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The Three-Fold Cord

The Three-Fold Cord


In most of Africa, people leave their rural homes to go and work in the cities, living in temporary shacks. They travel home maybe once a month, or if they are fortunate, once a week. For this reason, Christmas is a favorite time of year. The cities empty out, the trains are clogged with people inside and out, going home for almost a month to spend time with their families.

Anelly was a gracious 65-year-old African woman who worked at an orphan care center in the city. She was seated on one of these trains headed home for Christmas. Across from her sat a girl. You’d struggle to guess she was 14 years old, and she was holding a newborn. The girl was gaunt and her skin dull, a strong sign she was suffering with AIDS. The train came to a stop, and people flooded off and flooded on. The girl said she needed to use the restroom and asked if Anelly could hold the baby. Anelly took the bundle and the girl went into the station.

Five minutes went by and the bells and calls to board sounded. Anelly stood, concerned that the girl make it back in time. Her eyes scanned the crowd. And then the train jolted as it began to roll. Anelly was panicked, checking the train to see if the girl was anywhere. And then, in the crowd on the platform she saw her, standing still, looking at Anelly with tears rolling down her cheeks, and she mouthed the word “please?” Anelly was familiar with the act. A mother who could not care for the child and would not live long asking a loving person to take their child as their own. And Anelly took him home. And because God sent him to her at Christmas, she named him Emmanuel.


“And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction” (Matt. 4:23 and 9:35). Twice Matthew mentions that the gospel ministry Jesus modeled for us involved three elements:

  • Teaching = moral instruction
  • Preaching = proclaiming the saving gospel message
  • Compassion = helping those who were suffering

As we page through the four Gospels, we see these three elements of ministry woven together in a three-fold cord. Oddly, you never knew which Jesus would start with, and you never knew how many Jesus would do during His visit to a town or village. We would like to say that Jesus presented the gospel every time, but the record doesn’t indicate that. Some object that His miracles were signs that He was Messiah. True, but He could have done very impressive signs that helped no one, like making sand tornadoes dance in the desert. But Jesus used His power to help people, most often one by one.

The problem out on the field (we work in rural Africa, similar to Jesus’ world), is that physical needs overwhelm you and demand so much attention! You are dealing with starvation, disease, and abuse, seldom sitting quietly with a person where you can simply move through the gospel. So many believers in ministries to orphans and refugees and those captive in human trafficking get burned out from the demands … and then realize they haven’t shared the gospel with hardly anyone. What’s the answer?


And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out” (Mark 1:35-38).

Verse 35 is a huge key for missions in poor areas. If Jesus, as God in human flesh, had to constantly be in prayer for the Father’s guidance, how much more should we? In the middle of these ministry activities, guiding them and holding them together is prayer. Our job is to do the Father’s will, not to meet needs. The needs are far greater than we can handle and will burn us out if we are driven by them. Jesus did not meets the needs of everyone in Galilee or Samaria or Judea; He passed by some towns entirely! Prayer aligns our thoughts, priorities and next steps with God’s.


There’s another key in Mark 1:38: “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” Giving the gospel message was Jesus’ priority. Food can help for hours; the gospel changes an eternal destiny. There’s no comparison. And yet, when we show compassion, we turn up the volume on the gospel, in addition to compassion being a good thing all by itself.

Ministries in cultures facing poverty and pandemics – such as BMW’s work at the 7 Rivers Outreach in South Africa – involve this threefold cord of gospel ministry. The gospel message is always the priority, and each day and each drama must be guided and guarded by prayer.

David Brown, BMW Missionary to South Africa