It’s a Small World

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I eat lunch in the local schools at least 3 or 4 days per week. For just $3.50 (salad) or $3.75 (regular meal), I get a good lunch, plus the opportunity to eat with students, teachers, and/or administrators. Totally worth it — especially on pizza day and spaghetti day.

A couple of months ago, I ate with a particular class. From past programs that we’ve done, I know a few of the students in that class and sat across from them. But I also sat next to a boy I didn’t know. “What’s your name?” I asked. He replied, “D____ G____.”

I enjoyed getting to know him, as we carried on a continuous and delightful conversation about school, traveling, sports, and more. When lunch time was over, I spoke with his teacher.

“That boy, D____ G____, he’s pretty sharp.” The teacher agreed. I continued, “And he likes to talk.” She grinned and said, “Oh yes he does!” And we were on our way.

A Chance Meeting?

That afternoon, I had a meeting in the local prison where I’d been volunteering. I was going through the usual screening at the security gate, and struck up a conversation with the guard, whom I did not recognize from previous visits.

Sometimes I feel uncomfortable asking personal questions, for fear that this stranger will think I’m prying. But never one to let a little social awkwardness get in my way, I asked if she was from Allendale, and if she had kids. She said she was from here, and she had one child in the middle school and one in the elementary school.

“Who is your child in the elementary school?” I asked (nosy, nosy, nosy). She replied, “His name is D____ G____.”

My jaw dropped. And hers did, too, when I when explained that I sat next to him that very day at lunch.

Proving that I did know her son, I said, “He is smart, isn’t he?” She smiled and agreed. Then I said, “And he talks a lot.” “Oh, Lord, yes!!” she replied.

We soon got talking about her other child, who had been going through some struggles. I didn’t have any quick solutions for her, just a sympathetic ear. This conversation was just an opportunity to connect. And it helped me realize something else.

Holistic Ministry

One advantage of doing ministry in a small town (and the same would apply if you ministered in a specific community or neighborhood) is the tight connection between many different entities. In Allendale, we joke that everyone is cousins with someone, or at least good friends. In any case, we are connected by far fewer than six degrees of separation (try 2, max).

Poverty is complicated and multifaceted. So we cannot go after poverty with simple and isolated solutions.

As explained by Culturally Engaged (a ministry of Grace Church),

The brokenness we see around us is thorough and holistic. But a holistic problem requires a holistic solution. . . .

The whole gospel means renewal for the whole person and for the whole creation, and we want to be a part of that Story. Our mission is not less than saving souls, nor less than standing up for social justice, nor less than caring for creation in a responsible way. We have a bigger mission in which all these factors are important and interdependent.

Working with individuals in poverty means dealing with them in a holistic way, with their physical needs, education, spirituality, relationships, and more.

What Can You Do?

Does this mean that each of us needs to do everything? Of course not. But it should encourage you to be a part of a church or organization that works from a holistic mindset.

For example, Joanna and I mainly focus on working with children and youth. However, I have recently (as of about 6 months ago) gotten involved in the prison ministry. In this post, I gave at least six reasons you should be interested in prison ministry. Let me add four more:

  1. Meeting a need. The prison residents have a hunger to learn and get better. I’ve told them that me joining them isn’t about me, but they remind me how much they appreciate me joining them. When a “street person” comes in, it gives them encouragement to keep doing the right thing, and to keep helping the other men.
  2. Captive audience (pun completely intended). These guys aren’t going anywhere. So they’ll listen to whatever I have to say. So when I brought in some snacks for a Super Bowl party, before we ate, I shared the gospel with them, and the fact that the gospel is the only reason I was in the prison with them that evening.
  3. Connected to a bigger mission. God is at work in Allendale — in the churches, schools, prisons, etc. His work is holistic in nature, but in the individual and for a community as a whole. When I walk into the prison and see security guards who are parents of kids I know, it gives validity to the big picture.
  4. Get others involved. The prison is not my main ministry. However, maybe it can be a focus for someone else. By me getting involved, I provide a connection for others to get plugged in.

We can ask a hundred questions of where we should start. But the most important thing is to get the ball rolling. Only after you have begun down a path do you see new doors of opportunity appear.

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