Lent has historically been a time where we look at things that we don’t like to look at, and dwell on things that are broken and painful. And when we do, we see that this darkness is to be found both in our hearts and in the wider world around us.
It’s not hard to see pain and injustice woven into the very fabric of our neighborhoods and the nations around the world.
What is hard, though, is figuring out how to respond to this pain and injustice in ways that are proper and truly loving.
I believe that the most transformative efforts to address pain and injustice have several things in common:
- they respect the dignity of those hurting, rather than operating on a “punishment-reward” sort-of model;
- they acknowledge our fundamental equality as humans, all of whom are broken–just in different ways–and all of whom need one another to be whole;
- they empower those without power;
- they are about relationships more than getting people to “act right”;
- they require more sacrifice from the people doing the “helping” rather than those “being helped”;
- they are long-term;
- they go to where the hurting are–geographically, emotionally, and spiritually–and relates to them on their terms.
I’m always so excited when I see organizations and groups that embody these principles in their work (including my current place of employment). This is the philosophy of one of my favorite community development groups, Lemonade International, and is the reason why I jumped at the chance to participate in their 2013 Bloggers Trip next month.
liberti Easter outreach 2013
I’m excited to say that these ideas are also embodied by the annual Easter Outreach at my church family in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and Collingswood, New Jersey. This outreach is two-pronged: one domestic, one international.
For the domestic piece, we put up flyers, take referrals, and find 1,500 families in the greater Philadelphia area that would like a free three-course Easter meal for four. As a church and home groups, we call and begin building relationships with those receiving the meals, weeks before we meet them. This is a work of the whole church, not just a particular “ministry” or a chosen few.
The week before Easter, we gather and pack the meals. On Saturday, Easter Eve, we drive to every corner of the area taking these meals to the families and, as they permit, spending time with them and/or praying with them. Some families take us up on this relationship-building; others don’t. Either way, it’s not a requirement for the meal.
For those families that are willing, we also send people to follow-up with them, learn their needs, get to know them, continue praying with them, and connect them to churches in their area, if they desire. Many of the recipients of these meals are already faithful participants in other churches, and we rejoice with them in that.
For the international piece of the outreach, we work with this incredible organization called Water is Basic (WiB) to drill 3 wells in Southern Sudan. The more I find out about this organization, the more I love it.
Well-drilling is a popular choice nowadays for international relief efforts (and for good reason, both practically and theologically), but the more I’ve looked into it, the more I’ve realized that the way it’s often done is ultimately not as helpful as it could be.
Often, organizations send in their experts and crews to areas ravaged by a lack of clean water. They’ll build the well, teach people how to use it, and then leave.
What makes WiB different is that they use local labor, and pay them a livable wage for building the well. Further, they both maintain long-term relationships with those areas and (importantly) they not only train the locals to use the well, but also to maintain and repair the well over time.
Last year was the first year the liberti churches did this Sudan work. The wells dug then have given clean water to more than 9,000 people (read more of the report). This year, we will be drilling more wells in the same area, hoping to minister to these individuals in a long-term sense, perhaps even leading teams to visit them in person in the future.
What does Easter have to do with meals and wells, food and water? Wasn’t it more about the spiritual liberation of humanity, the securing of their heavenly future, and demonstrating God’s victory over death and Jesus’ vindication as the Son of God?
Yes, except for one thing: Jesus’ “spirit” was raised along with his physical body.
Easter and the Resurrection are a declaration that God’s concern extends just as much to our physical need as to our spiritual. His Resurrection is the future Order of things flooding into the present.
Further, as the Resurrection people of God, we have been tasked with bringing this Resurrection to bear on this world, it’s people, their souls, and their material needs.
And so, in this outreach work of loving our neighbors as best we know how, we seek a taste–and offer that taste–of the World to Come in which no one will be hungry or thirsty.
But similarly, as Lent reminds us, Easter is costly–both spiritually and materially.
And so, as is the case in these sorts of endeavors, we need help. We need people to call others, pack meals, drive cars, pray with people, follow-up, and love them well. (Volunteer here.)
And, of course, we also need money.
If you go to liberti (especially if you’re a member), there are few ways in which liberti is able to live out its mission in more audacious and sacrificial ways in the year. This outreach is good. It bears fruit year after year, and it is a fountain of grace to all those that will be involved (in any way). Would you consider how you might participate?
If you are currently in Philadelphia, and might not go to liberti (or might not even be a Christian), you hear of the brokenness in this city and the world; you see those whose lives are materially and relationally broken. This is a way you can help.
And even if you don’t live in Philadelphia, if you believe in these sorts of works and wish to give in a way you know will be stewarded well, please consider giving something.
And this would be a particularly good week to give. There is a matching grant for all donations that come in this week. (Give here.)
So please, would you prayerfully consider how you might participate in this work of God this Easter? Perhaps, in trying to love one another well in this outreach, we might be able to get a whiff of Heaven. And what’s not to love about that?
You can find more information about the outreach, and get involved, by visiting the official site for the effort.
[image credit: “Blood and Water” by jlwo on Flickr]