Amazements and Learnings Part 2 – The Great Commission is Never Without Opposition

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Mission Planting in Dallas – Amazements and Learnings Part 2

The Great Commission is Never Without Opposition

Faithfulness to the Great Commission is never without opposition. I do not come by this rationally because it makes no intuitive sense. I come by this phenomenologically because I have seen it happen over and over and over again.  And often that opposition comes from the most unlikely of places.

“Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”  “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” – as related in Luke 9:49-50

The location for our mission plant that the Spirit led us to was parking lot at a Salvation Army center right across the street from the hospitals. We went in and asked permission to hand out food and warm clothing in their parking lot, and got permission.  I explained who we were and what our intentions were.  I explained that we weren’t just doing a street mission, but were teaching seminary and doctoral students how to do it, and that because of that, we needed to show them how to start from scratch.  The people we spoke to understood the need and were positive about what we were doing. We always do trash clean-up and site beautification at our sites because that, too, is part of God’s intend.  We work hard to leave everything better than we found it. So we picked up the gin bottles and beer cans and others sorts of litter that were all over the parking lot.  We thought that was something we could do to say “Thank you” to our site hosts. Within about two hours, their security people came out and told us to move along.  After clarifying the whole permission thing, they told it was fine to stay, and they even participated with us.  We had some great conversations with them. It was clear that day that we were on the same team.  Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”

The second day, however, after we had been there for about two hours, we were told that we had not gotten permission from the “right” person. We were told we needed to leave per the instructions of the executive director of the Salvation Army, who was not there the day before, and actually was not there very often due to her off-site responsibilities.  So we thanked them and offered them some food, packed up and left within just a few minutes.  Again, we cleaned up the lot which was again littered with liquor bottles and beer cans.  Our mission was orderly and unobtrusive, but I do understand property liability and negligence issues having been a business owner in the past.  I like to assume the very best until I know something else to be the case, so I assume they moved us along because of their liability exposure.  Otherwise, I like to think that we are on the same team.  We don’t care much for the “who gets the credit” thing, because we want God alone to get the credit. We referred everyone who came to the mission to the Salvation Army for services that are offered there.  A lot of the newly homeless people who were there did not know what the Salvation Army did there.  For us, it’s about the present Kingdom of God, and Kingdom and credit are incompatible. The Salvation Army had been there before we came, and would be there long after we left.

The third and last day on the ground, we opted to avoid possible conflict with the Salvation Army, and since we needed to teach other methods of street ministry anyway, we opted to work out of the two bus stops on the sidewalks on either side of the street in front of the hospital.  Our decision was more based on our desire to teach these students how to do a drop-in and drop-off ministry than it was about worry over the hassle of getting permission.  Drop-in and Drop-off methodology was what we felt the Holy Spirit calling us to do that day. Within minutes of our arrival, the executive director had her security people call the police.  At no time did we even set foot on their property. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the homeless situation in Dallas, people who help the homeless are frequently arrested. As it is in other cities, “homelessness” per se is not illegal, but pretty much everything a person is left to do for survival is made illegal, including loitering. Homelessness is not legislated as a crime, but it is seen as a crime, and the homeless are often persecuted. Shopping carts and temporary structures are against city ordinances now and result in ticketing or arrest, for example.  And people who actively help or encourage them, are open to ticketing and arrest, too.  It is what it is. I don’t know what the intend of the executive director actually was, but the arc of her action was bent toward our arrest, or being ticketed and run-off the street.

Please, understand that my sympathies are with business owners, too.  The homeless can be disruptive to businesses. They can be downright unpleasant and can drive off business. Some homeless folks are actually dangerous. But there were no storefront businesses in the area where we were working other than a fast-food place, and we made sure not to venture onto their property or obstruct their business in any way.  And all of them were there when we got there, so we weren’t attracting anyone to an area where they were not already present in large numbers. So, what was the purpose of calling the police? How would that in any way help the homeless that we were both there to serve and to serve among? We were handing out warm clothing, and given that two homeless people had frozen to death right down the street the night before, wouldn’t it make sense to get that kind of survival stuff out there? Not everyone who wants a bed at the Salvation Army gets one. Many are turned away.  Who cares for their needs? Our street ministry is aimed to help those who fall between the cracks.  The same team, right? Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”

One of our team members went over to speak to the police officer when he arrived, and tell him what we were doing.  We had soup, coffee, and some warm clothing items. She told him we were getting that stuff out, and praying with folks, and cleaning up the sidewalk areas and bus stops.  He told her that since she had told the truth and we doing something good, he not only wouldn’t arrest us or run us off, but would stay and make sure we were safe.  It turned out to be an amazing day of conversions and conversations and connections that could not have happened had we gone back to the parking lot where we started.  So, I am grateful for the Spirit’s leading.  And I am grateful that we were not only not arrested, but were actually supported by this amazing law enforcement officer.  The lead security officer at the Salvation Army stood on the steps and scowled and glared.  The Kingdom of God had come to earth just fifty yards away, and for whatever reason, he missed his day of visitation.  We cleaned up the sidewalks and bus stops and the public grass up and down the street, including in front of the Salvation Army.  We still believe they are doing God’s work, and that we’re on the same team.  But I was saddened once again by the experience.

I have been doing missional ministry for fifteen years, and this is by no means the only time I have run into this phenomenon.  We do a regular street ministry right now that gives out survival items and hot food and drink. We do it through our StreetLife Ministries, in conjunction with other cool groups like Street Team from Concordia University.  We will partner with anyone who will partner with us. We do this in Martin Luther King Park on Saturdays.  We are 200 hundreds from what was once an absolutely amazing and ground-breaking ministry to the homeless (whose name will not be mentioned).  For years, we valued each other’s efforts.  But a new director is now telling clients of their ministry that if they come over for a bowl of soup, warm clothing, or a prayer, they will be banned for life from their mission.  That same person once ran off a guy I know and encouraged when he showed up with a car full of brand new XL and 2XL winter coats to give to their clients. I sent him over there not knowing about the new director and thinking that they still appreciated support like that for their clients.  They used to be about whatever helped their clients.  The new director came out and screamed at him and even physically threatened him.  He is a kind-hearted man, but even still we all have limits, and he packed those coats up and drove away to another site and gave those coats to other homeless people in need.  He told me he was sorry, but he would never support that mission no matter what I told him about the good they do. Same team, right?  Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”

These are sad stories, but they are also real stories.  You’d be naïve if you didn’t expect opposition when you start inviting people to participate in the Kingdom of God.  The darkness wants no part of the light and will send every kind of craziness and conflict in your path to keep people’s eyes being open to the Kingdom’s presence on the streets. Sadly, sometimes we become our own worst enemies though. Sometimes good folks lose sight of God’s Kingdom because of their own kingdom and interests.  The point isn’t to condemn others for doing that. It’s sad, but it’s human, and we are all susceptible to it.  The point is to be prepared for that, and put prophetic hedges of protection around our missions and in our missions who will set us straight if we start “Tower of Babling” and trying to use the poor to make a name for ourselves. Make a commitment in your mission to never care who gets the credit. Honor the prophets in your life who will set your life who will set you and your mission straight if starts to seek its own glory.  If we get the credit, then the Kingdom doesn’t.  And the Kingdom is the point.  We are not the point.

Be encouraged. Follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Know that the Great Commission has always met opposition, and you will meet opposition, too. Partner with anyone you can.  Don’t take credit for anything. Share everything.  Stay positive. Be creative.  Bless everything and everyone you possibly can. Be the change you hope to see.  Don’t try to get back at people who act in opposition to your mission – that just puts you on the enemy’s side.  And know that Christ will be with you, just like he said he would be. Oh…and have fun!

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1 Comment »

  1. Sam Said:

    These are sad stories, but they are also real stories. You’d be naïve if you didn’t expect opposition when you start inviting people to participate in the Kingdom of God. – Max this is a very valuable lesson you share today. It is one that goes against so much of the “cult of harmony” which we so often encounter in churches. Thanks for sharing and thanks for being on the same team.


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