Continuing in our 3-part series on our family’s recent road trip to Las Cruces, NM, where we spent a couple of days working with the El Calvario UMC “Resiliency” justice mission, supporting migrant and refugee families.
1 – First, during this trip, we all received confirmation of what we’d already known – that following the call to serve the “least of these” in any society almost always requires a confrontation with, and often even a stance of defiance against, the systems of hierarchy and power that structure that society.
Those who hold the power – those who are “in charge” of the system – generally won’t be sympathetic towards efforts to empower and promote the integrity of those designated to the “lower” social levels.
To be clear, “hand-outs” from the superior levels of benevolence will be generally applauded. But any support from the “upper ranks” of the system will consistently stop short of any engagement that may enfranchise or empower those “least of these” in any authentic manner.
2 – Additionally, if those who come to serve in these sacred spaces actually inhabit the upper ranks within the system – as our family does – then “confrontation” of that system will require authentic, face-to-the-floor repentance.
It’s been necessary to reflect again on Paul’s vivid description of the “system” as it functions and supports the Church, the “Body of Jesus Christ,” in 1 Corinthians 12: 20-26:
As it is, there are many parts, but one Body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the Body that seem by the world to be “weaker” are recognized in the Body as indispensable, and the parts that the world sees as less honorable, we in the Body treat with special honor. And the parts that are “unpresentable” in the world are treated in the Body with special care and modesty, while those most “honored and presentable” parts need no special treatment in the Body.
But it is God Who has put the Body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it in the world, so that there should be no division in the Body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers in the world, every part of the Body of Christ suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
In our short time with the humble, courageous, sacrificial brothers and sisters we met who are serving and sharing the gospel at El Calvario UMC, we were compelled and convicted to ask ourselves some hard questions:
Do our congregations at home actually reflect the Body of Jesus Christ?
Or are we simply calling ourselves “the Body,” while still ceding to the rancid, corroded systems of the world?
3 – Finally, we’ve seen “working” churches before while traveling and living abroad. In Torino, Italy, the space the migrant congregation that we were a part of used for their Sunday service was actually a common room in the basement of the church. That room was used throughout the week for various events. So, each Sunday morning, a few folks in the congregation would come in early to make sure chairs were set out and straight. After the service everyone would help put the congregation’s service items away in a shared closet, in order to clear the space for other groups that would use the room during the week.
In Tallinn, Estonia, the Salvation Army used their sanctuary space during the week for clothing drives, soup kitchens, and other gatherings. It was the responsibility of the last service team of the week to be sure the room was set up for the Sunday morning worship service when they finished up.
But truthfully, El Calvario UMC is one of the very few “working” churches that I’ve ever encountered in the U.S. United Methodist Church (and really in any denomination, but I should clean out my own house first).
When I consider Jesus’ parable of the talents – when I consider what it means to “invest” and not “bury” the gifts that we have in our wonderful buildings and grounds and facilities around the UMC – then I believe that El Calvario UMC may be an example of what “investing” and “multiplying” looks like in a community (as opposed to the countless UMC buildings that sit empty – or “buried” – most Mondays-Saturdays).
Now comes the hard part – prayerfully asking that crucial question, “Ok, Father, so what do we do with this?” Of course, we understand that the systems in which we live and function aren’t going to be naturally inclined towards the sort of service and engagement that we saw at El Calvario UMC and Resiliency. We also understand that this type of service makes many folks – even folks in a lot of our congregations – very uncomfortable.
Finally, we have learned that a journey of any real significance can only be navigated one step at a time, and is often much more meaningful when we’re able to walk alongside brothers and sisters who find themselves moving in the same direction. So as we’re praying about next steps that we can take in the place where God has us settled in this season – next steps towards connecting and serving in those communities which we see to be the most vulnerable among us – we appreciate very much your praying with us.
Clearly, there are connecting points with our ongoing work abroad in border zones and refugee camps. While COVID has limited our ability to travel and engage as we have before, we are thankful for God’s directing our steps to engage “locally” in this time of travel restriction. We see it as further revelation to be able to meet these precious souls while “on the move” and now see the possibilities of where they may end up on the other side of asylum.
And if in your time of prayer and discernment, you find that a small part of you feels so inclined, then please reach out to us. Let’s make a plan to connect for a time of prayer and conversation together around these issues, around these precious sons and daughters of our heavenly Father, and towards practical, meaningful ways that we may see God calling us to move forward together, in His name, and to His glory.
Thank you so much for checking in! Blessings and peace.
Miki and Charlie