It was early in the history of my ministry, Adventures in Life and we were getting ready to start on our first project in northern Mexico.
We had been asked to help a small community of people, living in the village of Santa Rosa, on the free road to Ensenada, build a church. But before we could begin, we told the locals that their part was to get land for this new church.
When I received the call from Pastor Jorge that they had the land, we headed south for a chance to see the site and pray with the leaders of this new church.
We went out in the evening, saw the site and soon it was dark. In an area with no electricity, when it gets dark, it gets really dark. I talking you couldn’t see your face dark. I was thinking it was time to leave, particularly since I couldn’t see anything, but Pastor Jorge and his team were having none of that.
We went there to pray, and we were going to pray. So we circled up on the land where the church would be built. Along with Pastor Jorge were a few members of his church in El Sauzal, the first believers from Santa Rosa and, standing next to me, a man who was to become the pastor of this new church, Carlos Rios.
There we stood in the darkness beseeching God to bless this new work, asking for his guidance, mercy, provision and will to be done. And then somewhere in the middle of all this praying, Carlos Rios leaned over to give me what I expected to be a personal word of encouragement.
“Hermano David” he said in his broken English... “You’re standing in crap!” I was thinking that yes, our ministry was indeed in crap because we really had no idea how to build a church and everuone there was counting on us. But Carlos wasn’t talking about our ability to build a church... he had another concern.
There in the middle of the village of Santa Rosa, on the free road to Ensenada, with a group of Christian leaders praying to God to guide this new ministry that I was soon to be helping with Adventures in Life, I was standing in crap!
I still did not understand until my not so finely tuned city nose got the message and I looked down and realized what had happened. I had stepped in a giant fresh pile of cow crap, had broken the crust and in addition to what was all over my shoes, the smell was now killing our prayer time.
Despite the smell and the jokes that followed, that night literally launched Adventures in Life Ministry. Within a few months we had a church built there for the 100 residents of that small village.
And with that experience, we have gone on to help churches all over Mexico realize their dreams of a place to freely worship Jesus.
Sometimes in ministry, to be effective, you need to step in crap. And that, I fear is what is happening to me again.
In May, I will be heading into the Sierra Mixteca, an area two hours north of Oaxaca City. I am going because AIL Ministry has been asked by local community and political leaders to help their people get fish farms so they can have food on their tables.
My partner Chablé and I are trying to build, through helping meet the very real needs of people in this region, authentic Christian relationships that will enable us to share one day about the love of Jesus.
In this area, in order not to split communities and pit families against each other, we must work with people most Christian missionaries shun. One local Christian missionary from the US was recently given the opportunity to serve alongside Chablé in this very area. He decided that he couldn’t, because, to sum it up, the people with whom he would have to spend his time were real big sinners, not interested in Jesus.
Jesus understood a little about this type of attitude. Jesus was a man who stepped in a lot of crap to connect with people.
Sitting alongside a Samaritan woman at the well? Pile of crap.
Welcoming and eating with sinners and tax collectors? Another pile of crap.
Take a close look at this picture.
Pastor Chablé is using my computer, with a picture of our fish farm, to explain the idea to people in San Juan Escutia Coquilla. These are the men who are asking for our help and who know we are evangelicals trying to share about Jesus.
Unfortunately, what you are also seeing are piles of crap all over the table with the name Victoria... bottles of beer.
To me, this is a great picture. Evangelical Christians, meeting with leaders, on their turf, to discuss how to save lives and connect with people. We are, in Young Life lingo, earning the right to be heard later on the question of Jesus.
Unfortunately, with the beer in the picture, many people will be critical of us. They’ll look disapprovingly on the picture and decide against helping simply because there was beer on the table.
Many will see this picture and decide there is no way we are even Christians because we did not condemn the Oaxacan people with us because of the beer.
Ministry is messy.
Especially so when we are crossing cultural and linguistic barriers. My fear is that in our zeal to be pure, or very Christian, we are choosing to avoid the piles cows leave behind. And that is compromising our message.
We are in effect, sending the subtle message, well understood by those not like us, that we are better than they are. Is that what Christ intended? What was he really saying when he ate with sinners and sat down with the woman at the well?
Sometimes to be effective in ministry we don’t need to do much. We just need to step in the proverbial pile of crap.
What about you... have you stepped in it lately?