Friendship at the Margins

I heartily recommend a book by Christopher Heuertz and Christine D. Pohl called, Friendship at the Margins: Discovering Mutuality in Service and Mission (Resources for Reconciliation) 

Backgrounds and other pictures 017One of my least resistible inclinations these days is to befriend people on the margins. It’s something I get to spend more of my time doing than ever before in my up-until-recently white middle-class life. [Well, the white part hasn’t changed except in my mind.] But I can’t say that it’s been without its challenges. Not being the most patient person God ever made, I struggle at times with compassion fatigue over the sometimes glacially sluggish spiritual progress of some of my friends in the street. This book came at a good time for me.

Pohl is professor of social ethics at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky and Heuertz is a contemplative activist who founded a ministry called “Word Made Flesh” that is incarnationally located among the poorest of the poor in a number of nations. Heuertz is not only a firebrand follower of Jesus and lover of the poor, but he’s a brilliant thinker and engaging author. I love his other books, Simple Church and Living Missionally. But of the three, this one on the practice of friendship-making among the weak and unnoticed people of the world
impacted me the most.

Reminiscent of Mother Teresa, the authors propose that genuine friendships that we make with the poor are mutually transforming. From my own experience everybody wins when the adequately and inadequately capitalized get to know each other as fellow human racers.

If you can get the book I think it would be a good investment of your time and money. If not, maybe even these few excerpts will give you, as they have me, something worthy about which to muse.

“Mission or ministry with people who are poor or vulnerable often assumes that “our” task is to meet “their” needs. Whether their need is for the good news of Christ or for bread and a place to sleep, we tend to think that we have the resources and they have the needs. A focus on friendship rearranges our assumptions. What if the resources they have also meet our needs? What if Jesus is already present in ways that will minister to us? What if in sharing life together as friends we all move closer to Jesus’ heart?”
“If we see that care for persons in need is a response of love to Jesus (Matthew 25:31-46), a chance to walk on holy ground, then our entire understanding of mission and ministry shifts. It is not what “we” do for “them,” but an opportunity for all of us to be enveloped in God’s grace and mercy. In God’s economy, it’s less clear who is donor and who is recipient because all are blessed when needs are met and when individuals receive care.”

“Friendships with people who are poor or vulnerable can challenge our arrogance in thinking we know how to fix their circumstances. . . . Friendships undermine our tendency to locate the problem “out there” and to try to fix it at a distance. . . . Friends who are poor challenge our lifestyles of consumption when they build generous and gracious lives out of very few material resources.”

“Folks know that they have been targets of one more program. And most of us resent being ‘targets,’ no matter how well intentioned the effort might be. People made in God’s image shouldn’t be seen as a project or needy recipient but as a fellow traveler.”

“Ironically, local church congregations rarely offer the support and accountability needed by those who dwell or minister in the hard places. Most Christians want and expect success stories and clean categories. Missionaries and urban workers rarely find the freedom in church to talk about their deepest challenges or uncertainties. In addition, a disturbing number of congregations make it clear that they don’t really want people whose lives are a mess (especially after they’ve become Christians), who aren’t cured of their problems quickly and completely, or who don’t successfully escape troubled circumstances. Our limited patience is evident in how we hide from those with ongoing troubles, how we avoid people with chronic disabilities and those who are dying.”

“When forced to deal with troubling complications [in our ministries among the marginalized], we often respond in one of two ways. We come up with a multitude of rules that tend to exclude troublesome people, or we become indulgent and give up trying to help people move toward maturity and wholeness. A longer, more truth-filled fidelity is needed.”

Let’s join in God’s friendship quest and look for friends that have less and look less like us!

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