Close to forty women came to our "When Did We See You a Stranger?" event last Monday evening. Thank you all for coming! It was encouraging to our Women's Ministry Team to have such a good turnout. The evening started with the reading of Matthew 25 where it is written that when Jesus comes back in all his glory with all his angels around him, He'll sit on his throne with all the nations gathered in front of him. He'll proceed to sort the people of those nations as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. To the sheep he will tell them they are blessed, and that the kingdom is theirs because, among other things, "I was a stranger and you invited me in."
The "sheep" will be astonished and wonder when they actually did that for Jesus.
He'll them that when they welcomed "the least of these" it was HIM they were inviting in!
Since giving to strangers seems very important to Jesus and rather counter-cultural to us, we, as a Women's Ministry Team, thought exploring this "inviting in" might be a good thing.
Ingrid Glessener joined us to tell of a hair styling project she headed up over at Mission of Hope, a local Christ-centered ministry to those in need. Glowing beautifully, she expressed the dump truck of love she felt as she looked around the room full of stylists and clients a buzz in God's presence, with his blessing of fifty-five haircuts and many family portraits.
With this as a very inspirational beginning, we grouped our women's chairs into circles and invited them to discuss among themselves a variety of questions.
- How do you define a stranger?
- When did a stranger do something nice for you?
- What feelings bubble up when you see a person at the side of the street asking for something?
- Share a time when you gave something to a stranger.
- How do you feel when you read, "I was a stranger and you invited me in?"
- In what ways have you found yourself ministering to strangers?
Lively conversation rang through out the room as women engaged in telling their stories and listening to a variety of attitudes toward the strangers in our midst.
When a panel of Maranatha women got up front we were able to hear a few more perspectives on the topic. Each of these women are engaged in some kind of outreach to "strangers".
Moderated by Rachel Connelly, the group discussed how God had worked in their hearts to "turn their chin" toward a ministry of care for others. Kathy Knight, Amy DeLay, Rebecca LeVake, Emily Gibson and Deda Happel shared their own personal stories. One leads a Bible study for women at the jail and works to help free people from trafficking. Through the journey of her own brokenness, she is drawn to others whose lives can be touched by the healing grace of Christ. Another led her children to a four year relationship with a stranger in a nursing home. The stranger definitely became family in this case as weekly visits transformed into a strong relationship. One woman noted, "There are no people more genuine than the broken. They are who they are, there is no pretending," She commented on how our weakness becomes God's way to minister the world. It doesn't have to be big or flashy. God can use whatever we are willing to give. One on the panel learned to reach out when many kind people reached out to her as a newly married bride with a husband in the military. She now calls her's a ministry of inviting, listening and encouraging. The artist among us sat humbly amazed at the opportunities she has to share the gospel with people so unacquainted with what they see in her paintings. Her faith has just blown up, she said as she quietly takes chances to gently share what she knows about Christ.
Each shared a rich testimony as to what God meant when he said, "When you did it to the least of these, you did it unto me." Blessings were revealed as we sat in quiet respect for God's love and work for those we might normally step around or avoid eye contact with.
To finish off our evening I told of a story of our son, Joel, who was given an assignment as a Physical Therapy student at Creighton University. His class was told to fake a disability and go out into the public to find people's reactions to them. So he put his arm in a sling, dressed in his grubby clothes, made a sign that said, "Disabled, in need of a job," and parked himself near the entrance to the interstate that went through Omaha. He didn't get to sit there very long before a policeman came and told him to leave, but he stayed long enough to make a few observations. People did not want to look him in the eye. He felt such shame, like there was something wrong with him. He hadn't expected it. People stopped several yards back from the stoplight so they would not have to be close to him. He collected $3.15 given by several non-white people.
I personally have prepared myself for moments of interaction with people on the side of the road. I carry granola bars in my car and when I see someone in need, I roll down my window, smile and ask their name as I hold out the bars. I know they are people in need of kindness and if I can tell them I will pray for them and just have a moment with them, I feel I have done a small thing in Jesus's name. Several times the person receiving the bars has looked me in the eye and boldly responded with, "God bless you!" And indeed I felt blessed.
I asked the group what they were taking home from this evening and words were spoken out like: challenged, inspired, educated and motivated.
After a closing prayer, we offered dessert and time to mingle. Many stayed to talk, laugh, take pictures and enjoy sweet fellowship.
The evening was quite meaningful and enjoyable!