By Rick Lawrence
Vibrant Faith Executive Director
Several years ago I was talking with Ron Belsterling, at the time a professor of youth ministry at Nyack College in New York, about an experience he had when he was pursuing his doctoral degree. Ron convinced a church to experiment with an outreach trip that targeted a nearby inner-city neighborhood instead of the youth group’s traditional overseas trip that included four days of “ministry” and six days of fun on the beach. Parents who were fine about their kids going on a cross-cultural mission/fun trip were very worried about them walking the streets of an urban neighborhood that was just 20 minutes away.
One night Ron and the kids on his outreach trip looked out the window of the urban ministry center where they were staying and saw two men viciously kicking a woman who was high on drugs, and therefore unable to defend herself or run away. Ron turned to these protected, wide-eyed middle-class kids and asked, “What are we going to do about this?”
The kids said, “Well, we can’t go down there!”
Ron answered, “Why not? Down there is where Jesus would be.”
The kids responded: “What can we do? The only thing we know how to do is sing!” (Most of the kids on the outreach were part of the church’s respected youth choir.)
Ron fired back, “Well, let’s go down there and sing, then. We’ll give what Jesus has given us to give.”
So the whole group trooped down to the street, stood on the opposite sidewalk, and started singing. The two guys kicking the woman looked up, startled, and then immediately ran away in fear. The woman then crawled across the street and lay down in the middle of the kids as they continued singing. Meanwhile, Ron offered to help the woman find safety and medical help.
That night, those kids followed the “beeline to Jesus” that Ron found for them—they learned what it’s like to be rescuers, just like Jesus. And the wall separating their faith from their real life crumbled a little more.
As ministry leaders we’re often engaged with people who, like Ron’s youth-group kids, don’t believe they have anything of consequence to offer others. They don’t see any connection between what they have and what others need. But Jesus sees our “assets” differently…
In Mark 12, He is surrounded by the conspiratorial “teachers of the law” in the Temple. After He fights his way through their traps He escapes to a lonely corner near the collection box. There he watches a parade of rich people showboating their large donations. These people bore him. But the poor widow who slides past the box unnoticed, dropping in “two small coins,” rivets his attention: “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others… They gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she…has given everything.”
The woman offers two lepta, which together add up to a quadrans, or 1/64 of a day’s wage. In today’s currency, she’s dropping $1.10 into the box, and this is all she has. And Jesus trumpets the overlooked courage of those who go all-in because all-in defines his heart and, therefore, defines kingdom-of-God culture. While the rich may obey the biblical principle of tithing, Jesus celebrates the heart behind the widow’s all-in. She empties herself, the same way He will soon empty himself on the cross. Jesus loves it when we admit we have nearly nothing to contribute but give it all anyway. What if our mission in the lives of those we serve is simply to surface and celebrate their “two lepta’s,” then help them find ways to “give what they have to give.”
• The amateur or professional mechanic who uses the church parking lot, one Saturday a month, to offer free car maintenance to those who need it.
• The crafter who organizers other crafters in the church to make confirmation gifts or hospitality baskets for visitors to the church.
• The engineer or math whiz who uses a church meeting room to offer after-school tutoring to kids who need it.
• The lawyer who can advocate for reduced sentences or early release for those in your community whose crimes were committed when they were young
The list could go on and on… Everyone has something to give that seems like nothing but is actually a treasure. Let’s help distribute the treasure…
Rick Lawrence is Executive Director of Vibrant Faith. He’s the general editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible, and author of 40 books, including The Jesus-Centered Life and the new daily devotional Jesus-Centered Daily. His new book, The Suicide Solution, was just released.