I am sitting here on a couch with a faded cover in a red and moss-green pattern with three distinct grooves–helpfully designating the individual spots one should sit in on this piece of furniture–worn in from years of people sitting here to look out onto the street, to watch the people walk by.
My first year in America is nearly over. It has been a full and fruitful time. I walked in today as my friend R was busily fixing the AC unit, being watched by J the Midshipman who was running an unhelpful commentary for everyone’s amusement. I knew the names of half the people in here, and a few more by face. I know their stories, their joys and frustrations. So I happened upon the sight in the storage room with the broken AC unit and wide-grinning faces turned to greet me by name: I am known, too.
Ministry is not about doing things to people or making people change. Since ministry is, properly considered, the activity of making God’s reality known and tangible to the people of the world, a good amount of it is found in this knowing one-another stuff.
I was at lunch with a friend last week. She introduced herself to me as Jasmine, but no one I ask seems to remember that name. She told me that people recognise me in the Old 4th Ward, Clay Street Community. This is a neighbourhood where you’ll always see a police car sitting by the entrance and screaming sirens will visit most weeks…yet nothing ever turns up in the newspapers. Jasmine supposes it’s because no one cares what happens to poor, black folks and I struggle when she says things like that. Jasmine told me that no one could believe that I was there to support a local initiative. The only time young, smartly dressed white boys go down that street, she said, is to buy drugs. In fact she said that any weekend she’ll sit across from the trendy bars and frequently the beautiful people will pull out hundreds of dollars and ask her to go and find them whatever powder or pill they desire. How could she say no? And yet her neighbourhood is treated like some kind of prison, as if it’s all their fault.
Jasmine, or whoever she is to the rest of her neighbours, is my friend and she has taught me more about the city than I could have found in the press.
I have become not only an acquaintance or neighbour, but friends with many in this city who live their various lives, so separated from one another by habit, pride or wickedness. The bar and restaurant staff of the trendy bars whose patrons cast their cash into the hands of the desperate; the students who are here in Annapolis to become adults; the street people with their scripted sob-stories and the myriad other people whose lives depend on this community, and upon whom this community depends.
I believe this is the sweet fruit of living vulnerably. I left behind security to take a step where it seemed God was leading, and God has provided a home for me amongst the people I never expected and may never have chosen. Being available and being in need is a choice, a choice of faith which seems to be pretty central to the ministry of Jesus Christ, who emptied and humbled himself (Philippians 2:6). It would be disingenuous to arrive in a place to share the Gospel as though I had something to offer when Jesus only had his life to offer. The Gospel is not a matter of ideas, principles or feelings but of life, love, and long suffering. This is, I suppose, why the Gospel could only be shown by the life of the God-Man and not broadcast as some oracle from heaven.
So after a year of ministry I’ve learned that the most important thing to do at all times, is to obey the example of Jesus. Schemes, organisation, activism and learning are important and I think you’ll agree I’ve had a fair attempt at all of these. However once the campaign is over, the funds are raised or the policy change has gone through, people still need God’s grace to be shown to them and this is really only possible when a person makes this their commitment. This is the strange connection between mission and discipleship: Obeying Jesus makes the Christian into a lover of souls and therefore a participant in the worldwide ministry of Jesus.
I have learned therefore not to judge my own success by the metrics of sociological change or number of participants but rather in the number of people who invite me into their lives. In doing so I do not think it too presumptuous to suggest that this is how God gets into people’s lives. This was after-all how I came to faith.
So now as I consider the next twelve months I am anxious not to waste the opportunities I’ve had to connect with people in the city. My desire now is to call all the myriad people of this city, who I have been able to reach, to the worship of the one true God: The one who can reconcile Jasmine with J, R and all the rest who now share this city and do not share a life.
I’ll be writing more on this in the coming days, about what it would look like for me to work in Annapolis to call together a community of people for the worship of God. I value however your prayers, affirmation and comments!
Thank you, all you who have given in faith to see this vision mature. Soon I will be spending some time back in the UK and I hope for many opportunities to share all the wonderful things which have been accomplished!