Our economy is not in the best condition right now. If you are casually paying attention to the news, political debates, food prices and the gas pump, then you know that the buying power of the dollar is pretty impotent. Tied up in our economy are the lack of job opportunities and the lack of jobs that provide an adequate wage for persons to maintain and acquire basic necessities such as rent, food and utilities. Our economy is fighting to stand upright and within that fight, there are Americans in the South who are struggling to get on their feet before they are KO’d.
The last few months, my cell phone and our office have been inundated with calls from men and women of our city needing financial assistance to address their most vital needs. They are in need of provision. They are men and women on very fixed incomes, small unemployment checks, and part-time jobs at the elementary schools and under the table construction jobs where bosses have reneged on payment for long hours of work.
This is the reality of many people in the city of Conway. They want to remain in their homes. They want their water and electricity to continue to flow in their homes. These are the facts on the ground and what I hear from them in our discussions is the echo of Jesus prayer, “Lord give us this day our daily bread.”
That’s right...I believe they are crying out to God for provision, to see his will accomplished on earth as it is in heaven. How is this will to be accomplished? It is to be accomplished through his people-the Church.
See what is going on here in Conway is that C.A.P.C.A. is out of funds to assist with rent and utilities. The Salvation Army has no funds to assist with rent and utilities. Each call has the same resounding statement, “No one is able to help us.”
My question is, “Where are the people of God?”
The people of God that gather in the many congregations across Conway need to consider with all thoughtfulness the stewardship and distribution of their financial offerings. With an excess of one-hundred and fifty churches throughout the city of Conway, there is no reason as to why the needs of the poor cannot be addressed in a loving and systematic manner. Our current economy in my estimation is requiring local churches to seriously reconsider the manner in which they are using their finances. If we continue to elevate the message of Christ sacrifice and are not willing to sacrifice our finances; we are in danger of blaspheming the God we claim to so passionately pursue.
I hear the objections already; “We will be taken advantage of.” “They are misusing their money.” “It’s not our responsibility.” These objections would hold water if they came from men and women who did not understand grace. These objections would be solid, if they came from men and women who were able to secure their own salvation. Yet that is not the case. We are persons that take advantage of the grace of God on a daily basis. We misuse our blessings and it was not the responsibility of God to deal with our sin. That is the beauty of the Gospel and the powerful wonder of the God who has redeemed men and women who were sinfully impoverished. Therefore, since we are men and women clothed in the wealthy of God’s righteousness and have a super-abundance of his grace flowing from our pockets, let us be the people of God who demonstrate the impact of that work by freely giving to alleviate the financial suffering of others.
This is the prophetic hope for the churches in the South regarding their giving.
I met Nancy and Emilio Marcial on a fall day in August of 2009. We had a common language as I discovered we were all from California. We identified common areas in both Southern and Northern California. We laughed about fun places such as Venice Beach and drives up the Pacific Coast Highway. Over the next few months, it was this family that helped me clarify what my role was in this community and succeeding communities.
It was their despairing living conditions that completely revolutionized my thoughts on the Church and the poor.
Roaches that ran through their walls.
Floors that were not solid.
A young girl named Akayla who loved her grandparents greatly, yet she was removed from her family because of DHS.
It was Nancy’s one act on a night in 2010 when she showed me their court order and with tears asked, “Pastor will you help us get Akayla back?”
That night forever knit us together. Nancy and Emilio with their poor health changed me, changed a non-profit and in turn, a host of college students and older couples demonstrated that the Body of Christ could indeed fulfill Isaiah 58:12.
Nancy and her husband experienced a new apartment, new furniture and completed everything necessary from the court to enjoy the presence of their granddaughter.
Nancy was a fighter. She fought to have her family reunited. She fought to meet all court ordered expectations. She fought to care for double amputee husband. God crafted together a woman who was far stronger than what the world would consider strong. God consistently took this weak woman and showed me that in the midst of adversity, when your home is decimated, when your granddaughter is snatched from you; you fight.
As I sat with Emilio today and joined him in his grief, these words rang strong from him, “I lost my wife and my best friend.”
Nancy Marcial was a wife, best friend and a fighter.
Thank you Nancy for not only improving my life but shaping an organization in ways that will echo into the lives of others.
I am not a son of the South. While I was born in Kentucky, when I have been asked about my formative years, I have always appealed to my West coast experiences of California. I have conducted Gospel ministry in Arkansas for five years now and I have learned a great deal. I have experienced a deepening love for God’s Gospel and his Church over these last years. That deepening love though is accompanied with sadness for the visible Church of the South. If I did not love the Church, there would not be this current sadness. It is through this sadness, I pray that my love would become deeper.
The South has a unique Christian landscape. Her landscape is decorated with a variety of edifices that on the surface signal the presence of the Gospel. Like a colorful, woven blanket, her threads are a variety of Baptist, Reformed, Pentecostal and small store front type gatherings. The South is vocal in her voting patterns and ways of living, maintaining that her tapestry will be the covering for family values, morals and traditional living.
Her tapestry though is frayed at the edges and is unraveling from the middle because she has let go of her threefold strand of faith, hope and love. Her nakedness is slowly becoming exposed as she revels in larger buildings, religious programs that serve her children and an increasing propensity to view the poor as projects, not persons who are in the same need of faith, hope and love. She believes herself to be the admiration of others yet in reality, she appears lewd on the highest hills.
I look at the Christian landscape of the South and specifically my Arkansas; I wonder how silent the local church is to the formless void that is washing over the many communities of her state? She appears ready to answer the cries of dark babies in Kenya and Uganda. She is quick to pack her bags, jump on a plane to Port Au-Prince and join hundreds of thousands of NGO’s. She is willing to mobilize people to buy a trendy pair of shoes. Yet as she flutters over the chaos that exists in the communities two and ten miles from her front door; she says very little.
Her prophetic voice has become nothing more than a whimper of seasonal platitudes during Thanksgiving and Christmas. Her voice is weak enough to gather a few dark, smudged faces to build her web page, update her new look timeline on Facebook or garner support for next year’s “mission trip.” What happened to the prophetic voice that resounded in the South, so long ago? When she braved water hoses and lunch counters so that “others” could live as humans in America. When she walked long streets and fought for children in such places as Little Rock to attend a high school? The prophetic voice of the local church was once world creating. Her voice has now become muffled by the bandannas of affluence, territorial expansion and “the show.”
I am hopeful though for the local church. I am hopeful for the local church because I know that God has among these varied congregations; his people. These are the people of God who have refused to be far too easily pleased by the allurements of comfort and “I.” The people of God that exist and gather among the people of the world discern that they have a voice which is far more superior the most skilled teacher who stands behind a pulpit, lectern or music stand. Their Spirit empowered voice, is the one that creates new worlds for those who languish under the oppressive nature of sin and all its effects. That voice, when that voice utter words seasoned with faith, hope and love- it brings order, rhythm and fellowship. That voice which utters the words of Christ to the least of our city will discover a sweet eternal union as the Spirit of God speaks through the child of God to minister to God himself.
The Church of the South must speak like her husband-today. Christ stood over the formless void, spoke and the universe came into being. We are able to speak the Gospel of Life-today. We must stand in and over the chaotic, dark and formless places of our city and speak the word of Life before we venture elsewhere. When we do, new worlds are created and in those worlds, the grounds will release living men and women who will know order, rhythms and life in the one Christ.