Thursday, February 5, 2009

Incarnational Ministry

It’s been almost a week since my return to San Angelo from Ethiopia. I’m almost back to regular sleeping patterns. I’d like to say I’ve reached some great insight or had some great revelation about life or humanity or God, but I’m pretty sure I’d be lying – such moments have been rare in my life even during moments of great significance. I tend to draw near to God in tiny steps. What I do have is a tremendous new appreciation for Terry and Kathy’s ministry and for Joe and Rob, and Sarah and Jeremy who’ve committed their lives (at least for the near future) to ministering to the least of these around the world. We at Southland should be very proud of their ministry and their commitment to the gospel. We should also do more than say we’re going to pray for them regularly – we should really pray.

Terry and I had some great conversations while together in Ethiopia. One conversation that kept occurring was about how difficult it is to actually minister among and with the people we feel called to take the gospel to. In my line of work that takes the form of being so caught up in the administration of the church’s affairs that I don’t ever interact with those who actually make up the church – you. In Ethiopia it can take a similar form. There are lots of people employed by mission agencies and non-government aid organizations in Ethiopia – many of them there to bring clean water to those without. But very few of those folks ever make it to places where they need the water the most – at least for any extended period of time. Oh, you’ll see great big water wells all over the countryside of Ethiopia. Beautiful wells, expensive wells (but also, often, broken wells). What you won’t see are the people who helped install these wells, still there, still living among the people, still sharing with them the water that quenches our eternal thirsts. This struggle comes from a simple truth that applies to every ministry no matter the place – it’s always easier to perform projects for people than it is to love people where they are.

Now, Terry and I weren’t knocking the works of these other groups or their efforts. There’s a place for all sorts of work. But as Christians, we were simply acknowledging that the call of Christ always beckons us beyond the projects (however good they might be) to the people he came to save. The example of Christ is that the mission of God involves going and living among a people so that they may know and experience the love of Christ through the presence of an actual person. That is what Christ did for us when he left the heavens and became a man like you and me. It’s what he calls us to do in the lives of others. Terry and Kathy have done this in Bolivia; Joe and Rob are doing this in Ethiopia; Sarah and Jeremy are seeking God’s will as to where he’ll send them. We should do everything in our power to help them live incarnationally in those places. We ourselves should commit to being present in the lives of the least of these in our own community – not just present through projects and programs, but present in the day to day affairs of other people’s lives so that all who we encounter may know there is a God who is also present in their lives and loves them more than they could ever dream or imagine.

Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn't take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I've become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn't just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it! – 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 The Message

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