As we worked this afternoon, one of our hosts brought a community leader to the site. She had heard about the work that was being done and was interested in seeing what she could do to help encourage her congregation to invest in this type of mission. We gave her a tour of the job site and talked about the kinds of work that we had done and that we had planned. She was very impressed with the story of the family on whose home we were working and so glad that someone was doing something to help these people, and she said something to the effect of,
You see, this is exactly what I was talking to my son about the other day. He goes to a church that sends people all over the planet, but I keep telling him that there are people who need help right here in the Valley! There’s no sense in people trotting across the world to do work when there are people in our own back yards who need help.
Our host said, “Um, you know that these fellas are from Pittsburgh, right? They came here from there to do work in the Valley.”
Crafton Heights is a church that sends people all over the world. For the record, we do know that there are problems in Pittsburgh. Our back yards are not, figuratively speaking, pristine. And yet, for the seven years we’ve been coming to the Rio Grande Valley to work in neighborhoods like this one.
It doesn’t make a lot of sense. Our visitor today was right: there are all kinds of needs that surround us every day, and if we’re only talking about economics and the physical labor that gets done, it doesn’t add up. It would be cheaper if everyone stayed home and worked in their own back yards.
If working on houses was all that mattered.
Because here’s the deal: the eight men who have gathered here in Texas this week would not be doing what we’re doing now if we were in Pittsburgh. That’s true in terms of the physical work that we’re doing: it’s hard to imagine all of us taking time from our daily lives while we are in the midst of those lives and working to plumb, electrify, and paint someone else’s home. It’s even more true in terms of the other work that we’re doing: there is no way that these eight men would spend hours each evening talking about the importance of grace or the need for us to develop forgiving spirits or the problems of sin or the nature of the church. It just would not happen if we were in the 412… and yet, here, away, we have the chance to wander through some of these conversations. And as important as all of those conversations are, I’m not even sure that they are the most important work that is getting done. Tonight, Gabe talked about the fact that this group of men is getting to know each other in deep and rich ways and we can’t even begin to imagine the impact that will make once the trip ends and we all return to our “normal” lives.
The way I see it, we didn’t come here solely for the people who live in Texas. And we didn’t even come here for the benefit of deepened friendships or heightened spiritual discussion. We came here because we believe that something that happens here, this week, will allow us to make some slight (or not so slight) changes in our every day lives and patterns of relationship and thought that will, in turn, make the 412 (or wherever we are) a more Godly place. We’re working on a house, but we are being changed.
The resource for our discussions is a relatively new volume entitled A Second Shot of Coffee With Jesus. This online comic strip features simple artwork depicting Jesus’ interaction with a small community of adults – it’s snarky, it’s intelligent, and often, it’s spot on as we consider our own lives. Here’s a sample strip:
The way that we use the book is simple. As we left Pittsburgh, I held it up and said, “All you have to do is find one or two strips in this volume that strike a chord with you. Maybe it’s a topic that you’ve thought about a lot. Maybe it depicts something that really annoys you. Maybe it seems really, really true to you. At any rate, all you have to do is simply pick a strip, read it to the group, and say why it strikes you.
Several nights we’ve sat in the church kitchen and talked for more than an hour about the nature of God or the reason we have to follow Jesus. These simple comics have opened us to a series of discussions that have been truthful, earnest, and fruitful.
We ought to be able to do that in Pittsburgh, but in my experience, it doesn’t often happen.
Which is why we come away.