When I was seventeen years old I was serving sandwiches to homeless people on the Boardwalk in Virginia Beach. As I was serving I came by this street preacher who was preaching a less than kind message about the people of this world and the people who approached him. he was being so negative to people the homeless people I was trying to witness to would not talk to me because the street preacher was what they associated Christianity with. They wanted nothing to do with me. The man had associated so much about what people had done in their past and was so quick to condemn them that people associated that with all Christians and wanted nothing to do with them.
Fast forward to this week. I see a church that has grown a community that has grown past condemnation as a form of evangelism and a place that uses love bring people in and offers help to whoever needs it. They set the example of what Jesus meant by helping out the least of these.
I spent today as yesterday mostly with the prayer service followed by lunch. The prayer service allowed me to be reminded of the reality of the hurt in this community. One of my Wesley colleagues shared part of his testimony as part of the service and a man in the congregation spontaneously shared a deeply personal story that dealt with hurt and pain in his life. Even the Pastor of Rising Hope expressed he had never heard the story and was tossed of his feet, but said that this is the normalcy of Rising Hope. These types of testimonies happen all the time, and it is often happens at random times and comes from nowhere. It is this type of openness that makes this one of the most authentic communities I have ever experienced in my ministry experience.
When I say this is a community it truly is a community. Everybody keeps tabs on people and makes sure that everyone is doing alright and has what they need to get by. If someone in the church sees a need they make sure someone is there to get the need met. Have I mentioned this church is primarily made up of homeless people and people who do not have a lot. It is a church of the poor. They recognize their friends and help them and bring them in. It is a church of poor people intentionally and authentically helping poor people (that is just amazing). No one is content where they are. The people who are there are not enough. They want to grow and they want to reach out as they have been. They reach to the people who need it most. To the people who need a meal or a roof or a blanket or a job. There truly is a missional outreach present.
This was my lesson today. We have been so quick to judge the poor that we have missed the idea of helping them. We condemn them for the things they have done in their past and we do not look at what God’s future might hold for them. We have let them become this invisible group and we have lost sight of them. They have often become afraid to associate with the church because of the pain the church has caused them, and now here is a community that is turning the tables. Rising Hope is showing these people a home and turning them into speakers for the church. They are reversing what the church is saying about their past and focussing on their future and becoming witnesses for God.
Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” – Matthew 25:45
This verse was my motto of the day and was in my mind as I reflected on that day 6 years ago. I have always tried to help the least of these and care for them, but it has been more about getting others to really care for them as well. While I know this goal has not been met yet it is encouraging that there is a community that reflects this passage. We always talk about where we see Jesus in our lives. Well the past four days every time I look out towards the people I am serving I see Jesus smiling and happy. Not just because of the work I am doing, but because of the community that has been formed amongst the people here in this Route 1 corridor.
Tomorrow night I have an opportunity to stay at the Hypothermia Shelter, sponsored by Rising Hope, with some people. Not sure if I will get a chance to post. I will try. If I don’t check back and see how it goes or click subscribe at the bottom to get an email update when I publish posts about my days.