Tag Archives: missional

An Update on An Experiment in Going to the Margins

By Stephen Kriss

“The first duty of love is to listen.”—Paul Tillich

As part of our practices in this summer space in between, we’ve taken our conference staff meetings “to the margins”, which so far has meant meeting at Doylestown and Alpha congregations for an afternoon to eat, pray and learn alongside the pastors who work in those settings before engaging our regular conference staff agendas.   We’ll go to Quakertown to learn about the work of Salem congregation’s engagement with partners and neighbors yet for our last of these meetings later this month.

Doylestown Mennonite Church

These going to the margins meetings have felt like holy disruptions of our routine.   We’ve received the gracious hospitality of Krista at Alpha, and Randy, KrisAnne and Sandy at Doylestown.  We’ve had great ice cream and burritos.   We’ve learned by listening to both the possibilities and struggles for ministry and life in one of the wealthiest communities in Bucks County, as well as what it feels like to work and hope just across the Delaware River.

Alpha Mennonite Church
Alpha Mennonite Church

I’m noticing some things that have been happening through our experiment.   Some of these things might encourage our continued journey of “going to the margins” for the sake of the Good News.   This is a small disruption, a monthly afternoon staff meeting.   But breaking our routines invigorates our conversations and builds our relationships together, differently.  We carpool.   We talk differently and about different things because we are in different spaces.  In navigating the logistics of simply going to a different location, we think differently rather than simply showing up in the same place.  Our two meetings at the margins have been times when we’ve been highly engaged with one another, even when dealing with routine tasks and procedures (seriously).   I look forward to what we’ll learn later this month.  A few staff members have asked if we can continue this kind of meeting alongside congregations’ into the future.

Admittedly, it does cost us some extra time and mileage resources to get to these places, which I’d say is well worth the effort thus far.   By eating together, we create a different rhythm of gathering that opens conversation differently.   By listening and praying with the pastors in their settings, we’ve had opportunities to both bless and to learn.   In going to the margins, we find what happens when we respond to Jesus’s declaration to go and then the transformation that happens when we listen to each other and in the midst, to sense the presence of God and discover our hearts are still strangely warmed together on the way in this time in between.

The Everyday Missionary

by Jenifer Eriksen Morales

Jess McQuade and family
Jess McQuade with her husband, John, and children, Katie (15), Aiden (13) and Kieran (11)

Jess McQuade, an Everyday Missionary, is a member of Souderton Mennonite Church, Vice President General Manager for Allebach Communications, wife to John, and mother of three active children.  Jess lives according to the overly demanding schedule these roles require. Everyday Missionaries are those who intentionally live the Great Commission to make disciples in the context of their jobs, relationships, homes and ordinary life activities. In her missionary role, Jess ministers to young people by leading a weekly Bible Study in the Souderton Park for swim team members before their morning practice. Her story is inspiring and challenging.

The Souderton Swim Team is one of the many extra-curricular activities Jess’ children participate in.  In addition to meets, the family practices 7-10 hours per week nearly year-round.  Clearly Jess spends a lot of time at the pool!  A few years ago, a friend recommended a book called “Don’t Waste your Sports” by C.J. Mahaney.  Jess says it reminded her, “sports are a gift from God, and that we can either use them to glorify God (allowing God to be our focus and priority) or we can use them to try to bring glory to ourselves (not just as athletes, but also as parents of athletes). The Bible study was just one way I thought I could help my kids, and hopefully others, keep focusing on God and give Him the glory in their sports.”

 So, two summers ago, Jess began to meet with a group of young swimmers in Souderton Park at 8:00 am, before practice, and before she needed to be at work.  All swim team members are welcome to participate. The group does a short game or ice breaker activity, reads a testimony from a Christian athlete with a corresponding Bible passage and discusses what it means to them in everyday life and athletics. Each meeting ends with prayer requests and prayer.  According to Jess, “There are always kids who offer to pray for someone else’s prayer request – that is the most awesome thing to hear!”

Not only is Jess nurturing young Jesus-followers through the Bible Study, but she is cultivating leadership. For example, Jess’ daughter and son lead prayer, pick out Bible studies they think would be relevant, and lead some of the games.  Next year they are hoping to lead a study on their own.  A young adult who grew up at Souderton Mennonite Church, Jessica Wimmer, is a coach on the swim team.  She participated with the swimmers and led some of the morning Bible Studies.  Jessica notes, “It was great having her involved as an example and motivator for the younger swimmers.”

As the group grows in relationship with Jesus, Jessica hopes the kids “support each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.  These swimmers spend a lot of time together.  Wouldn’t it be awesome if they could have an opportunity to share their faith, pray for one another, and encourage each other in their faith walk?  I want to help them see that God gave them Christian brothers and sisters to walk along with them – they aren’t alone.” Jess aims to “help Christian kids do ‘church’ in their natural, day-to-day environment and not just on Sunday mornings.  This is something I still struggle with as an adult.  How do you bring your faith into your job, social functions, daily life, etc.?  Here’s one way.”

Through this two-year experience in the everyday mission field, Jess has learned that God, “will give you what you need to be able to do what He is calling you to do.  I am not a super mom – life is busy and I often live in a state of feeling completely overwhelmed.  Adding even a small, simple thing like this Bible study to my plate could almost put me over the edge, but I really felt [God] calling me to do this and each week He gave me the resources and the strength to make it happen.  I left each gathering feeling completely energized, blessed, and excited by what God had done in our brief time together.”

The Space In-Between: Work, Hope and Missional Operations Grants

by Stephen Kriss

Over the last ten years, Franconia Conference has released over $500,000 through the Missional Operations Grant (MOG) fund.  These grants are tools that help instigate and cultivate missional initiatives connected with our Conference and congregations. They’ve been used broadly over the last decade to cultivate ministries in our local congregations and around the world from India to Indonesia to Mexico and the Caribbean, even assisting in the cleanup after Hurricane Katrina.

As staff work with congregations developing ministries to further the mission and vision of the Kingdom of God and Franconia Conference, they are able to help resource these initiatives with MOGs.  Our last staff meeting involved a spirited discussion how to best continue to implement and inform the use of this significant tool justly, fairly, and openly across our congregations.

11894513_866533416748400_313644984214870327_oCongregations are able to apply for MOGs and with the blessing of the LEADership Minister and congregation leadership these applications are passed on to the Ministry Resource Fund Grant Committee. The MOGs approved by the committee focus on ministries within conference congregation or partnerships between congregations and other organizations/ministries. The projects funded are intent on mutuality, rooted in considerations of justice, building on strengths, and calling forth new and next-generation leaders. To see a list of the projects funded in 2015 visit the MOG tab at: http://franconiaconference.org/mission/stewardship/.

Last year, due to a change in allocation of funds in the account (reduced from 20% to 10% of total available dollars), there are less funds available causing us to be more strategic this year with the reduced dollars.  Already this year 8 MOG grants have been approved mostly to our urban congregations (keep your eye on the MOG webpage at FranconiaConference.org for coming testimonies). With our average grant amount coming in at approximately $4000, we have only enough left in the fund this year to grant possibly two to three additional requests.  We’ve capped the requests this year at $5000 per congregation with only a single disbursement likely. Grants are requested through an application process that should be done in consultation with the congregation’s LEADership Ministers and then approved by the Ministry Resource Fund Grant Committee. More information can be found on the MOG tab at: http://franconiaconference.org/mission/stewardship/.

The grants allow the Conference and LEADership Ministers to assist in funding creative spaces for our churches.  The return on investment of these funds is high though the initiatives themselves don’t always seem successful in a traditional sense of understanding.   The grants invite our congregations to take risks for the sake of the dream of God.  We trust the outcomes into God’s hands.

Most MOG funds are sourced from estate bequests and contributions from the revenue from Conference-owned properties.   This year we are expecting to receive an estate gift that will likely allow an increase in available funds for next year.  If you’d like to help boost our ongoing capacity to instigate missional initiatives now and into the future, I’d be glad to talk with you or your congregation. You or your congregation are welcome to donate specifically to the MOG Fund as well. This is important and generative work.   It’s a glimpse of the good that comes when we can share the labor together in times of opportunity and possibility.

We still work and hope.  And we trust in the power of Christ to take our work and multiply it for the sake of the world.


In the Eye of the Storm

mexico storm 3Over the first week of August, a tropical storm (and at a time, Hurricane Earl) wreaked havoc across Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Central America, and Mexico, deeply impacting the Mexican state of Pueblo where Monte Maria Church has several church plants.

In 1988, Franconia Conference sent Pastor Bob Stevenson to Mexico for church planting and evangelism. Bob became connected with Monte Maria Church in Mexico City and currently is the second pastor of the congregation since its formation in 1979. The Conference continues to hold Bob’s credentials and his ministry and Monte Maria Church continue to connect with various conference congregations. Perkiomenville Mennonite Church has maintained a partner in mission relationship with the Monte Maria Church through mission trips and teaching in the School of Ministry.  Last fall Perkiomenville pastor, Charlie Ness, spoke at the Monte Maria leaders’ conference and made connections with the pastors.

mexico storm 1Five of Monte Maria’s church plants were severely damaged by tropical storm Earl in the villages of Ahuacatlan, Huauchinango, Xaltepec and Chicahuxtla. The congregation in Xaltepex experiencing the worst. The pastor of the congregation, Pastor Ramiro and his wife Lucy, along with several church members lost their homes and all of their belongings due to the landslides and flooding caused by Earl.  Among the many who lost their lives due to the storm, six children are nieces and nephews of Pastor Ramiro.

mexico storm 2In a letter received from Bob last week, he writes “We have sent teams and basic supplies. However, the need is enormous. Therefore, I am asking for special offerings to rebuild, bedding, towels and clothing and if possible, workers. There are still persons unaccounted for and risks of more damage. Please pray the mercy of God over these villages.”

The need is far beyond what Perkiomenville Mennonite Church is able to meet and is appealing to others to help bear the burden of our brothers and sisters in Mexico. They are currently in conversation with Mennonite Disaster Services and are appealing for financial contributions to buy building materials to rebuild the pastor and congregation members’ homes and also to help assist in purchasing a vehicle for the pastor, as his only means of transportation was washed away by the storm.

Financial contributions can be sent to Franconia Conference (1000 Forty Foot Rd, Lansdale, PA 19446) marked for Monte Maria Rebuilding Efforts.

If you or your congregation are interested in sending workers, please contact Charlie Ness as he will be coordinating work teams over the next several months. He can be reached at Charlie@perkmc.com.

Witnessing Out and About in the Villages

By Dorcas Lehman, Interim Pastor – Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship

Sometimes witness means continuing work that has lasted several generations, as it has taken root in the communities around the church.  People tell their neighbors that this is who the Mennonites are and what they do.  Then when the neighbors learn that an Interim Pastor is in the village, the witness resounds in conversations where I live, worship, and shop.

Taftsville ChapelMy Subaru was overdue for an oil change, so I took it to a local mechanic in Bridgewater Corners, Vermont.  I needed my out-of-state car to run smoothly while I serve as Interim Pastor at Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship.  “Take a good look,” I said, “this car has a lot of miles on it, over 100,000, and I am putting a lot more miles on it.”  He took one look and countered, “With that Outback, you are just getting started!” An Outback, even with PA license plate, fits right into the landscape in Vermont, and Chris the mechanic seemed happy to help.

He also smiled when he learned that I am a Mennonite pastor. All his growing up years, he camped at Bethany Birches in Plymouth, as did his mother before him, first as a camper and then as a counselor.  For fifty-plus years this Mennonite-affiliated camp and Franconia Conference Related Ministry has been part of his family story, and he tells it with delight.

I hear this in other places too:  “Have you seen the new state-of-the art pavilion?” asks another neighbor at a dinner in the village with friends, an ecumenical array of guests around the table, mostly neighboring Catholics.  He is a donor, and he admires its architecture.  The Mennonites are known for camp, and for being in the community, adds another guest. They volunteer all the time.

Resurrection Walk In a place and time when only 17% of the state’s residents regularly attend houses of worship, the lowest church attendance in the nation, it is no small witness to be known for generating a sense of community ownership of a camp that cares well for local children.  When the stories of Jesus are shared in the way of Jesus, a community will remember that camp was invitational, playful, and welcoming.

While Mennonites are also known for volunteerism in their communities, that witness seems to enrich and flow with the local culture, rather than contrasting with it.   “Vermonters by and large are a quiet people who recognize and appreciate hard work and service,” says Dave Beidler, a life-time member of the Taftsville congregation.  Vermonters readily join hand in hand with their neighbors as needs arise.

Taftsville signThere is yet another kind of witness that neighbors tell about Vermont Mennonites.  I hear it from Charlie Wilson, long-time resident and observer of Taftsville, the hamlet where my interim congregation worships.  I am sitting in a presentation at the Woodstock Historical Society, where he is telling stories about Taftsville’s recent past.  “If you walk by the Chapel on a summer Sunday morning and the windows are open,” he tells the group, “you will hear the unsurpassed acappella singing of the Mennonites, and at Christmas they serenade the village with carols.”

Sometimes witness is the quiet service of being and doing with neighbors, and sometimes it is the sounds of our singing that float out the windows into the village during our service of worship.

Who Are Our Neighbors?

By Barbie Fischer

In Mark 12:30-31 Jesus tells us what the greatest commandments are: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” This brings to mind the question, who are our neighbors.

Who Are Our Neighbors 2Throughout the New Testament we see that Jesus intends this word ‘neighbor’ to mean any other person, irrespective of race or religion, with whom we live or whom we meet. This is clearly brought out in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37 and Mark 12:30-33). This commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves is reiterated numerous times in the New Testament (Matthew 19:19; Matthew 22:39; Romans 13:9, 10; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8).

Alton Sterling, Philando Castile (photo courtesy of Castile family)
Alton Sterling, Philando Castile (photo courtesy of Castile family)

The last two days have brought to mind for me this question of ‘who are our neighbors’, as I watched the news and spoke with friends around the country regarding the two police-involved shootings that happened just this week. These shootings resulted in the deaths of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota. Both shootings took place not far from some of my friends. These men were quite literally my friends’ neighbors . The police officers who took these men’s lives were also my friends’ neighbors. In the moments leading to the weapons being fired, I dare say Alton and Philando were not viewed as neighbors by those who took their lives, but instead were viewed as threats.

When you answer the question ‘who is your neighbor’, who comes to mind? People from church, friends? What are these people like? How many of them are different from you?

We gravitate towards people who are like us. It is comfortable. Navigating those awkward cultural differences can be very uncomfortable. Yet, when we get to know one another and especially people different from ourselves, oh the new things we learn and the blessings these experiences become! I live up the block from a home for mentally impaired adults. Honestly, at first I found a few of them quiet frightening. There is an older lady who stands and stares even I you try to say hello or smile at her, she will follow you with her eyes just staring with a cold, blank expression. There is an older man who walks his imaginary dog every morning. He is often seen singing and dancing, leaping through the air even. While these people live close to me, I might not have considered them my neighbors at first. In fact, had I seen them before I moved in I might have reconsidered. Yet, I am so thankful I live where I do and I am blessed to call these people my neighbors. Each morning as I leave for work, I look for the man with his imaginary dog. His pure joy brightens my day, especially when I ask about his pooch and he picks up the imaginary dog and holds him to my car window for me to pet. I am thankful that the Spirit led me to get to engage with him. If I hadn’t, I might not get that extra smile from seeing him every morning. Even the lady who stares. I still smile and say good morning as uncomfortable as it makes me feel.

Who Are Our Neighbors 4Lord God, we grieve with our neighbors around the country at the loss of two of our neighbors. Both were created in your image, as all of us are. We ask that you comfort those involved in these shootings. We ask that you guide us in your ways and show us what you desire from us at these times and always. We ask, Lord, that as we go through our days, may our eyes be opened to seeing all those we meet as our neighbors. May we see all people as you see them, Lord. In Jesus’s precious name, Amen.

Hospitality from a Harlot

by Barbie Fischer

Rahab photo - 6-23-16Rahab is often referred to in scripture as a harlot. Yet, she is the great grandmother of King David, a man after God’s own heart, and is one of five woman mentioned by Matthew in the lineage of Jesus Christ, God’s own son. Even though she is known as a harlot, she is also mentioned in Hebrews among the faithful. How could this be? In the story of Rahab documented in the book of Jeremiah, we see that Rahab’s faith led to great hospitality, leading to a victory for Jeremiah and the Israelites over the land of Jericho. The story of Rahab is a reminder that we are all sinners (Romans 3:23), yet our faith in Christ as seen in our actions, such as hospitality, saves us. After all, James 2:17 says, “even so faith, if it has no works, is dead.”

Joshua told the spies to go view the land, especially Jericho. “So they went, and came to the house of a harlot named Rahab, and lodged there” (Joshua 2:1). Large houses near the city gates would often serve as the city hotel for traveling caravans. Rahab and her family operated one of these inns right on the wall where travelers would pass. Many of these establishments had a little extra emphasis on the “bed” available for the right price. Most likely this is how Rahab got her title of harlot.

Rahab would have known of the Israelites as they could be seen across the river from Jericho in their camp. She may have heard how they miraculously escaped from Egypt and the people of Jericho knew of how the Israelites has conquered other nations. Thus Rahab and others in Jericho knew the Israelites were most likely coming to destroy Jericho.

Rahab, knowing all she does of Israel, not only welcomed the Israelite spies — she risked her life and that of her family by hiding them on her roof when the King’s army came calling for them (Joshua 2:2-7). Joshua 2:8 clearly shows that Rahab offered hospitality at the risk of her life because she believes in the Lord, stating that she knows the Lord has delivered Jericho to the Israelites. She believed. She had faith. She not only offered hospitality because of this — she risked her life.

How many times have Christians judged someone like Rahab. Someone living a life we may disagree with and claiming that they must not be a believer? Could it be that in fact they do believe but need some more discipleship, like Rahab? Yet as Christians do we invest in getting to know these people whose lifestyles are different than our own, strangers to us, or do we offer them hospitality?

The Israelites’ lifestyles were different than Rahab’s; they were strangers to her, yet Rahab offered them hospitality and they accepted it. Her life led to that of King David and Jesus Christ our Lord. Perhaps, we should not write off those different from us so quickly. Perhaps we should offer and accept hospitality from them. After all, we are all sinners (Romans 3:23) and we are all God’s creation (Colossians 1:16).

Kingdom Transformation: Partnership between Church and Marketplace

By Noel Santiago

“Picture in your mind a world where: the transforming power of Jesus Christ is significantly impacting every individual family, church, workplace, school, government, city and nation. Imagine a Christian church where: every local congregation is acting in unity and partnership with other believers to see their city and nation transformed! Contemplate the future of society if: every Christian understood who they are in Christ and embraced their calling to be “salt and light” to a dark and hurting world?”

Dr. Gregory M. Pagh, Pastor at Christ Church, Elk River, Minnesota

Noel article photo 1 - 6-23-16Ed Silvoso, of the Transform Our World ministry, in his book Transformation, shares some perspectives and understandings to kingdom transformation that seeks to help churches partner with what he calls marketplace ministers. This approach has resulted in the kind of picture noted by Pastor Pagh. Here are some highlights about what is needed for kingdom transformation in terms of marketplace partnerships.

We begin with identifying some characteristics of the congregation: Matthew 16:18-19, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

When Jesus talked about “upon this rock I will build my church” he was referring to ‘ekklesia’ which is a Greek word meaning ‘ruling assembly.’ Understanding the authority and function of the assembly is fundamental to properly implement what Jesus initiated in Matthew 16:18. This assembly is not limited to a church building. It operates wherever two or three are gathered and it’s ruling foundation is love!

Imagine then a river with two banks. One bank is prayer evangelism having to do with transformed living; the other bank is comprised of five biblical paradigms having to do with transformed thinking. Let’s briefly outline what this could look like.

Prayer Evangelism: Transformed Living

Luke 10:5-9 state, “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.  Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you;  cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’

The first step in prayer evangelism is blessing! As seen in verse five, “When you enter a house, first say, `Peace to this house.'” Peace speaks of blessing. So you start by blessing people — people in businesses, government, education and neighborhoods. Keep in mind that we are blessing people who are all created in the image of God, not unwholesome activities or behaviors.

Step two is fellowship! “Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide” speaks in verse seven of fellowship. Fellowship with those who God brings through divine opportunities as you connect and relate to those around you.

Third step is to meet felt needs! We read in verse nine, “cure the sick” speaking to meeting felt needs. Minister God’s Love as you listen to others stories and pray with them allowing the love of Christ to touch their hearts as well as yours.

Finally we need to share the good news!  Verse nine instructs us to “say to them, ‘the kingdom of God has come near to you’,” we must proclaim the kingdom by sharing the good news of hope in Jesus Christ.

Five Biblical Paradigms: Transformed Thinking

  1. The great commission is about discipling nations (cities, towns, and neighborhoods), not just individuals. The expression ‘discipling nations’ is at first hard to grasp, but basically it means: “teaching a nation what Jesus taught us for the purpose of causing it to embrace the goodness of God and to reflect the character of Christ” (Transformation p. 123).
  2. The marketplace (the heart of the nation) has already been redeemed by Jesus and now must be tended to by God’s followers through the ministry of reconciliation. The marketplace is most concisely defined as encompassing business, education and government. However, it includes everywhere that you live, work and play.
  3. Every Christian is a minister, and labor is worship. In the beginning, God told Adam to ‘tend the garden’ (work). This would be a core activity that formed part of his relationship with God. The most dynamic word in the great commission is the word, “Go!” When many of us “go,” we “go to work.” The workplace is one of our primary circles of influence.
  4. Our primary call is to take the Kingdom of God to where the kingdom of darkness is entrenched in order for Jesus to build the Church. An expression from a pastor that seems to sum this up is: “What a relief when I finally understood that Jesus builds the church, not me.”
  5. The premier social indicator that transformation has taken place is the elimination of systemic poverty. “The WORD became flesh and moved into our neighborhood” (John 1:14 as stated in the Message).

Partnering for Transformation

The call is for Jesus’ disciples to look around our work places and neighborhoods and to pray blessing for those around us, allowing the Holy Spirit to transform our living; to be present in ways that allow the gospel message of Jesus to be shared personally with each and to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

All Are Invited to the Banquet

by Barbie Fischer

Often the word hospitality invokes images of places to stay and delicious food to be consumed. Throughout the Bible there are over 52 references to feasting and 73 references to banquets. These stories are not just about eating, drinking and being merry; they go beyond that.

In Matthew 22, the wedding banquet is used as an imagery of heaven. Yet those invited were too busy and consumed with work to come. So the host told his servants to invite anyone they found, “those on the street corners … anyone.”

In Luke 12:12-14 we are instructed that:

When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.

banquetThese stories caution us that yes, some of us are too busy for heaven. Too busy to come to the wedding feast the Lord has prepared for us. They show us also that while it is comfortable for us to invite our friends and family and “rich neighbors” to a dinner, we are called to go beyond that. We are called to invite all people just as they are, that they may come to the feast and get to know the Lord.  As Christians, these stories are cautionary tales and a call to go beyond the comfortable.

Heaven is open to all, yes, even those who make us uncomfortable at times, because they do not look or act like us. In the story of the wedding feast, the people who came did not have to clean themselves up before they entered the feast. We are not told to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, but make sure they clean up before they come. They were welcomed just as they were. So why is it that so often we expect people to clean themselves up before they come to church, to wear a certain kind of clothing, to act a specific way? All before they come to know Christ?

While the people who came to the banquets in the biblical stories may have been strangers to their hosts when they entered the feast, do you think they left the same as they came? How are people supposed to come to know Christ if we are too uncomfortable to get to know them and share Christ’s love with them?

This week when your worship service begins, look around. Would anyone off the street feel welcome in your congregation? What if they were covered in tattoos and piercings, or maybe their clothes are tattered — would you welcome them to the banquet as you did your friends and family?

As the Lord said in 1 Samuel 16:7, “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” May our eyes be opened to see people as the Lord sees them.

Stepping Out of Our Comfort Zone

by Barbie Fischer

Abraham pic 5-26-16In our last edition, we began our series on hospitality and took a look at Abraham and Sarah welcoming three strangers in Genesis 18: 1-8 in the article Welcoming the Stranger. Hospitality such as this was a cultural obligation and as noted in the article, the Hebrew word actually means bringing in of strangers. As I read the story again, there is a word that struck me in verse two: the word “ran”. In verse two, it says that when Abraham saw the strangers he did not just welcome them in — he ran to welcome them.

This made me think of a firefighter running into a burning building to help someone in need. It also made me think of how often not only do we not run to help a stranger, we often pretend they don’t exist. Especially the homeless people I often see. How many of us pass them by without even looking at them? How often do we do that to people in need in our own congregations or communities?

In Matthew 10:46-52, a blind beggar was crying out to Jesus and the crowd told him to hush, much like our society tells us to ignore the homeless or those in need. Rather than telling the beggar to hush, society tells us we don’t have time, it is not safe. Yet these are our brothers and sisters. In Matthew 10, the author even names the beggar, Bartimaeus. He is a man, not something to be ignored. And Jesus does not ignore him. As Abraham ran to the strangers, Jesus calls for Baritmaeus and heals him.

Honestly, I can’t think of the last time I ran to a stranger, or even called to one. This past weekend, I had a woman cry out to me and ask for spare change. I honestly had no cash on me and so I looked her in the eye and said as much. As I walked away she said, “thank you for responding.” It struck me to my core. I wonder how many times she watches people walk past her, avoiding eye contact, trying to pretend she does not exists.

Abraham article pic 5-26-16It can slow us down to stop and acknowledge that a person is speaking to us, even more so if we try to be hospitable and offer assistance; yet as God’s children are we not called to love our brothers and sisters? Even if right now they are strangers to us?

This week I have been restocking my blessing bags that I keep in my car. These can contain any number of items. In mine I have a snack size bag of chips, soft granola bar, an apple, a small bar of soap, band aids, tooth paste, tooth brush, and a note of encouragement and address to a local shelter. In the winter I add socks and gloves. I keep a few in my car, so when I see someone asking for money I can hand them a bag. When I lived in Washington, DC, I often tried to keep extra granola bars and trail mix in my purse for the same reason. Perhaps, this can be something your congregation can do together. Or if you do not see homeless people on a regular occasion, maybe your congregation can do a food drive for a local food bank and then volunteer at the food bank, and get to know those in your area who are in need. Or begin collecting school supplies for local kids and organize a back pack stuffing day at the end of the summer and a celebration event where the back packs can be handed out.

Hospitality can be uncomfortable. It stretches us out of our comfort zone. Yet, the word of God says, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline,” 2 Timothy 1:7. May the spirit of power, love and discipline manifest in us all as we continue to go to the margins and beyond.