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.
In this three-part series, I am letting you know what I shared with the congregation of Community Bible Church (in Savannah, GA) a couple of months ago. I was asked to share our story of living in Allendale, as a part of their teaching on James 1:26-27 (regarding looking after the vulnerable of our society).
Here is the second part of my talk.
Last time, I set the context of Allendale, with respects to its demographics. Then, I focused on the issue of how generational poverty involves a lack of hope. When our “neighbors” don’t have a hope that life can or will change for the better, what do we need to do?
We need to be the body of Christ, and share the good news of Jesus Christ.
Your Presence, Not Your Presents
A lasting hope does not come by writing a check, or donating your used clothes, or by telling people, “You need to work harder and get an education,” or even by teaching a Bible story and doing an altar call. Yes, those things may be needed, but you can’t start (or stop) there.
What is needed is for the body of Christ to come alongside and to show love. People need your presence more than they need your presents.
Have you ever had a great idea for how to help someone, only to think of it too late to make a difference? I feel like this happens to me all the time, and the latest time was just a few weeks ago.
We were in the checkout line at Target (obviously, we were not in Allendale). I overheard the customer ahead of us talking with the cashier, and I deduced what was happening. She had brought all her items to the counter, but as the cashier scanned all the items, the woman realized that she had forgotten her wallet at home. She had no way to pay.
From what I could figure out, the cashier was going to scan and hold all the items, and the customer would go home, get her wallet, and return to pay for the items. I felt bad for her, knowing it would be a hassle. But I was glad that at least all her items would be at the checkout, so she wouldn’t have to do the shopping all over again.
As we were walking through the parking lot, the thought hit me, “Why didn’t I just offer to pay for her items?” It was only about $50 worth of stuff. I could have given her my address so she could mail a check later on. Or even if she didn’t, I could have just chalked it up as a way to serve someone.
However, this thought occurred to me too late. The lady was gone, probably on her way home, kicking herself and frustrated for making a simple mistake.
Likewise, I was also kicking myself and frustrated for not thinking how I could help her in the moment.
For the few years that I was a pastor (and some before that), I had heard of the prosperity gospel. But I’ve seen (and heard) it up close so much more since we’ve lived in Allendale.
Remember the kind grandmother who gave me a dollar at church, so that “God could bless me”? That wasn’t the first or last time that I’ve experienced the idea that we can do things that cause God to act a certain way, and that God’s gifts of health and wealth are second only to salvation.
And here are some other resources that explain (and teach against) the prosperity gospel:
My final season playing football for Furman University started out well, with three wins, and our only loss was a respectable game against a much bigger Clemson program. But a series of decimating injuries (by the end of the season, 9 of our 11 defensive starters were freshmen) led to 4 losses in the next 5 games. Needless to say, it was heart-breaking, especially for a perfectionist like me.
So, that last week, on Monday afternoon, I was walking down the hallway of our athletic facility, heading to the weight room for my next-to-last workout of my career. (We lifted weights on Mondays and Wednesdays during the season.)
I thought, “Is there any reason to work out hard in the weight room? What’s the point? Even if we do win, we’ll still have a losing record. And since I am a back-up, I’m not a major contributor to the team’s success. Will it really make a difference if I work out hard? What difference will it make if I just slack off?”
As soon as I stopped asking these questions, I heard a voice in my head as clear as can be. It said:
Last year, I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy (and watched the movies). The first time I went through the books and movies years ago, I was lost and confused, because I couldn’t keep track of who was who. The old guys looked alike, the elves all looked alike, the dwarves were all bearded-short guys, etc. It didn’t help that they all had funny names.
But going through the story a second time, I was able to do better keeping track of each character. And what I got to appreciate this time was the importance that each person (or creature) played in the grand scheme of things.
Bilbo (the “original” Hobbit) had his part of the story, as did his nephew Frodo. Samwise had his. So did each human (good or evil), elf, dwarf, orc, ent, . . . Everyone. Even (as Gandalf the Wizard taught us) the conniving Gollum played a crucial role in the fate of the Ring, and the fate of Middle Earth.
Everyone has a part of the story. But no one has the whole story, and no one is the whole story.
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: