Evangelism is More Than Words

Image - wordsJuly 2012

By Bob Lupton – FCS Urban Ministries

I had done my best to explain to a church group the difference between serving and partnering. I had described how developing the poor requires an entirely different strategy from traditional service methods that “do for” those in need. I explained that when you do for people what they have the capacity to do for themselves you actually weaken rather than strengthen them. I gave practical examples of how lending and investing, how sharing technological knowledge and connecting isolated people with new markets, enabled whole villages to emerge from poverty. I told them that if we measured actual outcomes rather than merely activities we would have a much better gauge for the effectiveness of our missions.

Then it was Q & A time. “I see what you are saying about developing the poor,” the first pushback came, “but how do you bring the Gospel into this?” I understood the question. It came from the familiar evangelical premise that the most loving thing we can do for the poor (for anyone) is to share the Gospel with them. The soul is eternal while the body is only temporal. Eternal salvation, then, is the primary concern to God. Evangelism, not economic development, should be the primary task of missions. Right?

It was an honest question, one that deserved a reasoned response.

Four decades of living among marginalized people has expanded my early understanding of the Gospel. The Good News, I have come to believe, is about more than individual salvation. It includes personal salvation, to be sure, but it also involves the transformation of fragmented communities, of unjust institutions, of oppressive systems. The Gospel is Good News for the whole of creation. Even the environment. It is about Shalom, well-being, a prevailing peace.

There may be good reason why the Great Commission to “preach the Gospel to every nation” was preceded by the earlier (and much ignored) New Command “to love each other as I have loved you.” This prior command – Christ’s parting words on His last night with His disciples – would be the validating evidence of His divinity and the identifying mark of His followers. Without this visible demonstration of self-sacrificing unity, Christ’s deity as well as the authenticity of those who claim to follow Him would be questionable. This is more than rhetoric. Dis-unity actually eviscerates the power of the message. I see the Gospel undermined by aggressive evangelizers who blitz inner-city neighborhoods, collecting decision cards, never bothering to meet, even acknowledge, the saints who populate these very streets. I see affluent (naïve though very sincere) young people who fly into impoverished lands to “lead the lost to Christ” never imagining that God may be already powerfully at work among His destitute people. I see how denominations set up competing congregations in the same villages that promote member loyalty by devaluing, even “un-christianizing,” other groups of believers. Evangelism that does not flow from the New Command may actually do more to thwart the purposes of the Kingdom than to advance it.

And so, my response to the inquirer? Step one: identify the saints – all the saints, not just those of my political persuasion or theological stripe – and discover how God is at work in their lives. What I will likely discover is that the body of Christ is already embedded within most cultures, badly broken perhaps, but clearly present. Pentecostals judging Baptists, Evangelicals de-christianizing Catholics, believers split along doctrinal and political fault lines. To plant a new church would fragment them all the more. The best Good News for a fractured society is the Great Command (love God and neighbor) championed by serious devotees to the New Command (love each other). The Great Commission (proclamation) is a predictable outcome, a by-product, not an end in itself. Skipping over the two bed-rock Commands on the way to fulfilling the Great Commission is like erecting houses without foundations.

Thus, Christian community development work begins where people are, with their felt needs, the issues of greatest concern to the whole village – like clean drinking water, for example. A well may be a real need but it could be quite expensive and very labor intensive. It would involve more than merely drilling a hole in the ground. An adequate aqueduct system to serve 250 homes scattered across many acres would require a pumping station, a water tower, thousands of meters of pipe. The community must decide if this indeed is their top priority. If it is, community development wisdom requires that local residents be first investors with cash, not just labor. That means fundraisers and family contributions. A water commission must be formed to manage both water flow and cash flow. A project management team must be assembled. There are trenches to dig, pipes to lay, materials to be stored and guarded, food to prepare. It is a project that requires the participation of every household who wishes to have fresh water flowing to their home. And, of course, nearly everyone does. In the process neighbors join hands across barriers that have divided them, perhaps for generations. Labels are set aside as needed talents are identified and put to use. Devout church-goers and neighbors with no expressed faith sweat together in the sweltering sun and take breaks together under the shade of mango trees. It is an important community development project that greatly improves the quality of life of the village, and increases the skills and leadership capacities of villagers. But it is more. It is a unifying effort that brings estranged believers into relationship with each other.

It happened just this way in rural Nicaragua. When villagers observed their neighbor Anita, a Catholic and outspoken member of the Sandinista socialist party, working closely with Don Blas, an elder Baptist pastor and loyal member of the conservative party, eyebrows raised. Two saints, staunch political adversaries, separated by theologies that view the other as heretics, teamed up to bring water to their village – it was enough to stir curiosity in the conversations of their community. But when neighbors saw their relationship deepen and smiles and hugs of genuine affection exchange between the two, hearts were melted. “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples…” When the followers of Jesus set aside differences, even deeply held ones, to demonstrate care for their neighbors (like providing water), such behaviors become visible. “Father, make them one so that the world will know that you sent me…” When the followers of Jesus yield not only personal preferences but suspend deeply held convictions in deference to one another, a witness of powerful impact is unleashed.

And so to my questioner who asks “How do you bring the Gospel into this work?” I answer: begin with the fundamentals. The great command and the new command will take you where you need to go. As St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel and use words when necessary.”

This article was re-published from www.fcsministries.com and written by founder and CEO Bob Lupton of Atlanta, Georgia. Bob is a Christian community developer, an entrepreneur who brings together communities of resource with communities of need. Through FCS Urban Ministries – a non-profit organization which he founded – he has developed two mixed income subdivisions, organized a multi-racial congregation, started a number of businesses, created housing for hundreds of families and initiated a wide range of human services in his community. He is the author of the books Theirs in the Kingdom, Return Flight, Renewing the City, Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life and the widely circulated “Urban Perspectives”, monthly reflections on the Gospel and the poor. Bob has a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Georgia. He serves as speaker, strategist, and inspirer with those throughout the nation who seek to establish God’s Shalom in the city.

Success Story –Socorro/ Montana Vista

Jose Rayas – Valley Ridge Ministries

According to the latest statistics, there are approximately 30 million deaf people in the United States. But what is disturbing is that only a small percentage of them attend church. In fact, the number of churches serving the deaf has been decreasing.

So, what can a community do? In East El Paso, Valley Ridge proposed to do something about it: to conduct sign classes in order to have the hearing and the deaf to have a way to communicate. To this end, Valley Ridge has teamed up with Ms. Tiffany, who teaches American Sign Language, and interprets for the court.

As these classes progressed in Socorro, the community of Montana Vista has also answered to the call, and has teamed up with the Spanish Baptist Church in Montana Vista, which has provided a place for Ms. Tiffany to teach a second American Sign Language Class.

Given the fact that El Paso has close to 1 million inhabitants, it is of great importance to continue these classes since there are only two deaf churches in El Paso County.

When Is It a Good Thing to Cancel a Class?

Jose Rayas – Valley Ridge Ministries

Over the years we have been here in Socorro/Montana Vista, we have seen programs cancelled due to low or decreasing enrollment. In part one has to admit that interest and benefits may be no longer suitable for the maturity level of the community. So when is it a good thing to cancel a class?

At Valley Ridge we have been holding ESL classes at the church since early September of last year. And we at the beginning had a group of approximately 20 students. At the end of March, the students themselves were talking about cancelling the class. But it was a good thing. Since the class started, 8 students secured gainful employment, and 4 started studying at the local community college in the spring semester. This leaves us with 8 students, all of whom have the desire to continue, but are also considering further studies, whether it be obtaining a GED, or attending Community College.

Of those who have exited the program, one stands out because of his vision to give back to the community.

Alejandro began the ESL class over a year ago. He was depressed, couldn’t get a job and in general, felt useless. He was encouraged to see God’s wisdom in bringing him to class and making good use of his time. First, he found a part time job at a temporary agency. Upon learning about his abilities, we worked with him to sharpen his skills.

At the present time, Alejandro has been working full time. And in addition to this, he has been giving volunteer time (5 hours per week) as a tutor at San Jacinto Community Center.

But the story does not stop there. Alejandro has made a conscious effort to be an example to the community of what can be accomplished when several people and programs can work together. We hope to see those he tutors as future tutors and leaders in the community.

Teens in Action

 

Pictured above are Ivan, Jose, Rosalba, Barbara, Jim and Mario

One of the goals of community development is to secure the future of the community. This desire has been reflected in the association between Teens in Action, Gangs for Jesus, Sunshine Community Church and Valley Ridge Community Church. As this association has become more mature, this cooperation is developing a joint venture to tend to the health of the local youth. We look forward to this joint cooperation and the benefits that it will bring to the community as it becomes involved in the community development process.

 

Montana Vista Story of Transformation

Often times we look at short term impacts when dealing with community development. However, the best indicator of transformation is in the long term. Several years ago, when community development started, it was the parents who were first touched by ESL classes. Since then, these parents have taught their children to succeed.

It must be noted that these children had also been influenced by former Americorps interns Maria del Rosario Arreola, Mayela Lucero and David Gonzalez.  At the present time, Genesis, Griselda and Ivonne are now attending college with a vision of helping impulse the community of Montana Vista toward progress. Ivonne, in particular, is working and studying to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and has the desire to stay within the community of Montana Vista.

In addition to this, several former students, like Claudia, have secured and kept their jobs for at least three years.

Valley Ridge Story of Transformation

Over the last few months much has changed and matured at Valley Ridge. For instance, all the students who took the citizenship class at Valley Ridge Community Church have passed the exam and will be sworn in as US citizens between the end of January and February of 2011.

In addition to this, Alejandro, a former ESL student at Valley Ridge, has passed his GED, has secured a full time job, and is now volunteering time on the weekends to tutor in Math. Hilda and her Sister Blanca are now volunteering their time to help the Ronald McDonald house here in El Paso.

In reference to the political process, the community has come together and succeeded in getting a public vote to remove the Mayor of Socorro and one council member. The vote will take place at the end of January, and a special election will most likely take place by May to elect a new Mayor and council member.

From ESL to Advocate

Ana Martinez started attending ESL classes in Montana Vista about a year and a half ago.

Since then her self esteem and confidence level have increased to the point that she is now involved in the community and speaking publicly on behalf of the community. One such instance took place on March 8. As the community of Montana Vista is becoming involved in the political process, they have engaged the department of Justice to effect true immigration reform. On March 8 Ana worked with the “Red Fronteriza” (The Border Network for Immigration) and spoke to community members as well as Justice Department personnel. In addition to this, they are currently organizing an immigration rally that will take place on April 10, 2010. It is awesome to see Ana involved in this as she is also encouraging others to seek justice for the community.

In addition to this, Ana is encouraging the young adults graduating from High School as she has gone with them to fill out applications for study grants and acceptance into the local community colleges.

Transformation Through ESL and Financial Literacy

Over the last six month community members have been gathering at the Spanish Baptist Church for ESL classes and to learn financial management.

One person who has excelled in both is Bertha Guerrero. Her language skills have improved from a level one to a level 3 in less than a year. In addition to this both she and her husband have put into practice what they have learned. His business is turning a profit for the first time, and their personal finances have improved to the point of almost being debt free. They expect to be debt free within a couple of years.

Another Success story is Eva Macias. In the past both she and her husband, have been financially strapped. But after learning how to manage their money and be good stewards of God’s blessings, they have created and implemented a financial plan that is helping them get out of debt. They have gone from being in the red every month, to being able to save $100 dollars a month on average. In addition to this, Eva has been using what she has learned in the ESL class to help her children in school and to tutor other neighborhood children.

Socorro Texas, Developing Christian Community

Socorro Texas: Developing Christian Community from CFA Videos on Vimeo.


People in Socorro Texas share how they have started to build a Christian Community.
Posted: May 5, 2008 DOWNLOAD QUICKTIME
Community Organizing
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