Sometimes, just showing up makes a difference.
Dr. Carolyn Knight from Wesley College in Florence, Mississippi, started showing up several years ago outside of strip clubs in our community to talk to patrons about the Lord. Subsequently, she and her husband spent several years serving as missionaries in Africa. Since their return to Mississippi, she has resumed her outreach ministry at the three strip clubs in the capital city, Jackson.
Except now she comes with college students in tow to evangelize anyone whom they can engage in conversation. During the couple of months they have been taking a stand, one kid has been punched. Carolyn has been kicked. A few of students had a dog unleashed on them.
But they keep showing up.
Intrigued by their persistence, I joined them one evening outside these "adult" establishments to hold up a sign promising prayer, and to observe. This isn't a ministry for the faint of heart.
In my short time there, one of the managers came out to threaten harm, yell, call police, and laughingly promise a lawsuit. Wearing a shirt and tie and holding a sign that read "We are praying for you," I was interested to see expensive vehicles drive up and, their occupants apparently recognizing that respectable citizens were standing outside, decide to drive on and do something else for the evening.
Not long after my visit, Dr. Knight sent an encouraging e-mail report:
"I just wanted to tell you some good news. Today in chapel one of the security guards from [one of the clubs] showed up. He cried during the service and wants to come again. He shared that he had quit his job and desired a new life. He also said that another security guard had quit and that an assistant manager had quit. He said it was all due to the fact that we had started coming down there. Praise the Lord!"
This morning Carolyn told me about a stripper at one of the clubs showing up at her church recently, and another who had quit because of their presence.
The secret? No secret, really. So much about effective ministry is simple. Prayerfully show up. Play it by ear. Be willing to stay kind, gentle, reasonable. Be courteous but also be able to challenge. Don't back down. Meet bullying with a heart of love.
Last weekend I saw the movie Amistad for the second or third time. I was impressed again at how director Steven Spielberg portrayed the "religious right" of that day who were engaged in supporting the Africans from the slave ship: persistent, kind, gentle, reasonable, courteous, challenging, and unwilling to back down. Dressed in black, carrying Bibles, and with a song on their lips, they faithfully provided the contra mundum (against the world) perspective in a nearly impossible situation.
And against enormous odds, the Amistad Africans were eventually returned to their homeland.
That heritage of Christian activism should inspire us. Show up at the dark and lonely places of your culture -- the abortion clinics, the prisons, the nursing homes, the strip clubs, the hospices. We should have a heart for these places; but even if our persuasive tongues fail us and we wonder what good we might do, it is still amazing what happens when one just persistently and redemptively shows up.
Holiness and taking a stand on the premises of sin and hopelessness still make a difference.
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