29. Somewhere Out There
Somewhere out there is a five-year-old boy who doesn’t know that right now plans are being made by a congregation he’s never heard of to offer a neighborhood vacation Bible school that will change the direction of his life. The songs he will sing will stick in his mind, the stories of Jesus will enliven his imagination. The puppet show will make him laugh, the teacher will make him feel loved and welcomed, and the hospitality of those followers of Christ will so touch his mom and dad that they will take a small, unexpected step toward faith.
Somewhere out there is an elderly woman who feels as if everyone has forgotten her. Her world has shrunk to her small apartment, the weekly trips to the grocery store, and the visits to the doctor’s office. Her television has become her best friend. She doesn’t know it, but right now a nearby congregation has awakened to the calling of God to invite people like her to a weekly lunch and to a chance to serve others. Soon she’ll use her long-neglected skills to knit baby blankets that will wrap medical supplies bound for Central America, and this taste of community will save her life and give her a rebirth she never imagined possible.
Somewhere out there in a rural Philippine village, a young couple strive to cope with the unexpected loss of their daughter in a flood that washed away their home. They don’t realize it now, but even as they grieve neighbors are holding them in prayer and asking God for the best way to surround them with the love of Christ. They cannot imagine now how the stories of faith, the songs of worship, and the embrace of strangers will move them step by step toward a sense of life they thought they would never see again.
Somewhere out there is a teacher who thinks no one else cares about the children she has given her life to serving. Her schoolroom is rundown, and there’s less money now than ever before to provide the resources she needs to do her job. She has no idea that a congregation is preparing for a new ministry that will change her circumstances. Six months from now she will weep with joy as strangers repaint and refurbish her classroom. She cannot imagine that droves of people will step forward to volunteer to tutor, to read stories, and to coach basketball. She has no inkling of the effect this will have on her and on her students, and how this will open the door by which she rediscovers her own faith in Christ.
Somewhere out there is a young man whose inability to cope with the basic mechanisms of daily living has caused him to lose his job, to stop taking his medication, and to slip through the cracks of every social, community, and family network. He kept falling until now he sleeps on the streets, carries cardboard for bedding, and digs through trash for dinner. He has no idea that a congregation is gearing up to offer a soup kitchen, and that this ministry will change his life. He cannot imagine that as he is served a meal, someone will engage him in conversation, treat him as human, listen to his story, learn his name, and reconnect him to his family and to the social networks that will allow him to live again a basic life with dignity. He has no idea that God, working through people desiring to follow Christ, will restore him to a life he barely remembers.
Somewhere out there in an African village a young girl and her little sister read stories together in bed, both of them safely protected by a mosquito net bought by the youth of a rural church in the American Midwest. No one can see it now, but she will grow up to become a doctor, relieving the suffering of thousands. She will live a full life that never would have been possible without a simple net and many generous young hearts across the globe.
When United Methodists work toward starting congregations and strengthening congregations and leading congregations, these are not merely attempts at institutional survival. Learning to deepen our life in Christ through congregations and to extend the outreach of Christ through faith communities are not merely submitting to worldly, corporate models of growth and success. Forming congregations are a means by which we cooperate with the Holy Spirit in fulfilling the purposes of Christ. Through people changed by belonging to the body of Christ, God transforms the world. God uses congregations to fulfill the mission revealed to us in Christ; increasing the number of vital congregations deserves our best and highest insights, efforts, resources, and attention.
Somewhere out there, somewhere in Texas or California or New Jersey or Norway or Mozambique, somewhere in a town like yours or a neighborhood near you is a person who has no idea of the change that is coming his way or the grace that will transform her life, a person unknowingly prepared by the Spirit of God to receive the embrace of Christ that people will offer when they come alive with purpose and fulfill the mission of Christ.
Somewhere out there is a person God plans to use you to reach. Somewhere out there is a person God will use to change your life as you reach them. Somewhere out there is a person for whom Christ died, and for whom your church was built, and for whom God has uniquely prepared you to reach.
*Today’s post is adapted from the devotional book The Balancing Act by Robert Schnase (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2009). Used by permission.
Who are the “somewhere out there” people you and your congregation are reaching?
Has your congregation ever helped start a congregation? How do you, your church, and your conference work to strengthen the ministry of Christ through congregations?
Who are you uniquely qualified and perfectly situated to touch with the grace and ministry of Christ whom no one else can possibly reach?
For further exploration, contemplate I John 3:17-19 from The Message. What does it mean to suggest that our inaction makes God’s love disappear?