Dear St. Lukers,
Do you often wonder what “the Kingdom of God” should look and feel like? Is it sometimes a tad abstract? Or are there moments where you see and feel it so clearly? All of the above perhaps.
Last Sunday, Pastor Melissa asked, “What does it mean to make real God’s Kingdom through us?” What we are learning and witnessing in Missions is that revealing (through our stories and actions) and seeing (through others’ stories and actions) God’s Kingdom hinges on HOPE. Not the type of hope where we sit back dreamily and make wishful lists in our heads. Rather, the type of hope inspired by the Holy Spirit that calls on us to show up in places where there are injustices and inequities. The type that sustains us to keep showing up for individuals, families, and communities, and to be a source of hope, encouragement, and empowerment. The type that humbles us, and reminds us that we are not called to fix people, but to be mutually transformed. “If you see me as a project, you can cause harm to both of us. If you know me and my story, you will learn I have values you can learn from,” shares Circles Leader Tim Rogers.
For me, reconnecting people to their God-given gifts and passions has been transformative. It has allowed me to see what the “I can do this!” unleashes for the individuals and their communities. Pastor Jenn was spot on when she named Missions’ 2020+ Vision “Restoring Hope.” We are seeing what restoring hope really means. We see our dedicated volunteers walk alongside families and help ignite the spark in people to imagine a different future for themselves and their communities, and take ownership of the narrative of their own stories. A 30-something year old mom of four is now determined to re-take that one exam that stands between her and her GED. She now dreams of going to culinary school to become a pastry chef. A woman in East Winter Garden who came to us for an emergency financial assistance is now helping us expand backyard food growing because her passion is to use gardening/growing produce as therapy for mental illness. Circles Leaders tell us, “I feel seen and valued so I would like to help make St. Luke’s Missions better by building a framework for racial equity.” Since we started the Restoring Hope Vision, we have learned that the families we support want to serve their community as soon as their financial and/or housing situation stabilizes. It’s a privilege to learn this from our Restoring Hope families! Conditions don’t have to be perfect for us to be engaged in this work. They may not be financially where they want to be, but they have such strong conviction that they have to change and improve systems, train and empower others, and go all in to be bridge-builders. If this is not revealing the Kingdom, I don’t know what is. How about you? What inspires you to do the same?
Getting equipped is another way for us as St. Lukers to reveal and see the Kingdom. As I’m writing this message, our high school students are in Tampa Bay area on a mission experience with Metropolitan Ministries learning about sustainable and dignified ways to care for and support people facing homelessness, and those who are at risk of becoming homeless. Such experiences help see (really SEE) people as God sees them, and help us unlearn stereotypical narratives we may have internalized about “the homeless,” and gives us opportunities to examine ourselves so we see the Kingdom through all people.
“This week has helped me understand other people’s situations and be more mindful of people coming from different backgrounds. It’s made me more aware that people don’t end up in situations from their decisions alone, and that there are other unexpected factors that play a role,” said Rosa Priest of the mission experience.
Hayden Denmark, another participant of the missions experience said, “This week has shown us that despite the situation, everyone deserves a second chance and everyone deserves to have a home, food, and stability. Everyone has a loving heart and is a good person inside and deserves to live a good life, they deserve to live their life to the fullest.”
I pray as we continue our journey through the study of Matthew, we self-examine and are intentional about seeing opportunities to restore hope (couldn’t help it!) wherever we are, and use our sphere of influence to be an instrument of change!
Hope and Grace,
St. Luke’s Executive Director of Missions