As God continues his work in us, we become more beautiful to those who are looking.
Jesus spoke about caring for “the least of these.”
Who are they? There are some people with whom I enjoy friendship but I don’t view them as marginalized. Maybe “the least of these” are the people I have very little time for. Whoever they are, there was a growing conviction that I needed to begin to intentionally invest in them. Jesus speaks about them (Matthew 25), so I began to ask God for greater understanding.
While attending worldview meetings in Hong Kong, I asked God to help me find one of “the least of these.” I didn’t know where to find them or what they looked like. I didn’t know what to do with them. I simply had a growing longing to care for them and participate in their lives.
Upon my return home, I found a petition in my mailbox, unsigned ~ from a concerned neighbor. Apparently we had a rehabilitation house in our neighborhood and this individual believed its residents were a danger to our children. It was very much a letter about, “Not in my backyard.” The notice provided selected information about this group. I went to the Internet and explored the accusations.
A second, unsigned flier was placed in my mailbox a week later from a concerned neighbor, asking us to join an online petition to have this house removed. They also urged us to go to a meeting at city hall to voice our opposition to this home. In the meantime, we had discovered that this home was operated by Christians. Its policies were based on a discipleship model of education and accountability. The men in this house were behaving responsibly and even came forward and exposed a marijuana grow operation down the street. They were instrumental in having it shut down.
My wife and I determined to attend that meeting. Many opinions were voiced. Many assumptions were shared. Emotion flowed. The men in that house, exposed to the onslaught, felt very little support from their community. The symptoms of veiled prejudice weren’t hard to identify.
No one had visited these men in their home. No one had seen who lived there and what was done there. No one had offered to help and encourage these men to get off drugs. Almost everyone wanted them to leave our neighborhood. And no one was asking whether this rehabilitation house was part of the problem or part of the solution? These men had shut down a grow op. These men were no longer on the street consuming drugs, and some were no longer stealing cars and breaking into homes. These men had families and wanted their lives back. They felt no encouragement from the neighborhood but they continued on in their commitment to doing the best they could. Imagine the outcome if their neighbors encouraged them, visited them, mentored them.
So I stood in defense of that home. I openly stated I wanted them in our neighborhood. I warned about being careful to not fight part of the solution out of fear. No one wants to place their children at risk. Be wise. Be responsible. Recognize that someone needs to stand and be accounted for. The next day, Nancy made some pastry and we, with our two youngest daughters, went and visited the nine men. They were kind men, good men committed to get- ting off drugs, wanting to grow in all aspects of their lives, including their spiritual understanding. They had been studying the Bible together but couldn’t find anyone to come and guide them.
Love is a risk. Love is humbling. Love is not without cost. But love changes you. It isn’t hard to reach out into your own community when it is the byproduct of God’s transforming work in your life. It feels very natural. Be careful to not put the cart before the horse. God is transforming you. He does it most effectively as you give yourself to others. Remember Moses’ words: “(Lord) If your presence does not go with us, do not send us from here” (Ex. 33:15 NIV).
As God continues his work in us, we become more beautiful to those who are looking. We give back to those around us what God has given to us. That includes our knowledge of God (an example being the salvation story). It also includes mercy, grace and justice.
We lost the group housing fight on a technicality. The house was located five meters too close to a public school. The battle, however, for our communities is not over.