“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”
Apostle Paul, 1 Cor. 13:1
Thank you Paul, those are great words, but just what exactly do they mean in the real world?
That is the question many in the mission community are struggling to deal with as churches work to better connect with people in their communities, be they in Las Vegas, China or Mexico, where I serve.
It used to be that evangelism and showing love was understood as knocking on someone’s door and sharing the Gospel with them. Whether that was through a program like Evangelism Explosion and their 2 important questions or a sharing of one of the famous Chick Tracts, saving someone from hell was seen as the ultimate expression of love.
Now we are seeing a different view as people strive to give their love a practical expression that was often missing in the types of encounters mentioned above. One of the churches I work with, Dios es Amor [God is Love Church] in Ensenada is doing a good job with this.
8 years ago we helped this church, known locally as IDBEA, realize a dream of having an overnight camp for the children of the community around their church. I remember the staff feeling overwhelmed at the thought of taking care of meals and programming for the 15 kids we had back then.
Now that little idea has morphed into a month long day camp that has almost 100 kids in attendance from 7:30 in the morning until 4:00 in the afternoon. And this year we kicked off the month with a 2-night camp that was attended by over 75 kids from the local community.
You want to talk about love? Hugs, games, exercise, good food, field trips, laughing, crying, caring adults and young people helping all contribute to an atmosphere that oozes love and compassion for the families of this little corner of God’s world in Ensenada.
What is even better is that everything that happens at this day camp is a result of the family of God saying to the community that we love you and we want to be a part of your lives.
Critics call it a social Gospel approach that seldom yields people praying the prayer, as if that is our sole hoped for response.
I call this approach, especially in a society that is wary of Christianity, earning the right to be heard.
You see, where I serve, the evangelical church does not have a very good reputation. People are suspicious of us, sometimes rightfully so. Communities have been split, families destroyed and relationships abandoned. What’s worse, these results are somehow celebrated in the evangelical church as evidence of a “true” relationship with a loving God.
I’ll admit, this approach is not for everyone. IBDEA has lost some members because they are not more aggressive in trying to get kids to pray the prayer to accept Jesus. And like a lot of churches that try this type of ministry, the change into a fully devoted follower of Jesus can at times, be painstakingly slow.
But it is happening.
I’ve watched some of those kids who came to our first camp take leadership positions as they’ve grown and we are seeing families get connected to IBDEA because of this vital ministry. I’ve also seen the community respond and offer to help in ways unimaginable just a few years ago because they see the church as a valuable asset to the colonia.
It has not been easy and there is still much to be done.
IBDEA has to think strategically about how to better integrate camp participants into the daily life of the church and they need to continue their work towards financial self-sufficiency, but those will come.
Right now they are focused on living out the love of Jesus in real and practical ways here in Ensenada... just as the Apostle Paul would have wanted.