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Sweat dripping down my face, hands buried in tufts of stubborn grass, pulling with all my might, I sought to discover the ground beneath. “Clear these rows,” had been the instructions. It was so hot. The humidity closed in around us, and all I could do was keep telling myself “finish this row, go get a drink, pour some of the water on your head, and return to weeding. Finish the task you were given.”
Through my thoughts broke an unusual request, “will you catch bugs with me?”
My first gut reaction was, “but I was told to do this task…” but instead, I responded with, “sure!” In a split second, I was forced to determine what my role was in this service project. Was I there to get the community garden prepared for use by the community, or was I there to create a relationship with a young boy*—hungry and eager to know more about nature and science?
His passion about insects, plants, science and nature reminded me of how I often find evidence of God. I have, from a very young age, found God in nature. I would spend hours outside as a child, watching a grasshopper hop between plants, watching butterflies seemingly float on the breeze, and hummingbirds dart from flower to feeder to flower again. In nature I saw God’s glory and mystery revealed in all the wonders that surrounded me. I searched nature, not so much to know nature, but to know the creator.
I began to think, is this the road, Lord, that you will use to reach this boy’s heart? Will he find you in the field chasing grasshoppers? Will he find you buried in the dirt of the community garden? So, I put the task I had been given aside, for a purpose greater than weeding. I sought instead to prepare the soil, for seeds to be planted in the life of this boy. If he is to find Christ in the garden, he must see that there is the possibility to do so.
He spoke of his love of archeology and paleontology. Of nature, and the beautiful insects that could be found in it. I listened and chased grasshoppers.
The next day while attending the GC I looked through the books at the book center trying to find a fitting book to encourage this boy’s exploration of fossils, nature, and science—however, I could not find a good book to get. I wandered out into the exhibit hall, when I suddenly remembered an exhibit I had seen earlier. An exhibit about creation. They were giving out fossilized shark teeth with a little card in it about creation and the Christian view of history. I walked quickly to the booth, and picked one up. I knew he would be thrilled. This was a real fossil!
I headed back to the Sweeney’s for another day of service, carrying my little surprise in my pocket. Yet, the boy was nowhere to be seen. I feared I’d just have to be satisfied to hand it over to Rustin Sweeney to give to the child the next time he saw him.
The group of young adults from Impact Atlanta were standing near the parking lot preparing to leave, when I heard a familiar voice. Eagerly, as if I were the child, I ran over and asked, “Guess what?!?” I’ve got a surprise for you!” Together we walked over to Rustin to reclaim the gift I had handed over. “Close your eyes,” I said. The boy closed his eyes, “hold out your hands.” He held out his hands. I placed the packet in his hands, and he opened his eyes and dropped his jaw. “Is it real?” He asked, then added, “maybe there are more where this one came from. I wish I could talk to these people to see where they found it……I’ve got to go, I have to put this somewhere safe!” I pointed out to him there was information about it on the card, that he could read. With a hug and a goodbye my interaction with the boy ended. It was our last day doing service.
No, I didn’t get as much weeding done as I am capable of, and no…there was no dramatic moment where the boy professed his love for the creator, but perhaps the ground is ready for planting, tending, and growth. I pray so.
- by Rebecca Turk
encounter the word
The people brought children to Jesus, hoping he might touch them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus was irate and let them know it: “Don’t push these children away. Don’t ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.” Then, gathering the children up in his arms, he laid his hands of blessing on them. -Mark 10:13-15 [Message]
I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plants, but God made you grow. It’s not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow. Planting and watering are menial servant jobs at minimum wages. What makes them worth doing is the God we are serving. You happen to be God’s field in which we are working. -1Corinthians 3:6-9 [Message]
- In what ways can “doing the work of the Lord” get in the way of “doing the work of the Lord?”
- What opportunities for building relationships has GOD afforded you while in the midst of ministry? At your workplace/campus? In your community/neighborhood?
- How has GOD used the children in your life to give you insights into His kingdom?
*I have left the name of the boy out intentionally, since I did not get permission to mention him.
The issue is figuring out how to live in the suburbs and still have a heart for the city. This was the place of Nehemiah in the Old Testament. It broke his heart to know the city of Jerusalem was in ruins, and he took some of the responsibility for why this was the case. We must acknowledge the systemic issues behind urban violence and take responsibility as well. Those living outside the city must take responsibility and work with those in the city to be salt and light.”
- Rev. Efrem Smith, Sojourner’s “Preaching the Word”
Within a few miles from my office I can leave the idyllic community of Loma Linda, California, where people live to be a hundred, and enter San Bernardino, once ranked the 16th most violent city in America. Truthfully, I can go about my life, rarely venturing into this urban community in my backyard.
When you live in the city its on top of you, you can’t run from the needs, it’s in your face. But suburbia can anesthetize you to suffering and injustice. You can build a safe life (or so you think), a secluded life, where the world can be shut out. Not so in the city.
There’s lots of challenges to living missionally in the suburbs, but one of the most problematic for me? Complacency. I find myself too comfortable with nice sub-divisions, tidy neighborhoods, and picturesque streets. The Rev. Smith challenges me. I am responsible too. And here in my town I can’t escape the fact there’s enormous needs across the street. So what am I doing about? Sadly, the usual, not much. What challenges do you face trying to live faithfully in Suburbia?
Jesus, have mercy on me. Remove my complacency. Compel me to action. Let me not forget the city in my backyard. Amen.