I first came to Kenya in October of 2001. This month marks nine years serving the Lord in this foreign land. It has become “home” to me and God has blessed me with so many wonderful friends! In fact, these friendships are at the heart of what he has called me to do here.
For this month’s prayer letter, please allow me to quote rather extensively from a book I’m currently reading – “Friendship at the Margins”, by Christopher L. Heuertz and Christine D. Pohl.
The various things these two authors have to say echo my own sentiments so well. I believe that as you read these excerpts, you will be prompted to pray for me. For that, I am most certainly grateful!
The notion of mission itself has sometimes been reduced to the words we share with another person, telling them about Jesus… Words are important, but they can also be cheap. If we use words and get words in response, sometimes we think we’ve done mission… Ministry among poor and vulnerable people reminds us that words are rarely enough - what each of us needs is to know that we are loved by Jesus, beloved of God. Everything else flows from that. In situations of injustice or despair, words alone are particularly insufficient. People need to be loved and valued by others. They need to see what love looks like. (p.10, 11)
Mission or ministry with people who are poor or vulnerable often assumes that “our” task is to meet “their” needs. Whether or not their need is for the good news of Christ or for bread and a place to sleep, we tend to think that we have the resources and they have the needs. A focus on friendship rearranges our assumptions. (p.19)
Jesus is called a friend of tax collectors and sinners… He seems to have enjoyed being with them… Jesus gladly shared meals with these friends and brought them love, hope, and healing… in a particular and protective way God loves those who are most vulnerable: widows, orphaned children, strangers, and those pushed to the margins of a community. (p.30)
Friendship puts the focus on relationships and offers an alternative to models of mission that are more formal, professional, or bureaucratic… The greater the distance and the more complex the work, the harder it can be to assume that local relationships matter, that they might be interesting or satisfying, or that they are important to one’s relationship to God. Such distancing also makes it harder to resist turning people into projects… (p.33)
Jesus chose 12 disciples and called them friends, but on the night he was arrested, his friends failed him miserably: Judas betrayed him, Peter denied him three times, and the others abandoned him. Even after his resurrection, Thomas doubted him. If an assessment was done shortly after his crucifixion, the numbers weren’t there for success. (p.34)
How do we measure success in the midst of ministry? Was Jesus “successful” in his calling, mentoring, training, and sending of the twelve disciples? When do we take the measurements and what do we measure? Perhaps success is the wrong category. Jesus was faithful. Even to the end of Judas’ life, Jesus loved him. (p.35)
Success doesn't make sense of a self-giving love that is offered even to those who betray, deny, abandon, and doubt us. But according to Scripture, faithfulness in loving our friends - whether or not we see immediate results - does yield a harvest of fruit. And together we are drawn closer to the heart of God. (p.35)
“One great reason why the rich, in general, have so little sympathy for the poor is because they so seldom visit them. Hence it is that… one part of the world does not know what the other suffers. Many of them do not know, because they do not care to know: they keep out of the way of knowing it; and then plead their voluntary ignorance as an excuse for their hardness of heart.” (The Works of John Wesley, vol. 7, “On Visiting the Sick”) (p.58)
When our relationship with God is so compelling to us that we invite others to experience the same kind of life-giving relationship, we are in mission. The starting and ending point of mission is relationship… (p.73)
“Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.” (St. Francis). It’s not that words are insignificant or unnecessary, but when detached from relationship, they can be quite difficult to hear and comprehend. (p.74)
We tend to think that we draw closest to God in prayer and Scripture reading, in fasting or at communion. But works of mercy (such as feeding those who are hungry or visiting the sick and prisoners) are equally important as conduits of God’s grace. (p.77)
If we see that care for persons in need is a response of love to Jesus (Matthew 25:31-46) - a chance to walk on holy ground - then our entire understanding of mission and ministry shifts. It is not what “we” do for “them”, but an opportunity for all of us to be enveloped in God’s grace and mercy. In God’s economy, it’s less clear who is donor and who is recipient because all are blessed when needs are met and when individuals receive care. (p.77)
A willingness to put down roots in a particular place and with a particular group of people provides a setting where over time we are forced to depend on God’s grace as we work through interpersonal issues and go deeper into the Christian life. Such stability is a challenge to our contemporary tendencies toward self-serving notions of pilgrimage or journey that allow us to pick up and leave when things get difficult. (p.79)
One of the most powerful expressions of mutuality and friendship is sharing a meal together. We tend to eat with people we like and with people who are like us. But shared meals break down social boundaries. All of us need to eat, and when we break bread together we embody our solidarity and common humanity. (p.81)
Jesus frequently ate with his followers, adversaries, and outcasts in the community. He was sometimes a guest and sometimes a host, but in either case, meals were important settings… Our meals become kingdom meals especially when people who are usually overlooked find a place - a place of welcome and value. (p. 81)
Ministry and mission at a distance can’t mend broken hearts and spirits… Friendship with vulnerable persons - especially orphaned children and widows, refugees and homeless people - reminds us that for Christians, notions of friends and family blur together. We are both family and friends to Jesus and to one another. (p.84)
Friendship involves sharing ourselves as well as our resources… The needs of our friends become an invitation to practice generosity. (p.85)
And in closing…
People are transformed when someone is willing to listen to their stories, to share a meal with them, to find their insights and concerns important or interesting. They are able to recover a measure of self-respect and a fuller sense of identity. (p.80)
Thank you for lifting me up to the Father!