When I was in fifth or sixth grade, I used to join my mother when she went to Wednesday night bible study at church. In a room full of adults sitting at round tables in the church’s basement, I quietly learned about whatever the pastor wanted to teach that week.
It was boring.
There was one other boy whose mother dragged him along with her on those evenings. While we sat, desperately trying not to fall asleep or make any noise, a lady in the church had noticed our plight. She came up to my mother one evening and said she was starting a Wednesday night bible study for the kids who came with their parents. There would be a lesson, a craft, and, best of all, a snack. Miss Edy would bring cookies and her missionary heart each week as she ministered first to the two of us and then to the others that began to come after. We were called “Young Ambassadors” and used 2 Corinthians 5:20 “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” as our inspiration.
I was thinking about Edy yesterday as my husband and I were discussing systemic racism, and the Black Lives Matter movement in America. We were lamenting the church’s silence on the matter and wondering why so many Christians were oblivious to or unconcerned with racial inequity. They’re happy in their bubble, he said, and I immediately thought about the great commission – the mission of the church.
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28: 16-20
When it came to missionary work, Miss Edy was the model. Although she may have thought about far off mission fields, her real mission was next door. Everyone who didn’t know Christ was a mission. Edy ministered to drunks, junkies, & cheats. Disgraced people. People at the bottom. She talked to people of other faiths, colors, and nationalities without giving a second thought about whether they looked like her. Miss Edy was an inspiration. She didn’t care whether you had a million dollars in the bank or no bank account at all – everyone was the same before Christ.
If there were a ministry need in the church, you could be certain that Edy would ferret it out and enlist people to address it. She was my mentor, my confidant, my benefactor, and co-conspiritor. As a child, she would drive 30-40 minutes to our apartment to pick me up to dust her house. She would tell me about the teens she and her husband would talk to about Jesus when they were a young couple as we sat eating chocolate chip cookies at her long, wooden kitchen table. Other times she would tell me how they built the church from a small group of people meeting in living rooms to the brick and mortar building it became. She would pay me, feed me, minister to me, and then drive me back home. My mom was a single parent, and she knew we could use the extra cash.
She was also shameless in her love and devotion to Christ. She would ask you tough questions and hear hard answers. I will never forget dusting in her home one afternoon when she got a phone call. Usually rather abrupt in her phone conversations, she talked to the person on the other end for a long time. Suddenly, she walked over to me and told me to speak to the drunk man on the other end of the phone. I was about 12 at the time, had no idea what to say, and was painfully shy. Go ahead, tell him about Jesus. I did. I don’t remember what I said to the man crying on the other end, but I do know that I reached deep to tell him about God’s love. I knew at that moment that it didn’t matter what his struggles were – he needed to know that Jesus wanted him to come before the throne of grace. It was a powerful lesson on respecting the inherent value of all people.
Edy never wanted anyone to acknowledge what she was doing – don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is doing. As a teenager, she helped me raise money to go on a mission trip to a foreign country. Later, she helped me raise a considerable sum of money to build a basketball court behind a neighborhood church intended to help keep kids off the street – Don’t tell Jimmy. She was instrumental in bringing Project Angel Tree to our church, which partnered us with inmates to provide Christmas gifts to their children while they were incarcerated. Whenever she invited guest speakers to Sunday evening service to give real-life testimonies of faith – you knew they would be raw and compelling. Perfectly manicured people didn’t seem to interest her nearly as much as struggling sinners, perhaps that’s why she liked Mom and me. One winter, she called me up to ask if I would babysit on Sunday nights for a program she intended to have for young parents. She would provide snacks and crafts, and I would provide care. Many years later, she sat for a whole afternoon, hemming the bridesmaid’s dress I was supposed to wear for my brother’s wedding the next day. I had just given birth to my third child a week earlier and was swamped with other preparations, Bring it over, I’ll hem it for you.
Like a true missionary, Edy met you where you were.
That is what the church is supposed to do – go out and make disciples of all nations. The church was never intended to be a gated community, hiding behind walls, preaching only to those who have similar stock holdings, skin colors, nationalities, or beliefs.
Missionary work is uncomfortable. Missionary work requires you to leave the comfort of life behind your gates and be a light to the world. Missionary work requires you to listen to the people’s needs around you and try to meet them.
Christianity should always be missionary work.
We as a church need to leave our gated Christianity behind and meet people where they are,
and that starts with caring about their struggles.
Acts 10: 34 & 35
34 Opening his mouth, Peter said:
“Most certainly I understand now that God is not one to show partiality [to people as though Gentiles were excluded from God’s blessing], 35 but in every nation the person who fears God and does what is right [by seeking Him] is acceptable and welcomed by Him.