The Chicago chapter of Habitat for Humanity hosted a youth group from Zion UCC, Louisville, for a workcamp one summer in the mid-1980s. The group was young - mostly middle schoolers, but eager to work and experience the big city. We were given quarters in the basement of an almost-finished Habitat house which had electricity and water, but no heat. It was June, so we did not worry about the temperature. Our hosts from the predominately African-American church around the corner advised our all-white group in no uncertain terms to not answer the door during the night. With the excitement and joking usual for a youth group, we settled in for our first night with the doors securely locked. Then, bit by bit, it started getting cold. Real cold. The kids had mostly sleepover-type bedding and it was not up to the task. We had no choice but to tough it out.
At 11 p.m., we heard a loud knock at the door. True to our instructions, we ignored it. The knocking continued, heightening our anxiety. Finally, I went upstairs and peeked through the side windows to see who was there. In the dark, I could make out the figures of several elderly women carrying things. I opened the door and discovered that our church hosts had grown concerned about us - at 11 p.m. - and organized the delivery of blankets to keep us warm. In our minds, we were there to help them, but now they were helping us! Lesson learned. That is so often how the Spirit works when we place ourselves in the position to listen.
When Jesus sent out the 70 (or 72, take your pick) disciples as advance teams in Luke 10, he gave them instructions for mission encounters which still hold value today. As we have a busy summer of encounters with "the stranger" - summer camp at Merom, Meghan Jewell going to Germany with the Young Ambassadors, 10 of us going to Costa Rica with WaterStep in a few days, and another refugee sponsorship with Kentucky Refugee Ministries looming, it is good to remember the "Jesus way" of traveling and serving:
"Seven Steps for Encounter"
1. Practice Partnership. Don't be a Lone Ranger. Even the disciples went out in pairs.
2. Travel Light. You matter, not your stuff.
3. Spread Peace, one household at a time.
4. Attend to Your Own Behavior, not what others do.
5. Sense the Reign of God in your work.
6. Accept Hospitality Humbly. Don't shop around.
7. Be Willing to Risk Failure. That is the only way anything ever gets accomplished.
Here is a prayer from the English church tradition which expresses the spirit in which we should give and receive;
Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand,
and the day is past. Be our companion in the way,
kindle our hearts, and awaken hope,
that we may know you as you are revealed
in scripture and the breaking of bread.
Grant this for sake of your love, Amen.
Greg Bain, Pastor