A friend who runs an inner-city shelter for drug addicts and homeless people made this observation: "I love evangelicals. You can get them to do anything. The challenge is, you've also got to soften their judgmental attitudes before they can be effective."

I have seen the truth of both statements.

You can indeed get evangelicals to do anything. Last year in Cape Town, I met Joanna Flanders Thomas, a dynamic and attractive woman of mixed race. At the most violent prison in South Africa, where Nelson Mandela spent several years of confinement, Joanna started visiting prisoners daily, bringing them a simple gospel message of forgiveness and reconciliation.

She earned their trust, got them to talk about their abusive childhoods, and pointed them to a better way of solving conflicts. The year before her visits began, the prison recorded 279 acts of violence; the next year there were two.

Two months later I traveled to Nepal, the world's only Hindu kingdom, a dirt-poor country where the caste system lives on. There I met with leprosy health workers from 15 nations, mostly European, who serve under an evangelical mission specializing in leprosy work. Historically, most of the major advances in leprosy treatment have come from Christian missionaries—mainly because, as my friend put it, "You can get them to do anything." I met well-trained surgeons, nurses, and physical therapists who devote their lives to caring for leprosy victims, many of them of the Untouchable caste. Several of the missionaries had run the Katmandu marathon, and two had taken a wild motorcycle trek across mountains and rivers into neighboring Tibet. None that I met fit the stereotype of "uptight, right-wing evangelicals," yet all would claim the word evangelical. ...

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June 2005

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