These two weeks have been quite enlightening for me. They have not been easy to say the least, but the alone times have forced me to seriously consider what Paul meant when he said:
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Living missional no matter where God has placed me – be it with the explicit title of “missionary” or the more undercover “grad student” – had a nice ring to it when I explained coming back out here.
Instead, I found myself the stranger in a room of unknown faces and suddenly, I was the one who needed “reaching out” to.
People who smiled big, and gave me little welcoming slips, on which I would tick if it was my first time to church, and did I want to receive Jesus for the first time.
Those who even went the extra mile, inviting me to their small groups, their weekly potlucks.
No! I’m the one that’s supposed to invite people to gatherings! – my inner being cried out in resistance.
Ironically, that was the hardest part of moving here for me – feeling like I had somehow lost my calling, because if I’m not out there serving others, then what am I even doing here?
I awoke in the mornings with that urge to do something significant with my day, but frustrated that I was resigned to the grey office chair where I would read scientific papers and answer emails.
It never really stops, does it. This burning desire to do something significant with our lives.
I remember what it was to wake up to the dusty streets of Shadi, with its steaming baos and wooden shacks, our sweet kids puttering around our school courtyard on scooters.
And there have been times when my heart has ached to be back in our village, where I was a part of redemption unfolding – slow but sure.
A Slate article, titled “Don’t move to Canada, Liberals. Move to a Swing State.” made me think about how we tend to group ourselves according to our ideological tendencies, forming echo chambers where our own beliefs are simply reinforced.
I know why we do it. The pull, for me, is to retreat to where I know I belong: where everyone is passionate about God, worship, special needs kids, missions.
But, the article argues that if we want to effect change, we have to cross boundaries, and surround ourselves with “the other”, whatever that means in your context.
We have to crawl out of our enclaves, tear off a piece of our calloused skin, and let the raw rub on raw, until our lives tangle together into one beautiful mess.
In a letter to the question “How do we serve the least of these?”, blogger Addie Zierman writes:
The antidote to our serving-paralysis, dear Rachel, is not to find the ministry that fits us best. It’s not doing more and more until our guilt is quenched with exhaustion. It might not even be “serving” in the way we’ve come to understand and define it.
Instead, we begin by keeping our eyes wide open. You are here, wherever here is for you. And so is God.
For me, right now, here is the Minneapolis suburbs, where Carol, the Walmart greeter bears the image of Christ. Where to welcome the wild-hearted kids across the street into our life is to welcome Jesus. Where people are hungry to connect and thirsty for meaning.
Keeping my eyes wide open. Here in downtown Montreal.
Co-op Le Milieu was one of the gems I stumbled upon while trying to keep my eyes open. Based on the concept that art and food unite people, it is a co-operative stocked with open-access secondhand art supplies and aims to be a space that fosters creativity, dialogue and relationship.
Of course, the mochaccinos and brownies help too.
My first session volunteering as a barista, a transgendered person was making earrings in the cafe. I hate using the label “transgendered”, because he/she was just a person who was intent on making earrings.
But the reality was: it was the first thing I noticed. When he/she asked me how I was doing, it took me a few seconds to stutter out a “Ça va bien, merci.”
Meanwhile, the other volunteer simply looked up unfazed from their knitting: Wow those earrings look beautiful!
The lens was not a polarizing “right-and-wrong”, but rather one that spotlighted beauty.
That’s what art is: there is no good and bad art, just eyes that see art.
Again, eyes wide open. Walking down St. Laurent Boulevard.
This time, it was with the church city group; we were to pray for opportunities to minister to the homeless.
Claude sat, backed up against a lamppost. Across a winding line waiting outside Schwartz’s Deli. He wasn’t really asking, had his hat out with a few coins in it.
He told us that his girlfriend was in the hospital, had a back infection, he said.
-Well, we’ll get you guys some meat sandwiches.
-Do you want to come meet her? It’s a five minute walk from here. I’m sure she would love to see you!
So, that was how I found myself in a hospital room, my city group circled awkwardly around a middle-aged woman with long greying hair hooked up to an IV.
Everything had happened so fast: their house burned down, she contracted this infection, and now, he was on the street asking for change.
-It’s not easy, you know. To be out there. She hasn’t been on the streets before. He nodded to his girlfriend, his voice choked up. But I bring what I can from what people bring me. Sometimes, it’s a salad. She likes crunchy things.
Yeah, we really aren’t all that different.
So, we prayed to bless them in that little awkward circle of ours.
They didn’t get saved, or healed, or lifted out of poverty that night, but I believe that they felt loved by our stopping. Our keeping our eyes wide open.
I share these snapshots with you, just to encourage you that yes, redemption is unfolding here in Montreal. Slow but sure.
Just as I believe it is in the city you live in –
People are hungry, and not only for food.
And the call may not be to cure the world of poverty. But it is to step out of our echo chambers – that we may hear, see, touch “the other”.
Living missional is just that: keeping our eyes wide open.
A lot less glamorous-sounding than packing up to make a trip to another country. But it is when we choose to step past boundaries, outside of our schedule and simply see – it is then that the fear of the other, the fear that constitutes racism, breaks down.
And perhaps when we see people, they get to see Jesus too.