I was riding the bus the other day when a Black gentleman sitting near me starting singing along with the music he was listening to. He was singing the simple refrain, “I’ve got love for my people… I’ve got love for my people.” A man sitting between us asked him, “So by ‘my people’ do you only mean black people?” The man’s tone was dripping passive-aggression. The singer man responded with a few remarks followed by the explanation that when he sang “my people,” he meant all people. Then he said, “I’ve got love for you, brother.”
This response was so amazing. The man was faced with an obviously loaded and impertinent question and handled it with much grace. Relations, whether political, social, or racial seem pretty tense lately, which is why I was so struck by this gentleman’s gracious response to such a question. What does it mean to have love for the people around us? Who are my neighbours and how do I love them?
Living in a foreign country for a year and a half as a missionary has given me a deep perspective shift in what it looks like to love others. Unlike the man on the bus, at one point I would have innocently described “my people” as those I agree with, my friends, or my fellow Americans. This just proves how naive and nonchalant I’ve been about this issue. Now, as my world has spread into relationships with people of different faiths, races, opinions, nationalities, and mindsets, the term “my people” means something more holistic and more true to our calling as Christians. Stepping out of my continually bursting evangelical Christian-American bubble, I’ve come to a place where I understand that being a missionary means knowing how to love boldly.
I wasn’t always comfortable with the term missionary because of how some people perceive it. Sometimes I get the feeling that people think that being a missionary means you always live below the poverty line, are constantly asking for money, and essentially wear animal skins and eat locusts like John the Baptist. For me, it’s now one of many representations of bold love. It means having a love for Jesus that moves me (literally), takes me from my comfort zone, and sometimes defies what culture would deem as acceptable. It means that I can tell people about Jesus in my normal everyday life. It means that “my people” means literally everyone.
Everyone – including those in my own backyard.
When I first set out on this missionary adventure, I thought, man, I need to go anywhere but home. Home for me is Atlanta, Georgia. Atlanta is great, but I wanted to see the world. The words Jesus spoke about a prophet not being welcome in his hometown rang true for me (though probably taken completely out of context). I moved to Orlando, Florida to pursue seminary. I wasn’t content with living in Orlando, but I learned in that season that loving people has nothing to do with whether or not you like your circumstances.
My experiences have taught me about leadership, leaning on others to help me through hard times, true love, intentionality in all things, and what it means to be a minister of the gospel.
Orlando eventually led me to Vancouver. Moving to Vancouver solidified that I was indeed a missionary and that God would make the ultimate decision of where I plant my feet and for how long. Working at St. Peter’s Fireside, and being able to spend time in this city, have provided the perfect incubator to grow. My experiences have taught me about leadership, leaning on others to help me through hard times, true love, intentionality in all things, and what it means to be a minister of the gospel.
I needed this time in Vancouver because God knew that I had a lot of learning to do. God knew there would be another step in my journey. God knew that I would be moving on.
A few of weeks ago, God made it very clear to me that it was time to move on from St. Peter’s. It was an extremely difficult decision, but rest assured that it was not for any negative reasons whatsoever. I feel that God has completed the purpose for which I was placed at St. Peter’s and in Vancouver. That purpose was to help St. Peter’s through a very difficult time and to work with a hurting group of musicians. This whole time, I’ve learned how to love boldly. When people felt the choices I was making were wrong; I learned to love. When certain musical styles were rubbing people the wrong way, I learned to love. When the Vancouver winter took me to depths I didn’t know I could reach, I still learned how to love.
I needed all of these experiences to know that no matter where I am, there are always people who need to experience the love of God.
I’m moving back home to Atlanta for the time being, and then I’ll be off to Chattanooga, Tennessee. I’ll be serving at an Anglican church called The Mission Chattanooga. They have an amazing ministry called The Camp House. It is a coffee shop/music venue, and I will be working with my missions agency, Reliant, as The Camp House’s event manager. The ministry God has called me to will still be the same, because the vision God has given me has not changed. Creatives and artists need to know Jesus, and they need to know the value of creating within the context of community.
Jesus took his bold love to the ultimate expression by dying on the cross to save us from the clutches of sin and death. As believers, we need to love like we take Jesus’ expression seriously. For me, this means going wherever God calls me (even if I’m not hip on it), for however long, to serve those who need what I can offer.
I’d like to encourage you by saying that as you pursue your own journey, may love pour out from you in ways you can’t control! Thank you, Vancouver and St. Peter’s for being a space full of grace for me to explore what this kind of love looks like. Brothers and sisters, I’ve got so much love for you!