When I first moved to Louisville someone started telling me about a ministry I hadn't heard of before that piqued my interest. I found out more about it shortly thereafter, and just a couple weeks ago jumped on board with a ministry here called Scarlet Hope. Some women in the area had a passion to reach out to women in the sex industry who are mostly found stuck in a profession that leaves them less than satisfied and fulfilled. They had a passion to show these women the unconditional, fulfilling love of Christ that is offered to them even when they think they might not deserve it.
(As a sidenote, I encourage you to check out the Scarlet Hope website, especially the blog section, to find out more about what God is doing in a place that might not otherwise see or experience His hope. I can only share with you the details that are on the website, for obvious reasons, but I'd love for you to join in and pray for this and other ministries of the Church (big C) that happen outside of the church (little c).)
Just the other day I was at Catalyst conference in Atlanta, GA (which was awesome, by the way) and had the privilege of listening to so many great speakers inspire church leaders. I might need to share some of the great stuff I heard there another time, but while I was there I did happen to read the first two sentences on the back of Rob Bell's book Jesus Wants to Save Christians and was immediately struck by these words:
There is a church not too far from us that recently added a $25 million addition to their building. Our local newspaper ran a front-page story not too long ago about a study revealing that one in five people in our city lives in poverty.How can any Church leader read that and not feel like you've been stabbed in the chest? I read that, and as an employee at a church of about 18,000 people that has utilized its resources for countless multimillion dollar buildings, I had to take a second to question "How DO we balance those numbers?" What are we doing to eradicate poverty in our city? What are we doing to build clean water wells around the world? What are we doing to encourage people to simply sponsor Compassion or World Vision children for $38/month? What about the 143 million children around the world who are orphans? Are we doing anything to change these numbers at all?
It's not about the numbers. Or is it? Because there are individual lives represented in those numbers. On both the giving and receiving end. And typically, both the giver and receiver end up being blessed. I watched at Catalyst as one African man had the opportunity to meet his Compassion Int'l. sponsor who had turned his life around just by sending money and letters to him each month for several years. The young man is now a student at Moody Bible Institute preparing to know the Word so he can go back to Kenya and hopefully do the same thing that was done for him. It is a good reminder that there are real people behind the numbers we often see in lists of statistics.
Just yesterday I was listening to a sermon from Southland Christian Church in Lexington, KY (about which I've written several times...God is doing some cool things through this church), and I was yet again motivated by stories of regular people--even 8 years olds--who made a difference just by doing things like making cookies for international students on the campus of UK at Christmas. Or what about the little boy who saw his classmate with a tattered coat shivering on the playground at school and decided to go around his neighborhood and ask for loose change, then raising $160 to buy a brand new coat for his classmate? Or the man who left a $1000 tip for his waitress at Waffle House that ended up in the hands of a single mom struggling to make ends meet... All of these stories are just people--real people--reaching out to other people outside the doors of the church. And you know what it led to? Those people eventually walked inside the doors of the church.
But it wasn't that they found hope just inside the doors. They were told about this hope at the Waffle House, at the playground, on the campus of UK. They're told about hope in letters sent halfway across the world. They find out about hope in a strip club. Hope can be shared in places you'd never imagine.
There is a world outside of our clean buildings that is in dire need of this hope we claim to have in Christ. People outside the doors of the church are less likely to find out about it unless we go to them. Will you go with me to take it there?