The crowd at the 2007 New Orleans Mardi Gras Festival was large and growing larger. The city was still recovering from Hurricane Katrina which devastated the city a few years earlier but now the crowds have returned. In 2007 I found myself in New Orleans in a very different role, a life changing role. The French Quarter is known for its Burlesque Clubs, DJs, bars and endless celebration opportunities. I found myself on a corner on Bourbon Street with my Bible in hand proclaiming loudly John 8:12:
“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Your thoughts about what happens at Mardi Gras in New Orleans are probably true so you can visualize the reaction I received from the crowd. I was with a group of men called No Greater Love and that year Pastor Joel Catlin, Lyle Cubberly, and I went to Mardi Gras “ground-zero” to proclaim the word of Jesus Christ. Matthew 4:19 tells us:
“And He said unto them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
On that corner in New Orleans I felt more like the bait instead of the fisher until I realized the word of Jesus Christ had power. People would shout and make threats but when I raised my Bible it was like a shield, people would back away. But isn’t that the way it is in our daily routines? If we carry Jesus in our hearts we have everything and the power to overcome the difficulties of life.
Over the years Pastor Ron Dickinson and Pastor Joel have preached that we are all missionaries. Sometimes when we hear the word missionary we have this image of someone in a faraway country helping poor people in a remote location. While this may be true but we all can to be missionaries in our own neighbors. I spent the last several years studying mission work and how our church can make an impact in our community and around the world. Merriam-Webster defines Missiology “as the area of practical theology that investigates the mandate, message, and mission of the Christian church, especially the nature of missionary work.”
I learned early that mission work benefits those called to mission as well as those we are out to help. The last ten years our church has had a connectional relationship with a church in Poland – Kielce United Methodist Church in Kielce, Poland. More than 50 people have joined us to travel to Poland to share God’s love and learn about the Polish culture. Both our Pastors have traveled to Poland plus several staff members to proclaim God’s power and to connect with one another. There is an axiom in mission work – “It is not about the project but about the people.” Mission work is really about building relationships with people. We have many Polish friends that we can now say – “we are in mission together.”
Does mission work have to be far away from home? Of course not. There is an old hymn called “Brighten the Corner Where You Are” that tells us all we need to know. We can share God’s love with our neighbors, across town, or anywhere we happen to be. Sometimes we can lift the spirits of the cashier at the grocery store or a waitress in a restaurant. Mission work is a lot about listening and sharing God’s love. During the summer months a group of FUMC members prepare and deliver sack lunches to the children in the poorer parts of O’Fallon. Spending a few minutes with these children demonstrates that they are important and someone cares about them.
“The King will reply, Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40
The 2015 Convoy of Hope brought churches, business, and communities together to offer hope to those in need. On August 15th in the O’Fallon Community Park the Convoy offered free haircuts, groceries, family portraits, and a free lunch. FUMC had over 100 volunteers helping to bring hope to those in need. In 1 Peter 4:10 we read “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (NIV) Peter tells us that we each have a special gift and we should us it to glorify God. By any measure Convoy of Hope Metro-East was a huge success. The number of guest served was very impressive but more importantly the relationships forged together will leave lastly impressions.
And the result of my time studying mission work comes down to relationships. Our mission teams can build churches and our members can deliver sack lunches to the poor but if we do not take time to listen and learn and build understanding we have failed to show God’s love. It is less about the project and more about building relationships.
Respectfully yours in Christ,