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.
Another pastor told me his church had reached out to a prostitute who had lost her husband and son. She was seen as ‘unlucky’ and no one in town wanted to go near her. The church cleared a room and allowed her to live there. Moved by the love of the church, she came to Christ. A short time later, she was involved in a car accident. Those in the community believed the accident proved that she was truly unlucky. But the church continued to look after her. Today, a year later, she is a leader at the church, her extended family has all come to Christ, and she is now engaged to the widowed Chairman of the church.
In yet another area there is a young girl whose mother had been a prostitute and died. She was abandoned by the rest of the family because she was showing signs of being HIV positive. Again the church cleared space and took her in. Families in the church care for her and pay for her to attend school.
These stories can feel a world away. They happen in churches that are simple shacks in rural villages. The people involved are extremely poor. Our lives are so different. Our ‘villages’ don’t throw prostitutes out.
Or are things really so different? Don’t we too have people rejected by families or society left sleeping on the street?
I am unaware of any churches in the west that have cleared space for pregnant prostitutes–or anyone else–who have been rejected and finds themselves homeless. While we have a lot more rooms than any of these churches–rooms for prayer, for Sunday School and other meetings, we don’t so often have a room for those that find themselves in desperate straights.
The example of the churches in DR Congo should stand as a challenge to us. As they have shared, providing space for the needy can result in great blessing.