“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2)
I recently started working for a nonprofit called Project Connect Nashville. My fiancée Ruthie and I are raising missionary support to serve in a severely impoverished urban community. It is a time for beginnings, a time to “plant.” We are ministering to people who need hope, grace, and the Gospel.
In preparation to write the support letter, I tried to find every Bible verse that addresses serving the poor. After a short time, I quit because there were too many. Exhortations to reach out our hands to the poor are all over the Bible. It is saturated with them. Though a very important reason to take care of the poor is their lack of adequate food and shelter, their most desperate problem is spiritual brokenness in all areas. The Hebrew word “shalom” is more than a courteous greeting. It means completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, and the absence of agitation or discord. It is complete well-being before God. Those living in poverty experience an absence of shalom on every conceivable level. Relationships with family, friends, the school system, the criminal justice system, the workplace, and most of all with God are in critical condition, if not totally destroyed. I believe that is why God so persistently demands that we serve them. Lexington Gardens, where I am ministering, is one of the many unseen places in our community where all the evil, destitution, and brokenness that Satan has to offer converge. This is what we call poverty.
I drove into the aforementioned community last Saturday morning. Shortly after I arrived a young woman named Helen approached me accompanied by an eight year old boy. I had seen her before at a PCN outreach small group I was a part of the previous year. We were supposed to talk about me mentoring her son, the eight year old standing beside her with a football under one arm and an old, half-flattened soccer ball by his feet. I introduced myself to him and he seemed happy to see me. He told me that his name was Phillip. We kicked the soccer ball for ten or fifteen minutes before he suddenly ran off across the lawn to play with the volunteers. When he left, I took the opportunity to talk with Helen about her situation. She informed me that Phillip had recently been to an inpatient psychiatric institution, and that the previous week he had been released from juvenile detention for assaulting her. He punched her in the nose after his stepfather left them. This was not the first time that a father figure had walked out on Phillip. I told her that I had some personal experience with psychiatric institutions, though not the criminal justice system, and that I would be happy to meet with him weekly.
We then talked about how she was doing, because I am going to be working with the rest of the family as well. She told me that she was well, but stressed out. We talked about church for a bit and she told me she was getting baptized. I told her I was happy for her and shared about the joy of my own baptism. I’ve learned in the brief two weeks I’ve been doing this work that my lifestyle and hers are very different, but our root problem is the same. We are sinners, and we need to remember always that we are washed.
This has been an amazing month. God has blessed Ruthie and me in ways I never could have imagined. As I reflect on the words of Solomon, I see that I have spent a lot of time plucking up what has been planted. I had a lot of unhealthy growth in my life, and all of it had to be removed to make room for what is happening now. Plucking up the growth borne of the bad seeds I planted years ago took a very long time. It was painful, yet necessary. I had a lot to pluck up, but by God’s grace He has prepared ground in which to plant something new. Just in time for me to start ministry for the first time.
If you would like to help Ruthie and I minister in Lexington Gardens and elsewhere, you can donate here http://www.projectconnectnashville.org/donate/ If you are not called to give at this time, we still need your prayers and support.