Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Don’t Make Assumptions: Tom @ Charlie’s Place

It was my eighth mission trip into Washington, D.C. Every time I go God teaches me something new. During our “urban immersion weekends” our team serves those in need through various aid programs. Some are Christ-centered, some are not.

I had never served at Charlie’s Place before. It was in the basement of a church. We were told that we’d arrive early and help set up, work in the kitchen preparing and serving breakfast, and then we could visit with the guests. It was a relaxing setting. Many of the men who came, and it was mainly all men, brought their newspaper to read. Several were friends and chatted it up while they waited for breakfast to be served.

There was a short blessing given and the meal was served. I noted that there was nothing said about God or Christ in the blessing. Maybe there would be some kind of evangelical message later I thought. I enjoyed talking to some of the men. I also visited with the women who provided a “clinic” table in the corner. They had aspirin and first aid items to provide to the guests.

When we were cleaning up and getting ready to leave, I asked our host, Tom, what was done to encourage these men in their walk with God as a result of being at this breakfast in this church. Tom looked a bit puzzled by my question and simply stated that the breakfast had no faith basis and he himself was not a Christian. He was working there under a grant program managing this feeding program.

I was stunned. Here I was serving breakfast in a church and assuming we were all on the same page - ministering to folks in God’s name and for His glory. I then discover my host didn’t believe in God. He was just there feeding people, that’s it. At first I was upset by the assumptions I had made based on my past experiences. Upon reflection, I felt God nudging me to look at the situation through His eyes. His people were being fed. They were given a wonderful setting to relax and fellowship. God’s name was not spoken but His presence was there.

And, finally, God compelled me to remember what my dear inner city host of ten years, Mark Harmon of Center for Student Missions, has always said to me when we serve in secular settings --- we might be the only light of Christ these “institutions” ever see. And when they see us, maybe they see something different in us that compels them to explore who God is and maybe, just maybe make a decision for Christ some day. Mark said that in serving where God isn’t apparent we’re doing what Jesus did. He did not hang out in a “holy huddle” but rather engaged ALL of the world around him during his time on this earth.

As I left Charlie’s Place I lifted a prayer to God and thanked Him for reminding me that He is present in every place. I am called to be faithful, to serve as His light and share him whenever and wherever I can. I also said a prayer for Tom, and I still do on occasion to this day, that he would find God in his life.

Since our trip there last May, there is now a team serving regularly at Charlie’s Place from Fourth Presbyterian Church who went with us on the immersion trip. There is also a small team of us who have moved on to Miriam’s Kitchen, another breakfast program offered daily in the basement of another church. God is not mentioned there either but He is present! Maybe in serving faithfully in these settings we can build relationships not only with those we serve, but the ones we serve alongside as well. God could use that to reveal Himself to those who don’t know Him, including Tom.

Lessons learned:

  • Wrong assumptions can teach you a lot! I learned to not categorize people, their motives for serving, or how God works in meeting the needs of others

  • God is at work everywhere - even if it isn’t readily apparent

  • Remember that some of the greatest opportunities to share Christ could be in a setting where His name is not spoken

-DeeDee Collins, CSM Group Leader (and friend)

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