Sunday, June 5, 2011

Missions, Ministry and Instant Coffee

Let me just start off by saying that I am a coffee snob. That isn't to say that I wont drink what I can get. I am after all, like most Americans, severely dependent on coffee to maintain consciousness. However, instant coffee I normally turn my nose up at. In Haiti at night we could have this ultra strong earthy bitter Haitian brewed coffee that was, lets just say "to die for"! However, in the morning, when it mattered most, all I had was instant coffee.

One day I asked the mission staff at the Baptist Haiti Mission if I could buy some "real" coffee from them (the same that they had at night) and they informed me that it had just run out. So, I was stuck with name brand but no less terrible instant coffee which I had to drink twice as much of for the same effect that I would normally get from my favorite Starbuck's Morning Blend roast or my wife's favorite Dunkin' Donuts coffee.

However, this smell, the smell of instant coffee is one that I strangely enjoy, as I found out today.

I used to be involved in a homeless ministry at a park in Modesto. I would alternate weekends with the one who started this ministry, my pastor's son, Michael. At one point, because of a schedule change at work, I could no longer be there on Sunday mornings and would make only occasional substitute appearances. That was when the ministry was young, and I LOVED it. Since then, I've moved about 30 minutes away (which really is only about 15 minutes further away than before) and have found no reason to go back, until last Sunday.

Michael (aka Mick) was showing me some photos on his digital camera of the large group that were out at the park. There were at least 65 homeless men and women there for the warm breakfast, short sermon and fellowship with a few members from our church. I felt that tug in my gut all of the sudden. Now I'm not one of those guys who believes that every knee jerk, liver quiver and stray thought is a obligatory message from God, but before I could think about it I asked Mick, "you guys need any help down there?"

Like any good ministry leader he smiled, "We could use some help."

Just like that, I had committed to the ministry again. I absolutely love this ministry. It has been a fruitful one too, but I had considered for the last couple of years that the College Bible Study that I teach every Sunday and my new role as a deacon would be my ministries. I have had problems in the not-too-distant past with over-stretching and over-committing myself at church. As a matter of fact, I received a somewhat well-deserved critique from my pastor for this very reason recently.

I couldn't help it. This morning I got up early to do some extra Bible study since I neglected it on Saturday, but my kids, who are apparently preparing to someday become bakers, were already up playing with the Star Wars figurines. I made some breakfast and headed to the......... monthly men's breakfast. I know!

Within a few seconds of hopping in the car I prayed a short prayer, dedicating my day to Jesus and WHAM! I changed my destination. Sure men's breakfast is a great way to start your Sunday morning, but homeless ministry REALLY glorifies God, and that became clear as day.

I arrived at the park and presented Mick with a box of about 120 pocket sized Gideon New Testaments that I had been carrying around in my car for quite some time, seeing as how I've managed to hand out about 20 in the last 12 months, I figured that this ministry would probably have a bit more success than I've had in dispersing these. I walked up to our familiar little table with four of Orangeburg Baptist Church's committed urban missionaries standing around talking about Jesus and drinking coffee, then the smell hit me. Instant Coffee.

On one hand, I was glad that I had already had a few cups of my precious breakfast blend this morning, but on the other hand, I was, in an instant, transported back to Haiti. My heart raced, I felt lighter, my eyes met the eyes of the homeless men and women hungry, HUNGRY for the gospel. Some ask innocent, honest questions, some put on errs that they already know the Bible and others have dynamic and fruitful relationships with the Lord. One fellow, maybe a year or two younger than me (I'm 30 for those reades who don't know me) points to the little green New Testaments sitting on the table and asked, "Do those have the ten commandments and seven deadly sins in them?"

One of our energetic evangelists scoffed "the seven sins aren't Biblical". I smiled at my fellow evagelist, then the gentleman who obviously was raised Catholic.

"Yes they are!" I said shooting a sharp glance at the scoffer, "but not how you might have heard them before." Then I began to explain to him what Jesus taught about sin and forgiveness and the reason for the law and that the law is good, but that we have a reason to hope in Jesus Christ and about His teachings from the Sermon on the Mount. The inquisitor looked pensive, took the Bible from my hands and responded with genuine gratitude.

God filled me up. That joy I was missing, thinking that I could only get back in Haiti was suddenly there again. It isn't just a matter of evangelizing, I do that other places. It was the mission. It was doing what God ordained me to do today, being in His will. I sought God's glory, and God's glory was proclaimed. Pure, honest, beautiful ministry. Not romanticized, not easy, not without flaws, but sufficient for God to work with. The outflowing of God's glory through me is like no other sensation and it fills you up and energizes you better than Starbuck's Breakfast Blend.