I stand on my back deck, watching the sun tuck in behind the row of stores and parking lots that frame our west side. The afterglow reaches high into the sky, painting reds and golds and pinks. In front of that backdrop, I watch the area kids run around The Bridge’s 5-acre Cultivate Training Garden, getting ready for the upcoming Harvest Days. A few volunteers and staff are still out there, and together they are filling the corn box, arranging the layout of the event, and cleaning out the summer’s rows of produce.
It looks like a picture-perfect scene of mentor-mentee relationships: older and wiser adults working alongside children. But a perfect picture isn’t the point at all.
There’s far more going on behind the image. You see, there are the young, seeking college students looking for affirmation and a sense of a good deed done. There’s older folks getting a redo on parenting. There’s non-Christians out there, trying to make sense of faith and Jesus and what it’s supposed to look like. There’s the one trying to fill his schedule with positive activities in order to take time away from the battles he’s fighting. There’s the ones who admit, “I love coming here because the kids always run up smiling, and it makes me feel so happy.”
Those are the needs. Because, we all bring needs into ministry, into relationships. Whether they’re good or bad or immature or valid – there are needs.
Being a bridge-builder means owning our needs and being willing to let others meet them.
Friends, Jay and I brought needs into ministry, into founding The Bridge. No doubt about it. We longed for community, and God nestled us into an amazing neighborhood of refugees, many from South Sudan. These folks know how to do community way better than we do. And, truth is, I’m certain this neighborhood and these people saved us in a real sense. We’ve needed them far more than we’ve served them.
That’s a reality of so-called ministry. It’s one that doesn’t fit well into the Missions Sunday power-points, does it? Regardless, I will say it again and again and again: you are dangerous and a liability to the Kingdom if you aren’t able to acknowledge your needs and your emptiness as you build relationships with people in the name of Jesus.
- We must be in need because only then can we be the project – not other people. Then we can ask, “What can I receive and learn from this person?” and “How can I be in community with this person?” rather than, “How can I fix and help them?” One way is humbling, and the other is humiliating.
- We must acknowledge our needs because coming empty is a prerequisite for being divinely filled and equipped. Then, we can relate to people out of Jesus’ provision, not attempting to do so out of our self-sufficiency.
- And finally, we must be in need in order to see that a need is not a failure; it’s an open door leading to a relationship built on level ground, void of hierarchies, and free from the Savior-complex.
What open doors of relationships are before you? Consider putting your needy foot forward, not your best foot. Let yourself be served, humbled, filled in the most unlikely ways. After all, the best relational bridges are mutual, on even ground, and marked by reciprocity.
For additional reading on this topic, here is a post from February 2014:
One of my neighbors makes food for us consistently. At first it was a great mystery to us:
“What is the green stuff?” Okra.
“What kind of meat?” Lamb.
“How do you use this spongey-bread-type thing?” With your fingers. With your fingers.
You can eat everything with your fingers.
Sometimes the facts get lost in translation, and we don’t really know what kind of meat it is or what the ingredients are. What we do know is that it is not pizza, or cheeseburgers, or steaks. We are not in Iowa anymore.
More important than any ingredient or smell, however, is the heart and message behind the cooking.
She offers it to us. We thankfully, humbly receive it. She is the giver; we are the recipients.Two-way relationships are vital in the world of neighborhood ministry & missional living. Click To Tweet
We are not the rescuers, reaching down to others. While we have certain attributes to offer, like the ability to speak English, the opportunity to have an education, and numerous connections in this community, a true relationship includes meaningful giving and receiving from both parties. What that really means is, it is absolutely necessary to intentionally value the individuals around us.
My neighbor has talents and individual resources beyond my comprehension. Just because they don’t always fit naturally into the Western priorities and standards doesn’t make them any less notable.
She is a survivor. She has birthed more children than I have, and without pain killers, far from any hospital, crouched low over the African soil – all after a day’s work. She has crossed an ocean and arrived in a strange land with light bills and driver’s licenses. She has striven to understand a new life, with a strange white neighbor lady who goes running when nothing chases her, lets her husband cook and clean, and sits at the computer for hours. Her kids speak an unfamiliar language and represent a way of life which she struggles to understand at all. The skills she learned under the African sun, like grinding corn and cooking, are not recognized here amidst drive-thru lanes and frozen meals. Yet, she presses on.
She brings us the letters she can’t read. Jay fixes their computer, windows, plumbing. We pray with her before appointments, clear their driveway, give rides and more rides to their kids.
And, she brings me food. This week, she made us supper two times.
Tonight I could get supper on my table in less than a half hour; my cooking is simple, efficient, and very Western. Thus, her gift comes in an unlikely form, seemingly out of the scope of our life, or needs, or priorities. Yet, in order to truly value an individual, we acknowledge her contributions.
I appreciate the long hours my neighbor has taken, the cost of the meat she bought, and the care she took to make us something.
I need to value it if I value our friendship at all.
She wants to give, and the real beauty of the two-way relationship happens when I choose to receive with humility.
This month’s series is on being a bridge-builder. In short, it’s about how to be like certain individuals who let God show up in their words and deeds and forever changed our little family. But, it’s not a series about our story; it’s as series about how Redemption made our story useful, even valuable, in a greater story.
If Jay and I know anything about being a bridge-builder, it’s because we were the ones stuck on an island. If we understand anything about the power of meeting people where they are and standing in the gap, it’s because that’s how we were rescued – by God, through average people.