I have a pen pal who lives about seven miles away as the crow flies and about eleven as the crow drives a car around the hills and curves of our metro area. Given as how I tend to write quite, it’s a bit strange for me to have a pen pal, but there he is, a quick fifteen minute or so drive fro my home, and we’ve never met. We’ve published a number of his things here at Faithlab, but it’s mostly because he is a very good writer, who happens to have some compelling stories to tell. The other part of it is that he’s doing a very compelling ministry with people at the margins of society, and such stories deserve telling loudly and often.
I remember how, when I was serving local churches, I was always trying to find ways to help people push the envelope in finding new ways to participate in ministries that were outside their comfort zones. Obviously, that didn’t go over very well. Some local church folk don’t like to be encouraged to meet face to face with homeless people; to open their doors to people who are not welcome elsewhere; to encourage urban poor to farm on their property; or even to tolerate an adult with Aspergers’ who doesn’t always react perfectly at every social situation.
There are some limits to how far we are able to go in ministry, no matter how good our intentions, and we need people who are willing to push the envelopes that we are afraid to approach. I think that’s part of the idea that has shaped our concept of missions for a very long time. For many of us, missions are an adventure, and adventure, as it has been said, is someone else having a very hard time far away from where you are.
With that in mind, I remain fascinated by my pen pal’s ministry. His is a difficult struggle with difficult people, and it seems like he gets nowhere near the recognition or gratitude that he deserves for such work. Of course, he’s not the kind of person who seeks such things from ministry, but I’m pretty sure that he could use all the support he can get. I have ambitions of taking him out to lunch and talking about things, but I probably need to dream a bit bigger on that point.
Why am I telling you all this? I have long believed that people of faith have a “mission” to affect the world around them. It’s all well and good to send money or representatives to far-off lands in hopes that they can make a difference in the lives of the people to whom we’ve sent them, but it’s also very easy to forget, sometimes willfully, that people very close to us need our ministry as well. Yes, it it might creep us out a bit, and it’s sometimes hard to get people to interact with the kinds of people in your community that they basically try to avoid, but that’s what real “missions” is supposed to be: becoming the presence of God to people who need to sense that presence in their lives. It’s not something that we’re supposed to ship off somewhere else, so much as something that we’re supposed to embody wherever we are. Whether you know about them or not, there are people very near you who need the kind of ministry that you probably cannot do in the “normal” run of church life. They need you as a person more than an institution, so opportunities are always there.
More than that, we need to understand that thanks are something that we need to give rather than receive. I think that the best way to give the gratitude that we should is to take on thankless actions and under-appreciated ministries, and let the thanks that we don’t get serve as the balance for the thanks that we can never sufficiently give.
Of course, that’s all my opinion. How about being my new pen pal for a few minutes and sharing yours?