Finally, I’m concluding this series. As I wrote over 2000 words in these 3 posts, I’m amazed that I was able to share all of this in 12 minutes at CBC – Savannah. I could be an auctioneer.
In the last two posts, I explained the Context for Hopelessness in Allendale and then how we can engage that hopelessness through true hospitality and incarnation. I will conclude this topic with a quick explanation of missions done well, then a few examples of “random” opportunities to teach, and then some additional inspiration for you.
Missions Done Well
For missions and being missional, the goal must never be the event or the project or the program. Those are good things, but life change doesn’t happen by a project or program all by itself.
The primary means of missions is engaging others in meaningful relationships, for the purpose of helping others worship God. Life change always happens best in the context of community.
When it comes to “missions” programs, most churches use the relationship as the means to get the project done. They connect with certain people, get the team there and back home, and then they are happy. But this is wrong, and often harmful in the long-run.
A couple of months ago, I was asked to share part of our story at Community Bible Church (in Savannah, GA). As you may remember, this church has been a part of our ministry in Allendale, helping with summer activities in 2012 and 2013. I was glad (but nervous) to have this opportunity, but I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was, since I was the one who asked for opportunities to speak to others.
I had 12-15 minutes to talk, and here is the core of what I shared. (I know it’s a lot. Good thing I talk quickly.)
Context of This Community
We moved to Allendale (SC) three years ago. There’s a bunch to that story, but let’s just say that God forced our hand, since moving here was not what we ever imagined ourselves ever doing. But we are so thankful that He did.
I don’t want to talk about all the negative stats about Allendale (although my scientist and pessimistic natures want me to do just that). But here is an overview, so you understand the context of what we are doing:
- In 2010, Allendale was listed as the 10th most impoverished county in the US.
- About 75% of the population is African-American, so my family is in the minority.
- Most white families, and some black, don’t have their children in the local schools.
- Over 70% of children are growing up in single parent households. (For more about this, see my posts about the Fatherless Generation, with respect to boys and girls.)
- About 12% of the population of Allendale is incarcerated.
- There are over 100 churches, but there is mostly a famine of God’s word.
Again, I’m not focusing on the negative aspects, because the rest of this talk will be on the great things that we’ve seen. I just wanted to set the context for how we have worked with children in this community, in our after school programs, day camps, coaching, and more.
Three years ago, we barely understood poverty. We (like most of you) saw poverty as a lack of money. Now, we see it more as broken relationships – broken relationships with God, others, the world, and ourselves. In that context, we are all experiencing poverty.
We can talk a lot about poverty and all the effects of it, but I want to focus on one word: HOPE. Poverty involves a lack or imbalance of opportunity, and even a lack of awareness that there are opportunities.
Eleven years ago this month, I took part in my first short-term mission trip. It was the first trip that Grace Church took to Nicaragua, and thus began a solid ministry partnership with some key people in that country (especially Alicides Fuentes).
And thus began a change in my heart about what it looks like to live sacrificially for Jesus.
A few days before I left, I pondered the thought, “What if I were to die?” I was not panicking or considering backing out. I was just thinking about this possibility.
I decided to write Joanna a letter, which I would put in a place she would find after I left the house early on the morning of March 22. I wrote how much I loved her and our daughter Hannah, who was then 17 months old. (At the time I left, we were not aware that Joanna was pregnant with Elijah.)
I’m not going to lie. I bawled my eyes out as I penned that note from my desk at work.
I’ve heard this several times in Allendale over the past two months: “I thought you were gone already.”
I guess this reaction is a combination of us:
- communicating in waaayyyy back in October that we would be moving,
- being out-of-town for almost half of December, (including travelling almost 2000 miles in 30 days), and
- not having many programs going on in the community during these cold winter months (besides Robotics and the upcoming spring break camp)
I’d like to think that people are pleasantly surprised to find out that we are still in Allendale, instead of them thinking, “I was hoping you’d be gone already.”
(I’m sure there are people in both camps, and that’s fine.)
Last year, a 16-year old boy from a rich family got drunk (while also having Valium and marijuana in his system), drove a pickup truck (owned by his father’s company), and killed four people. He got absolutely no jail time as a result.
The defense team successfully argued that “because of his family’s wealth and child-rearing style, [the teenager] never learned that his actions had consequences.” In other words, because his parents didn’t do their job, he didn’t deserve to go to prison.
Upon learning that story, my first thought (and Tweet) was,
— Joey Espinosa (@EspinosaJoey) December 28, 2013
It’s been just over one year since I last gave a reason why Allendale is so great. Trust me — my lack of not posting to this series is not because I’ve run out of reasons. I have a handful of ideas that I’ve considered writing about, but I’ve been busy writing about other things. (140+ posts on this blog alone in the past 12 months, but who’s counting?)
Two related incidents in the past couple of weeks reconfirmed to myself how much we have loved living in this community. And they both have to do with my favorite hobby — eating.
Now when I talk about “home cooking” in Allendale, you may be thinking of fried chicken, collard greens, ribs, barbecue, rice, spaghetti with a sweet meat sauce (beef, sausage, and sugar), and so on. And you better believe that I’ve enjoyed all that in the past three years.
But I never expected that we would get two other kinds of home cooking in Allendale — authentic Mexican and Chinese dinners.
A few weeks ago, I answered the frequently asked question, “Where are you going next?” with a solid “I don’t know.”
Today, I want to address another question that we’ve been getting a lot, “What will you do next?”
Don’t be surprised if I will answer this question with another, “I don’t know.” (Or, since I’m learning Spanish, maybe I can mix it up and reply with “Yo no se.”)
You should move to Allendale.
No, I’m not saying that you would absolutely be disobedient to stay where you are. On the other hand that may be true.
And even if it’s not about obedience, I still think you should. I can’t tell you all the ways that God will bless you if you move here, but He has blessed us in at least these 6 ways:
- We have great opportunities for ministry.
- We can serve with less distraction.
- God has drawn us closer to Him.
- We understand the Bible more deeply.
- God has broadened our perspectives of different cultures.
- Our own children have had their worldviews expanded.
Moving to Allendale is as simple as Ready, Set, Go. I’m serious. We did it in exactly 56 days.
Want to learn more? Check out my guest post on the Grace Church Pastors Blog, 6 Compelling Reasons Why You Should Move to Allendale.
If you have any questions, please comment below or contact me.
Last summer and fall, I did a series called “Questions You Can Ask a Missionary.” I answered the 12 questions listed in an article on the Paracletos blog. These questions address the most common stressors that missionaries feel.
In case you missed any of the posts, or as a way to review what I already wrote (especially in light of us transitioning from Allendale over the next six months), here is a list of those questions and answers:
If you are looking for some books to read this year, may I suggest a few?