Outreach is such a loaded word. What do we mean by it? Evangelization? Social justice? Being a friend? Being available? Humbling ourselves? All of these at some point? What is outreach and why is it important?
I think outreach means exactly what it says. We reach out to our neighbors, our co-workers, our friends, and our acquaintances. We find ways to serve, to listen, to give, and to love. We do so in a way that reflects the character of Jesus, combining his love for people with his willingness to engage them in conversation. All of this is motivated by a desire to live out and share the message of the gospel.
Every Wednesday evening, since the beginning of July, I have been going across the street from my church to pick up a group of children so they can come to Power Club Kids. I have begun to develop friendships with the children and their parents. There are two children, both elementary age girls, who are forbidden by their mother to come. They are Muslim. In the opinion of their mother, Christians are pagans. So, she disallows their participation. Yet they dearly want to come. Tonight I asked the oldest, an 11 year old, if she might introduce me to her mother soon. She was hesitant at first. I told her that I was not going to try to convince her mother about whose religion is right or even to allow the children to come to church. I simply want to ask a few questions pertaining to my research study. I asked the girl to tell her mother that I want to learn from her by understanding how she views her responsibility for her children’s spiritual upbringing. The girl said she would be happy to introduce me, but that she would have to translate. So, next week, I am going to go there early to see if I can spend some time with their parents.
After I brought the kids to church tonight, we began our activities. We had a couple of puppet shows, fun music, lots of silliness while learning about Adam and Eve and how they named all the animals. Part way through the music I realized that the two girls were outside the church window, peaking in since the blinds were drawn and the window was open. They watched and listened intently, having obviously come without permission of their mother. My heart went out to them, so I chose to allow them to watch from outside. When the puppet show was done, they went home. My heart went with them, as well as with all the children and families in that community.
Outreach is a labor of love. It is not convenient. It can spark misunderstanding. There can be setbacks after months of relationship building. It can be a lonely process when it feels like many do not personally see the value so that it affects their willingness to participate. Yet, it is necessary. It is necessary to move forward even if it seems like few are willing to come alongside to help in the responsibility of ministry.
It is the kind of thing that Jesus did when he dined with the tax collector who was despised among all men of his day, much like cheating executives are loathed in our culture. It brings to mind Jesus’ willingness to converse with the Samaritan woman at the well, when others cringed and wrung their hands because of the wrongs others from her ethnicity had done, not to mention the fact that she was an unattended female in a middle-eastern context. I think that if Jesus were walking the face of the earth today, he would be the first to converse with Muslim people. I think he would bridge gaps now, as he did then, so that real communication could be possible. I pray that Jesus will shine through me in such a way that builds bridges, dissolves misunderstanding, and creates authentic friendship and trust so that the extraneous stuff which so easily distracts may give way to the gospel of Jesus Christ.