Last night, I went to an inner-city food pantry/worship service (a weekly event held in a church building in one of the poorest parts of my city). The evening kicked off with singing songs of praise to God, followed by a sermon from a local minister. From there, a team of volunteers distributed groceries to those who took part in the service.
Depending on the week, the diverse congregation can range from pregnant teenagers to old war veterans. Regardless of their background, each attendee has both a spiritual and physical need and the ministry seeks to meet them both.
An Event on My Calendar
As a quick side note- given that my attendance is on the sporadic side, these experiences have been reduced to ‘events’ on my calendar. But when I look at the life of Jesus in the Bible, it seems like His “calendar” had daily encounters with society’s outcasts. These experiences weren’t ‘events’ for Jesus. These people weren’t ‘projects’ for Jesus. This was a significant component of His mission. He loved each and every one of them (they are co-image bearers of God, after all) and His actions and words reflected his affection toward them and a deep desire for relationship with them.
And for the attendees, these are not ‘events,’ either. This is life. This is how they provide for their family. For many, it is absolute necessity - showing up week after week, participating, learning about and worshiping Jesus, and then bringing food home to feed their loved ones.
God Hushed My Judgmental Heart
Back to the story - At first, I admit that my religious snobbery began to flare up at the sight of the crude power point presentation (circa 1998) and the worship band, comprised of a few not-so-proficient volunteers. However, before long I felt God hushing my judgmental heart. I thought of all of the times I’ve sung off-key, all of my goofy church getups and less-than-stellar hairdos as a child of the 1980s. I realized that over the years God had endured much worse from me, and yet I somehow felt superior because my husband just happens to be the hottest worship leader this side of Hillsong.
Thanks to the Holy Spirit’s conviction, I gradually stopped feeling out-of-place and began worshiping our great and loving God with a group of people that I may not have otherwise even noticed.
More Than A Spectator
But the hurdles just kept coming - unfortunately, my tendency for shyness crept up when I began considering whom to talk to. That was not anything new (I get timid at my own church, in my own community). I wanted to fight against my introverted nature. I longed to be more than a spectator. I really did desire new friendships. There were even a couple of young girls I’d hoped to meet. As I sat there, I imagined telling them that they are beautiful and that Jesus loves them. I thought about asking them where they’d go if they could travel anywhere. However, before I had a chance to say hello they were whisked off by the children’s church leader. I’d hoped she told them about Jesus.
At that point, I noticed a young woman with a baby. She couldn’t have been more than 16. I wondered if there were any godly women around her, if she even knew Jesus. I wondered if there was anyone taking care of her besides the government. When Jesus encountered women, He loved them, spoke truth to them and encouraged them, regardless of their sin or reputation. Why was it so hard for me to do that too?
I also noticed that a friend of mine had brought her coach purse. I thought of the irony – not that she was wrong for having it (I like nice purses, too), but rather the money she spent on her purse could feed several of these families for weeks. I wondered what was going through her head throughout the night. Was her heart breaking like mine was? Did she, too, volunteer to quiet her conscience for a while?
The Floppy Hat Lady
Then the most amazing thing happened. One of the workers tapped my friend on the shoulder and asked her to pray with a woman from the congregation. This little lady was different from others who were there. She was petite and wore a big, floppy hat that covered her face. She wore multiple colored silk scarves around her neck and a clean white outfit. I could tell she was elderly, but couldn’t quite gauge her years due to her oversized headwear.
I wondered what she was praying for, not to be nosy, but because I was interested in the story behind the floppy hat. They prayed for several minutes, then the woman slid out to gather her week's rations.
Today, I found out that floppy hat lady is in her late 70's. I also discovered that until recently, she made her living as a madam. And now, tonight, I am amazed at Jesus. How He brings a girl from the suburbs to pray with a woman who ran a whorehouse.
I know that Jesus would have prayed with the woman wearing the floppy hat. Maybe next time, I can too. And maybe I don’t have to wait until a ‘next time’ to do what Jesus would do. Perhaps I should not try to carve out time to be like Jesus. Rather, if I live as an ambassador for Christ and a minister of reconciliation as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21, this will become my daily quest rather than a weekly ‘event.’
See you in the round!