Have you given much thought lately to the reason missions is important? How do we view those who don’t have a relationship with Jesus? In our churches there exist many answers to these questions. Lost, seeking, potential new brother/sister, another number on the roll, or fallen? Sometimes it seems like those are the only options available to us. As if people were unworthy of our time or friendship unless they are interested in a Bible study or coming to church with us. Churches become self-contained communities where those in the community can become very close and cease looking outside of themselves with the mission of God on their hearts/minds. As Christians we exist to expand the kingdom of God. Through effecting holy change in our communities and preaching the good news of Jesus, many times through actions instead of words, we take part in the mission that Jesus himself carried out while on this earth. To do that we have to look at the world and those in it, ourselves included, differently. Christians and non-Christians . . . we’re all just people that God made and loves. We are all just people that deserve friendship and respect, honor and kindness.
I was recently re-convicted of this truth while reading Friendship at the Margins. Through the book the authors stress the idea of offering friendship first and foremost to those in the world, all of us, and that through those friendships the kingdom is spread. It seems like such a simple idea but the type of friendship the authors suggest is the most serious type. Can you imagine being a friend to those living deep in sin with no simple way out, and instead of trying to free them from an impossible situation you are concerned only with being their friend? After offering a prostitute a different job, or other means of escape, and she refuses to take it, purposefully choosing to maintain that relationship to offer whatever you can is a powerful statement of friendship and one the authors encourage Christians everywhere to make.
For years our vision for the work in Arequipa has been one of “friendship evangelism.” We weren’t going to go door-knocking or preach on street corners. We would have no large church where we would offer a dynamic worship to try and attract interested Peruvians. Instead we wanted to, and still want to, make friends with our neighbors, mechanic, barber, taxi/bus drivers, market vendors, and bodega owners and let Christ shine through us in those relationships. When I began reading this book I was at a point where I felt like things were stalled in my relationships here. Oh I had friends but I began to worry that I wasn’t doing everything I could to convert those friends. What this book made me do was take a step back and remember that my goal is not to convert . . . but to plant seeds. Through my friendships I plant and water the seeds of the gospel and need to trust in God to bring the harvest.
I encourage you to examine your daily interactions and to seek friendships, sacrificial friendships, with the people around you. Whoever they are and whatever sin they have in their lives everyone needs a friendship that shares with them the goodness of God. This quote from the book really stuck with me (emphasis mine):
“Human beings who are not Christians are far more than potential converts. In our concern for reaching out with the gospel, we can unwittingly reduce the person to less than the whole being that God formed. When we shrink our interest in people to the possibilities of where their souls may spend eternity, it is easy to miss how God might already be working in and through a particular person. We are better able to resist tendencies to reductionism when we are in relationships that affirm each person’s dignity and identity and when we come into those relationships confident that God is already at work in the other person. Because a business mindset is so prevalent in our society, the work of mission is sometimes recast in very economic terms. Missional language like “target audience” and a focus on results-driven measurements echo a sales approach that sees people first as potential consumers…If we want people to experience the kingdom of God and to dwell with God for eternity, then how they experience their relationship with us should be a foretaste of that goodness and beauty.”
I can imagine that this was Jesus’ goal, to give a foretaste of the goodness and beauty of the kingdom, when he befriended all the sinners in town. We have no record to tell us if they all dropped what they were doing to follow him. I would bet that most did not but that did not stop Jesus from sharing a meal or speaking a word of kindness. He still took every opportunity to treat everyone with the respect and dignity that human beings deserve. My prayer is that we would continue to try and emulate Him in every way…this one included.
As we try to be good friends here in Arequipa, will you pray for those we are befriending? Here are just some of the friends we have made in our neighborhoods and through our work with ICDU: Josue, Manuela, Willy, Yenny, Ingrid, Roger, Evelin, Katherin, Daniela, Lola, Luz, Carmen, Carlos, Luzmila, Claudia, Gladis, Alfredo, Rocío, Jeannett, Julio and Valentin.