Day 7: Our workweek ended on a good note for each team going out, with all describing good experiences living and sharing gospel. In our morning Foundations class, we read Psalm 139, which describes how God’s intimacy is deeper than our own skin. Indeed, He knows our going out and our coming back even before we do, and one team saw that very clearly. My partner (Casey H.) and I (Dave Chen) were doing a standard health screen when we noticed a small New Testament sitting on the coffee table. When asked about it, the host simply said, “I’ve been trying to read it, but I don’t understand what it means.” Casey & I shared about our understanding of the gospel with him and a friend who happened to be visiting and we began talking about what the gospel really means.
Interestingly, the friend flipped one of our questions around and asked, “What’s one thing keeping you from getting closer to God?” I was taken by surprise and began answering reflexively, hedging and thinking about the question as if for the first time. I think I said something rather cliche that even I felt wasn’t genuine, but as I thought about it some more and talked more with the host, I was able to become brutally honest with him, myself, and the team. It was uncomfortable at first, but it revealed something very important: it is incredibly easy to speak the gospel to someone else, but it doesn’t become very true or real until it is spoken back to me.
In the men’s discipleship group, we talked about what it means to “translate” the gospel. We are beginning to see that much of what we say is weighed down by a “Christian lingo” and sub-culture that is not only distracting but false to the true message of the gospel: we are people separated from God by an insurmountable obstacle (sin); only God himself can reach across that barrier to reconcile us to himself; and that Jesus Christ, the ultimate translation of gospel into human form, is that bridge. We are learning to listen to others and to translate the Good News into terms that make sense to them, but we are awaiting the time when they can do the same to us: speak Good News in a way that will challenge and push us closer to a reconciliation with God. I am finding that this process is a partnership that defies paternalism, and am very curious to see what new things God has in store.
Day 8 & 9: Saturday was a much-appreciated time of Rest & Recreation. We had a personal retreat & reflection time in the morning followed by a relaxing trip to the pool (it wasn’t really the pool, but the leaders tried to keep it a surprise till the last moment!) We then had a wonderful dinner in another part of Philadelphia and a relaxing night at home.
On Sunday, most of the team went to 3 different services: one at Spirit & Truth, two at Tenth Presbyterian. Both churches have been wonderful supporters and sponsors to the team, giving a welcome spiritual encouragement. It was interesting to see how both communities, though nearly opposite in many ways & styles, drew us into humility and worship before God.
Over the weekend, we had many group and one-on-one conversations where we began to “let our hair down” and share about deep personal convictions, pivotal life events, and histories that formed our character and theology. I have heard it said that “biography begets theology”, and found it to be surprisingly (but pleasantly) true. While some may say that circumstance and behavior modification form a person’s character, we have come to believe that it is the hand of God that lovingly crafts us, even from our mother’s womb, into the people we are today. In that, we exult and worship Him alone.
- Team strength & unity. Even with rest & recreation, our team is still human and subject to things that make humans tired: heat, stress, and vulnerability. While we do benefit from the removal of these things, we also are learning that circumstances only reveal and do not define what is inside, which is Christ, the hope of glory. Pray that we come to a deeper and more humble understanding of this even though we still treat one another with deepening (Christologic!) affection.
- Thanks for God’s sovereignty and presence. Pastor Jose, who leads the Spanish service out of Spirit & Truth, said that at least one new person showed up as a direct result of our conversational invitations! It was a great encouragement to the team, and we look forward to greater impact in the days to come. Also, a member of the community stepped out to volunteer as one of our interpreters! This was quite an unexpected joy, but I believe this is a direct consequence of the effectiveness of your prayers for our interpreters (as mentioned in the last post). Some are still ill (or have family members who are ill), so please continue to pray earnestly for them as well as for more help.
- Open hearts and minds. When Casey and I went to follow-up with the person mentioned at the beginning of the post, we were somewhat disappointed to find him more reserved and less responsive than before. Perhaps it was because other people were in the house, or because he was busy and stressed by the fact that he was to be evicted within the next few days (despite having an infant in the house), but nevertheless it reminded us of how fragile our relationship with God can seem. While we trust that God will “carry on every good work until completion in the day of Christ Jesus”, we still pray that the “seeds” of faith will not be choked out by the tumultuous and insidious influences that are pervasive in our world.
- Medical supplies. Due to a series of odd miscommunications, we have had some difficulty obtaining new shipments of some of our supplies. While the issue is resolved and we should receive them soon, it is a sobering reminder that there is nothing we can take for granted and that frustration is possible at every turn. Please continue to pray for safety and smooth logistics so that we can continue to provide a valuable service to the community.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Casey Hetrick. © 2023 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org