By their fruits you shall know them. Do they gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? (Mt 7:16)
In the four Gospels, Jesus says many things. The most common of these is, “love,” and second is “follow me.” He feeds the poor, and instructs us to do likewise. He blesses peacemakers, and compliments heathens on their faith. He tells his disciples that to follow Jesus is to become a servant of all.
This isn’t unique to the Gospels. The Old Testament is filled with instructions to love justice, help the poor, and be kind to those in need. Ministry is a Christian word, but the concept of service to others is common also to Judaism and Islam. In Hinduism, Vivekenanda founded a school of yoga based on finding God through serving those in need. It is a universal concept.
There is so much need in the world, and many ways of providing service. From helping an infirm person get groceries, to feeding people in our communities or around the world, to working to right injustice, to protecting this planet that sustains us all, to making peace, there is no shortage of ways to help.
There was a time when I tried to do all of these at once. Needless to say, I did none of them well.
I also realized that, for me, it was not enough to pay for someone else to do the work. For me, writing a check does not qualify as God’s work.
That led me to Sri Lanka in 1993, and into two war zones in 1998 and 1999. It led me to become a member of a team that worked for peace, and which helped stop the shooting for a four year cease-fire.
We didn’t know how to end a war. Traditional methods had failed. One team member said, in 1999, “The guerrilla playbook was written forty years ago; the peace playbook hasn’t been written yet.” We made it up as we went along, looking at what worked and what didn’t.
Later this year, I will return to Sri Lanka to write about what we did there. We did not end the war, but we did enable the only cease-fire to last more than three months in that 26-year conflict. Now it’s time to let others know what we did, what worked, what didn’t, and why peace didn’t last. There are far too many conflicts in the world that have not been ended for us to “hide our light under a bushel.”
I hid from that work for ten years, tormented by nightmares of the things I had seen. I can’t hide from it anymore. We did something amazing, and it’s my job to tell the story.
If I may be so bold, my soul aches with the need to explore how what we did can be applied elsewhere. This is my ministry.
My wife’s ministry is to help people, one at a time, with physical and emotional pain. Hers is a ministry to individuals. It is just as important as mine.
Ministry simply means doing for others what we are called or led to do. It means listening to our hearts and risking doing what we think we can’t. It means practicing faith by putting Jesus’ instruction into our daily lives.
What’s your ministry?