Engage

Thoughts on Ministering during Strange Times

Do you feel helpless to…well…help? Especially after something like that dreadful winter storm that ravaged the state of Texas. Or as people continue in the psycho-emotional quarantine of Covid-19. Or with the global economy still reeling. 

I thought now might be a good time to chat about this with one of my spiritual Godfathers, Dwayne, who has been serving underserved communities for over 25 years. His insights are invaluable.

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Why did you start serving the homeless and impoverished?

I guess I couldn’t silence the words of Jesus in Matthew 25: that he was hungry, thirsty, estranged, naked, sick, imprisoned. And, I couldn’t get over how gracious God was in rescuing me from such a selfish and sinful state. You know, Romans 5.8.

In the beginning, I knew nothing about servanthood-evangelism. Nothing. So, I poured myself into studying Jesus’ methods. Then, I investigated what the church was doing. Until, finally, the only thing left to do was engage.

But, that was challenging for an introverted guy. It still is. I have to push through shyness to serve Jesus, even with the intense desire I have to help people with their physical and spiritual needs.

After 25 years of ministry, what have you learned about the underserved communities?

They are relationally and spiritually underserved.

It’s one thing to bring some groceries, provide some clothing or school supplies, and even tell them “God loves you.” But, discipleship is an entirely different issue. Relational discipleship is missing in these communities.

The homeless, impoverished folks need to be engaged in caring, loving conversation about life and the One who gives life. They need to know they have value despite their circumstances and that their situation does not disqualify them from life.

It ain’t easy to “rise above” circumstances when no one has taught you how. That’s one reason I return to the same streets and minister to the same people—to offer help and hope that they can overcome the intense depravity all around and deep within them.

So, how would you describe the difference between this relational ministry and relief?

Relief efforts tend to be event-driven responses to crisis. This is certainly called for, as in the recent winter storm and below-freezing temperatures. Reaching out with a blanket was a great way to serve, but homelessness doesn’t end with winter. Relational and spiritual poverty is an year-round problem.

The only way to address these deeper aspects of poverty is through committed, continuous engagement. So, once you find a ministry doing this, plug in. Schedule serving just like you would a vacation or time off work. Then, show up; 75% of ministry is showing up.

Is the decision to engage the biggest challenge for people?

Yeah. The first thing you have to do is make up your mind to be obedient. Jesus said, “GO.”

And, I totally understand how fear, especially of the unknown, holds us back. We feel unqualified. Unprepared. The only way to conquer these feelings is to ask the Holy Spirit to lead you. Just be prepared for true surrender when he does.

How can we serve the underserved communities during these strange times?

  • Pray first. Always.
  • If God leads you to serve on the front lines, then follow all the CDC precautions. Serving God doesn’t make you immune to a virus. 
  • When you engage people, communicate the hope you’ve found in Christ. This takes preparation, so study the Scriptures, reflect on your journey, and be ready to share. Consider printing out a brief testimony or sharing pictures from your phone.
  • Don’t do this apart from the Holy Spirit. Surrender repeatedly—before, during, and after your service.
  • Speak words of life. Yes, meet whatever physical needs you can, but never without sharing the words of life. “It is the Spirit who gives life: the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” (Jesus, John 6.63)
  • If the wisest option during the pandemic seems to be serving in the background, then join the efforts of local food banks or shelters, and keep praying for those on the front lines.
  • Serve with gladness. Always.

*You may recall meeting Dwayne last year. He and his amazing wife, Julia, reside in north Dallas and have ministered together as The Willing Witness for over 25 years.

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Amy Leigh Bamberg

Amy Leigh is a writer, landscape designer, organizational development specialist, and teacher living in Dallas, Texas. Her articles address themes in faith, culture, creation, the church, theology of the body, theology of women, and relationships.

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