Monday, June 20, 2016

GreenTree Church Work Day

On June 11, volunteers from GreenTree Church helped us with some community clean-up. We have partnered with GreenTree on a number of projects, assisted greatly by our friends Bill Duggan and Nancy Prott. Bill and Nancy believe in what we're doing here and have encouraged others to work with us.

We have been turning our attention to community clean-ups because there is such huge need there. There is frequent illegal dumping occurring in our neighborhood. There are many neglected vacant properties and lots, and simply a lot of maintenance needed for things like signs, sidewalks, and streetlights. We connected with a few city departments to help out with the clean-up and bring attention to the other needs of the neighborhood. We see this as a vital part of Pastoring our Community. We don't have to do everything, or re-invent everything. City services exist for a reason, and we should utilize them whenever possible. This puts more eyes, attention, and resources on the area in general, and helps problems be brought to light. It also can clear up communication between residents and city departments and officials.



All this is a natural living out of the Gospel. The Gospel is about God's design, His heart, following wherever He leads. The “currency” of the Kingdom, if there could be such a thing, is love. And Jesus said the greatest form of love is sacrificial. What is it to a man if he does a good deed knowing he will be repaid, or to love a friend that has always been kind? Those are easy actions. The Gospel calls us out of an easy, self-centered life, and into a life of sacrificial love where the nations, and even our enemies, are blessed. It is always pointing to something bigger than ourselves.

But back to the work. One prevailing aspect of the day was the HEAT. We didn't break 100, but the heat and humidity started early and didn't let up. That didn't slow us down too much.

We had two vacant lots designated for brush and bulk trash. We began moving the debris to those locations. We did a lot of trimming along the alley. There were weeds, overgrown trees, and simply all kinds of mess clogging up the space and making it appear unkempt.

A fraction of our trash pile


We had weed trimmers, pruners, chainsaws, blowers, hatchets, shovels, and rakes. We even used a large tarp to help move the loose leaves and brush.

It took 11 people two and a half hours to clear one block of an alley. Just imagine if this were repeated across the city, every weekend. While it still may appear to be a “drop in the bucket”, it might be enough to initiate so much more.

Bill Duggan with the weed whip


The connection between trash and crime has been well documented (here's one study http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/UCLA-Study-Finds-Trash-Graffiti-1469). This alley is an excellent example. Besides physical evidence of crimes (needles, etc), there have been shots fired along the alley, and of course the dumping itself. Most poignantly, a car involved in a downtown murder/carjacking was dumped in this very alley. The trash continues to communicate to people that no one cares, no one is watching, none of this matters.

Unfortunately, about 4 days after the group left, someone else dumped construction debris in the alley (luckily, on top of a pile of brush that has already been reported to the city for removal). This was frustrating. A few months ago, we hosted a different volunteer group. After cleaning this very alley, one of the volunteers asked, “Isn't some of this work meaningless?” Now, she meant it in the best way possible. I don't think she was being critical or judgmental, but was trying to see how picking up trash fit in to what we do. So is it meaningless? In some ways, sure. There will always be more trash. There will continue to be selfish and inconsiderate people. Weeds will grow back. But even Jesus said we will always have the poor among us, and I certainly don't take that as a reason to cease ministering to them.

No. It is not meaningless. We were able to unite groups of believers into an act of selfless service...sacrificial love. This alone declares that the neighborhood is not a dumping ground or a wasteland. We cooperated with city services and got attention and resources to the area, and continued to open lines of communication with them. And we did clean up the place, which is meaningful not only to residents that live along it, but for the kids going to and from the elementary school located at the end of the alley.

After our work, we had lunch together


Sun Ministries will be hosting more workdays this year. To get involved, check our facebook to sign up and stay informed, or email Jason at jason@sunministries.org

Scheduled Work Days
July 16
August 13

September 10

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Sewing Center - Social Entrepreneurship, pt. 3


Our sewing center is located in the upper level of the Opportunity Center at 1515 Newhouse. It was the first business we moved to our target neighborhood of Hyde Park. We started sewing products at the suggestion of Chris at Picasso's Coffee House, one of our first supporters. He was selling messenger bags made from recycled burlap coffee sacs when his source left the area. We adjusted the design and started sewing them in our house in the suburbs. We could only do this because Suzette, Executive Director Terry Goodwin's wife, was already an excellent seamstress.

Sewing away!


When we began making bags, we were looking for businesses to start. But what would work in this setting? What would work with our existing skill sets? We knew we had to provide employment and supply our own income. Through starting businesses, we become less dependent on outside funding. We can support ourselves with the work of our hands. We didn't set out to be involved in social entrepreneurship. We didn't even set out to make bags (or have a wood shop, for that matter). We were looking for solutions to problems, and walking through opened doors of opportunity. Along the way, we encountered questions and answers we had never thought of. How do you empower people to minister? How do you create space that allows people to overcome obstacles? How do you use the work of your hands to build the Kingdom? How do you move someone from being surrounded by chaos to becoming a great employee?

In the beginning, we were sourcing bags from the local roasters in St. Louis and purchasing material at fabric stores. Eventually, we were connected with Charity Sharity, which gathers craft materials and disperses them to local charities and non-profit organizations. So now, all our fabric and other materials are free. This greatly decreases the overhead for producing the bags.

Burlap coffee bean bags waiting to be transformed


Initially, we did all the work of making bags ourselves. We had never managed a business like this before. We had never made bags like this before. Once, when we received a large order, Suzette had to teach all of us to sew, and we did from the time we got up until we went to bed. This season of the business helped us all better understand the product and labor involved, and certainly showed us how to work together. Eventually, we became better at managing production, and were able to employ a few people in the space.

We started by selling our bags at craft shows and Earth Day events. This gave us great opportunity to talk with people about our mission. Later, we took the bags to CoffeeFest, a national tradeshow for the coffee industry. We now have retailers in several states and Canada. Everywhere a bag goes, it tells a bit of the story of Sun Ministries.

Finished messenger bags waiting to be tagged and shipped


The Sewing Center has also experimented with other products, including paper, jewelry, and book covers. While we have established our regular items, we are still looking to future possibilities.

As mentioned in our previous blog, the sewing center space used to be the home of our missionaries before we bought the Leadership Center. When we moved in, there was no climate control, kitchen, or shower. There was no privacy. In the winter it got very cold. In the summer, it got very hot. Living in this environment, with close quarters and no escape, forced us to deal with relationship issues. We had to learn to work together and communicate. The thing that helped us is that we were all united in vision to accomplish the work. We knew what God had called us to, and that our work was doing more than producing bags. We were laying foundation for opportunity and hope. The Sewing Center has since been painted, insulated, and organized. A finished bathroom and office have been added. Extra lighting, air conditioners, and ceiling fans have been installed. We enclosed the top of the staircase to keep out noise from the woodshop. It is now a much more pleasant place to work.

Sewing Center today.  Notice, the work stations are set up so workers can see each other and converse.

One aspect that makes the Sewing Center special is that it allows participation from home. We've sent fabric and sewing machines home with ladies to make products. This is helpful for single mothers or other people with circumstances that would prevent them from coming in to work every day.


Through the sewing center and other endeavors, God is showing us that He has a purpose for our creativity and skill. In the Bible, God sent His spirit upon His people to be able to perform many crafts and creative works in order to build the tabernacle. We see God continue to do this. He has given us creativity and skill to work with Him to create products. We can express our selves and what He does through different materials, whether they be burlap, fabric, or wood. Utilizing repurposed materials not only lowers our overhead and helps us care for the earth, but it is a fitting metaphor for the hope God is bringing here. He is providing a second chance. He is coming alongside people to make them into something new, wonderful, useful, and whole.

Read Social Entrepreneurship, part 1 - Sun Cafe

Read Social Entrepreneurship, part 2 - Wood Shop

Monday, May 16, 2016

Wood Shop - Social Entrepreneurship, pt 2



We will continue discussing social entrepreneurship by looking at our wood shop.

The building that contains our wood shop, located at 1515 Newhouse, has quite the story. Originally, it housed a printing company. Starting in the 60's, G. W. Helbling and Sons moved in. They produced screens for silk screeners. It was a family business. One of the elder Helblings was well-known for being able to produce the smallest font size in the area, because at that time, lettering was hand cut.

The ghost sign from the original tenant of the building is still visible on the back wall.

In early 2009, we began walking the Hyde Park neighborhood, praying and picking up trash. Occasionally, we would meet people. We knew God had called us here, but we were certainly strangers. At the time, we would regularly pray and fast, asking God to lead us in what He was building. We were sewing and doing wood working at one of our homes in the suburbs. We didn't know what we would do as winter approached. So in November, we told God our concerns. We can't pick up trash when snow is covering the ground. There's no public restroom to use. We know we don't need facilities for ministry, but we don't know what to do.

A few days later we were back in the neighborhood, eating at the only restaurant in Hyde Park. Terry, our executive director, was explaining to the waitress how we were having trouble trying to build deck chairs in his garage when we didn't even have a work bench. About a week later, she called Terry and told him someone was selling some workbenches. Not long after, Terry drove up to 1515 Newhouse and met Tim Helbling for the first time.

How the Opportunity Center looked when we got it.

After some pleasantries, and realizing the work benches were far too large for us to use (they were constructed inside the shop), Tim asked Terry what he was up to. Terry told him about what Sun Ministries planned to do, living out the call of Isaiah 61, rebuilding ancient ruins. Tim remarked that Terry was the most optimistic person he knew, and offered to sell Terry his building. Before Terry could answer, Tim laughed and said he could either let it rot, or give it to someone who could use it. “If I give it to you, will you use it?” Of course. “And how about all these wood working tools?” Definitely.

But why were we doing woodworking to begin with? We were inspired by a man pastoring his community in Kigali, Rwanda. He was using sewing and woodworking to provide jobs for women and orphans, moving them from homelessness and sex trafficking to a steady livelihood. We learned early on while walking the streets that there is not a lack of Jesus being represented or preached. “I can get Jesus from my grandma,” remarked one kid. “I need a job.”

While we had planned to have social enterprises (businesses), this remark, and Eugene's work, solidified the goal to create businesses that could employ people with multiple obstacles and minister to their physical needs, while we proclaim and demonstrate the Gospel. The Good News is not simply about salvation. It is the Good News of the Kingdom where the poor and orphans are cared for, where humanity functions more like a living organism, and God's glory is like a light in a dark place. This is not done by words alone, but by sacrificial acts of love and service.

We started with basic wood products, buying lumber from big box stores. Eventually, we were convinced by one missionary's father to check out some pallets, and this transformed our wood shop. We now had free (although labor intensive) wood.
pallet smashing 101

So now that we had a woodshop, a few product designs, and free lumber, we still didn't quite have a business, and certainly didn't have full understanding of how to utilize it to bring opportunity. We tried a work re-entry program, partnering with another non-profit organization. That was eye opening, to say the least. After that, we were convinced that we needed to establish our foundation. We needed to create a work space, design specific products, develop training, and learn the skills ourselves.

Since then, the woodshop has seen a number of people come through. It has proven to be a difficult place to employ people. It requires math skills, intuition, and extreme attention and safety due to the dangerous power tools. It has also laid the groundwork for our maintenance services, as it gave us the environment to learn how to use saws, drills, hammers, etc.
our commercial table tops made from recycled pallet wood

The woodshop established us firmly in the Hyde Park neighborhood. Now that we had a work place, and work to do, we were here much more often, usually with the doors wide open. Eventually, we moved in to the upper level while we continued to look for housing, and then rehabilitated the house we finally did find. We have made numerous items for charitable auctions, fixed widows' stairs, installed cafe bar fronts, and of course, built all our own tables and chairs for Sun Cafe. Our commercial furniture can be seen in several local coffee shops, as well as some further out, as we've gotten customers from places like Kansas and Wisconsin.
tables and chairs in a local coffee shop


The woodshop continues to evolve. Having started from ground zero concerning both skill and tools, we've come a long way. We are developing and stabilizing product lines, exploring marketing, and continuing to transform the space into a safe, efficient, work environment.

To see examples of our past work, visit one of the posts below:

Monday, May 9, 2016

Sun Cafe – Social Entrepreneurship, pt 1




 Our previous blog discussed our perspective on Social Entrepreneurship. We will continue this through examining each of our social enterprises, starting with Sun Cafe.

The vision of Sun Cafe has been with us since we first began the Isaiah 61 Initiative in early 2009. Our plan was to have a coffee and ice cream shop that could employ people and provide hospitality. As we pursued that goal, it became clear that the cafe was not the business with which to start. Instead, we focused on our wood shop and sewing center, and began the never-ending work of understanding what God had called us to.

1435 Salisbury, the location of Sun Cafe, before work began on the building
However, the vision was still with us, and we knocked ideas around in the midst of all our other projects. Eventually, we were approached by a developer who offered us an amazing location at Blair and Salisbury, two blocks off I-70, in the first floor of a three-story commercial live-over. The building had been vacant for decades and was in terrible condition. When we first entered the space, we could look down through a hole in the floor and see the dirt of the basement, and look up and see blue sky.

This started a lengthy and convoluted process of really developing the nature and goals of the cafe. Starting a restaurant is not easy, and it is one of the riskier businesses to start from scratch. None of us had managed a restaurant, although most of us had food service experience.

We discussed the menu, which began as a simple list of some of our favorite foods, exploded into an international selection, and eventually settled down into something similar to most diners, but with a few house specialties thrown in (such as the Louie, cornmeal pancakes, and the dirty mug). Some of our own family recipes were even included. Of course, we had a full coffee menu, including espresso drinks and pour-over coffee. Desserts included ice cream and baked goods.
mmm...coffee...

The d├ęcor was intended to represent the history and future of the neighborhood. We wanted to mix industrial and Victorian elements, with a color scheme that brought warmth and hearkened to our love of coffee. We put in a stage so that we could bring musicians and other artistic acts into the neighborhood. We left wall space for displaying visual arts.
1435 Salisbury in its (first) heyday

As I mentioned, the building itself needed a lot of work, and the blueprints saw numerous revisions. The rehab of the building took over two years and gave us time to develop the idea of the cafe, source equipment, and mature our existing projects. We finally opened in February of 2014, initially by simply taking down the paper on the windows (we had a “grand opening” a couple weeks later). We were assisted by equipment donations, flooring donations, some favors from friends and partners, and a lot of hard work. We finished out the space, including painting the walls, installing the flooring, building our bar, bakery case, and chairs, and putting finishing touches on the place.
our grand opening

However, these are all simply brick-and-mortar issues. The real story of Sun Cafe is in its very purpose. Sun Cafe exists to create a hub for connecting, serving, casting vision and providing hospitality. As mentioned in previous blogs, our businesses support the ministry as well as provide employment environments. However, each business also takes part in the rebuilding of Isaiah 61. Not only are buildings being renewed, but economy is being built up, and hope restored. We may be biased, but Sun Cafe is a nice space. We wanted to stand against the physical decay and negative attitudes over the area by making a beautiful and welcoming environment. The cafe brings people, and money, from outside the area into our neighborhood. We've hosted celebrations and discussions. We often have music to enjoy.

Sun Cafe definitely made the work of Sun Ministries very public. It has served as a connecting point with neighborhood residents, government officials, non-profits, churches, artists, police, and families. It certainly put us face to face with many people, and opened up opportunity to cast vision.

art displayed at Sun Cafe
The cafe has many challenges. It was our first business to have set hours. It is in very close quarters with the general public. The kitchen is always a stressful place. It contains lots of big equipment requiring regular maintenance. And like I said, we lacked restaurant management experience. Add all that on top of running four other businesses and trying to take on ministry projects, and you have quite the work load. While we've had our bumps, we are hopeful that the cafe can be a positive environment for our employees and customers. We plan to utilize its public nature to promote more community organization and progress. We host regular ServSafe certification courses for our employees and the public.

Besides offering food, coffee, and ice cream, Sun Cafe also does catering. We host meetings and parties. And we're open to other creative partnerships for utilizing our space and services.


You can learn more about Sun Cafe by visiting our website, or checking out our facebook and twitter  feeds. You can also visit the Isaiah 61 Initiative site to read some different perspective on the purpose of the cafe.

Read Social Entrepreneurship, part 2 - Wood Shop

Read Social Entrepreneurship, part 3 - Sewing Center

Monday, May 2, 2016

Pastoring the Community, pt. 3: Social Entrepreneurship


Social entreprenuership is generally defined as the use of business to address social problems. That is essentially what the Sun Ministries Opportunity Center does. We currently run 5 businesses which act as employment and training environments for people with obstacles. We are also using them to rebuild the economy of our neighborhood. They provide jobs, bring money and visitors into the area, and act as a tool to highlight the problems we face. Our customers are aware of the nature of our work, regardless of what business they're patronizing, and learn about the challenges people have and the immensity of the solutions necessary to overcome them.

We are creating opportunity for the oppressed with the work of our hands, instead of storing up wealth for ourselves. Our missionaries are not paid, and they live a modest lifestyle so that we can use most of our resources for the ministry. We can improve our businesses, provide steady hours and decent pay for our employees, and be involved in other ministry opportunities in the neighborhood.

We are utilizing all of our resources - money, labor, creativity, skills, materials – for the sake of the Kingdom. Our businesses provide skill and tools for ministry. We've used vehicles and tools to do community clean-ups. We've used our maintenance and construction skills to fix widows' homes. We've utilized our cafe for our employees' family gatherings, and for employee Christmas parties. This is simply taking the values of the Good News of the Kingdom and applying them to everything we do- not just to our own personal attitudes and actions, but also to our businesses. In living the Gospel, we can utilize all we have and do in outwardly-focused ministry opportunities. The Gospel of Jesus is always bigger than our selves and always sacrificial, and there's no reason that should not permeate our businesses.

This business model also fits in to the long-term, big picture view of Pastoring the Community. Rebuilding economy takes time. Reentering the workforce takes time. We have to be creative, patient, and always looking to solve problems.

We have learned that not all people can perform all tasks. Having multiple businesses gives us the ability to move people around. It also diversifies our income so that the ministry as a whole can continue to function, even if one of the businesses does poorly for a while.

Pastoring the Community also involves care, and we've already shared some examples of that. In restoring buildings, creating nice spaces, and stabilizing areas, we are caring for the neighborhood as a whole. Our restaurant, Sun Cafe, has especially played a role in being a meeting space for all sorts of businesses and organizations.

We've also found that when you set your intentions on following God's design, He builds something you didn't expect. We've already talked about the idea of a prepared work, which is spoken of in Ephesians 2:10. Besides the miraculous provision and planning that has come about, we've witnessed that the businesses God has built here function differently. They are places where ministry can occur, where pride can be challenged and yet esteem built up.

To learn more about the Opportunity Center and our businesses, visit our websites:
http://www.suncafeandmarket.org


Read Pastoring the Community, Part 1 - Social Justice

Read Pastoring the Community, Part 2 - Urban Renewal

Friday, April 22, 2016

Pastoring the Community, pt. 2: Urban Renewal


The model of “Pastoring the Community” can also be explored in terms of urban renewal. We see this most obviously in Isaiah 61
“Then they will rebuild the ancient ruins. They will raise up the former devastations; and they will repair the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations.” [NASB]

Like other organizations involved in urban renewal, we also take part in housing, economic development (through starting businesses and providing employment), refocusing resources, and building partnerships. However, we know that the work doesn't stop, nor start, there.

In Isaiah 61, it all starts with the Holy Spirit (The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me...to bring good news to the afflicted). In the New Testament, you see the Holy Spirit falling on people and moving them to preach, heal, and care for those around them. It was the thing that knit together the Church. This new life brings with it healing and transformation for those who receive it. They go on to engage in the good works they were made to do (Ephesians 2:10).

If you look closely at Isaiah 61, you see that those rebuilding the ancient ruins were the afflicted who received good news, were healed, and transformed. Money cannot do this. Development cannot do this. Jobs cannot do this. Those can all be tools, at times necessary, to help with the process.

There is an aspect of coming along side people and neighborhoods that has to happen. This is vital for equity to be present. To give up your self and your plans, and to use what you have to create opportunity for others, caring for them, are some actions that are required to work within the midst of these external, physical tools like jobs and housing.

We've all inherited the effects of the sins of those who've come before us. The sins of our fathers include racism, neglect, violence, oppression, apathy, escapism...it goes on and on. The church has tried a variety of ways to approach these wounds, ranging from being the ones on the front lines, laying down their lives and bringing things to light, to engaging society through marketing and pop culture. The Gospel of the Kingdom is good news that affects all of life because it has something to say about all of life. How you interact with neighbors and enemies. How you treat laborers. How you utilize money. How you view government. What you do with the work of your hands. How you live with fellow believers, caring for and ministering with them. The American dream is something else we've inherited, an idea that has changed our perspective of reality and purpose. Ultimately, it is self-serving. Climb the ladder, get a house, be successful. The Gospel says lay down your life, take up your cross, and follow Jesus.

Sun Ministries is seeking to develop faith communities through our missionary work. This is not the same as a church, at least not the popular definition of the term. This is a community of believers, ministering actively in their neighborhoods, through the use of their gifts and the work of their hands. It creates networks of businesses, providers, caretakers, and opportunities for creativity and entrepreneurship to develop.

Location is a vital part of urban renewal. You can't effectively be pastoring a community that is not yours. If you can walk away from the gun shots, decay, pollution, and signs of neglect, you will never be affected by them the same way. Living in the midst of it not only more effectively makes you an agent of renewal (by being a member in the community, living in a house, working in a business, walking down the streets, playing in the parks), it also more effectively makes you an agent of reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5:18-20 NASB “Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself...and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though Christ were making an appeal through us...”

This ministry of reconciliation is a matter of relationships. We live in a world of relationships broken by division – racism, distrust, abuse. We must address these intentionally and mindfully. These are the same wounds that have affected urban areas, and God's people have the Spirit and the word of reconciliation to come in and start to bring healing. This happens through enacting equity, through laying aside privilege and utilizing our labor, compassion, resources, and gifts to minister.

This starts as simply as loving our neighbor. As we said previously, the Bible states 8 times that this act is the fulfillment of the law. Just imagine if every Christian owned this ministry of reconciliation, began loving their neighbors and enemies, and walked the way Jesus did. Even if we're not specifically called to a work in the inner city, if God's people begin living by His design, then urban spaces, and the people living there, would be renewed.


Read Pastoring the Community, Part 1 - Social Justice

Read Pastoring the Community, Part 3 - Social Entrepreneurship

Friday, April 15, 2016

Pastoring the Community, pt. 1: Social Justice

We refer to our approach to urban ministry as “pastoring the community”. We did not create the term, and the model was inspired by missionary work done in various parts of Africa. However, it is a model of ministry that God has led us in to, and which we feel is a new paradigm in not only inner-city ministry, but for the Church itself. While what we do is contextualized to the inner-cities of America, any community can be “pastored”. Though God has given us a model, there is not a script to follow. It is certainly guided by principles and values, and the problems are going to be similar in different areas, but the unique situations and individuals of each community will require that the specific solutions differ from place to place.

There are several avenues we can use to explore the concept of pastoring the community. The first avenue we will pursue is “social justice”.

The Google dictionary definition for “social justice” is as follows:
justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society.

While our views on justice, and the work we do, certainly address some of these areas, we're convinced that God is the source of true justice, and that He is leading His people into manifesting that today. God certainly didn't leave us ignorant when it comes to justice

Zechariah 7:9-10 NASB
“Thus the LORD of hosts said, 'Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.”

While that bit of instruction can feel lacking in light of current socio-political concerns such as racism, corporate corruption, ecological disasters, sex trafficking, etc., it is still God's heart on the matter of True Justice, and should not be dismissed. He desires compassion. We ourselves should be sure to not oppress anyone, nor even have evil in our hearts. Our compassion should spring from our hearts and inspire our actions.

Our ministry has been influenced by Isaiah 58, which describes a lifestyle of fasting – daily laying down your life for the sake of the oppressed. It is living in such a way that yokes are not even in your midst. It is not a religious show of piety or devotion, but an authentic giving up of your self to others. This passage is concerned with watching what you speak, providing food, clothing, and shelter, caring for the homeless, oppressed, your laborers, and even your family. Again, it could be dismissed, as it doesn't directly address global concerns. But these are corporate instructions to the people of God, and again, concerned with the content of your heart and how that directs your actions towards others.

One thing God has led us into is the idea of equity, contrasting that with equality. Equality is a term often used concerning social justice. But let's look at equality and equity in this manner: imagine we are all standing outside a building, and we need to get to the third floor. There is a stair case. All are welcome to go up the same staircase, and end on the same landing at the third floor. This is equality – the pathway is open to all and the goal is the same. However, what if you have just broken your foot? Is equality good enough for you? Will you be able to walk up the staircase as easily and freely as everyone else? Certainly not. You require someone to come along side you and help you up the staircase to the third floor. This is equity. Equality is really just advantage for those without any obstacles, those for whom the circumstances were designed to serve. Equality leaves you with these options: begin a slow, painful, and awkward struggle up the stair case, or simply accept that the third floor is not accessible to you.

Jesus manifested equity. He had all rights, privilege, power, and authority. He deserved everything, was entitled to everything, and had the ultimate status. He possessed every advantage imaginable. Yet he set all that aside, and came down to helpless, hurting people, to live among them as one of them. He then became a sacrifice for their sins to reconcile them back to the Father and usher in the Holy Spirit. Even in His saving grace He enacted equity How many sins were you forgiven when you accepted the gracious gift of salvation? 10? 1,000? What about your neighbor? How many sins were they forgiven? 40? 4,000? All of them. God didn't forgive a thousand for you and a thousand for them, letting you deal with the difference. He compensated for everyone's differing abundance of sin and forgave all the same. He didn't come only to the not-so-least of these. He came to the very least of these, to create a way for all of humanity to come to know and live with their Heavenly Father.

As Jesus' disciples, we are called to walk the same way He did. To lay aside our rights, privileges, expectations, demands, desires, and reservations in order to come along side those in need, so that they can receive love and assistance, and come to know their Father in Heaven. This is compassion and justice.

One obstacle to truly understanding justice is our own context. God's justice is as above our ideas of justice as He is above us. Standards of justice are culturally relative. Modern Americans may feel it's unjust to lack access to clean water. However, for millenia, all of humanity had to walk to the nearest water source to retrieve drinkable water, water that would likely not pass most of today's standards. Furthermore, God's sovereignty is far above our understanding of the times. Neither of these, however, lets us off the hook when it comes to compassion or serving the least of these. Despite our context, God's heart is the same.

Even so, this reality can lead some to a frustrated and overwhelmed state. What do we do with the innumerable things we observe and experience that deeply hurt us? We start where Jesus did. Laying down our life, and doing what we see our Father doing. Living obediently. Loving our neighbor. Scripture states 8 times that loving your neighbor is the fulfillment of the Law. That's a good a place as any to start.


Ephesians 2:10 states that God has prepared good works for you to do long before you were born. These prepared works are part of why you exist. They are the good things you were designed to do. These works will minister to this world in ways only God could orchestrate. These could be small and seemingly meaningless, or they could change the course of history. The important thing to realize is that they are only found in God.


Read Pastoring the Community, Part 2 - Urban Renewal

Read Pastoring the Community, Part 3 - Social Entrepreneurship