Kate Nicholas

‘Now who will harm you if you are eager to do good?’ (1 Peter: 13) This is the question that that the Apostle Peter raised in his letter to the Romans, and it’s a question that Christians have continue to ponder over for centuries.

It doesn’t seem to make sense, does it? If you are doing good for people why on earth would anyone harm you? if you are simply trying to help those in need, and to provide support for people, why would anyone respond with anything other than gratitude? It seems illogical, doesn’t? But, unfortunately, in this broken world logic doesn’t always prevail.

Peter wrote this letter around the time of the first persecution of Christians between 62 and 64 A.D. Nero probably the most infamous of the Roman leaders was already beginning to show signs of his lunacy and after the great fire of Rome, that he actually started, he blamed the Christians. As they sought to find a new way of living based on love and modelled on the life of Jesus – a life utterly dedicated to the good of humanity – they became the target of Nero’s, and later Domitian’s, barbarous cruelty. And this was just the beginning

Over the following centuries, time and again Christians who lived lives of love for others and for Christ were martyred and sadly Christians are still being harmed today. During my years working with the Christian aid agency, World Vision International, I witnessed some terrible injustices against courageous staff who worked in some of the world’s most dangerous places improving the lives of the most vulnerable.

The two worst incidents I remember were in 2010 and 2013. In 2010, I had to release the news to the media that attackers armed with grenades had attacked and killed a group of six humanitarian workers in Northwest Pakistan, who had been helping the survivors of the 2005 Kashmiri earthquake to rebuild their lives. Then in 2013, two staff were killed during an attack on World Vision’s compound in South Darfur, Sudan, where World Vision was distributing World Food programme food aid to 300,000 internally displaced people in six refugee camps. It just seemed utterly senseless to me, but the trend continues. Last year a total of 268 attacks took place in 34 countries, resulting in 461 aid workers harmed. Of these victims, 203 were seriously injured, 117 were kidnapped, and 141 were killed.

All these people were simply ‘doing good’. Many of them Christians, who were following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, who had such a heart for those who were poor, disabled, outcast. I have spent many years working in international development and humanitarian aid but I was never more than an orchestra conductor, making sure that the right people were in the right place doing the right things at the right time, And I remain in awe of the extraordinarily courageous and faith-filled people who I witnessed working alongside communities in some of the toughest places in the world. Through these people’s ministry, I was able to see Christ at work, bringing light into the dark alleyways of slums in Delhi and Nairobi, bending beside the broken backs of workers in fields in Malawi and bringing hope into the rubble left behind by humanitarian crises like the Haiti earthquake and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines

Today marks the beginning of Christian Aid week and every year the charity – whose very name encompasses the idea of Christ-motivated aid – focuses on the tale of an individual who has been changed by people ‘doing good’. This year the charity has told the story of a lady called Esther Saizi, a 54-year-old pigeon pea farmer in Malawi. For 10 years, Esther grew pigeon peas on her farm but could never secure a fair price for her crop. Then in 2021 Cyclone Ana washed away her crops, leaving her desperate. This came on top of losing her husband. Her future looked very uncertain and hope was all but lost. But then people began to do ‘do good’ for Esther.

First her neighbours came and sat and prayed with her, and then someone told her about a local co-operative run by a Christian Aid partner, who then helped her to sell her peas at a fair price. As a result, Esther was then able to ‘do good for her family, paying for her grandchildren to go to school, for tools for her daughter’s carpentry business and even she acquired a herd of goats. The little seeds of goodness sown into her life grew like a mustard tree, transforming her future, proving that sometimes all it takes is a small gesture.

When I read about Esther I was reminded of a man called Joseph Banda who I was privileged to meet while I was working in Malawi. Joseph lived in one of the most remote areas of the country, and his family lived in terrible poverty, and Joseph was tortured by the fact that he was able to feed his family. His dignity was slowly eroded by his inability to look after his family and regarded himself as the lowest of the low within his community.

Then a small gesture of good transformed his life. The Christian charity worked for used donations to buy him a cow, and with the milk it provided, the health of his children improved. He looked after the cow so well he began to have surplus milk which he was able to sell at market, and with this money he bought a sewing machine so his wife could start to earn some money tailoring. And with this money he was able to buy a bicycle which mean that he could take more milk, and his wife’s wares to market to sell.

When I met Joseph he was very keen to show me the cow that had started this positive domino effect. I remember that the whole village came out to honour him and, as he we stood in a humble cow bier in the searing heat and dust, he beamed and told me ‘Once I was the poorest man in the village but now, I am the happiest man on earth’. All because someone had sown a seed of goodness in his life, in the name of Christ.

Walking alongside the poor, as the workers helping Esther and Joseph have done, is not an easy road (and Malawi is one of the safer countries in which aid agencies operate). But as Peter points out in his letter to the early Roman Christians, ‘It is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil’ (1 Peter 3:17) because that is exactly what Jesus Christ has done for us.

Jesus was perhaps the only truly good human being ever to have walked the earth. Even saintly figures like Mother Theresa had their faults, because as fallen creatures we are all tainted by sin. Except for Jesus. He was the unblemished lamb sacrificed for our redemption. ‘Christ also suffered for our sins once and for all, he was the righteous suffering for the unrighteous, in order to bring us to God’ (1 Peter 3: 18). And while He was on earth, Jesus gave us an example of how we should live as Christians, pouring out his life for others. Because Jesus was not only the embodiment of goodness, but he also did good for others; healing, feeding and comforting fallen humanity.

To paraphrase John Wesley, this is why we are called as Christian to:

‘Do all the good we can,
By all the means we can,
In all the ways we can,
In all the places we can,
At all the times we can,
To all the people we can,
As long as ever we can.

Not because good works can earn us God’s grace and forgiveness – Jesus’s sacrifice has already bought our redemption – but because doing good is a natural result of a life lived for Christ.

In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus pointed out that ‘No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil, for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks’ (Luke 7: 43-45).

As a church we are currently looking at our vision and plan for the coming years as a church. As part of this we were advised by the Diocese to hear from the broader community of Olney about their hopes for the church. We’ve only just got the first results – and we will be sharing them in more detail in due course but one of the themes that stands out is that the town sees one of the key roles of the church to ‘do good.’

One person interviewed said that the church needs to ‘Look outside of itself, and to look at where we could be and what we could do – to present in the town doing good.’ And other asked ‘Isn’t that what church is about? Doing good?’

Of course, church is about much more than this but we are the body of Christ on earth and our good works are often the first taste that many non-Christians have of the love of God. The people who were interviewed weren’t Christians but what they do know is that as followers of Jesus we as the church are called to do good.

It’s what drives people who work with organisations like Christian Aid – people who step daily out of their comfort zone to help those for whom Christ had a heart – and it’s what drives our ministry in the town through activities like the Food Bank and Memory Club. And this is how people see God at work in the world today. We are all witnesses and by our fruits we shall be known.

When I worked with World Vision, I led some work with the charity to look at how we could communicate our faith in the many nations in which we worked including secular, multi-faith and even hostile contexts. We recognised that in some of the places we worked in it would be unsafe to openly confess our faith in Christ, but we always hoped that our good deeds would be noticed by others, and that this itself would prompt the question why we were ‘doing good.’

And Peter advises that when that question comes, we need to ‘always to bread to make your defence to who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you’ – the hope we have in Christ – and to do so with ‘gentleness and respect’ (1 Peter 3: 15-17).

I saw a vivid and dramatic illustration of this when the charity was forced to leave Somalia where staff were working to help feed children and families during the terrible Horn of Africa famine. The National Director was heart broken as he knew that may would die without this aid, so he took his life in his hands and went back over the border from Kenya and sought a meeting with the warlords.

He was taken to a camp where he was surrounded by terrifying looking men with Kalashnikovs and made his plea. They couldn’t understand why he would have put himself in such danger but eventually the man who seemed to be charge said ‘Okay I understand, God (or he said Allah) has sent you to feed our children. You can come back’. In seeking to do good this man had given an account of the hope that he had in Christ and it saved the lives of many in Somalia.

Not many of us are called to work overseas for organisations like Christian Aid but we are all witnesses, all the time, even unintentionally, to what we believe and value. And by doing good in particular, we are witnessing to our Lord, who is goodness itself. There is also much that we can do closer to home. Doing good can many forms, it might be as simple as saying a kind word to someone who seems down in the dumps or putting some cans in the Food Bank box in the church. It might be supporting organisations like Christian Aid, or volunteering at community projects like the Memory Club. It might be speaking out on behalf of and praying for those who are suffering.

There is no end to the ways in which we can do good in the world and every small seed of goodness has the potential to transform lives. And thankfully living here in Olney we are unlikely to be harmed for doing good – which is all the more reason we should seek to:

‘Do all the good we can,
By all the means we can,
In all the ways we can,
In all the places we can,
At all the times we can,
To all the people we can,
As long as ever we can.’

 [Kate Nicholas]

A PDF version of this text can be downloaded here:

Talk 14 May 2023