Who are your neighbors? Do you know their names? Their story? Their beliefs? Evaluate your relationships with them. Are you close? Distant? Would they say you care about them? What about your co-workers? Your friends? Your classmates? What does it mean to have godly relationships with the various people in your life? Are we just trying to get them to accept Jesus as their savior, or would Jesus himself want something more in our relationships with our friends? I think he would want something more!
Now think about your community. How are things going in your community? Because Faith Church’s property is located in East Lampeter Township, we focus on the township as our community. I scanned through the church directory, and nearly two-thirds of our congregation lives either in East Lampeter Township or the Conestoga Valley School District. We love that other third who are part of the family of Faith Church, and the people in the communities where they live are equally important. But Faith Church has intentionally decided that we are not a regional church. Instead we focus on our local community. This is why we strive to reach out to Smoketown Elementary School and the CV School District, including ministries and social organizations serving in our area.
So how are we doing reaching our community for Christ? What does even it mean to “reach a community for Christ”? There are many ways to answer that question. Some people believe it means giving every person in the community an opportunity to accept Jesus as their savior. Some people believe it means pursuing the mission of Jesus in the structures and systems of the community.
If that latter activity sounds vague to you, what I am getting at is something that I most clearly learned while spending time with our sister church in Chicago, Kimball Avenue. In 2010 a team from Faith Church took a trip to work with and learn from our brothers and sisters in Christ living and ministering in Chicago. I’ve been on many mission trips over the years, and that Chicago trip remains the most impactful. Why? Because Pastor Bruce Ray and his daughter Ellen walked our team around the city, helping us see what their church has seen over the years. What did they see? In one word: injustice. During that week, our team’s eyes were opened to God’s heart for justice.
When our team returned to Lancaster the following week, with newly opened eyes, guess what we now saw? Lush farmland, gorgeous neighborhoods, a very healthy school district, and many successful businesses, including a vibrant tourist industry. East Lampeter Township is vastly different from urban Chicago, and we didn’t see injustice anywhere.
At least not at first.
It was as if our eyes needed time to get adjusted to a new light. Little by little the signs of hurt, pain, and yes, injustice became apparent here too.
Why do school buses stop to pick up children at hotels on Lincoln Highway? Why does the CVSD have more homeless students than any other school district in the county, except for the School District of Lancaster? Why does the principal of Smoketown Elementary have to drive students to various medical appointments? What ramifications are there when you consider that there are 30+ languages spoken in the student body of Smoketown Elementary? Why does the East Lampeter Township Police Department spend a lot of time addressing human trafficking?
Don’t get me wrong. East Lampeter Township and the CVSD is truly a wonderful place to live. But there is a shadow side here, and it breaks Jesus’ heart. With that in mind, what is God’s heart for your relationships in your life, in your community? This coming week we continue our mini-series about Relationships, this time focusing on how to apply the Fruit of the Spirit to our relationships in our communities.
Photo by Matt Donders on Unsplash