Monika Grasley and I caught a coffee together yesterday and instantly enjoyed our time together. We shared our stories with each other and spoke of the deep joy found in connecting intentionally with people not to just convert people and win notches on our belts for Jesus, but to connect in a way that shows we value people and want them to know God’s specific and caring attention toward them and through them. When community members sense they are a project, they are going to respond negatively or at minimum not value the relationship and long-term possibilities of the connection you form with them. It becomes all too quickly an “us and them” situation.
Monika shared her story with me and how LifeLine came into existence. I’m hooked! What a wonderful vision that is so on-point with what Jesus leaves us on this earth to do until we see Him face to face. If we are His disciples, we’re here to conduct ourselves in the way He did and communicate in the ways He did, connecting with people for their earthly good, showing them we care about their difficult place, but having Jesus and Heaven in our hearts for them to know in time. Instead of quick interactions and conversions in a weekend, we’re called to build relationship and value people as actual friends and long-term community-building team mates so-to-speak. When we connect with people like Monika models for us, we go to the hard places and look for relationship, not conversions. We connect with and value people. They see that we aren’t notching our belt like the dozens of other workers who have entered their lives with hot dogs and bounce houses (not criticizing this weekender approach too harshly, but hear out Monika’s approach). When we come into a manner of relationship with “them” we count them as us. This is what Christ blew people away with over and over again. He went to those we don’t want to include in our lives, and “they” at one point included “us”. We have all at one point been someone other believers weren’t seeking out. As we were engaged with and related with, Jesus won us over to seeing His eyes and loving Him and wanting Him as Master and Lord and Savior forever.
Monika and her team at LifeLine – SEE LINK model and disciples us high-brow believers in getting down and elbow deep into relationships in neighborhoods we might avoid otherwise. I’m joining her here and now to encourage the local churches in my two counties of origin to connect in lasting ways in the neighborhoods we otherwise avoid. The model of ministry Monika models so well is called ABCD (Asset-Based Community Development). Instead of coming into the community and off-loading goods and services because “they need it,” we should do more of getting off our high horse and building relationships. Coming to neighborhoods with relationship and coaching as the hope, looking for the strengthes members of these neighborhoods already have and cultivating/encouraging them on in benefiting their neighborhood and community and world. When we engage in this way, we are following Christ’s example of coming into the world of not-so-impressive and realizing how precious and valuable each person is in God’s eyes. As we listen and encourage, we become more understanding and discerning, and we see our fears become smaller and smaller, our discomforts diminishing.
It was pretty cool that right after I met with Monika and then had one other meeting, I had a forty minute engagement with a couple of people in a park in Turlock. A friend, Kristen, pointed out that a woman didn’t have any socks on and was laying in the grass. I happened to have an extra pair of socks in my messy car, so after giving them to her, the man near her and I got into a really good conversation. So much of what Monika had just shared with me kept rushing into my mind. Manuel and I spoke for a good forty minutes, and he had a wonderful friend he had to tell me about, Debbie. He kept saying, “Oh, she’s the man! Well, you know. She’s not a man, but it’s a figure of speech!” He would give me this huge smile and tell me about Debbie who over-sees the men’s shelter in Atwater. He said he’s started to pick flowers from around town to give to her and put on her car. She helps him to remember his appointments around town and has become like a mother to him. As we spoke, I learned of how Manuel helps with some of the services different community members provide to those living on the streets, since he doesn’t himself feel he is “homeless”. He talked about people’s generosity, but he also shared about how he’s found ways to serve and encourage people, watching out for people and protecting them in the vulnerable places in town where things can get rough at times.
Monika shared with me that in the neighborhoods where she ministers most often, she’s come to feel safest there. “People watch out for you, because they know you’re for them and value them,” Monika shared – not an exact quote.
As we spoke, Monika said she answered a friend’s question recently about where she sees LifeLine in ten years with, “I hope it no longer exists, because the local churches will be doing what we’re all called to be doing.” She spoke of how she’s a prophet type at heart, more likely to speak to where we could grow than just bringing up warm fuzzy ideas amongst believers. What she’s addressing is so important. Imagine, Tuolumne and Merced County friends, if we were to so flood the weary and struggling parts of our communities relationally instead of just financially and with abrupt projects. Imagine if we were to come in with our ears and eyes open instead of assuming we know what each neighborhood needs. Imagine if we came with great anticipation of learning about people and bearing burdens and looking for people’s strengths, to empower and equip, to strengthen and inspire, to coach those we meet and give them the tools necessary to provide for their families, lead in their community, and see transformation happen in the pragmatic spaces of their lives. As this happens, we will learn about who we are actually ministering to, and we’ll naturally in time be asked the WHY questions. In time, we’ll be able to share that this is all being done in gratitude to the Savior, yes, but also in a genuine desire to introduce others to the soul-transforming GRACE of our God in Jesus’ death for each of us. As we share this reason for the hope that is within us, it will make sense to those we minister to WHY we can endure and consistently show favor when most of our neighbors are afraid to enter their neighborhoods.
This is incarnational ministry, and it’s faith overcoming fear. Love casts out fear and is so much richer and more joyous than any other motivation.
This was a longer post, probably in part because I’m wrestling through this personally and wanting to follow our Savior’s example myself. I look forward to sharing more actual stories of actual encounters, in hopes of inspiring you, my friends, to follow my lead to follow Monika’s lead and so many more in our counties. Let’s truly disciple each other where it matters most, demonstrating the love of the Savior through genuine relationship-building.
In His kindness,