in the margins: living vs visiting

Doing life with others takes time. It is time lived out in the ordinary mundane routines, the special occasions, the crises, and the joys of celebration.

About fifty kids from preschool up to high school hung out in our church gym last night. Some played full-court basketball as I refereed. Others, primarily the girls, made crafts or painted their fingernails. There was pizza and other goodies. Some parents hung out with us. There were Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and non-religious people. We enjoyed a nice evening of conversation, fun, and learning each other’s customs.

For those of us who are Christians and who led the event, we committed to this and other gatherings with no other agenda than to love like Jesus loved. We recognize that developing trust with people takes time. It is about relationships. No hidden agendas. Just a commitment to love well. Much ground was gained last night. Old friendships rekindled. New friendships poised to blossom.

These kinds of relationships fare better when we commit to living among the lost and within the margins of their daily routines, rather than remaining content to step in and out as occasional interlocutors. Let’s face it: if we only approach people in relation to something we want them to do, or even that we hope to do for them, they will rightly come to expect that our relationship with them is contingent on an agenda having little or nothing to do with loving them and befriending them simply because of who they are: human beings made in God’s image. That surely is not our intent, but it is often the result of our efforts.

This is why I prefer to spend most of my time with people with no fliers in my hands, no mention of this event or that opportunity, and instead simply enjoy their company. You know, asking about their day, their lives, their needs, their hurts, their accomplishments. Kinda like the young man in middle school who just received an academic excellence award. He showed it to us last night. We celebrated with him. He beamed with pride.

We choose to do life in the margins where often the world simply doesn’t care. This means living among them and loving well vs merely visiting on our terms to inform them of our agendas which may, or may not appeal to them. As we learn to love well, we gain cross-cultural competence and sensitivity. In the case of yesterday evening, we limited photography, understanding that some people do not want their photo taken. We remembered that Muslims will not eat beef products due to religious restrictions. Most of all, we are learning that people are people the world over with similar emotions, desires, and needs. Yet we can be very different based on our unique life experiences, and cultural and religious backgrounds.

Is it sometimes hard and perplexing? Absolutely. Impossible, if we plan only to occasionally visit. But that is not our intent. We want to love well, love consistently, and represent Jesus with honor, pointing people of all nations, tribes, ethnicities, and religions to the person of Jesus and his work on the cross.

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