Being a two-wheeled missionary to the fringes is a confusing business. People are wonderfully complex, and love to blast out of the boxes we put them in. It’s much easier to have well constructed opinions when regarding things from a distance, but when you get up close enough to feel the breath, the beast is a many-faced monstrosity.
As per usual my experiences, study of the Bible, and times of reflection have left me with a lot of questions this week. Had the great pleasure of decorating the flat of a recovering addict and former sex worker this week. Painting those walls, assisted by a lovely 80-something Irish treasure, wasn’t top on my aspiration list for a hot Friday afternoon. Especially after a gruelling week of work in the sun. But it was a rich time. It was great to share life stories and experiences with these two precious ladies. I find myself making friends in the most unusual of places!
Later that day we took another lady to the Ace Café in London for a birthday treat (hardly work for me as the Ace is like my second home). I wish I could effectively distill these experiences for others to see. Our tiny little gift of an afternoon out and a biker pin badge was worth so much to someone who had never really been given anything for nothing. Especially from a man. The look of confusion and almost fear on her face painted a thousand words. This particular lady is not massively vocal, but the little snippets of her story she’s shared have been heartbreaking.
I look back on these experiences, along with others and all the reading and pontificating of the week with so many questions. I was taught to ‘do mission’ by one of the big agencies. The way I was taught was fairly narrow and placed a huge emphasis on words. I became something of a protégé in the art of conversation steering, and over the years built some pretty strong arguments to ‘defend the faith’. This all has its time and place but it begs the question, what kind of a faith needs defending? And if God really loves these people why is there so much emphasis on me and what I say and do? Can’t he speak for himself?
Good ol’ St Francis famously said “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words”. St Frank pretty much wrote the book on mercy ministry in his day. I’ve always struggled with this concept though, as a man who treasures words (how did you guess!). Engaging people on the margins has taught me a lot, and given new perspective on so much in the gospels and all of Scripture. Jesus spent a lot of time on the wrong side of town. One thing I’ve learned is people on the fringes are survivors. They’ve survived by learning to figure people out. Fast. If I go charging in with all my conversation steering and smart-ass arguments these folk will see through me in a second. Another do-gooder with an agenda. And if I’m honest, I don’t see Jesus interacting this way with folks on the margins. He was as shrewd as snakes with the Pharisees, but as gentle as a dove with the broken. A friend once said that evangelism can easily descend into scalp-hunting if we loose our focus, God’s children are not just there to be another notch on your Bible.
The first time I ever really started to think about mission to the fringes was when I heard Mike Pilavaci preach on Micah 6:8 at a youth event over ten years ago. I wear that verse around my wrist most days as a reminder. Sharing the Gospel is not just about words, it’s about expressing the truth of God’s nature through our actions. A wise friend once said that “People will learn a little from what you say, a lot through what you do, but so much more through who you are”. As God’s people we need to be about justice, righteousness, mercy, love, courage, and so much more. Not all of this can be conveyed to the world through snappy sound bites on the street or Facebook.
“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:18 NIV)”
So next time I feel like a failure because I didn’t get any good one-liners in while painting a wall, or when I meet a stranger in the pub, or in the early hours at a biker rally, I need to try and remember all this. There is a big place for words and reason, having a relatively sound argument for my faith has led to some excellent encounters before. But usually this comes through relationship. The words come later.
In what ways can you communicate truth through your actions?
What opportunities are there in your area to express God’s love through actions of love and justice to the marginalised or oppressed?
Do you feel called to travel further to be a voice for the voiceless?
“He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8 NKJV)