When I was in college 15+ years ago, service learning projects were becoming quite popular. One professor in particular, Dr. Annette Sisson, led this trend on our campus. At the same time, a renewal effort was underway near our campus in Nashville to revitalize an area that is know as 12th Avenue South, and Dr. Sisson, her husband, and their three kids, moved into that neighborhood as part of the effort (an amazing work that has succeeded, by the way).
In a Victorian literature class that I took with Dr. Sisson my last semester of college, we tutored children after school in a low-income area. I’ll never forget something that Dr. Sisson told us as we were discussing this project. She said, “When something bad happens on campus – something is stolen or vandalized – we assume that someone in the neighborhood did it. But when the same things happen in the neighborhood, they assume one of the college students did it.”
Rewind a few more years. The summer before I left for college, my youth group took a mission trip to St. Charles, Kentucky, a very rural, very poor, former coal-mining town. We worked with children and visited with their families for a week. It was hard work, but so rewarding. Before we left, we drove past a small, attractive, neatly-kept General Baptist church on the edge of the town. The building stood in stark contrast to what we had seen in the town below … and there was no evidence that they were doing anything to better the lives of the people in the town.
In every town, village, and city, there are “areas” – “these” people and “those” people. But, here’s the thing: I find that I cannot keep closing my eyes to the physical and spiritual needs of the world. As a Christ-follower, I am called to “those” people. Jesus certainly went to them – in their neighborhoods, on their side of town. He did not wait for them to come to him.
He fed the 5,000 and more. He ate with the tax collectors. He sat with the Samaritan woman at the well. He was not ashamed to be seen with them. He played with their children. He laughed and cried, celebrated and mourned with them.
And today, I sit at my computer in my middle-class subdivision, surrounded by more than enough, and there are people who live within one mile of my home and my church who do not know that they too are welcome at the Table. People who are daily forgotten by society. Men, women, and children who need to see and feel the tangible love of Christ – and those of us who claim the name of Christ are the only way that this will ever happen.
I am sick of being an overstuffed Christian, soaking in every good thing only for myself and giving nothing to others in return. I am sick of bickering over music, buildings, and church coffers. We are a bloated and overfed generation of Christians, and it is time to make radical sacrifices.
Will you join me?