by Andy Sahl
There’s an often-repeated (and actually true) story at the church I serve about a meeting our mission and outreach team once had with local leaders of a Honduran Community. The team had just spent the week working on the schoolhouse for the local village and performing some medical services. Having had a great experience, the team was ready to begin planning their next trip and next project. In the heads of each of the “type A” mission and outreach team members were all kinds of future projects, ways to help make the lives of those in the local village easier and in their minds better.
Following proper practices of mission work, a meeting was arranged with the leaders of the local village to listen to what needs might be and partner in the planning. When the local leaders where asked what they needed, they looked at the American team with a very puzzled look and said… “nothing.” The villagers who lived on a mountainside in relatively primitive masonry home and cooked over a fire where puzzled by the question. The American missionaries were floored with the response, but (so the story goes) picked their jaws up off the ground and honored the wishes of the locals. I think some small projects were eventually planned and teams from our church still return for medical missions and Christian education.
Where the Americans saw poverty the locals saw everything they needed to live.
More than one way to measure Poverty
In the mail every week we get these free local magazines. I’m not sure where they come from, but something on the cover usually interests me enough to page through it (likely a restaurant review). One day I happened to pay attention to the advertising in this magazine and noticed that it was nearly all for plastic surgery. I live in North Dallas and this area is known for a lot of cosmetic surgery. I wonder if our Honduran friends would look around at all our cosmetic surgeons and request a meeting asking us if they could provide something to ease the poverty that we seem to be curing with repeated plastic surgery.
Pain is Pain
Most big churches are in the suburbs; most suburbs don’t suffer from the economic issues we might see in some other setting. For a while in my ministry I really struggled with the reality that I would be pouring my life into well resourced young people with a lot of opportunities. Would I every find a job with a group of kids that really needed a youth minister?
As I processed this with my (genius) wife she reminded me of something she learned in her training as a therapist, and that is the notion that “pain is pain.” If mom and dad are fighting or a young person is struggling with friendships it doesn’t really matter how much money they have or what kind of education they have. Their pain is real and they need a community (church) that reminds them that they belong, that they are loved, and that someone will walk with them through this pain.
Ministry in a local parish means walking a fine line of recognizing the pain each person is struggling with while not labeling every individual with a diagnosable psychosis. Poverty takes many forms, may we have the eyes to see it even in our own lives.
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Andy Sahl is the Director of Youth Ministry at Saint Michael and All Angles Episcopal Church in Dallas Texas and has been serving in youth ministry for 15 years. Andy is passionate about developing authentic community and families through the ministries he helps lead. You can often find Andy out for a run with his dog Charles, sharing a cup of coffee with a friend at a local café, or at a favorite restaurant with his family. You can follow him on Twitter @andysahl