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JPUSA visit, part 2

(part of an ongoing series about activities during my sabbatical)

This is part 2 about our visit to Jesus People USA; if you missed the first part, you can read it here:

Today I want to share about one particular part of our visit with JPUSA. On Tuesday evening we visited “The Bridge”, a local ministry in Chicago; The Bridge is not affiliated with JPUSA but folks from their community often attend there and our host saw it as an opportunity to see some of the diversity of ministries in the city.

The Bridge is a ministry of Mission: USA, a non-denominational ministry based in Chicago which focuses on ministry to disadvantaged and at-risk people, particularly gang members and inmates. The Bridge focuses in particular on people coming out of prison to help them find a new home.

We arrived at The Bridge just as the service was starting. The room seats were full with probably about 100 people there. After singing a couple of songs, the staff of The Bridge explained what the night would look like and the purpose of The Bridge.

Their goal is to help those coming out of jail/prison to find a church home. They recognize however that this can be challenging for many reasons, particularly visiting multiple churches and trying to find a church home. This can take a while and that slow process can often prove discouraging and perhaps even damaging to a person’s spiritual walk.

The Bridge tries to help people through this process by offering a sample of some local pastors. What happens at their Tuesday gatherings is they bring in three local pastors, and each one is given 10 minutes to preach on an assigned topic, often a question that someone has submitted. The night we were they was about what to do when discouraged. Three different pastors each spoke for 10 minutes, using different scripture verses to try and answer the question.

The idea behind this is that those in attendance could get a taste of three different pastors in a safe setting and help them begin the process of finding a church home. I wondered about the idea since a church is much more than a pastor and finding a church home is more than finding a pastor you like. On the other hand, for many it’s a first step and a good way to way to encourage people to find a church home.

We enjoyed it as a family, seeing a unique form of ministry to a population that is often ignored. The people of The Bridge saw an issue, former inmates struggling to find a church home, and developed a solution to try and help those in need. But, it reminds us that this is at the heart of ministry - identifying where a need in the community intersects with the passion of those involved. To think of Fruitland - there are no shortage of needs in our own community. The call is to find where those needs intersect with the gifts and passions of the people in our congregation.

One brief story from that night, which is not related to what I just wrote, but I want to share because we found it meaningful and provided some good insight. One of the pastors asked the people there how many of them had ever been homeless. Nearly every hand in the room went up. He then asked them if they remember the first time of being asked “Where do you live?” when they were homeless.

He went on to to address some of the feelings they may have experienced, perhaps shame or embarrassment. It’s a question I had never considered. What’s it like to be in the difficult place of being homeless, and then be reminded of that with a normally innocent question of “Where you live?” Are there other questions we ask, or things we say, that seem like simple curiosity that can trigger unexpected feelings in others?

I don’t mean to suggest we stop asking questions, or that we are guilty of something by asking a question that can lead to feelings of shame in another person. (There ARE some inappropriate questions but that’s for another time). My primary observation was first, “I never thought of that.” In other words, while I had thought about the challenges of being homeless, I had not considered how those challenges went beyond food, clothing, and shelter. There are also the challenges of what you think about yourself. It invites us perhaps to think more deeply about others and the challenges they are facing and consider what those may be beyond the ones on the surface.

Thanks for reading.

Carl Franzon, Pastor