This is my story, about how I got involved in ministry, and some effects that resulted.
When driving about half an hour to school each day, I once decided to spend the time listening to the radio. Further, I decided to go ahead and listen to religious content, and ended up listening to KARI 550 AM: Word Radio. This radio station has various programs. Many, quite possibly most, of these programs involves listening to teachings. For example, Insight for Living Canada typically contains sermons taught by Charles Swindoll (for well known by the name “Chuck Swindoll”). Other shows might include things like a review of a book or a Christian movie. (The amount of music actually played on that radio station is pretty small.)
I don't recall precisely which teacher was teaching (nor do I know the name of the radio program I was listening to, at about the beginning of the year 2011 A.D. or the end of the previous year), but I remember the essense of one particular teaching that prompted me to start becoming involved in ministry. The teaching went something like this:
A man was born with the name of Simon, until he was later given a new name by Jesus. He then became known as Simon Peter, Cephas and Kepha. The name “Peter” is his most well known name.
After the event that starts starting the Gospel of Luke: Chapter 5, Peter became a follower of Jesus, very literally: When Jesus walked from village to village, this man was one of his literal followers who walked where Jesus went. He was one of the 12 people commonly referred to as the desciples of Jesus. During the years of Jesus's ministry and the following years, these twelve desciples were the most prominent followers of Jesus Christ. Even among those twelve followers of Jesus, Peter was one of the three members sometimes referred to as the “Inner Circle” of Jesus's followers.
Then Jesus was convicted by the Roman government and crucified. During that timeframe, Peter ended up denying his involvement with Jesus, which later embarrassed Peter greatly. (Peter's denial of Jesus is written about in all four of the “gospel” books: Matt 26:26-35 and 26:69-75; Mark 14:22-31,66-72; Luke 22:31-34, 53-62; John 18:15-18,25-27.)
In the last chapter of The Gospel of John, Peter is found fishing boat. The significance of Peter fishing is that being a fisherman was Peter's secular profession before he started walking around with Jesus. After being such a close follower of Jesus, Peter chose to go back to living like his former lifestyle, from before Peter became such an active follower of Jesus. Peter walked away from the lifestyle of being an active part of ministry.
In John 21:18-19 quotes Jesus, and specifies that Peter's death would glorify God. According to Christian tradition (even though the accepted Christian Bible does not outright provide this particular detail), Peter died by being crucified upside-down, because Peter did not to be have the honor of dying in the very same way as his Lord Jesus.
One reason that I find this rather remarkable is that, generally, if people is going to be so disrespectful as to kill another person over a disagreement about religious beliefs, the killers don't particularly care about cooperating with the person who is about to be killed. They don't usually ask for feedback to get the victim's preferences on how to implement the deadly torture. Perhaps the killers thought there was some humor in the idea of an upside-down crucifixion. For whatever reason, it seems that Peter made enough of a ruckus that Peter died in that fashion.
So, from the situations just described: at one point of Peter's life, just after Jesus's crucifixion, the amount of importance that Peter gave to his faith was so substantially low that he just walked away from the ministry. At the end of Peter's life, his faith actually was so substantial that he refused to back down on his beliefs, even if it costs him his life. We know his faith was that strong because his steadfast faith did, in fact, end up costing Peter his life.
As I, the author of this text, was listening to this on the radio, I then heard a question being asked by the teacher whom I was listening to. The question is: What happened? The level of importance that Peter placed on his faith had changed. At one point, Peter walked away from his faith. At a later time, his faith was more important to him than his life. The core question that was being asked is: What caused Peter's faith to become so much more important to him? This important question then led to another, more applicable question: how can we have our faith grow in importance to us, just as Peter's faith grew in importance to him?
The speaker of the radio provided an answer to this question.
The answer is: Peter got involved in ministry.
In the same chapter where we find Peter on a fishing boat (which is the last chapter of the book of John), Jesus tells Peter to take care of Jesus's metaphorical “sheep”, referring to people who follow Jesus, who is the “good shephard”. Peter is told to (again) follow Jesus.
The Roman Catholic Church officially considers this man, Saint Peter, to be the first pope. Peter definitely continued to be a leader in the early church. In the book of Acts, we have the incident known as Pentecost, Peter preached and about 3,000 people who became participants of the Christian faith. Not long later, Peter (along with John) prayed for boldness to help further share the message of Jesus Christ. Peter wrote text that has become recognized as being a part of Christianity's holy scripture. (Statistically speaking, not very many people, who have ever lived on this planet, have done that.)
The message I was hearing was clear: If you want to have your own faith become more important, then get involved in Christian ministry.
The speaker over the radio even went on to make the following claim: If you want to be able to be able to understand God's will more clearly, and to see eye to eye with God better, and to have your will aligned more with God's will, then the most sure-fire (certain) way to accomplish this is to get involved in a ministry.
As I listened to this answer over the radio, I wasn't completely convinced that everything I was hearing was actually a promise coming directly out of scripture. Specifically, the preacher didn't necessarily quote a specific single verse that made the direct promise of getting to know God's will better. However, what I was recognizing was that the voice I was hearing was the voice of an old man who spent his professional career in the service of God. I decided that this voice of experience was something that I should contemplate. The answer that I was hearing seemed worthy of, at least, further consideration. Actually, not just consideration/comtemplation, but action. I decided I would go ahead and try getting involved in a ministry.
As a person who desired to live a life of faith, I decided that being able to see eye-to-eye with God's will, and aligning my will to God's will, seemed like a great benefit to obtain. If I could obtain that benefit, I decided that benefit would be worth the effort. If, on the other hand, I did not obtain that specific benefit that I was seeking, well, then what is the harm? It cost me a bit of time to help out a ministry, and so even in the worst case likely scenario, I may just end up doing some good anyway. There didn't seem to be much bad about that picture.
So, my only expectation was simply that I might benefit, and I figured there was also the possibility that I might not get exactly what I was seeking. With that attitude, I decided to make a conscientious effort to invest some time in helping out.
(I generally skip these additional background details, due to being low on time.)
My mother has been known to be involved in activites designed to help people's lives improve. She once invited me to a ministry where a person (who was running the ministry) lived in a house with some other people who were previously homeless, but were allowed to live in the house without needing to pay any sort of rent. The people who were invited to live in the house were expected to follow certain rules, such as refraining from certain behaviors which are often viewed as negative and addicting. Additionally, some of the rules required participating in certain activites. The hope was that these activities may help stabilize people's lives, and provide these people with a firm foundation that enables these people to live better lifestyles. My mother had invited me to once come to this house and assist with a presentation to these residents.
At the time, I remember being impressed. Evidence shows that I didn't end up becoming substantially more actively involved with ministry at that time. Even still, I remembered the experience. I started my efforts by seeking out the ministry that I had been involved with before.
For years, I had attended Cornwall Church. Cornwall Church organized several other ministries.
It might be helpful (for someone) to understand a bit about Cornwall Church. This church is in Bellingham, WA, USA. It is mentioned by Wikipedia's list of the largest Protestant churches in the United States. It is rather similar to Christ the King Community Church located several blocks away.
Cornwall Church may have its strengths and weaknesses. What attracted me most was the excellent sermons delivered by (the pony-tailed) Paster Bob Marvel. A primary example of that is Easter 2010: Risen/“Everything Changes”. (Unfortunately, the online video has a bit of a hiss, although that problem is lessened by lowering speaker volume.)
Many other things are done well by Cornwall. For example: Cornwall Church practice of tithing by taking 10% of the church's income and donating to other local churches which may use a less modern, more “traditional” style of worship. Such traditional churches often don't draw as large of crowds, and many such churches may struggle more financially. Cornwall's attitude/opinion is that such styles of worship are still valid and worthwhile. This isn't the only example of Cornwall's financial generousity. For instance, in Easter of 2010, shortly after the 2010 Haiti earthquake that devestated what was already the poorest nation on Earth, Cornwall Church donated their entire Easter offering to fund the re-creation of an orphanage that became unsafe after the Earthquake. (Giving all of the Easter offering is significant for a church since Christmas and Easter are typically the two weekends that generate the most money each year.) $148,000 was raised that week. That's a pretty good chunk of money considering Bellingham's economy and population (which was about 77,000 people in 2007).
Some of that paragraph may sound like there's a large focus on money. Well, Cornwall really does do many other things well. I simply provide these financial details as an example that demonstrates some tangible numbers.
I decided to try getting involved in a ministry, although I hadn't yet decided on which one. The first one I tried was one that I thought was related to a ministry I had attended years ago with my mother. However, when I went to the location specified by the website, I found locked doors and the darkness, as the building's lights were turned off. I did find some posted hours, that matched the website's. However, nobody was there.
After striking out there, I decided to try getting involved with Cornwall Church's “Salt On The Street”.
Jesus called his followers the Light of the World and the “Salt of the Earth”. The goal of this ministry is to not just sit around in church, but to interact with the world as described by the judgement of sheep and goats.
The people who started this ministry did not want to just hide out like hermits, spending time comfortably in a monestary with other people who share many of the same basic beliefs. Spending time with fellow believers can bring great benefits, but if that is all that the believers do, then they may have little impact on anybody else in the world. The founders of this specific ministry wanted to be able to help, and interact with, the rest of the world.
The most effective place to find lots of people with different beliefs is not in the church. Where they can be found is on the streets of our city. So, that is where the ministry tries to interact with people. The name of the ministry is to take the “salt”, and get it out “on the street” where the people are.
So I decided to show up at “Salt On The Street” (“SotS”), and I was impressed. On a cold December evening, an empty parking lot became transformed. A large truck (not like a semi-truck, but larger than a typical small U-Haul) came in, carrying folded-up canopies. These canopies, once assembled, gave a carnival-like feel to the parking lot. Additionally, tables and chairs were set up. The weather was brutally cold, and in response, there were 2.5 meter (7 or 8 foot) metal lamps. I've never seen these contraptions before, but they were lit on fire and gave heat to the people standing around them. Trash cans were placed in multiple locations for convenience. Hot dogs (sandwhiches) were being handed out for free. Chili was being handed out, for free. Water, and sugar water (probably lemonade and also Kool-Aid, or something similar), and coffee, were free for the taking. I believe salads were also being given out. One table had some clothes laid out. Other clothes were hung up (on hangers). These, like the food, were free for the taking, as were the clothes being handed out by a trailer. Speakers were set up. Music was playing.
I myself was dressed in a couple of hooded sweatshirts. People approached me and offerred to me some of the food being handed out. I declined their help. In the back of my mind, I thought: they just didn't get why I was there. I was there to serve, not to be served. But, that was okay. (I couldn't help to think about how that matches Peter's attitude when Jesus washed his desciples' feet.)
Later in the evening, the city ordinance required that this be disassembled. (Some condos/apartments were built across from the parking lot where the Salt on the Street activities occurred at the time, so the festivities needed to not last too late into the night.) Most of the now-fed people dispersed. Things, like canopies and tables and chairs, were placed back in the trucks where they came from. The parking lot was emaculately cleaned, hosed down and ended up looking like the prettiest asphalt concrete on the block.
I was thoroughly impressed. Things were working well. This was, in some way, not a complete surprise: “Salt on the Street” was run by Cornwall Church, and I had years of experience to understand that Cornwall Church does several things well. However, even though the events at the parking lot were very great events that I wholeheartedly approved of, I hadn't yet achieved my goal. I've heard numerous times in my life about how charitable organizations are always looking for more volunteers. However, this organization seemed to have everything under control. There were relaxed volunteers talking amongst each other. Earlier, in the prior week, I decided that I was on a mission, to identify some need that I could help with. Now, after looking at the parking lot, I wasn't yet convinced that I had found that need. I decided that I would keep looking elsewhere.
The next week, though, I had been lazy in my mission: I hadn't researched any other programs to assist with. When Saturday night was arriving again, I realized that “Salt on the Street” would be happening soon. I figured that I would check it out again. I was impressed with several things the prior week. However, perhaps I just stumbled across a particularly good week. For example, maybe there was a scheduling mistake or a communication error that week, causing there to be twice as many volunteers as normal. Checking it out, in person, may reveal some further opportunities. Besides, trying out “Salt on the Street” again was rather convenient, because I already knew where they met, and when.
I found much of the same thing happening, including organized work where things were being taken care of successfully. Food was being handed out, and heat was being distributed on that cold evening, as well as clothing, and a Christian atmosphere. I'm sure that people gathered in a large circle, and listened to some scripture, and prayed, before food was handed out. A speech/sermon was delivered.
In addition to all that I had already perceived, there was another other ministry occurring right before my very eyes. Volunteers were conversing with guests, many of whom were often people struggling with homelessness. Although that was happening right before me, I hadn't picked up on that ministry. I just wasn't noticing that aspect of things. What I did successfully perceive is that lots of good things were happening, as lots of people were having needs being fulfilled. However, I wasn't identifying any specific need for me to be help resolve. I wasn't achieving my goal.
I became content with the conclusion that all the activity at “Salt on the Street” seemed to be going well, again. Once again, I left “Salt on the Street”. As I was walking away, though, I heard some singing. I turned back to see if there was some sort of new organized activity starting up. Nope. It was just some spontaneous (“spur of the moment”) singing that some people were performing, and was short lived before the recorded music was started again. After the live music completed, I was ready to walk off again, until a volunteer college student approached me. I again declined any of the free food. However, we ended up talking a bit further that evening.
He and I talked.
I explained how I came to the decision to get involved in a ministry, and what my goals were. He recommended that I check out another significant portion of Salt on the Street which I wasn't aware of. I understood that with this other portion of Salt on the Street, people meet up in a parking lot, and then go deliver food. So the next week, I drove my car down to near “Salt on the Street”. I tried to meet up with the group of people who delivered food, but I failed.
The following week I tried again, and succeeded. I drove my car down to the parking lot, and got out to find a group of volunteers meeting shortly after 7pm on a particularly cold January evening. These people were ready to go around the city. I joined the group, and climbed into the back seat of a van with only a single seat available. (The other seats were filled with other volunteers.) We drove to the first stop. Some of the volunteers were given flashlights and went into the woods. Other people, who treated those woods as home, came out of the woods, and they got fed. At other locations, we found people living in a vehicle or a tent. Things that were handed out included chili, coffee. We also handled out blankets and/or sleeping bags, and candles. I had certainly heard of homelessness, and have even unpleasantly experienced it myself for weeks about a decade earlier, but I really had no idea how much there was in various locations right here in the city that I lived in.
After we drove to the first stop on that first night, I was blessed with a front seat. (I think that may have been because I was a big guy, and there was visibly a greater struggle with cramming 3 people into the back seat when I was one of those three people.) I say that I was “blessed” with that seat, because it ended up being an opportunity that I was able to take advantage of. Sitting by the main leader of this mobile group, I kept asking lots of questions about the ministry. Questions included things like how long the mobile group has been operating, and questions about how effective things were, and what struggles the ministry may be encountering. Since I had access to some funds that were available for a Christian cause such as an active ministry like this, I asked about whether finances were a problem. I was able to learn lots of details such as this one: Sometimes poor people may be able to afford food or housing. By getting food from Salt on the Street, this helps them from needing to make an unpleasant choice. Instead, they can afford housing, and organizations like Salt on the Street are able to help them from being hungry. So, this way, they get the benefit of being able to experience both shelter and food.
We impacted people's lives positively that night. I was returned to the parking lot about four hours later. So it was 11pm or later when I was returned back to the parking lot. When I started that evening, I had climbed into someone's van figuring that I'd be gone an hour or two. So I was returned significantly later than I was expecting. I suppose that's what I get for having never asked.
That night I went home. It was late. I was tired. It was cold. I climbed into bed, under the blankets. I thought about how we just did some good for some very appreciative people that night. At that very moment, people could be less hungry or less cold, or both. The people, who were fortunate enough to have been met by our team, may have still been benefiting from blankets we gave away freely. I also thought about the fact that I was laying in bed, under covers, in a heated building. I was just recently outside and so I was still feeling chilled, but I knew that I would start to feel nice and warm in the brief future. I participating in doing a good thing that evening. However, they were still in the cold.
The next week, I again drove to a parking spot near where Salt On The Street met, and got out of my car and went into the vehicle of the leader. And so, once again, I asked a bunch of questions. And I ended up hearing the magical answer that I had been seeking for weeks.
Sometimes, I was told, some of the college students who arrive for the mobile group were unable to join the group as the group drove around the city. Many of them lived in the dorms, and either walked to the parking lot where this “Salt on the Street” ministry met, or they took the bus. Then, they end up just walking on over to the main “Salt on the Street” parking lot and serving there. The reason that they can't help the mobile group is this: there just weren't enough cars and drivers.
That was the last night that I drove to a parking spot near the salt On The Street parking lot, got out of my car, and then used up one of a limited number of seats in somebody else's car while my car remained sitting in a parking space.
For at least the next three years, I became a part of the Salt on the Street crew. I helped every week I could, missing out on the activity less than three times per year. My absenses would just be when I visited family on the other side of the continent, or when I was sick. (I figured that working out on the cold isn't a really great idea when I'm sick, and neither is having volunteers spending time close to me as they are transported in my car.) I regularly transported additional volunteers in my car.
What I found is that almost every week, or possibly every single week, we had enough vehicle space so that everyone who showed up was able to participate. However, very often that would not have been true if my vehicle wasn't able to accomodate some of those people. I lost track of how many of those weeks had my involvement end up being the positive tipping point, causing us to have enough of what was needed.
I had resources available, most obviously being my vehicle. The fact that I was using those resources was allowing other people to volunteer and help out. My help to the ministry was often multiplied, because multiple other people were helping, and my involvement enabled them to help. I began to realize that my service was not just to the obvious recipients, who were the homeless being helped, but also to many of the college students who kept arriving as volunteers. I had a car, but was also nearly a generation older than most of them, so I had experience. I was also reliable, and I found that people started to look at me as being one of the leaders of the group.
I felt like I was experiencing spritual growth and such benefits, and so were people who continued to come and serve. Therefore, my involvement was helping not just the homeless, but also the Christian college students who kept spending their Saturday nights, week after week after week, volunteering to help others. Not only was I helping to serve the physical needs as food and warmth were provided to the homeless, but I was helping the structure that was enabling younger people to be grow their spiritual lives.
My beliefs started to actually seem much more real to me. Earlier in life, I identified myself as a Christian because I was able to agree with the teachings of Christianity. I was willing to believe those teachings because there was no particular reason to doubt them, and alternative beliefs didn't seem particularly more likely. However, I've come to find that I actually did have more faith. I got involved with the hope that I would have a better understanding of what God wants. I came out of that time frame with so much more. My faith became far more real to me.
One thing that I have really learned from my whole expeirence as Salt on the Street is sacrifice. Salt on the Street has cost me a lot. I'm not referring to money; I've spent very little money directly on Salt on the Street, and what money I have spent is money that I was able to easily afford. That wasn't the sacrifice. However, it has cost me some time. Some people struggle with alcoholism, and some people struggle with finances. The biggest struggle that I've felt for many years has been being sapped of available time. That is the area of life where I feel the most hurt when I have to give in that area. So, dedicating out half of my Saturdays has been a substantial commitment.
I am, in no way, trying to suggest that my sacrifice of time is anything substantial compared to the sacrifices of Jesus, such as the obvious sacrifice of his innocent life being crucified. Nor has my sacrifice been as significant as when Jesus gave up his successful career as an artisan, going into the wilderness when he was led there, and then spending his days traveling and preaching. Surely his sacrifices are much more significant, so I'm not trying to suggest that my sacrifices are equal at all. What I can say, though, is that, after regularly making the sacrifices that I have made, I feel like I do have a better understanding of what Jesus went through. When I call myself a Christian, meaning that I am a Christ follower, I feel like there has been an increase in how much my life has similarity to Jesus's life. I can compare Jesus's actions to my own, and relate a bit better to Jesus's life. I understand, what Jesus endured, better than what I did before.
At one point, I heard a familiar passage from the latter half of James 2. Verse 17 of the passage says that “faith” ... “is dead” when people are not doing good deeds.
Previously, I never particularly liked that passage, because it seemed to describe my Christian life in unflattering ways. Now, the same passage seemed to be re-affirming my more recent lifestyle. Furthermore, I understood the passage in a new way. Faith with deeds is alive. By alive, I mean that the faith does something. Dead things don't do stuff. Living things do stuff. My faith was alive, and it was transforming my attitudes, and my life, and leading to situations that helped other people. The faith was doing something. So, the faith was alive. I never really understood that from James chapter 2 until I started to see it first hand, in ministry.
There's an old hymn called “Turn your eyes upon Jesus”. The song says, “Look full in his wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.” I found this to also be true.
I've learned, from experience, a great tool to battle temptation in life. Following the advice of Collossians 3:2, I've found that as I spend more time thinking about God's will, less righteous activities just become less attractive. The most effective way that I've found to combat evil thoughts is to intentionally start thinking about good thoughts.
This isn't just a matter of praying to God, and then hoping that God just removes temptation so that a person doesn't have to deal with it. By actively thinking about that, I have less focus on the evil thoughts, and so I don't struggle so much with debating with myself about whether to give into temptation of evil. For instance, I just think about what more I could do to help the impoverished. Jesus said that the poor will always be among us, so I figure that is an issue that isn't going to be totally resolved anytime soon. Which means, I'll always have something to think about. I'm sure I could find other things to contemplate, such as topics mentioned by the judgement of sheep and goats or Colossians 3:2,12-17.
I put that into practice, not necessarily expecting the positive outcome that came about. Only then, did I start to realize the diminishing power of evil creeping into my life. After I realized how that all works, somehow (and I don't remember how) I eventually thought about that line of that song, and that line of the song suddently had so much more meaning to me.
I've learned some significant things while working in the ministry. Now, my personal testimony about how God has transformed me is a story (which is the story I've been telling) that I am eager to share. I used to think that it is important for a Christian to identify himself or herself, rather than hide from the faith. Yet my testimony was largely that I was taught the basics of Christian beliefs in Vacation Bible School, and since then I've become a much more nice person. That may be a very accurate story, but I never really found it to be an extremely exciting story to tell. In truth, I was rather bothered when I heard people say that people truely led by Christ just can't help but to share the goodness. This bothered me because... I never really felt that excitement myself.
Now, though, my story of growing in Christ includes a lot more details about what I've learned, and how my life has changed, and how I've been able to help with efforts that glorify God. It is a story that I enjoy telling.
I have been asked how many people have been saved during this ministry. Well, during my time being involved, as far as I know, the answer is: none. At the time of this writing, the answer is: none.
There was a time when I would have found that to be particularly disturbing. However, I have occassionally experienced the situation where I serve somebody, and I don't particularly see or know exactly what good it does, but then months later I end up hearing something that clearly tells me that someone has benefited from our actions. I've learned that I don't necessarily need immediate feedback that lets me instantly know that I have accomplished a specific thing. Keeping track of that tally mark isn't the only important thing.
In Matthew 5:16 (Matt 5:13-16), Jesus says, “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” I can say that is getting accomplished. I am certain that God is getting glory from the good actions that his servents are doing. And so, even if I'm not able to increase a tally mark that counts the number of people who have identified themselves as being saved, I can say the work we are doing is good.
So, why am I less bothered if nobody is saved? Surely, I would be delighted to assist somebody with finding Jesus. However, my priorities changed. I don't have a sole soul job, saving people by pointing them to Jesus. I can point to Jesus, but I leave the timing to Jesus. If someone experiences a “conversion moment” in my presense, that's great. If not, I can be okay with that too. What I have now found is that if I'm doing good by serving God in a useful way, I can be okay with that.