My senior year in college I worked a few hours a week as a mommy’s helper of sorts. Once a week I would go to my employer’s home where she would put me to work cleaning out the freezer, ironing, cleaning bathrooms, that sort of thing. The pay wasn’t great, not by any stretch of the imagination, and the work wasn’t glamorous, not in the least. But I liked it.
My one or two hours a week grew to various babysitting jobs for this family and others in their church. I also kept the children in one of the member’s homes on Wednesday nights while the church had prayer meeting. I didn’t know much about the church nor their doctrinal beliefs, but I knew this: they loved me and they lived what they believed.
They were the real deal, this family I worked for. They bought a home right smack dab in the middle of one of the worst parts of town–on purpose. It was nothing for a drunk to ring the doorbell and be given a metaphorical cup of cold water in Jesus’ name. They lived where they lived so they could minister where they lived.
My employer wasn’t the only family living in the worst part of town. Just about all of the families in this small group of believers lived in this same neighborhood. A family would buy and fix up one of the older, larger, often run down homes, usually outfitting it with an apartment or two to rent out to a college student, and then use their home as a place of ministry not just to their tenant(s) but also to the needy and impoverished that surrounded them.
My employer had a large two story home, really the centerpiece of the ministry of the church. The family lived upstairs, while the downstairs was divided into apartments rented out to a college student, a park ranger, and an adjunct professor.
She and I would often chat while I worked and I remember one time telling her of a conversation between me and my college roommate expressing dissatisfaction with religion as usual. We wanted to do something, I told her with all the idealism and fervency of a very young twenty year old. She was so excited and offered to get us plugged in to some kind of ministry, I can’t remember what exactly. I immediately backed off, my passion cooling somewhat at the prospect of messy, uncomfortable ministry.
I’ve been thinking of that family and that little church quite a bit lately. I wish I could remember the name of the church so I could google them and see where they are today. Being twice the age now I was then takes it toll on the memory–I can’t even remember my employer’s first name!
But what an example they were–and are–to me! I think of the intentionality of their ministry and their determination to reach those most desperate for the good news of the gospel. I remember too with some shame my aversion to messy ministry, then and now. Would I buy a house in a neighborhood riddled with crime and poverty and raise my kids there if the Lord commanded me to do so? Would you?
I’m not saying true faith is only evidenced by your address. Not at all. I am saying that I realize now the price they were willing to pay to be obedient. As I consider their example, I fear I value my perceived safety and comfort far more than I value obedience and advancing the kingdom of my Lord. I long for faith that works, for love that reaches out to the least among us, and for eyes that see with an eternal perspective. I want to be the real deal.
“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:17-18)