“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in so that my house will be full.’”
“What is that?”
Me: “ I’m not exactly sure, but it is going to be a great experience.”
That was a question that was brought up before and after our 30-day adventure into western Oklahoma. Personally, I was not aware what I was jumping into myself. I had never heard of a ministry like RAM. I had a couple of different opportunities to serve the Lord this summer. I was convinced that I would be an intern at a church, but God wanted to show me something different. It’s a beautiful thing to know that you are apart of something God constructed. There was such urgency for me to join the RAM team. God wanted me in western Oklahoma because it was out of my comfort zone. When we are uncomfortable the Spirit never fails to move. RAM has provided unique opportunities in the month we spent in rural America. One of the first opportunities was meeting a man named David.
Our group just finished some VBS set up and a gracious person was going to provide us lunch. I had a choice to make. I could ride with the rest of the RAM team in a squished car or ride with a complete stranger in a pick-up. I picked the stranger. This decision did not seem very significant at the time, but it was in God’s plan. David was a very kind man. He talked to me like there was so much joy in his life. He was a true grandfather figure to me. As we pulled up to the restaurant, I realized that David was paralyzed from the waist down. I felt so dumb for not noticing before he got out of this car. It took a good amount of time to finally sit down in the restaurant. One team member asked if I wanted to take her seat and sit by David, which I gladly did. Something was pulling me to this man. David and I talked about life along with other things. We finished our meal and started back to the church building when I felt my heart starting to shake in my chest. David reminded me of Barnabas. The Bible tells us in Acts 11:24 that Barnabas was a good man. I needed to tell David (no longer a stranger) that he was a good man. I don’t know how many times I repeated it, but it was the truth. He was a good man and even with his paralyzed legs he still was joyous. This was inspiring to me. The Spirit was definitely showing me something. When I got out of his car and into mine, my heart did not stop moving. I broke down and cried in my car. I needed this moment from God; it was an interesting occurrence. Being around people who are disabled was not new to me. I have worked a couple of summers at a special needs camp. I kept saying,
“He is a good man Father, he does not deserve this pain.”
“He is such a good man.”
After crying, Jesus planted a thought into my head, “The good in him is from Me.”
It was such a powerful moment! Jesus was so right! (He is always right. He’s Jesus). This was such a wonderful reminder of the power of Jesus Christ in His people. The Spirit can allow people to be joyous even through pain and suffering. No wonder in James it speaks of considering it pure joy in trials and suffering. Jesus uses our pain and suffering to pull us into His arms. It is Almighty God’s design. If I did not follow the Spirit into RAM then I would not have had this beautiful reminder of our great God. I want to keep in contact with David and I plan on writing to him.
This is just one amazing opportunity I took part in while doing Rural America Ministries. Other opportunities included good-old fashion door knocking, jail ministry, and reaching out to strangers. Through these opportunities God has used RAM to ignite a fire in me that had been put out by the ways of the world. It’s truly magnificent how our team ignited embers of the churches and communities in western Oklahoma. God in return ignited fires in each of us. I can see how each team member has matured through this adventure. God showed us true ministry to others. This adventure has motivated me to do some kind of ministry work with my career someday. I want to work more with jail ministries. Little did I know I would ever sit across from inmates and share Jesus with them. RAM showed me how there is such a need for people to visit people in small county jails. I love all the connections I have made through RAM. It has opened my spectrum of truth about Jesus and ministry.
I encourage you to pray for RAM and it’s future endeavors. This ministry is young, and clearly has so much potential. I can’t wait to see where this ministry will go. It is a ministry that is right under our nose. We can’t forget about our brothers and sisters in Nazareth.
“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip.
I opened the passenger door of Steven’s car, got in, and repeated the same sentence I had been saying for the past couple of hours: “They weren’t home.” Yet another mark was made on my list of addresses. After selecting our next target, I started up the navigation system on my phone. Steven and I picked up our conversation where it had left off earlier, occasionally interrupted as I relayed the directions on my phone to him. We located the house and our conversation was subjected to another suspension. I got out of the car. Knocked on the door. Waited. Walked away. Got in the car. “They weren’t home.” Repeat.
To be fair, “They weren’t home” was not the only phrase I had found the need to use after leaving a house those two afternoons. Sometimes, I got to say, “Wrong house.” And sprinkled in were phrases like, “They said maybe.” Or “They’ll think about it. I left an application with them.” (I learned in those two days that “Maybe” and “I’ll think about it” are code for I’m-really-not-interested-but-I-don’t-want-to-be-rude-and-flat-out-say-no. Confession: I would have rather them just come right out and say, “No thanks. I’m not interested.”)
It was in the middle of our first full week of the RAM mission. The rest of the team had gone to do ministry in Mangum for the week. Since Steven and I were going to be serving as youth interns for the 4th and College Church of Christ after the mission trip ended, we stayed behind in Cordell to assist the church in preparations for their camp.
Cordell Christian Camp was less than a week away. There were still open spots for campers. The youth minister, Luke, gave Steven and I a stack of camp applications and a list of addresses for families that he thought might possibly be interested in sending their kids to camp and I got my first experience in door knocking. Steven and I spent two consecutive afternoons driving around Cordell, attempting to recruit more campers.
“It should be on this street,” I said after Steven made the last turn listed in my GPS directions.
“Okay,” he replied. “Here’s 300. 310. 420.”
“These numbers make no sense. I think we passed it.”
“Is this it? I can’t tell. I don’t see a number.”
“I don’t either. I can just go knock on the door and see.”
I got out of the car and approached the house, slightly nervous. Then I heard the barking.
Now, I’ve been around dogs for my entire life. I know that sometimes dogs bark at strangers in a friendly way. I can recognize the “Hi there new friend! Come play with me!” sort of bark. This bark was nothing like that. The giant dog behind the fence was telling me that I should leave. Now.
“I don’t know if that was the right house,” I said as I re-entered the car, “but there was a big scary dog behind the fence.”
As we drove off to yet another address on the list, I got to thinking about one of Paul’s mission trips. In the sixteenth chapter of Acts, Luke records that Paul and his companions were “kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.” Then, “they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.” The Spirit of Jesus would not even let them go into Bithynia. I wonder what that looked like. Maybe it looked something like what Steven and I were experiencing:
Paul, I know you want us to preach in Asia. But we can’t. No one was home.
Ok Silas. In that case we had better head on to Bithynia. Did you get the directions, Timothy?
Yeah…but they’re kind of hard to make out. I think this is it. Here, let me go check…nope!
Was it Bithynia?
I don’t know Paul. There was a big scary dog.
Here’s the honest truth: I strongly dislike door knocking. It’s hard. It’s not fun. It’s repetitive and boring. You do a lot of moving, use at a lot of energy, and spend a lot of time outside your comfort zone for little, if any, tangible results. I know that what really happened to Paul and his companions probably had very little in common with the scene above, except for one aspect: they were wandering. Just like Steven and I, Paul and his companions were wandering around. Trying so hard to follow God. Wanting to spread His word. Getting lost and confused. Failing to see any results. And they were wondering. Wondering whether what they were doing–all of their effort and strife and courage–made any difference at all. Until God sent the Macedonian Call. Then they were off on a journey that forever shaped Christianity. Did their mission get any easier at that point? No. But it did matter.
So you get back in the car. You knock on another door. And another. And another. Wandering and wondering, but trusting in your Master the entire time. You walk up to another house and knock, not expecting there to be anyone home–but there is. A man answers the door. Then you launch into your explanation of who you are, what you are doing, and information on the camp, not really expecting him to listen–but he does. He says that just last night he and his wife were talking about how they wanted their son to get involved with a church and how he might fill out an application and you say well I have one right here and here’s a pen you can use and all you have to pay for is the t-shirt the rest is covered and yes I have change for a twenty let me get it from the car and you rush back to the car smiling and tell Steven, “Yes! We got one!” And all of the rest of the closed doors are worth it because now, one more kid is going to camp.
Ministry is not about forcing results. It’s about working for a loving Master and putting your faith in him. Show up. Love God. Love others. Repeat. Give God your best effort and don’t give up. He will take care of the rest.
“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” – Matthew 6:22-23
Lamps provide illumination. They light our path. If our eyes are the “lamp” of the body, how we “see” things is the difference between our life’s path being illuminated and safe from a misstep or serious fall or darkened and certain of terrible, even fatal error. So how do you see things?
In John 4:35 it is written, “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes and see that the fields are white for harvest.” Jesus clearly delineates between two perspectives about the harvest. The first perspective is man’s, “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest?” The second perspective is God’s, “Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes and see that the fields are white for harvest.” Man sees the harvest as four months out. God sees it as bursting with readiness to be harvested now. Big difference in perspective! Man sees one thing; God sees something entirely different.
RAM teaches its summer missions participants that a defining characteristic of ministry is “Perspective.” We pose the question to our team members, “Do you see things through your eyes or the eyes of God?” We then ask the next obvious question(s), “How do we see what God sees?” “Where do we find God’s perspective?” The answer is the Bible. The Bible is the word of God, His thoughts, the very heart and mind of our Creator, the Truth. If we want to know God’s perspective, we must turn to the Bible (II Timothy 3:16-17; Isaiah 55:8-11).
It is alarming how rapidly American society has “dumbed” down and nearly lost its ability to think critically. Not to be critical, but to ask questions, examine the evidence, explore the “truth” behind all the information we are relentlessly bombarded with in this Information Age. Much of America has bought the lie that truth is relative. There are no absolutes. And worse, many have become so inebriated with the pursuit of pleasure, that even if they believed in absolute truth, there is little to no interest in putting forth the effort to pursue it.
As alarming as this dumbing down of our society is, more frightening is how infrequently we Christians today search the Scriptures for the truth. The church is filled with professing followers of Christ who spend their time and fill their minds with meaningless information and godless diversions rather than searching the Scriptures with an open mind and open heart to discover God’s perspective. Too many sermons have become like Wonder Bread instead of the Bread of Life: Mostly air and leaving its hearers to wonder, “What was that?” We have lost, or perhaps never even discovered, a love and hunger for the heart and mind of our Creator! What greater satisfaction, fulfillment and peace to our souls could we discover than knowing the mind and heart of the God who lovingly made us for fellowship with Him?
Someone once said, “Perspective is everything.” They spoke the truth. The perspective that will bring liberating illumination to our life’s path is the truth of God’s word, the Scriptures. “Father, enable us to recognize there is a difference between how we see things and how You see things. Open our eyes to see what You see and lead us in the light of Your truth, Your perspective with a continual hunger and desire for more! And Lord, may we pray for every disciple of Jesus, just as it is written in Your word:
“I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened that you may know what is the hope to which He has called you, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints.” – Ephesians 1:16-18