Friday, October 9, 2015

Freedom for Mission: Julie Gilstrap on Community Hope


I was at a conference last week for work, a thousand miles away (almost literally) from Church of the Apostles and Navaho Drive.  It wasn't a conference about missions or church or charity.  It was about public policy.  So I was caught a little off-guard when the breakfast speaker's remarks one morning got me thinking about Community Hope.  In a secular forum, he talked about honoring God and serving our fellow man in our work, he quoted Timothy and Ecclesiastes, and he talked about the importance of serving "the least of these."
Very soon, we at Apostles will launch our Community Hope program.  It's a simple idea, really.  Four afternoons a week, we'll pair kids from local neighborhoods with mentors, most of whom will be Apostles members, and we'll read. We'll use lessons, individually tailored to the needs of kids, to help develop literacy skills.  I'm sure it'll look like what goes on at a lot of our kitchen tables and by the bedsides of our children. We'll sound out words, break big words into smaller chunks, and ask questions about the things we've read to make sure the kids actually comprehend the words on the page.  We may help with homework some. We'll share a short devotion with the kids each day, introducing them to Jesus.
 And we'll build relationships. Week after week, each of those kids will spend time with the same mentors. Kids and adults will get to know each other. Between the reading and struggling and marking progress, we'll talk and laugh. We'll get to know what the kids love, what they enjoy doing, and who their families are.  Mentors will give an hour of their time each week, but they'll give a lot more of that. They'll give themselves, putting energy and commitment into getting to know kids and helping them to learn and thrive.  And through it all, they'll also be showing them the love of Jesus.
The kids we're serving certainly qualify as "the least of these" that the conference speaker and Jesus in Matthew 25 were talking about. I reread that passage recently, Matthew 25:31-46. Jesus is talking about the final judgment.  He describes a scene in which he's come again in all his glory, surrounded by angels, seated on his throne. And in the midst of all that splendor, as he divides the people of the world between those who will inherit his kingdom and those who will not, his measuring stick is whether we served "the least of these." 
Now don't misinterpret this. It's not that our deeds get us into heaven, that we can somehow earn our salvation through being good people who help our fellow man. But Jesus is saying that, if we really know him, if we really love God, then we'll see that "the least of these" - the hungry, the stranger, the sick, and yes, the kids on Navaho Drive - are all people created in his image who he deeply loves.  And we'll want to love and serve them to. By reading with kids for an hour on a Tuesday afternoon, we're actually serving Jesus. And we're showing the love of Jesus to those children, their parents, and their neighborhoods. That is a high calling.
So I am excited about the work of Community Hope that we'll be undertaking.  I'm excited about the opportunity for us to reach out to our neighbors with the love of Jesus. If you've not signed up to mentor and you'd like to, let me know.  And even if you can't mentor this year, pray for the work we'll be doing. Pray that we would remember that in serving these children, we are serving Jesus and showing them his great love for them. Pray for the relationships that will be formed, for kids and their families, and for the neighborhoods in which they live.  And pray for the opportunities to share the gospel that will arise as we serve "the least of these."

---Julie Gilstrap

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