CURE's mission statement is:
CURE International, healing the sick and proclaiming the kingdom of God.
Those words come directly from Jesus' own instructions to his disciples - first to the twelve and then to the seventy. The partnership of healing the sick and sharing the good news of "God with us" was linked in almost every facet of His life and work, and CURE strives to be a 21st century expression of Jesus' 1st century healing ministry.
But what is the "kingdom of God", how do we recognize it when we see it, and how can we partner with God to proclaim it? Fortunately, Jesus addressed many of these questions, and it's the aim of this series of posts to humbly shed light on those answers through His own words.
A Primer on CURE Afghanistan
In 2005, CURE took responsibility for a hospital complex on Darulaman Road in Kabul, Afghanistan. As with all CURE hospitals, we brought in skilled and experienced western ex-pats to work alongside of national professionals – bolstering the skills, training, and standards of the hospital.
This past week, I was privileged to visit that hospital. Led by a mixture of ex-pat and national professionals, CURE Afghanistan employs hundreds of doctors, nurses, and staff and serves the needs of thousands of pregnant mothers, premature babies, and women and children with surgically treatable conditions. As is the case throughout CURE, many of our Afghan doctors are national leaders in their respective specialty, sacrificing safety and material opportunity to serve their people with an excellence and reputation that is unrivaled. It is truly an honor for me to call them colleagues.
Afghanistan is not what it seems on the news. It is a hard place to serve and a difficult place to live; but the Afghan people are warm and hospitable, and it is clear that the CURE hospital is making a huge difference in a country that is still very broken after years of totalitarian rule and continued tribal warfare.
As I reflect on CURE’s mission in Afghanistan, one question has occupied my thoughts:
What does “healing the sick and proclaiming the kingdom of God” look like in Afghanistan?
To answer that question, I was drawn to an example Jesus gave his disciples about the nature of the kingdom of God. Jesus used a common phrase and an uncommon circumstance to describe the overwhelming influence that the kingdom of God – this present and yet coming kingdom, this redemptive work by God to renew His Creation – has on everything it touches.
Everybody Eats Bread
Here’s what Jesus had to say in Matthew 13:33.
He [Jesus] told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
To His first century audience, Jesus offers the example of yeast and the effect that even a little amount has on dough. This example is not unique in the New Testament. Both Jesus and Paul make multiple references to yeast, and each repeats (without the need for explanation) what one might well assume is a common axiom of the day, “a little yeast leavens the whole batch.”
(Sidenote: As I prepared this post, I reached out to my sister, a forensic chemist, to try to understand what’s going on chemically as yeast interacts with the sugars in flour. It’s complicated, but if you’re interested, check out these links: How Glycolysis Works, Fermentation, and a video on the topic.)
In the first century Middle East and even today in Afghanistan, bread is and was a staple of life. Every household had bread at each meal, every home knew how to mix water, flour, and yeast to bake bread, and everyone knew that a tiny amount of yeast had the capability to leaven a whole batch of dough.
So how is yeast like the kingdom of God?
Some commentators draw the conclusion that yeast in the Bible is primarily a picture of sin or evil, but I’m not convinced that is completely accurate. Instead, I think Jesus and Paul both referenced yeast as a pervasive and influential agent… almost an “infection” that ideas or behavior can have on circumstances or society. Some influences, some “yeast” – like the religiosity of the Pharisees (Mark 8) – can influence people away from right relationship with God. Some – like the example in Matthew 13:33 – can influence society towards the true shalom of God – life as God intended it in the beginning.
A Notably Huge Amount of Flour
1 pound of flour (4 cups) = 14 servings of bread
60 pounds of flour (240 cups) = 840 servings of bread
But if the example of yeast was well known, the amount Jesus references, “about sixty pounds of flour,” was anything but common. That amount of dough would feed hundreds of people, and most common people would not have made that much bread on a daily or even weekly basis. The amount must have grabbed people’s attention and underscored the effect of the kingdom of God on society.
Yeast is initially small and unnoticeable, but a small amount of yeast is overpoweringly influential, even on 60 pounds of flour. So, it seems, is the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God was near in the 1st century…
The first century Roman world seemed to dwarf the influence of this tiny group of disciples that had rallied around the young rabbi from Nazareth, but Christ wanted his followers to see life from God’s perspective. Despite the outward circumstances of the day and the seemingly small influence of the kingdom of God, God’s redemptive purposes in the world were being fulfilled. In fact, if we are to take Jesus’ teaching as truth, it is impossible for a circumstance, a setting, or even a culture to avoid the influence of the kingdom of God. Like a tiny amount of yeast can leaven a meal great enough to feed an army, so was the kingdom of God redeeming this world. All of life is being brought in alignment with God’s ultimate intentions and will, and we are each privileged to participate in that story.
Put simply, the kingdom of God changes… everything.
…and the same is true in 21st century Afghanistan
The Afghan people have experienced the kind of oppression and suffering that few in the western world can comprehend. The darkness of its “sixty pounds of flour” seems to dwarf the tiny influence of the kingdom of God in that region of the world. But I’ve been there and seen it with my own eyes, and when I think about CURE Afghanistan, Jesus’ teaching rings true.
Talented ex-pats work alongside our dedicated national staff to serve the needs of the vulnerable and sick throughout the country, receiving patients from every province in Afghanistan. The hospital has trained and sent out dozens of surgeons and general practitioners from its residency program, slowly raising the national quality of care. It has established one of the finest NICU units in the country, saving the lives of hundreds of children a year. It has provided life-changing surgery to thousands of women and children who would otherwise have suffered or died from their conditions. It has restored thousands of families. Relationships are being built. Lives are being changed. All of this has been done because of CURE’s commitment to serve the people of Afghanistan in a way that glorifies God. The seemingly small influence of the kingdom of God is having its intended effect. If we take Jesus at His word, we shouldn’t be surprised; it can’t help but be a pervasive influence.
The Proof is in the (Bread)pudding
So if you ask me what “healing the sick and proclaiming the kingdom of God” looks like in Afghanistan, I’ll tell you about brilliant Afghan surgeons, I’ll show you the faces of the lives we’ve touched, I’ll share some amazing stories of how God is working in that part of the world, and I’ll ask you if you’ve ever seen 100 pounds of naan… because it looks a lot like that.