As the team rode from the airport to the Gates Church, it was impossible not to think, ”we’re not in Fayette County anymore.” But the increase in graffiti, boarded up homes and pedestrians was also a great reminder that being in this new place was a valuable thing. Jesus often took trips to ”desolate places” and it’s on these journeys that we experience the presence and work of God in fresh ways. As the week went on and we were thrust into challenging projects, situations and conversations, I know each of us walked away (except Tracy 😬… drove away) with profound lessons and tastes of God’s glory. I’ll share just a few of mine.
1. Ministry can be messy (and should be)
There’s an interesting proverb that says, ”Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of an ox.” (Proverbs 14:4) The point is that cleanliness sometimes means that nothing is getting done! The situation we stepped into was certainly messy–physically, socially and spiritually–but this is the direction Jesus most often ran in. As we rolled up our sleeves and served, it was a great reminder that God’s love meets people right where they are, no questions asked, then begins the work of cleaning up. Our team certainly worked with the strength of an ox! I pray God continues to use our work to help messy people (like us!) feel dignified, valued and loved.
2. Ministry can be lonely (but shouldn’t be)
It was privilege to serve Austin, Meryl and their family throughout the week, and I could sense the encouragement they felt to be around like-minded, hard-working, Jesus-followers. There are certainly a few of them around the Gates Church, but I know Austin longs for increased growth in leadership. Personally, I felt God’s presence most vividly as we met and prayed together each morning as a team, worked throughout the day and de-briefed and laughed each night. We loved one another well and our common goal united and built us up (despite how tired and sore we all became). “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” (1 Peter 3:8)
3. If you ask God for a pitch, be prepared for a curveball
The baseball illustration just felt right. Everyone on the team was well prepared for any gospel opportunities that came our way. We asked God daily to open doors for us, and he did. However, this didn’t mean people lined up at the door, asking how they could be saved. We had to walk, and ask, and probe and be willing to use even a Home Depot run as a platform to share. Prayer-walking in the neighborhood was an especially challenging but rewarding experience for everyone. Each of us had at least one encounter that felt prepared for us. Tracy got the biggest curveball of us all, but even as she unfortunately lay with a broken leg in the parking lot, opportunities to bear witness began to emerge. As she continues on the long road to recovery, I know she sees the purpose and privilege in going into the operating room and beyond as a missionary. “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ.” (Colossians 4:2-3)
So, where will you go to experience more of God and his work? As a church-planting friend of mine once said…
“If you want to see things you’ve never seen, you have to do things you’ve never done.”