As I travel around the world (which is nearly constant now), I love to ask people, “What do you see God doing? How are churches reaching out to their communities? What can we celebrate?” Getting these glimpses of how churches are seeking to show God’s love is one of the best parts of my job.
As I write this, I am in the DR Congo. Today a number of the stories had something in common: The church welcoming those who have been rejected by the rest of society.
One pastor shared that a few years ago there had been a prostitute in his village who had become pregnant. She had come to the church for help, but they and the rest of the community had rejected her because she was seen as evil. After they started to study the TCT program a teenager came to the church pregnant and looking for help. Her family had thrown her out because they were ashamed that she had become pregnant out of wedlock. Having learned about loving their neighbors, the church chose not to follow the community in rejecting her. They gave her food and clothing and arranged for her to stay in the church. The women in the church helped to care for her. Everyone in the church accepted her. As the pastor shared, only a few years earlier such a reaction to a person like this would have been unthinkable.
A few weeks ago, I heard a sermon on Saul’s conversion to Paul in Acts 9:1-18; 22:4-16. While I was amazed by God’s power to transform a person like Saul and that no one is too far from God’s reach, I was struck by another person and his contribution in this story. What he did is something that I often overlook. But he played a rather significant role in God’s plan and indirectly impacted so many people.
You can probably guess who I am referring to as there are only two main people in this passage, Saul/Paul and Ananias. For sure, every Christian is inspired by Paul’s life and I am no exception. We are named and name our children after Paul but, sorry Paul, it’s not you this time. Now you know who I am talking about. Bravo! It’s Ananias. We don’t have much detail about Ananias’ life besides that he was a disciple in Damascus, a devout man according to the Law and well spoken of by all the Jews there (Acts 22:12). But one thing we know is that he was the first person to pray for Paul to receive Jesus.
I’m currently in the States, traveling around speaking at conferences, at churches and at various organizations. As I do, I share again many stories of what God is doing around the world. Sharing with a pastor today, I was reminded of a powerful story, one that started a few years ago and is still ongoing. It’s the story of the incredible sacrifice that some make for the gospel and God’s incredible faithfulness in the midst of that suffering.
In one village there were five Christian families. The chief of that village decided he didn’t want Christians in his village, so he tried to force them to denounce their faith. They refused. The chief had the village members beat the members of the five families. When the denominational leaders heard about the situation, they sent two people to the area to try to negotiate on their behalf. The villagers also beat them up and burnt their motorbike so they had to run for their lives. The villagers then burnt down the houses and destroyed the crops of the five families so they were forced to flee. The chief held fast that to live in that village they had to renounce their faith. If they continued to stay there then they would be killed.
Partnering with local churches is so important, but it can be tricky. Sometimes we can end up taking over like the kid who’s determined to get an A in chem-lab despite her remedial lab partner. We think, “This (whatever) needs to go faster, smoother, prettier. If only they’d listen to my ideas and just do them, we would ace this.”
But the truth is, when we outsiders give our ideas and our resources, we aren’t partnering with the Bride of Christ. We’re trying to take over for the Bride Groom. Really–who should they be depending on, looking to for wisdom and provision, thanking and praising when all is said and done? Who knows what’s best for them? Who defines their calling and ministry? Who has power to transform? Not me. Not a donor. Not a church a thousand miles away or a short-term team. Not an NGO.
Reconciled World’s third Core Principle is Integrating Physical and Spiritual.
It means that we acknowledge that people are spiritual and physical beings, all intertwined in a way that there is really no such thing as “spiritual problems” and “physical problems”. So called “physical problems” always affect both our body and our spirit, and our spiritual state impacts our physical reality in a constant feedback loop. Likewise, following Jesus means submitting every aspect of our lives to Him–not just having some kind of “spiritual” experience.
Even though I feel like a broken record (there’s an archaic analogy for you!), I feel like I should point out that we aren’t very unique or creative in this idea. Christians have been faithful to this core principle since the Apostles charged Paul to remember the poor, the very thing he was eager to do (Galatians 2:10).
This month’s Glimpses of God is shared by one of our TCT facilitators in Myanmar:
At the first TCT conference in our area, I learnt from the life of Mother Teresa who was doing ministry in India. Learning about the image of God from Genesis 1:26-27, God spoke to my heart. My heart was full and overflowed into tears.
Reconciled World’s second Core Principle is “Nurturing Truth and Confronting Lies.” In a nutshell, this means that we believe that every culture and community holds onto some truths and some lies. To see a community thrive, we must nurture the truths that exist while exposing beliefs that cause brokenness, poverty and injustice to the light of biblical truth.
Here’s how that played out in a typical village in our Truth Centered Transformation program:
This story comes from our TCT program in Southeast Asia. We love glimpsing the way God can fulfill His promise to lift up those who humble themselves. Tasks like creating dirt roads or cleaning up garbage can be pretty humbling. But God uses them in amazing ways…
In one area there was no road from the village to the main road. This meant that they had to carry crops on their back through the jungle to the market, so they were not able to sell very much and remained very poor. After TCT training, the church in the area decided that one way they could serve their community was to build a road for the 5 kilometres from their village to the main road.
I try to help my neighbor through a crisis, and she shuts me down. I give cold water to a homeless person, and he says what he really needs is money. I offer to pray for someone and they look at me like I’m a crazy cult member.
Can’t you people see that I’m trying to love you? I quit.
It’s easy to get discouraged when our sincere attempts to love people as Jesus did are rebuffed. That’s why I so needed this story from one of our TCT partner churches in Southeast Asia–a glimpse of how God works through people who just won’t take “no” for an answer.
One of the things that we believe God has spoken loudly and clearly to us about is local fund raising. The typical international model is: get the money from the richest places and do the work in the poorest places. It MAKES SENSE.
God hardly ever tells us to do things that make sense to us. Something about His ways being higher…
Anyway, He told us not to neglect the widow’s mite, the gifts of the poor.