Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Living on Mission

{How do you love and serve, without enabling and hurting?}

I read an article this morning that spurred my thinking on what it means to "be missional".

Years ago, I visited Poverello House and Fresno Rescue Mission each in the same week. They’re literally a block away from each other and they both serve the homeless and desire to help people out of their poverty and/or addiction. During my orientation at Poverello House it was very clear that we are not to talk to, interact with, and limit eye contact with their clients. In other words, prep the food, serve the food, and leave.

Fresno Rescue Mission’s message was quite different. Their message was "That's fine if you want to help in the kitchen, but you know what's better? Take a tray of food, go and sit and have a meal with some of the families."

See the difference? Same type of service, serving the same population, very different intention.

In my own life I’ve had some pain and experience in helping what Jesus would call the “least of these”. Once, we bought a bunch of gifts to “bless” a family and provide for them a wonderful Christmas. We were told this family was in need, very poor, didn’t speak much English, etc. So we wrapped gifts, loaded up the bags, and drove over. We got there to find the father and 4 of his buddies drinking a case of Budweiser on the front lawn in their somewhat new home. When we asked for the “man of the house” he pretended it wasn’t him. My husband whispered to me “do you realize we just completely embarrassed him and disrespected him in front of all of his buddies?” I left feeling terrible, as if we were the “white people to the rescue”.

Although we did bring the kids some new clothes and toys, we also brought shame and humiliation upon the father . . . which I don’t think brought glory to our Father in heaven.

I once had a mother in my classroom that had 4 children, all of whom were exposed to drugs in the womb. She was barely clean and sober, barely surviving. She shared how she did not have a lot of money to buy things or feed her children. I of course offered help. Sent her son home with clothes, with food, etc. One day, I left during my lunch break to run to the store quickly. I look up to see her walking out of the liquor store and lighting up a cigarette from her new pack. Not enough money for food, but enough for booze and a smoke.

Can you hear my pain, confusion, frustration in all of this? I hope that we as the body of Christ don’t (as the article says) “Undertake charitable projects or missions endeavors that make us feel good but don’t actually help those we serve and may actually take away their dignity or foster dependence.”

And yet, I know sometimes we have to be tent makers. Working alongside, for a long time, in hopes that someday we’ll be able to proclaim the gospel. The article also mentions “they do not want to partner with teams or agencies that do not allow evangelism.” Well that would be a public school, right? I have personally seen God penetrate the hard soil of a public school and provide opportunity to share Christ. I had to work for 5 years as a teacher before the LORD opened the door for me to send children home with bibles!

Through all of these experiences, I’ve learned that being missional takes patience, endurance, hope, compassion, and discernment.

In all of this I ask . . .
-How do you help serve, without enabling?
- If we always provide, always give, when will others look to the LORD as their provider?
-How can we let our lights shine in such a way (that it's not just to make us feel good) but to truly GLORIFY our Father in Heaven?
-How do we serve with patience and hope?

Perhaps this is just part of the frustration of finding balance in this. How do you love without worrying about being taken advantage of? How do you serve, without enabling? How do you discern, but not stifle the Holy Spirit? I never want to miss an opportunity to be his hands and feet, but I also don’t want my blessing to keep them from relying on the LORD.

Do I believe God can use all things for good? Yes. Perhaps those who serve meals to the homeless will be able to cultivate relationships and the LORD would open the door for the gospel to be proclaimed! Perhaps those children from the story above will remember a time when these people who love Jesus brought them gifts for no reason and it will point them to their Savior. Perhaps the mother who took all of my donations will be overwhelmed with love and conviction, and that will lead her to repentance.

So in this season when we are thinking more about what it means to live on mission, to be an intentional blessing, my hope is that we would pursue the path Christ has chosen for us, with hope, discernment, and patience, to be His hands and feet to those who are hurting and shine our lights before men!

1 comment:

  1. Melissa, great thoughts, necessary thoughts. I so appreciate your honesty as you ponder some difficult questions. I am actually reading a very good book right now that you might like to read. It is by Elyse Fitzpatrick who is a well-known biblical counselor; it's entitled, "Counsel From the Cross - Connecting Broken People to the Love of Christ." I feel deeply that the cross is the only long-term, life changing help we can offer - anything else is merely a temporary band-aid that will fall off in time. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.