Friday, June 5, we went back to Douglas Terrace Apartments and had an outreach. We had beef hotdogs (so people who don’t eat pork could have them), watermelon, cucumbers (the kids love them), homemade deserts and chips. We had crafts and balls for games and this time we managed to get three bounce houses up and running. We brought the mobile clothes closet and had boxes full of children’s books to give away. Almost nothing came back to the church. Best of all, there was lots of time to sit and talk with kids and adults.
This visit celebrated five years nearly to the day since our first trip to Douglas Terrace, and that trip began a relationship with the people of the complex that essentially changed who we are as Zion Church. Let me share with you how we have been changed.
It all begin with a parable of Jesus in Luke 14 called “The Parable of the Great Banquet.” The parable was told to illustrate a point Jesus had just made while sitting at a banquet. He said, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers, your 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.”
What changed for us begins with our motivation. In the past we had done events in order to attract people to the church. In other words, we did what we did so that they would come to the church, like us, and agree to join us so that we would have more people and resources to do more events and attract more people so that we could grow even larger. The difficulty with our thinking about this was that everything we did was then predicated on how many people would join us. In the end we have come to realize that for us this was a self serving philosophy that benefited us and not necessarily the world we were trying to reach or the people we hoped to attract. We see now that what we did we did so that people might “pay us back” by making Zion larger. I suppose you could say that we did loving things in the hopes that people would love us back. But that isn’t what Jesus is asking us to do.
Instead, we have come to understand that Jesus is asking us to go and bless people for his sake and for the sake of loving people never even considering whether they will love us back. So each time we go out to bless people we do so simply to be a blessing and not with any thought of making Zion bigger or better. Our motivation has changed from wanting people to bless us back to simply wanting to bless Jesus, our Master, by blessing those most in need and least likely to be able to repay in any way.
This change in our motivation absolutely squares with another teaching of Jesus where he says, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” Jesus commands us to especially love those who are different from us. I think he does this because it is in his nature to reconcile the things that divide us as people in order that he might make us one new people united in him.
So, five years into this new motivation, we have seen Jesus time and again put us into relationships with people who are different than ourselves. Over these five years, beginning with that first outreach, we have become one church that worships in four languages and prays in more than a dozen. This isn’t without it’s challenges. In fact, it’s very hard to keep on reconciling all the people groups and maintaining unity in Christ. But we understand that this is why Jesus created the church: to be a place where differences are reconciled through the cross and we emerge a new people able to serve him.
What’s new at Zion as a result of that first outreach? Clothes closet, furniture to give away, meals for hundreds, field trips for schools, vans, buses, programs, ESL, summer Bible camps for lots and lots of kids, essential changes in every aspect of everything we do and why.
I simply lack the words to explain the extent of the changes that the first trip to Douglas Terrace brought about. But that change in motivation has created a place where there are daily miracles. In fact, I would posit that another change we’ve experienced is that we are now a church that expects the miraculous. We expect God to show up and do wonders. We expect him to provide. And we expect him to call us to do what we thought was impossible before.
Is there a cost to this kind of change? Of course. It’s high. But it’s totally worth it. It means living a messy life, the life of following Jesus which leads you into the lives of other people. It’s living as a missionary every day. It’s messy and complicated but also glorious and marvelous. And we can’t wait to see what’s next. Will you join us in praying for the next thing God is calling us to do? Thanks for reading. PJ