Delivering turkeys, doing worship services in jail, and giving away coats are all great ministry opportunities. It is helpful to those we are serving, and giving to. In many ways this makes us feel good also because we can see smiles, and appreciation on the faces of those we are serving.
After we do these type of ministry activities we leave and go back to our normal lives. If we were to ever run into any of the people we have met we would be cordial at best. But most of this type of ministry is at arms length.
I don’t want to use guilt, Bible verses, or manipulation to say that doing just these type of things are bad or not helpful. It is extremely helpful, and there may be a word or a smile that may greatly impact a persons life.
But what happens when we extend our arms to others? Not out of guilt or obligation but out of love and mercy.
This is when life gets messy, crazy, out of control, and unbelievable.
I want to tell the story of 4 families that I and many others had the opportunity to befriend this week.
James and Ashley, Brian, Herb, and Thomas-
On Friday we delivered coats and we ran into an old friend James- James we had met last year and was quite the character. He is fluent in four forms of martial arts, a little bit of hot head, and about 22 years old. James has a girlfriend named Ashley- when they came up to get coats, I noticed Ashley was pregnant. She is due in the middle of January. They live with a couple of other people, and I am unsure what the living situation is but there is a mixture of hopelessness and excitement as they prepare for this new child. When asked if there was anyone taking care of them? Ashley’s response was “ no I don’t see my family too much anymore. “ She said in a sad yet realistic voice that they weren’t going to be throwing her a baby shower. She is on wick and has had others give her items like a crib.
We spent quite a bit of time talking to her and getting their info. Without over stepping our bounds, we are going to try and throw her a baby shower. They are open to a relationship with God. But they need to be taught and discipled.
Saturday we met a young twenty something named Brian. Brian was visiting his aunt in a neighborhood we were delivering coats in. Within the first five minutes of the conversation Brian shared how his mom had died of cancer a few years before and his younger brother had died in August after health problems. It was just him and his dad left. His dad had found a girlfriend and was spending a lot of time with her. Brian was lonely and didn’t have too many friends. Brian spent the rest of the afternoon with us. I sensed that this didn’t happen to often in Brian’s life- talking, joking, and being in community.
Herb is currently in jail. Last night in a worship service- he came up to me with tears in his eyes. This 25 year old has been in and out of jail for the past 10 years and is addicted to heroin. He told me had it, this was it. He had been clean for 23 days the longest since he was much younger. He had another 30 days and then he was so scared to get out. His wife was also getting clean. Herb was so honest and straight forward. He doesn’t know if he will make it or not. He knows he needs God’s help and he is willing to do whatever but he is also realistic in knowing he could fail.
These were all random people- people that I can choose never to think about again. I can pray and hope others will come into their lives and have community and disciple them.
Then there is Thomas. (this is Phil’s story but I am stealing it). Thomas became a follower of Jesus while in jail. Thomas is one of 12 or so children. A group of us had the privilege of delivering a turkey dinner to their family right before Thanksgiving. The family was thankful and we prayed with them. The day after we had delivered the Thanksgiving meal, Phil was able to bring Thomas home. Thomas was released from jail and spent Thanksgiving with his family. The story could be over here but Phil invited Thomas to a group that meets on Wednesdays. It is a quasi house church/small group/missional community. It contains people from various backgrounds and settings.
Thomas was with us for the first time on Wednesday and after sharing, prayer, and singing Phil disappeared into the kitchen and emerged with a small bowl and a towel. I had no idea what to expect and then Phil said “Thomas you didn’t have a chance to be baptized in jail, so can we baptize you now in the middle of my living room? Thomas said yes definitively. Phil proceeded to lay the towel on the floor and a group of us surrounded Thomas and dumped water over his head as he knelt down.
After baptizing him, we prayed over him and the culture he is going back into. Tears rolled down many faces as we experienced this together.
We (especially Phil) could have kept Thomas at arms length he could have just “ministered” to him in jail. But because he didn’t the rest of us had the privilege and opportunity to be part of Thomas baptism and his life.
Please don’t keep people at arms length. It will be hard, it will be messy, it will take sacrifice, but seeing God at work in peoples lives is worth it.