“But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” 1 John 3:17-18
Outreach isn’t something that is only to be done for a week on a mission trip, or a night of evangelism (though those can be part of it), it is a way of life for the Christian, or at least it should be. This is the lesson I have been continuing to learn over the course of the last three years or so. Outreach should be something natural that flows from the life of the Christian like water flows effortlessly from a river. My mission field has recently been mostly taking place in the town of Phelan, the next town over from where I am from. Though I am from Wrightwood, CA, I spend most of my time in Phelan, CA. Phelan is where I work, where most of my friends live, and where I fellowship at. It is about a 15 minute drive up and down the mountain (Phelan is in the High Desert, Wrightwood is in the San Gabriel Mountains), one which I have driven so many times that I can about do it with my eyes closed.
In my last essay for the E&D class I mentioned a few ways that God was using my work, the Maui Wowi (a local coffee and smoothie shop), as an outreach. One of my co-workers, Chris, spent a lot of his time trying to convert me at first and we would go back and forth on doctrine, since he is a Catholic. I have to say though that I really appreciated it, I learned what it feels like for someone to try to convert you day in and day out (which is needed for one to know what people feel like when you are trying to share your beliefs with them). I also learned a lot of what the Catholic Church believes, which surprisingly in its most intricate details is not much different than the average protestant with the exception of a few dogmas it holds (at the very least it can be) that I do not. We have much more in common with Catholics then we do not, and that is something to be noted when having a discussion with them. What I learned the most though, is learning how and when to say something rather than always trying to give an answer right away. As a general must pick and choose his battles, so must a Christian pick and choose his. At the end, Christ stated that he was inspired and challenged to know the Word of God better, and began to take his Bible to mass with him and is encouraging his youth group to do the same (he is a youth leader at the church he attends). If all that was accomplished was that Chris gained a greater appreciation and hunger for the Word, and would encourage other Catholics in that as well, then I consider that a worthy use of time. In fact, I believe if more Christians have a passion for the Word, a loving and gentle passion coupled with humble boldness; it will spread to all Christians despite denominational boundaries, possibly bringing the unity to the body of Christ that it has lacked for centuries.
Another part of my ministry there has been to the High School or Junior High kids who always hang out around there after school. At times it has been testing to my patients, since they can be a bit obstructive to business and constantly asking for freebies or money. They often smoke close to the building or ride their bikes right around the doors and sometime are disrespectful to customers. I have been learning the balance of being an authority to them while still trying to reach out to them. I have gotten to know most of them by name, and try to find out how they are doing. One time one of my customers asked them where their parents were, to which, one by one, they all stated that at least one or two of their parents were in jail. They hang out there because they have nowhere else to go, and home is often much less inviting then the streets. Phelan is an interesting place, there is a big mixture of people that live there, but just like anywhere there is a lot of sin and the damaging consequences that sin brings to people. I certainly feel like I have learned more about human psychology and sociology from being a barista there then higher education ever accomplished for me.
Some of the main kids I have found myself ministering to often are two girls named Krista and Jessica. I first met Krista at the shop and found out that she was homeless, I call her a kid but she is really 18. As often as I see her I say hi to her and make it a point to talk to her. The Lord has been gracious enough to allow me to counsel her or encourage her with prayer and the word often, and she has even come to church once. On the night that she came to church, Jessica came with her. Jessica ended up accepting the Lord and there was so much joy in her life for the next couple of days. I gave her a Bible and encouraged her to read it daily. Sadly though, I have noticed a lot of that first joy has been robbed from her, and she is much shyer towards me now. She let the cares of this world choke out her new found joy, and Satan came and stole away as much of it as he could. I still encourage her when I see her and ask if she is reading the Bible, but for the most part she is in the Lord’s hands now. Krista is getting closer to coming to church again; she was supposed to go last week but apparently couldn’t get a ride. She knows she needs to be there though. The other day she asked if I had a scripture for her and I got to pray with her. Something the Lord has been laying on my heart there is to expose the darkness for what it is. Satan is destroying these kids’ lives and they don’t even see it until they have nothing left.
Another kid I see often there is Robert. We call him our enforcer, since one time another kid stole a coffee bag from us and he found out and threatened the kid until he brought it back. The kids have a lot of respect for us since we are the only business in town that is nice to them, though they push our buttons constantly. After a while, my heart almost became hard towards the kids, since I was so annoyed at their constant begging as well as never keeping the rules, such as smoking away from the doors or blocking the doors. I realized though this happened mostly from a friend who would complain all the time about them, and I began to see the kids in the way he saw them, as a nuisance. I had this great opportunity to minister to these kids, and one of my well meaning Christian friends had been part of turning my heart against them. It wasn’t until the Lord convicted me that I realized I had let this happen, and asked the Lord for forgiveness and love for the kids. I needed patients and He gave it. I learned to guard my heart against the words of others, and that people can turn your heart against the very people you are trying to minister to, even if the person involved in turning your heart is a well respected and godly person. Robert has had his ups and downs, for a while he wanted to go to church and asked if I would give him a ride, but when it came down to going he lost interest. I have noticed that when I pray for him he does better.
Something else that has been occurring at the Maui Wowi is it has become a place where Christians are coming together to participate in outreach, even when they are not from the same church. In June I will be leaving to serve the Lord as a full time missionary in Ecuador, and a lot of my support has come from my work. My Catholic bosses have put up a donation jar (the jar was my co-worker Brenda’s idea but my bosses were all for it) and have offered to mail for me my espresso machine complimented with fresh espresso beans, which to a coffee lover may have as well been the equivalent to winning the lottery (this isn’t something I asked for, they just offered and I accepted). One of the customers from a different church donated a garden sculpture to raffle off as a prize to people who donate (also not my idea, just something she wanted to do to bless me). Another one of my Christian customers, who is a musician, wants to hold a benefit concert at the shop (also not asked for) with proceeds going towards my ministry. The body of Christ is not incapable of coming together for things; it just needs reasons to do so. All it takes is for people to start loving like Christ loved, and viewing the Word of God as God views it, and people from Christ’s body will rally around that. Sure we have differences, but as long as the pure Gospel of Christ is the same for all parties we can move forward in that, in order to work together to save souls centering our agreements on Jesus. I am not saying compromise in what you believe, I am a great lover of the truth and would spend hours explaining to someone my convictions if given the opportunity, but I see that there is a battle to be fought and our greatest enemy is much more worthy of a target then our own scattered armies.
Overall I am very thankful for having the opportunity to serve God as a missionary in Phelan, at the Maui Wowi Hawaiian Coffee’s and Smoothies. It has been a blessing to me because it has combined some of my greatest passions, ministering, evangelism and encouraging people in the Word and prayer, as well as excellent espresso. I am lucky to be able to work at a place where my bosses and co workers are Christians, even if from a different denomination, where reaching out to the youth and homeless is supported and even joined in by them. In fact, in some ways they have helped out the kids more then I have. I have learned a lot about the Body of Christ, how big it is and how much it can be reached with an attitude of love and a passion for the Word of God. This is why I say outreach is a way of life, not something to be done only for an extended period of time. Since we are not of this world, but have been born spiritually to another, then all that we do here is outreach from heaven, whether that is at work, in the building we call “church”, while sipping on a latte at your favorite coffee shop, or running into some of your old friends at the grocery store. When you have the light of Christ inside of you, it goes before you and shines through you, before you even utter a word there should be something different about you. Outreach is merely the evidence of being a Christian and having a relationship with Christ, something that should be so natural and normal to a Christian that is comparable to the ease of the average sport fanatic, who finds discussing his favorite team and players as natural and normal. Outreach is not something a Christian should do, but something a Christian should be.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, [do] all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Colossians 3:16-17