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Ministering at Home AND Abroad

Matthew-25It breaks my heart and—in truth—I become utterly incensed over the willfully and woefully ignorant, defamatory, broad-brushing memes that people—all too often—post on Facebook that are critical of the Church and its ministry in the United States and around the world. I came upon one such meme this morning that questioned why (suggesting that) evangelists and missionaries go to other countries while neglecting those who are in need at home.

Here’s my reply:

We minister at home and abroad because the God we serve commands us to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). In Matthew 25:35-36, Jesus commends those who have fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, taken the stranger in, clothed the naked, and visited the sick and those in prison. You suggest, with this meme, that the Church neglects those who are in need near them.

As one pastor serving one church in New Hampshire, I encouraged the congregation to take seriously Jesus’ call to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and to visit the sick and those who are in prison. The church established a food pantry, thrift shop and clothing distribution center and I served as Welfare Secretary with the Salvation Army overseeing that organization’s ministries in four communities. The church transitioned between two daycare centers during my tenure: the first grew so large that it moved into its own newly-purchased facility and the second continued in place after my departure. A representative of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program was on site to provide nutrition education, supplemental foods and health care advice. The parsonage was converted into the program offices for a residential troubled teen facility. We ministered through Prison Fellowship and Angel Tree, gathered Bible and devotional materials and other items for prisoners at a nearby county jail. We led Bible studies in the prison and ministered one on one with prisoners. We also ministered in nursing homes and with individuals receiving hospice care. I served in leadership with a great many of the area’s social action ministries that provided food, clothing and housing. We also gave sacrificially to ministries around the world serving the poorest of the poor.

In another church, in another state, the congregation served breakfast each Saturday to more than 80 at risk and homeless individuals. Gene took classes to become a State of Pennsylvania-certified Food Handler so he could direct the work in the kitchen each week while I preached a message to our Saturday congregation. The church cooperated with other churches in providing emergency overnight quarters for homeless women; and helped to establish (with other faith communities in the city) an organization to meet the growing needs of the disadvantaged. The church was counted among the top 40 mission giving churches in the region for our denomination. I led a mission team to Mississippi for post-Katrina clean-up and ministry. We offered VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster) preparedness training, and I worked with an area American Heart Association unit to develop and offer First Aid for the Body and Soul, a course in physical (CPR and first aid) and emotional and spiritual emergency aid. I also served on the Executive Board of the Salvation Army for that community.

That’s one pastor in two churches. Multiply that by more than 300,000 churches in the United States and you’ll begin to have an idea of the level of the Church’s ministry with those in need in this country. Now granted, not all would necessarily have the level of outreach to their communities as do these two congregations. No, a great many are doing a great deal more. And what should be brought alongside, as well, are all the parachurch ministries devoted to serving the homeless and at risk. Consider, for a start, Habitat for Humanity which, since its founding in 1976, “has helped more than 9.8 million people meet their affordable housing needs. In fiscal year 2016, Habitat improved the housing conditions of 3 million people through new home construction, rehabilitation, incremental improvements, repairs or increased access to improved shelter through partnerships with the private sector. In addition, nearly 2.1 million people now have the potential to improve their housing conditions as a result of Habitat’s advocacy efforts, which changed policies and systems to allow more access to shelter solutions, and because of our provision of information and training in construction, financial management and other housing-related topics.” [Source: https://www.habitat.org/about/annual-reports-990s]

But, you know, quite honestly, what I’ve just shared doesn’t even begin to touch on all that these two churches and thousands of other churches and parachurch ministries do every day to lift the lives of those who live on the edge in the United States. My question for my friend who got me going with what she threw up on her page: why would you post such a mean-spirited, insulting, judgmental meme?

You want to do something constructive? Spread the word about and support a ministry like Mission Waco: http://www.missionwaco.org/

What do pastors do? They’re part of a global enterprise…with outlets in every part of the world: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6TGxKvSqH8

A later-in-the-day addendum:

There are about a half dozen individuals to whom I’m connected on Facebook who regularly insult the Church (and—knowingly or unknowingly—me, as a pastor and Christian educator, by extension). Is the Church perfect? No. Should I have admitted that in my post? Perhaps. Why do I get so upset about these memes? Because they’re propaganda, and if they’re allowed to proliferate with no challenge, they will be ingested—as if by osmosis—by the unchurched populace. Propagandizers are repainting the “Church” with the broad brush of hypocrisy, and they’re blaming Christians (and, in particular, Evangelicals) for all of society’s ills. Memes, like the one that raised my hackles earlier today, spread like wildfire, and I see a pattern being replicated—and being more rapidly—a pattern that has been used time and again. A good example of that pattern was the introduction of a brand of feminism that indoctrinated women into believing that, if they chose to stay out of the “workforce” and to instead be homemakers and mothers, they were parasites on the economy. I took that thinking in, believed it, and chastised my mother—a woman who had devoted her life to raising me—chastised that woman for not being “more.” Every brand of feminism should have liberated women—including my mother and me—to be whatever they/we wanted to be. But I took in, by osmosis, the prevailing sentiment. I see the same thing happening today: folks are being emotionalized and propagandized to believe that which is not true about the Church. If we keep going in the current direction, we may well hit the hundredth monkey.

 

Store Up Comfort

The_Good_Samaritan_MET_EP151Comfort, comfort, my people, says your God (Isaiah 40:1).

God does not comfort us to make us comfortable, but to make us comforters.
–John Henry Jowett

Store up comfort. This was the prophet’s mission. The world is full of comfortless hearts, and to make you sufficient for this lofty ministry, you must be trained. And your training is costly in the extreme; for, to render it perfect, you too must pass through the same afflictions as are wringing countless hearts of tears and blood. Thus, your own life becomes the hospital ward where you art taught the Divine art of comfort. You are wounded, that in the binding up of your wounds by the Great Physician, you may learn how to render first aid to the wounded everywhere. Do you wonder why you are passing through some special sorrow? Wait till ten years have passed, and you will find many others afflicted as you are. You will tell them how you have suffered and have been comforted; then as the tale is unfolded, and the anodynes applied which once your God wrapped around you, in the eager look and the gleam of hope that shall chase the shadow of despair across the soul, you will know why you were afflicted, and bless God for the discipline that stored your life with such a fund of experience and helpfulness.

Adapted from today’s Streams in the Desert

Accompanying photo: The Good Samaritan, David Teniers the Younger (Flemish, Antwerp 1610–1690 Brussels).