Years ago, a video game came out depicting an alien invasion during which the phrase was repeated, “All your base are belong to us.” It was classic stuff. Somebody made a video mocking it, it went viral, and the rest is history (that you probably missed). The point is, had a little more research been done, the audience might have been intimidated when the alien horde invaded, bellowing their verbal threat.
Many of our efforts to reach people are equally as laughable because we simply haven’t done our homework. This is where researching the people you’re trying to reach is valuable. A major help to seeing your community the way God sees it is to know a little more of what God knows about it. How many single parents, divorcees, meth users, or sex offenders are in your neighborhood? It’ll change the way you look at everything. Better yet, it will give you a sense of mission. A calling.
One Christmas when I was planting in the industrial cities of South Wales, the mayor identified the neediest families in our neighorhood so we could deliver Christmas dinners to families who couldn’t afford them. While we were making the rounds, I walked into one of the homes and saw the evidence of alcohol-fueled rage and violence. There were holes punched in almost every square inch of the hallway, running from the front entry to the kitchen. As we passed the living room, I noticed the dad passed out with a bottle next to him. The mom was clearly drunk, and the 10-year-old girl stumbled up to us, smiling, with a glazed-over look from whatever she was high on. Then Nathan came down the stairs. Nathan was a young kid who’d been coming to some of our gatherings. He had some behavioral problems at first, but had learned to trust us when he realized we really cared. As he came down the stairs to see who was at the door, his face changed into a look of horror, as if he’d seen a ghost. That’s when I saw the shame cover his expression, his eyes averted, as his mind retreated into a mantra: “Please don’t be here. Please don’t be here.” He didn’t want me to see his home, that this was how he lived. Nathan wanted out of that room. I left as quickly as I could so as not to pour salt into an open wound, but I resolved to do what I could for kids like Nathan. I’d continue to go where the need is, not where the money is.
Being a witness in Jerusalem means meeting needs. Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson wrote during the Nineties that “an estimated 36,000 homeless men and women have been wandering New York’s streets at night. The city’s maximum shelter capacity is just more than 3,500 and the budget is already overloaded, so Mayor Koch appealed to the city’s religious leaders for help. If each of New York’s 3,500 places of worship would care for just 10 homeless people, a desperate human problem would be quickly solved, without huge government expense.”
At Refuge Long Beach, where we are a small congregation and we don’t have a huge budget, we’ve seen a handful of people come off the streets, get jobs, move into homes, and start over. But it’s come with a price tag. We’ve seen people take in schizophrenic young girls because they can’t bear the thought of them being raped on the streets another night. We’ve had people looking under cars for addicts at the wee hours of the morning and saving their lives. We’ve literally talked people off the ledge and kept them from committing suicide.
Although we’re small, God is powerful. With God, we’re more powerful than we realize if we’d sit down and do the math. I hate math. Math is hard, so we just get out there and help people because we’ve stopped making excuses. Helping people is easier than doing math. That’s our excuse. In his book In Deepest England, frontline street missionary William Booth wrote: “While women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight; while children go hungry, as they do now, I’ll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight; while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight — I’ll fight to the very end!”
With a heart like that, how do you not change the world around you?
As it was for the apostles in the upper room before Pentecost, reaching the unreached starts with prayer but ends with us getting out there. Getting involved. “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matt. 9: 38). When you do, your eyes slowly begin to open, and with it, your heart yawns open too. When I pray for the harvest, I change, despite whether the world around me does or not. Consider the Lord’s Prayer; a daily reordering of priorities, a ritual surrendering in sacrifice to glorify His name, begging for kingdom expansion, and submitting to His will.
- Hallowed be your name: Let your name and fame be known, revered, and loved.
- Thy Kingdom come: Let your agenda and priorities be mine as well.
- Thy will be done: Let the parts I don’t like be my act of worship and surrender.
By the “Amen” part, I’ve begun to care about what He does. However, a warning label should come attached to prayer like this, because it can seriously jack you up.
Darren Edwards, a church planter in the council estates (think HUDs) of England, prayed for God’s compassion for people. He wrote about the consequences: I asked God with every ounce of sincerity to “show me the way you feel about people, and give me a taste for the love you have for your people.” After all, if I was going to win people for Jesus, I needed to know how Jesus felt about them so I could speak from truth and experience, rather than blind faith. The following Monday, my wife and I were shopping in Morrison’s (the grocery store) when, as I was walking up the aisle, a man stood in front of me looking at some groceries. A rush of emotions hit me as I began to feel God’s love for this man, and I began to cry as God told me this man may not make it into heaven and eternal life. My wife, in shock and horror, quickly reminded me that we were shopping in public and that it wasn’t good for men to cry in public. The same thing happened again in the next aisle, and I had to keep my head down the whole time we were shopping!
Like Peter, returning from prayer in the temple, you have to stop in your tracks and actually look at people as Peter did. Are you ready to see? And more importantly, are you ready to stop? Get involved? Those who pass them by will pass by the greatest kingdom opportunities God can offer.
Excerpt from Peyton Jones, Reaching the Unreached: Becoming Raiders of the Lost Art (pp. 182-186). 2017 Zondervan.,
Published December 18, 2018