This is Part 2 of a 2 part series by Ministry Incubators’ own Shari Oosting. You can find Part 1 here.
In reflecting on years spent working with homeless people, he points out that friendship is often a missing link. Too often the Church attempts to fulfill her mission by becoming a community service provider. Oliver reframes mission in terms of friendship, challenging assumptions that undergird the mission impulses of many Western churches. Oliver points out that people do not provide services to friends. If friends build a house together, it is a place where they will gather again. Its kitchen will be the place where they cook together and break bread together. Friendship sets the stage for reciprocity, and carries the expectation that each person has a gift to share with others. It’s a dramatic revisioning of mission work as an increase in sustained, meaningful social connection, i.e. friendship.
Consider the work of Monique Misenga Mukuna, who runs a women’s center in the capital city of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Facing overwhelming economic problems and gender-based violence, Mukuna and others run a sewing and literacy school. Their students include women and girls who have been sold for money, forced into lives of sex work, and children living on the streets. The ministry of the women’s center, called , defies cultural norms and creates both social and economic space for people who have been otherwise discarded.
We need to have a broad imagination for what God is calling us to do. To be clear, community itself is not the simple solution to every complex problem. But recognizing the power of social connection and the work of Christians in fostering those connections should be one important way in which the Church engages difficult issues in light of the gospel’s imperative. Let’s be as creative as we can be and as faithful as we can be. Let’s dream big and roll up our sleeves. Because the solution to addiction is not criminalization; the solution to poverty is not money; the best way to share the love of God is not a construction project for a complete stranger.
The faithful approach is in beloved community and holy friendships, communities and friendships that bear witness to the love of Jesus in embodied ways. Our faithful response to overwhelming social problems is to live as fully as we can the inbreaking kingdom of God. It is only in this framework that we can be faithfully creative.