So all year for the internship at church we've been reading books. Books about humility. The poor. Leadership. Church planting. Lots of books.
And all year I've been searching for a book I could really relate to... the one that really grabbed me and where I found myself saying "This is me! This is what God has for me! This is why I did the internship! This is what I'm supposed to be doing!" After awhile, I found myself willing to settle for just a chapter... I kept asking at intern meetings "Where is my chapter?"
While in Chicago, we visited SO many different ministries... from Latino churches sitting right on the border between two gang territories to ministries reaching out to the African-American neighborhoods on the south side of the city, tutoring, teaching computer skills and mentoring youth. Business owners purposefully settling into poor neighborhoods to invest their lives into improving the quality of life and ministries that take the most at risk kids and pour into them, giving hope and practical life skills to those whose childhoods are more about survival than exploration and learning... All of the ministries were amazing. It was cool to see how things have changed over the years, from the early nineties when I was fully immersed in urban ministry - and also to see how it's stayed the same... how incarnational, life-on-life ministry continues to affect change. But it wasn't until Thursday night of our trip that I really found my niche... the one ministry that spoke to my soul.
We piled into the van one more time after a full day of touring different parts of the city on Thursday... we ended up in a neighborhood similar to many we'd seen... lots of brownstone houses lined up, many boarded up windows, garbage strewn streets... We got out and went into one of those buildings and were greeted at the door by a group of people who immediately made us feel at home, showing us where we could find food, drink, facilities... we were overwhelmed by hospitality. After grabbing something to eat and grabbing some coffee, we all congregated in the living room in a big circle.
After going around the circle to introduce ourselves, Lewie, the man who lived in this particular apartment, began to tell us his story. He had been in the pastorate for many years... establishing several rapidly growing congregations over the course of 15 years... he was doing 'church' very well. But God revealed to him that while he was serving the church well, he wasn't discipling people. And the more he thought and prayed on that, the more it bothered him. His time was bogged down with pastoral responsibilities, very few of which had anything to do with leading people toward a life of obedience and servanthood... and most of which were administrative tasks. So he quit.
Now Lewie and the others we met live intentionally together. Six of them live in the building we visited in two different apartments. Some of them live elsewhere, but they are all purposeful about discipleship. So they each reach out intentionally toward 4 to 6 people, who in turn eventually begin discipling others... then they also meet together regularly for fellowship and meals and encouragement... not with their disciplees usually, but as disciplers... being fed by each other so they can reach out to feed others...
I sat there after about the first 20 minutes, listening to the conversation, (there were lots of questions as my fellow interns really wanted a clear definition of what exactly we were seeing and Lewie and the group fought of the labels of 'small group' or 'house church'... it was great dialogue) and realized as I listened "This is my chapter..." As the words ran through my head and began to sink in, they eventually came out in quiet tears. Tears because what I was seeing was basically what Asia and I have tried to do/be for the nearly 18 years of our marriage.
It was so cool to see something I know I'm good at... something that fits my life circumstances... something that we're already doing well... I cannot practically pick up my family and move to the ghetto. (I did that, back in the day. And I don't feel called to that anymore - any more than I feel called to be a church planter... it's just not my thing... not my chapter.) But - I CAN and DO love on people. I can welcome them into my home. I can invest my effort and energy into people who need guidance and encouragement. I can be real about my struggles and share in pain and sorrow and rejoice in grace. I CAN disciple people.
I felt validated.
It was an incredible experience for me.
It's a huge relief for me to have found my niche. I've struggled with knowing what God has for me since Tejan left. That was such a clear gift from God - that opportunity to serve that way... but it was unique and specific and temporary. And so since then I've wondered what I should be doing. And then I discovered that I'm already doing it.
So what does that mean for me? It means I'm motivated to be even more intentional in my hospitality. More purposeful in my relationships. More available to those women God has put in my life and more welcoming of the people God brings into our lives. It means I will continue to instill the value of an open home into my kids, modeling a willingness to house or feed or care for anyone God brings to us. It means I'm praying for opportunities to invest in more people and for like-minded people to come alongside us as we reach out so we're also fed as we feed others.
Somewhere I think I accepted the idea that it has to be hard or challenging to 'count' as ministry. And instead, God revealed on this trip that it can be exactly who I've been created to be... that I can just continue in the life we've created and push forward with what we're already doing really well... isn't that amazing? I can hone in on hospitality and continue getting better and better at it. I can pray for God to continue to bring us people. Maybe he'll bring us another Tejan. Maybe not. But I can hold my home and my life with an open hand and continue to offer it up - and know that God will fill it up.
So that was my chapter. And that's what I'll take away, amongst other things, from my trip to Chicago.
God is so good.