When you think of missionary work, what comes to mind? A remote village in Ecuador or Mozambique? A hospital in Indonesia? An orphanage in Haiti? For some of us, maybe, but for the vast majority of us, our mission field is the street on which we live. Says Kristin Schell in The Turquoise Table, "Sometimes we are called far and wide on a mission, but more often we are called to love others in our everyday, ordinary lives . . . right where we live: in our own front yards."
Because my husband and I believe that Biblical hospitality is one of the most practical ways to touch a lost and dying world with the love of Jesus, we regularly invite others to share a meal around our table. Hospitality is something I am quite passionate about, and books on the subject are my most-read non-fiction choices. I usually read three or four of them every year.
One of the absolute best is The Ministry of Ordinary Places, by Shannan Martin.
We have all probably heard the old song "They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love," but, quite honestly, love isn't what oozes out of the vast majority of Christians. Too often, we put on our sanctimonious faces and look down our noses at those who aren't just like we are. We feel good about ourselves by attending church regularly, reading our Bibles, passing out tracts, and taking short-term missions trips to Central America or our own country's inner-city slums. And all the while we are looking like such "good Christians," the unbelieving and rough-around-the-edges folks in our neighborhoods feel judgment. We don't want to pour out love on then; in fact, we don't even want to get to know them.
Well, in The Ministry of Ordinary Places, Shannan Martin makes the case that "the world would not feel so impossible if each of us committed to truly knowing five of our nearest neighbors." Sharing her own story of wholeheartedly embracing those in her broken and hurting urban neighborhood, Shannan inspires us to stop playing it safe and to really invest in the lives of those around us---and not just with a desire to convert them, but with a desire to really love them!
One of my favorite passages from the book---"What if we all made a pact to not invite anyone to church if we hadn't already invited them over for a meal?"
We Christians tell God that we want to do "big" things for him, that we want to reach the world for Christ. For most of us, that isn't going to happen overseas or even on a week-long missions trip to Panama (or wherever). It's going to happen right where we are right now! In our very neighborhoods---maybe even right next door---there are people living in darkness, people who need to be touched with the love of Christ. Loving on them is every bit as "big" to God as is loving on unbelievers across the globe. Why do we so often not see that?
I moved into my current neighborhood a year and a half ago, and, even before reading The Ministry of Ordinary Places, God had put this "neighborhood mission field" passion on my heart. Just like Ms. Martin, "I am hungry to get to know the people near me, and for an introvert with deep mind-my-own-business tendencies, this vast, instinctive departure from my personality is proof of God."
This book is amazing . . . and inspiring . . . and challenging. Of all the "reaching out" books I have read in the last few years (3 this year alone), The Ministry of Ordinary Places is the one that has impacted me most of all. By loving the people around us, we really ARE making the world a better place. I encourage everyone to read this book---and then put its ideas into practice.
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