KOH2RVA: Day 300

tired_runnerThere’s something about a nice round number…

But what I think of when I see this number—300—is that there are only 65 days left in our year-long, every-member mission trip.

For some people that may inspire a surge of fresh commitment to the mission: “We don’t have much time left! Let’s do something great!” For others it may inspire a heavy sigh: “We’ve been on this mission trip for nearly 10 months. We’re exhausted!”

For me, it’s a little of both.

I think about some of those things I was hoping to do on this mission trip, like putting up a mailbox at church where our neighbors in the Fan could drop their prayer requests so we could pray for them on Wednesday nights. Like taking portraits of some of our homeless neighbors and turning them into big posters that could be plastered on walls downtown with the caption: “I’m not homeless: Richmond is my home.” Like working more closely with county and city governments, so that our efforts would be multiplied. I’m disappointed that we didn’t get to all of those things.

On the other hand, I’m surprised and pleased by what we have been able to do. I didn’t know, for example, that we were going to form a partnership with the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School. I didn’t know that our youth were going to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Nickelsville, Virginia. I didn’t know our fifth graders were going to go Christmas caroling at nursing homes. I didn’t know the second graders were going to raise money to buy a new pair of shoes for Cheryl.

There have been dozens of other things that have surprised and pleased me as I’ve watched this mission trip unfold, and those are the things that inspire me to keep going. I want to get to September 8th like the Apostle Paul, who said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).

I hope you will be able to say it with me.

KOH2RVA: Day 101

hugYesterday—Day 100 of KOH2RVA—we had at least 100 guests at the Ralph Anderson Memorial Christmas Breakfast for the Homeless in the dining hall at First Baptist Church, and that’s not counting Santa Claus.

I remember Ralph.  I used to see him in Community Missions on Wednesday mornings, taking down the names of our homeless guests and helping them check their bags so they could get a shower.  He loved that job.  He loved those people.  Shortly before he died he established a small endowment that would produce enough income to put on one big breakfast a year and yesterday that’s what we had—one big breakfast.

I watched as our guests filed into the room past a uniformed police officer and took their places at the tables.  They seemed eager, excited, their eyes shining in a way I rarely see on those other, ordinary days.

When it was time for the blessing I took the microphone and said, “Before I pray, let me say a personal word of welcome.  I’m really glad that you’re here.  And I want you to know that these volunteers who have come to serve you breakfast this morning have come because they love you.  They don’t refer to you as ‘clients’: they call you ‘neighbors,’ and ‘family,’ and ‘friends.’”

And then I prayed, saying something like, “Lord Jesus, you didn’t have a house.  You said so yourself.  You said, ‘Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’  But if you did have a house I believe you would want to throw open the doors to these, your brothers and sisters.  And on a day like today I believe you would want to serve them breakfast.  And so, we’re going to do that for you, and we ask you to bless it, and them, and us, in your name.  Amen.”

And then the breakfast began, and it was wonderful.

I sat at a table and talked and laughed with the men who were there.  But eventually the talk came around to what happened in Connecticut last Friday, that terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  The shock and disgust registered on their faces.  One of them said, “I can’t believe it!  I can’t believe anyone would want to hurt a child!”

It seemed ironic; I had just heard that a mother had decided not to bring her children to our weekday school that morning because “all those homeless people” were milling around outside the doors, waiting for breakfast.  She was nervous after what happened in Connecticut last week.  A lot of parents were.  And even though she is thankful we have a ministry to the homeless she just couldn’t bring herself to drop off her children while they were there.

I wish she could have seen the look on this man’s face as he said, “I can’t believe it!  I can’t believe anyone would want to hurt a child!”

Someday, when heaven comes to earth, that man and her children will be best friends.  They will get out of the car at school and come running across the parking lot, giggling, and calling his name.  And he will scoop them up in his arms with a big smile, and carry them to their classrooms like a guardian angel, looking back only long enough to reassure their mother as she waves and blows kisses.

Until that day comes, we’ve got work to do.

KOH2RVA: Day 84

hummusYesterday I wrote about Jeremy and Monica, and how they invited some Muslim acquaintances over for a meal. I promised to provide some tips today about how you could invite your Muslim neighbors over.

That may have been premature.

I wrote to some of my interfaith friends yesterday and asked if they could help me come up with a list of suggestions. One of them put me on to an organization called Peace Catalyst International, that promotes “Love Your Neighbor Dinners” between churches and mosques, but it didn’t say anything about what you might serve for dinner. Another friend promised to send me something by the end of the day, but it’s 7:30 on Saturday morning and I still don’t see anything in my inbox. It’s possible that he has more important things to do than contribute to my blog.

So, let me see what I can do on my own.

First of all, you might remember that both Christians and Muslims are “children of Abraham.” Christians trace their religious ancestry back to Abraham through Isaac, while Muslims trace theirs through Ishmael, Abraham’s son by Hagar. Abraham was famous for his hospitality. When three strangers showed up in front of his tent one day, unannounced, he hurriedly prepared a meal for them (Gen. 18).

One of them turned out to be God.

Hinting at that event the writer of Hebrews says, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Heb. 13:2). And so, when that nice Muslim family moves in across the street get up (as Abraham did), go across the street, knock on the door, and invite them to dinner.

What should you serve? Well, faithful Muslims follow some fairly strict dietary guidelines. They don’t eat pork. They don’t drink alcohol. And so you wouldn’t want to invite your new neighbors over for beer and barbecue. But you could do this: you could get take-out from a nearby Middle Eastern restaurant. Just ask if the food is “halal”—the Muslim equivalent of “kosher.” Or you could make a vegetarian meal. My friend Ammar Amonnette, Imam at the Virginia Islamic Center, says “Fruits and vegetables of any kind are an easy way to offer hospitality.” Whatever you do, don’t let the risk of serving the wrong thing keep you from inviting your neighbors over. Just tell them, “I’m kind of new at this,” and ask for their help.  Soon they will be more than neighbors; they will be friends.

And heaven will have come a little closer to earth.

Simplified Missional Living

friends-eatingFacebook friend Andy Berry passed along this blog post from Jonathan Dodson which I found to be simple, practical, and useful in understanding the “missional” church concept.  As Alan Hirsch has said, “Many churches have mission statements or talk about the importance of mission, but where truly missional churches differ is in their posture toward the world.”  Here are some suggestions on forming transforming relationships with our neighbors “out there.”

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Eat with Non-Christians

We all eat three meals a day. Why not make a habit of sharing one of those meals with a non-Christian or with a family of non-Christians? Go to lunch with a co-worker, not by yourself. Invite the neighbors over for family dinner. If it’s too much work to cook a big dinner, just order pizza and put the focus on conversation. When you go out for a meal, invite a non-Christian friend. Or take your family to family-style restaurants where you can sit at the table with strangers and strike up conversations. Have cookouts and invite Christians and non-Christians. Flee the Christian subculture.

Walk, Don’t Drive

If you live in a walkable area, make a practice of getting out and walking around your neighborhood, apartment complex, or campus. Instead of driving to the mailbox or convenience store, walk to get mail or groceries. Be deliberate in your walk. Say hello to people you don’t know. Strike up conversations. Attract attention by walking the dog, carrying along a 6-pack to share, bringing the kids. Make friends. Get out of your house! Last night I spent an hour outside gardening with my family. We had good conversations with about four of our neighbors. Take interest in your neighbors. Ask questions. Engage. Pray as you go. Save some gas, the planet, and some people.

Be a Regular

Instead of hopping all over the city for gas, groceries, haircuts, eating out, and coffee, go to the same places at the same times. Get to know the staff. Smile. Ask questions. Be a regular. I have friends at coffee shops all over the city. My friends at Starbucks donate a ton of leftover pastries to our church 2-3 times a week. We use them for church gatherings and occasionally give them to the homeless. Build relationships. Be a regular.

Hobby with Non-Christians

Pick a hobby that you can share. Get out and do something you enjoy with others. Try city league sports or local rowing and cycling teams. Share your hobby by teaching lessons, such as sewing, piano, knitting, or tennis lessons. Be prayerful. Be intentional. Be winsome. Have fun. Be yourself.

Talk to Your Co-workers.

How hard is that? Take your breaks with intentionality. Go out with your team or task force after work. Show interest in your co-workers. Pick four and pray for them. Form moms’ groups in your neighborhood and don’t make them exclusively non-Christian. Schedule play dates with the neighbors’ kids. Work on mission.

Volunteer with Non-Profits.

Find a non-profit in your part of the city and take a Saturday a month to serve your city. Bring your neighbors, your friends, or your small group. Spend time with your church serving your city. Once a month. You can do it!

Participate in City Events

Instead of playing XBox, watching TV, or surfing the net, participate in city events. Go to fundraisers, festivals, cleanups, summer shows, and concerts. Participate missionally. Strike up conversation. Study the culture. Reflect on what you see and hear. Pray for the city. Love the city. Participate with the city.

Serve Your Neighbors.

Help a neighbor by weeding, mowing, building a cabinet, or fixing a car. Stop by the neighborhood association or apartment office and ask if there is anything you can do to help improve things. Ask your local Police and Fire Stations if there is anything you can do to help them. Get creative. Just serve!

—Jonathan Dodson