could, fled the plague-stricken regions for the sake of their lives.

What was much more difficult to understand was the Christian response to the Plague. Christians, many of whom had been scapegoated as the reason for the Plague, stayed behind in Rome, in Alexandria, in Carthage, and in other places around the Empire, to minister to the sick and dying and to bury the dead. In the midst of their own loss of family and friends, while they were sick and suffering themselves, at the risk of death by disease or by persecution, without regard for whether those they helped were Christians or non-believers, “followers of the way” (as they were called) remained to care for the sick, to wash the unclean, to feed the hungry, to console the dying, to comfort the grieving, and to bury the dead.

Communities were transformed by Christians reaching out to others…and so was the entire Roman Empire.

The actions of those early outreach Christians spoke loudly to many who were touched by the demonstration of a faith that was worth dying for and a love that was absolutely unconditional. Christianity’s explosive growth across the Roman Empire has been attributed to the remarkable witness of the Christ-followers who were willing to minister to those in great need—some of the most desperate people in some of the most desperate circumstances. Communities were transformed by Christians reaching out to others…and so was the entire Roman Empire.

Some seventeen hundred years later, the witness of those third century Christians continues to fan the flames of “love for neighbor” in the hearts of followers of “the way, the truth, and the life.” And still today, as then, communities are being transformed by Christians across the world who are willing to reach out to others in the midst of their own life struggles, while they are sick and suffering themselves, at the risk of death by disease or by persecution, with great generosity to the point of extreme sacrifice, without regard for whether those they help are Christians or non-believers. May God continue to raise up an outreach army of Christ-followers whose faith is worth dying for and whose love is so unconditional that communities are transformed by His touch through them.

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Putting it into Practice at FCS:

The calling upon the church to preach good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners, to comfort all who mourn, and to provide for those who grieve (Isaiah 61:1-3) is clear and compelling. FCS is dedicated to the power of community outreach in the name of Christ to transform people’s lives and to transform the communities in which those people live. We believe not only in the old saying that “changed lives change communities,” but in the truth that community outreach is necessary to reach lives that need to be changed.

About the author:

Marty Goehring, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and an ordained Cumberland Presbyterian Minister. He is the Director of Formation Counseling Services, an Associate Pastor of Heights Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and an Adjunct Professor at Richmont Graduate University. The three life-long missions that Dr. Goehring pursues with passion are to assist the Spirit-driven process that forms Christ in people’s lives, to support the church in fulfilling its calling to be the primary provider of soul care in the community, and to inspire the church to mobilize its resources for the sake of spreading the gospel wide and taking it deep.