Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Intentional Poverty, Part 1

Two quotes from those who have decided to live as the poor among the poor:

“I’m not as serious about intentional poverty as some folks, really. I live in a poor rural area in Alabama. The hardest part is not having family around. But I live in a one bedroom apartment, where I work and live. Sometimes I take in a street friend, if the weather’s particularly bad, but I’m not making supreme sacrifices or anything. I just don’t live the lifestyle that my income insists I should. Or how I could.
“ I just couldn’t do it anymore. I grew up rich—what most people call the ‘middle class’, you know. And I didn’t really think about it much. I mean, about the way we lived. We never called ourselves ‘rich’ because that term was reserved for billionaires or people who were way over our level. The folks who lived in the hills. It wasn’t until I went overseas that I realized just how wrong we were. Sure, when I was in Manila I met a lot of people who socially weren’t that different than how I grew up. They told me how the beggars were all criminals or were oppressed. How it was almost a crime to give to them. I paid attention and avoided the beggars and the trash-pickers. I only visited the shantytown once. I prayed for someone there, but she didn’t speak English. Anyway, I noticed the poor, but didn’t really pay attention to them, you know?
“After months there in the Philippines, I came home. On Christmas Eve. I remember waking up at 4 in the morning on Christmas—still adjusting to the time zone—and walking on the silent streets. How peaceful and serene it was. But by 9am all that serenity was exchanged for greed and mayhem. Paper strewn about everywhere, pupils dilated, gifts enthused over and then immediately forgotten in the excess of the next gift. It was like some kind of drug orgy. And it was all about stuff.
“This opened my eyes to the difference. We really are rich. And we misuse what we have. Christmas is the extreme, but it isn’t the only time. We get what we want when we want it. I just didn’t want to live that way any more. I won’t. Sure, it upsets my family that I won’t spend Christmas with them anymore. And it hurt them when I told them why. But in my life among these people is pure and clean, without the filth of stuff constantly dirtying me.”
-Rose Parker, 28, Alabama, USA

“Honestly, I never had any intention of being poor. I don’t consider poverty to be a holy lifestyle or especially blessed of God. I just know what I have been called to do, and that is to work with the Akulas here in Peru.
“So years ago I began working with them, learning their language. I didn’t live here among the villages all the time. Four days a week, I lived at the mission compound where we lived a life as normal as possible, where we typed out our notes and compared experiences with each other. This went on for years.
“But there was something wrong. The Akulas were always friendly enough and willing to help, but they were also reserved with us in a way they were not with each other. After five years and having enough language to hold reasonable conversations and having begun some translation work, yet relationally there were no breakthroughs. If we were ever going to give the people the gospel, then we would have to relate to them. To be friends, not just co-workers.
“Then I overheard a strange snipet of conversation by two Akula men. They said something about how “that white goes to her evil,” or something like that. I asked my translation helper about their comment, thinking that it might be about me. She shamefacedly told me that almost all the village believed the rumor that I had three husbands back in my mansion, where I had many coloreds as slaves. I was shocked and asked my helper if she believed that and she couldn’t answer me.
“I left the village that day and returned to the compound and wept and prayed and wept again. I was so hurt. Then I realized that it was my own fault. If I was going to work with the Akulas—or really, if anyone is going to do ministry among any people— then I need to live with them, like them, all the time. They need to see who I really am, so they can decide for themselves if what I say is true. But as long as I have a secret, hidden life, then they will never trust me, because they won’t know what I’m doing during that time.
“It took me a few weeks, but I arranged to live with the Akulas all the time. I might take a week away now and then, but really, I’m just more comfortable living with them. Their lives are just so much simpler and without the complications of civilization. I don’t miss the other lifestyle, how I grew up. And my ministry has been so much more effective. I have many friends among the women and the men have welcomed a couple to live in the village as well. There is a church here. And I know it wouldn’t have happened without someone living like them. It happened to be me, but I think it could have been anybody.”
-Edith Sherwood, 67, Brazil

(The quotes and persona are fictional-- Steve)

Update to Letter

Sunnyside Methodist decided to keep the meals open for at least 60 days-- until the end of winter-- and will at that time re-evaluate their participation in the meal programs.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

An Open Letter To Sunnyside Methodist

A local church who has been hosting a meal to the homeless for twenty two years has considered closing the doors to the meal for two months in the middle of winter in response to pressure from a couple neighbors. I wrote this letter to the church in response:

My name is Steve Kimes and I am one of the pastors connected with the Coffee House that meets in your basement, providing ministry, mercy and grace to the many folks that are homeless, mentally ill and developmentally disabled.

First of all, I want to thank you for providing us this place to minister for more than twenty years. Sunnyside Methodist has become a name of hope in Southeast Portland for the outcast. Many other churches over the years, but it is Sunnyside that has obtained the reputation for mercy and love that many denominations, many ministers many servers have worked for.

I understand that it has not been without sacrifice. Over the years, it is Sunnyside that has also taken the brunt of all of those who do not wish to experience the sacrifice that comes with the ministry of Jesus. It is Sunnyside that has been attacked by neighbors and community groups who have decided that ministering to the needy among us is not right for this neighborhood. It is Sunnyside that has defended the meals and worked with the community to make it a positive place for everyone. We appreciate this work and we know that it is necessary for the continuance of God’s work of grace.

I want to share with you what I see as being the ministry of the meals and how that differs from some neighbors who might argue against the meals and their ministry. You see, these neighbors see the meals as a gift to the ungrateful, unproductive and undeserving. I see things a little differently.

The meals are, frankly, a church. There are people who come for different reasons, but ultimately it is all for the sake of God’s glory.

The servers some to serve God through serving the needy. They do this at the cost of their free time, their money, their family time and their relaxation. They do this because they love the kingdom of God and the service of the needy more than their personal needs and wants. They come to Sunnyside because they love Jesus and want to serve Him by serving the poor. For these, the Sunnyside basement is a place to wash feet as Jesus did.

Many of the ones served come because they want to honor Jesus. Some of these folks are housed, some are mentally ill, some are homeless. But they come specifically to participate in the Bible study or to worship with the gospel music. Some come to speak to others about Jesus and His love and grace. Yes, they all eat of the meal, but they came not for the meal, but to minister to others who came for the meal. For these, the Sunnyside basement is a place for them to seek the lost.

Others come without thinking of God. Perhaps they come to eat, while others come because their friends are there and they want to spend time with them. Others come because they need a warm, dry place to spend the evening in safety. But even these receive from the Lord. They get ministered to by those who came to minister. Many of these pray together with us. Many of these hear the word of the Lord that they would not hear in other places. They are not forced to hear God’s word, but when they are ready, they are invited to participate. They receive the prayers of many when they openly implore others to lay hands on them and cry out to God for their needs. For these, the Sunnyside basement is a place to meet God when they did not expect Him

Yes, there are troublemakers that come. Of course, with every group, there are some who do not appreciate the peace and grace that are offered to them, and they might try to stir things up. But does God not also minister to these? Is not God the one who loves the ungrateful and wicked, and does he not call all of us who follow Jesus to minister to these as well? For these, the Sunnyside basement is the place where the prodigal is called to come home.

Overall, the “meals”—what I call church services— are infused with the Spirit of God. I have seen ailments instantly cured by the Spirit of God. I have seen the Spirit bring peace to those filled with anger. I have seen the Spirit bring truth to those who were filled with lies. I have seen the Spirit give a love for God for those who were haters of God. I have seen bitterness, disputes, frustrations, doubts and anxieties fade at the coming of the Spirit of God. The Spirit brings to the basement of Sunnyside peace, long-suffering, joy, hope, self-control, and truth.

Some neighbors see the meals as a gathering place of the unwanted population. In this I agree. The unwanted of society are the ones that Jesus wants. The sinners, the outcast, the prodigals, the helpless, the ones who perpetually trip up—these are the ones whom Jesus longs to cling to, to love, to offer grace to, to lift up, to be the true child of God. Where the unwanted are, there the Spirit lives, works and breathes new life. Our church—housed in your basement— is the church of the Lazarus’, those who hunger and thirst for justice, those who mourn at the tragedies of their lives. Our church is the church of the anawim—the poor who seek for God to deliver them because all else has failed them. And these shall inherit God’s kingdom.

Admittedly, this ministry comes with issues that need to be resolved. It is a difficult calling to do as Jesus did—to offer healing and hope to the prisoners, mentally ill, desperately sick and poor. It was difficult for Jesus and it is difficult for anyone who participates in it. But if we endure, then it is not really the needy who will be saved—for God will find others to minister to them—rather the salvation is for us. If we continue to minister to the outcast, despite the persecutions, despite the rejections of our society, then we will be saved. “You will be hated by all for my sake, but the one who endures until the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:22).

It is easy to focus on the very few who cause trouble, and to forget the many innocent who will be forsaken should this meal be permitted to close, even for a couple months.

For Blind Bill who comes every week to eat and to escape from his isolation.
For those from the group home who find in the meal a place to associate in public and to be themselves.
For Larry, a Catholic brother who has sacrificed his Fridays for years to come and serve.
For Kevin, who has played guitar as he was able and participate in the meals as he has had need.
For David, with OCD, who gains comfort from his false guilt and hope in prayer.
For Brent, a Seventh Day Adventist brother who prays and who begs for prayer, depending on his spiritual need.
For Loren, whose ministry team from Gresham has minister to these folks with clothes, blankets and lunches for many years.
For Pat, who in leadership has humbly served by cutting hair, bringing peace with her spirit.
For Jack, who gently prays and ministers the gospel to whoever is in need.
For many, such as Wayne, Trucker and Marvin who desperately need a warm and dry place to hang out in the evenings, and people to talk to in order to draw them out of their sufferings.
For Doug and Fred and others who come just to hear God’s word.
As well as all the others who are too many to mention…

Please let us not fail Lazarus. Let us not fail the prodigal. Endure in love to them, even as God Himself does. If plans are needed, let us create them in the midst of the ministry that Jesus calls us all to. Let us not send Lazarus to the cold until we figure out what to do with him. Let us not send the prodigal from the place in which he comes to his senses, back to the pig filth until we make a plan. Let us not send Dorcas back to her home without a place to minister. Let us not send the sinners and tax gatherers away from Jesus. Let us not send away the children who seek to be blessed by Jesus.

Instead, let us all work together to continue to do the work of Jesus, and solve any issues together as we do this work without failing.

Steve Kimes
Pastor of Anawim Christian Community
A Mennonite Church among the homeless and mentally ill in Portland

Friday, January 11, 2008

Dorthy Day

Culture Ketch

A church is not primarily a spiritual entity.

When people come to church, the first thing they notice is not the doctrine, the spirit or any healing power that exists in the church. Rather, they notice the architecture, the d├ęcor, the way people are dressed, the language, and the kind of greeting (if any). All of these are not spiritual, ethereal or other worldly items but they are very worldly, cultural, social communication. And often a person decides if they are comfortable in that church from the first few moments.

The question is often asked, “Why do the homeless not come to church?” Well, probably the better way to ask that question is, “Why do the homeless not come to MY church?” If they don’t come, it is because the culture of the church makes their subculture uncomfortable. The homeless DO go to church. They go to churches in which they are comfortable, where they feel culturally welcome.

Again, the choice of anyone to come to a church happens in the first few moments, often before they meet anyone. A homeless person looks at the pristine environment, the quiet voices, the conservative clothes, the way the couple people who notice him avoid his gaze and decides at that moment that the church is not for him.

Now, I welcome you to my church on Saturday. If you come in at 11:30, you will find about 20 people there, both men and women. They are street-dressed in warm, practical but worn clothing. Backpacks are at every seat. Almost everyone has long hair and beards. Some folks don’t smell really great. And the faint smell of body-processed alcohol hangs in the air. The folks are a bit rowdy, laughing loud, teasing each other.

The room isn’t a sanctuary, but filled with tables, seats all around them and there is a couple of couches in the attached room. People sit, relax, take off their shoes. A couple are going through clothes over on one side. A few others are getting the food table prepped.

Finally, the pastor comes in with a pile of food about as tall as his eyesight. He lays it out with some help and then yells out, “Okay, let’s pray for the food!” The whole room becomes silent and men remove their hats as the pastor prays: “Lord, we thank you for this food and for this warm place to be. We ask that you would give us your spirit right now to help us honor You and to respect each other. In Jesus’ name, amen.” Everyone repeats “amen.”

Then a line forms itself for the food and another line forms for showers. No one tells them how to line up, or commands them how to be polite. This is their time, and the homeless are in charge. They determined the order in which people would get food, clothes and showers. They set up the tables and bring in the materials for the day. They know that there will be a service at 1 and most of them will be ready to worship God, freshly showered and clothed, praying the Lord’s prayer in unison at the hour. They will be ready to talk back to the preacher and shout out their song requests to the worship leader.

Now, as you were reading this description, you may be thinking, ‘how quaint’ or perhaps, ‘that is really…different.” For most of you, this isn’t a comfortable setting for you to worship. And that’s okay. But just remember, for my folks a crowd of three thousand middle class folks isn’t a proper setting for them. Nor is a small church with exuberant worship and everyone dressed to the hilt.

And that’s all okay. Just as long as we all worship God. As long as we all recognize each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord. As long as we all believe and live in Jesus Christ. Christ crosses culture. And sub-culture. And we can be one, even if we honor God differently.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Micah Declaration on Integral Mission

This was so good, I copied it over, instead of just posting a link:

Micah Declaration on Integral Mission (2001)
Integral Mission
Integral mission or holistic transformation is the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel. It is not simply that evangelism and social involvement are to be done alongside each other. Rather, in integral mission our proclamation has social consequences as we call people to love and repentance in all areas of life. And our social involvement has evangelistic consequences as we bear witness to the transforming grace of Jesus Christ. If we ignore the world we betray the word of God which sends us out to serve the world. If we ignore the word of God we have nothing to bring to the world. Justice and justification by faith, worship and political action, the spiritual and the material, personal change and structural change belong together. As in the life of Jesus, being, doing and saying are at the heart of our integral task.

We call one another back to the centrality of Jesus Christ. His life of sacrificial service is the pattern for Christian discipleship. In his life and through his death Jesus modelled identification with the poor and inclusion of the other. On the cross God shows us how seriously he takes justice, reconciling both rich and poor to himself as he meets the demands of his justice. We serve by the power of the risen Lord through the Spirit as we journey with those who are poor, finding our hope in the subjection of all things under Christ and the final defeat of evil. We confess that all too often we have failed to live a life worthy of this gospel.

The grace of God is the heartbeat of integral mission. As recipients of undeserved love we are to show grace, generosity and inclusiveness. Grace redefines justice as not merely honouring a contract, but helping the disadvantaged.

Integral Mission with the Poor and Marginalised
The poor like everyone else bear the image of the Creator. They have knowledge, abilities and resources. Treating the poor with respect means enabling poor people to be the architects of change in their communities, rather than imposing solutions upon them. Working with those living in poverty involves building relationships that lead to mutual change.

We welcome welfare activities as important in serving with those who are poor. Welfare activities, however, must be extended to include movement towards values transformation, the empowerment of communities and co-operation in wider issues of justice. Because of its presence among poor communities, the church is in a unique position to restore their God-given dignity by enabling them to produce their own resources and to create solidarity networks.

We object to any use of the word ‘development’ that implies some countries are civilised and developed while others are uncivilised and underdeveloped. This imposes a narrow and linear economic model of development and fails to recognise the need for transformation in so-called ‘developed’ countries. While we recognise the value of planning, organisation, evaluation and other such tools, we believe they must be subservient to the process of building relationships, changing values and empowering those who are economically impoverished and marginalised.

Work with poor people involves setbacks, opposition and suffering. But we have also been inspired and encouraged by stories of change. In the midst of hopelessness we have hope.

Integral Mission and the Church
God by his grace has given local churches the task of integral mission. The future of integral mission is in planting and enabling local churches to transform the communities of which they are part. Churches as caring and inclusive communities are at the heart of what it means to do integral mission. People are often attracted to the Christian community before they are attracted to the Christian message.

Our experience of walking with poor communities challenges our concept of what it means to be church. The church is not merely an institution or organisation, but communities of Jesus that embody the values of the kingdom. The involvement of poor people in the life of the church is forcing us to find new ways of being church within the context of our cultures instead of being mere reflections of the values of one dominant culture or sub-culture. Our message has credibility to the extent that we adopt an incarnational approach. We confess that too often the church has pursued wealth, success, status and influence. But the kingdom of God has been given to the community that Jesus Christ called his little flock.

We do not want our church traditions to hinder working together for the sake of the kingdom. We need one another. The church can best address poverty by working with the poor and other stakeholders like civil society, government and the private sector with mutual respect and a recognition of the distinctive role of each partner. We offer the Micah Network as one opportunity for collaboration for the sake of those living in poverty and the gospel.

Integral Mission and Advocacy
We confess that in a world of conflict and ethnic tension we have often failed to build bridges. We are called to work for reconciliation between ethnically divided communities, between rich and poor, between the oppressors and the oppressed.

We acknowledge the command to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute in a world that has given ‘money rights’ greater priority than human rights. We recognise the need for advocacy both to address structural injustice and to rescue needy neighbours.

Globalisation is often in reality the dominance of cultures that have the power to project their goods, technologies and images far beyond their borders. In the face of this, the church in its rich diversity has a unique role as a truly global community. We exhort Christians to network and co-operate to face together the challenges of globalisation. The church needs a unified global voice to respond to the damage caused by it to both human beings and the environment. Our hope for the Micah Network is that it will foster a movement of resistance to a global system of exploitation.

We affirm that the struggle against injustice is spiritual. We commit ourselves to prayer, advocating on behalf of the poor not only before the rulers of this world, but also before the Judge of all nations.

Integral Mission and Lifestyle
Integral mission is the concern of every Christian. We want to see those living in poverty through the eyes of Jesus who, as he looked on the crowds, had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.

There is a need for integral discipleship involving the responsible and sustainable use of the resources of God’s creation and the transformation of the moral, intellectual, economic, cultural and political dimensions of our lives. For many of us this includes recovering a biblical sense of stewardship. The concept of Sabbath reminds us that there should be limits to our consumption. Wealthy Christians – both in the West and in the Two-Thirds World – must use their wealth in the service of others. We are committed to the liberation of the rich from slavery to money and power. The hope of treasure in heaven releases us from the tyranny of mammon.

Our prayer is that in our day and in our different contexts we may be able to do what the Lord requires of us: to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.

If you want to know more about the Micah Challenge, go here: