“More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.”
I have read this many times, and God seems to bring it back to me just when I need to hear it again. Can you relate to Nouwen’s desires? I certainly can at this moment in life and ministry. We have been in Oaxaca for 2 and a half years now. Our main goal for our first two years has been to get to know people, to develop real relationships with the leaders in the Covenant church here and to listen to their dreams and struggles as they seek God’s Kingdom here and now, and then walk with them in ministry.
That was definitely our focus during our first year here, and I praise God for the many different ways in which we have been able to focus on relationship building – by having people in our homes, visiting people in theirs, visiting the different Covenant churches in a variety of their activities and ministries, and often being invited to share a word of encouragement or a meal.
However, this last year has been a year of lots of activities – doing a lot of things – many of them good things, even really good things, but because of that I feel we have missed some opportunities to truly love people. We’ve been giving marriage workshops, inductive Bible studies on holistic mission, leading (together with other missionaries) prayer and strategic planning meetings with pastors and women, forming a team in Oaxaca to start planning a new ministry to the abused and exploited in Mexico. There have been board meetings for the different non-profits here: Fuentes Libres in Oaxaca and the Family Development Foundation in Monterrey. We are discipling and mentoring people one on one. And, I must confess that the fact that we have so much to do can sometimes go to our heads and make us feel so important to God’s work here!
I also confess that it is hard for me to say no, especially to something exciting and new, where God is obviously already at work! But, how do I discern where and how God wants me to be involved? God also gave us our boys to disciple and love. God also wants me to take care of my family and myself, rest, exercise, practice Sabbath, and remain in Him. That last one is super important.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing”(John 15:5). I know this is true and yet I am often forgetting and trying to do things on my own strength, making my own decisions about what I want to do.
As we entered 2014, I spent some time reflecting on 2013 and discovered that I need to get back to the basics – love God, love others. Sounds simple, right? But, how do I allow other things to get in the way so easily? I will need to learn to say no to some things that I enjoy doing this year, in order to be able to focus on the most important things.
Father God, have mercy on your children, and lead us all to Jesus, to his love for us, so that it may flow out toward those around us. Amen