||Nov 7, 2009
Many of today’s churches have strayed away from the kind of compassion that Jesus embodied. This book is an attempt to move us back in the right direction
Michael Bethune Enterprises
In this work I have made my best effort to present a unique and candid look at the relationship between the church and the less fortunate as I address many of the issues and concerns that others have been reluctant to confront. I have done so primarily because I strongly believe that the church and other organizations that serve the less fortunate can and must do better when it comes to how we treat those that frequent our soup kitchens, clothing pantries, shelters, etc. As someone who's served on the front lines of ministry to less fortunate populations for over fifteen years now, I believe that many of today’s churches have strayed far from the model of compassion that Jesus embodied and exemplified throughout His earthly ministry, a model that embraces and reaffirms the humanity of all people regardless of their social, educational, and economic location. As a result I have created a 12-stage process designed to move churches back in the right direction, back towards compassion.
My book places specific emphasis on three key areas regarding the Christian church and the less fortunate: 1. Relationship (What’s the Problem?), 2. Restructuring (Laying the Foundation for Change), 3. Reactivation (Moving in the Right Direction). It also offers helpful questions at the end of each stage designed to facilitate prayerful reflection, serious discussion, and an ultimate call to action. A review section is also offered that highlights the key components of each of the 12-stages. The book concludes by offering helpful suggestions for starting the kind of outreach ministries and organizational programs that will make a real and lasting difference in the lives of the less fortunate.
Why am I passionate about this issue? As a veteran returning home from a hazardous tour of duty, I was a confused young man who turned to substances as a means of coping with the life that I now faced. Finding it difficult to adjust to life outside of the military, I eventually ended up back on the very streets that I had so wisely escaped several years earlier. Homeless now as a result of a life dictated by the mandates that accompany the abuse of drugs and alcohol, I lived on the streets for five years, primarily by using many of the survival skills that I learned while in the military. I lived in abandon buildings, vacant apartments and vehicles and homeless shelters, all the while unable to break free from the bondage that had begun back in Honduras. In 1993, literally ready to give up on life, I admitted to myself that my life had now deteriorated to the point where it was “void of hope.” That’s when God sent me a few compassionate Christians who would prove to be the catalyst to my life changing transformation.
This book is my attempt to awaken the church to the fact that there are thousands more lost souls on the streets of this country that are desperately awaiting their compassionate arrival, before its to late!
Confronting the Church’s Comfort Crisis
After going through the process of repentance and allowing our hearts to be broken by God to the point where we begin to feel the pain of those who are suffering, the church must then confront its own “comfort crisis.” Many churches have chosen to develop ministries that only operate on the surface when it comes to outreach to the marginalized, particularly because they are attempting to maintain a certain level of comfort that affords them the illusion of being in full control at all times. This kind of behavior is clearly indicative of a ministry that is indeed out of control; out of God’s control that is. True ministry has less to do with our being in control and more to do with allowing ourselves to become sensitized to the point of meeting people where they are and trusting that God will give us the wisdom, courage and strength to accomplish the things that we are incapable of accomplishing within the confines of our own human limitations.
I can recall a time when I was driving on the highway behind a Sheriff’s Department Prisoner Transport Vehicle. As I examined the vehicle with my eyes I began praying for the officers, for those being transported, and for their families [as is my customary practice.] After praying for a short while the words on the back of the transport vehicle hit me like a ton of bricks: it read, “Prisoner transport, keep back 50-feet.” All of the sudden I began to realize that the words on the vehicle actually represented the model that many churches are attempting to do ministry out of; they are attempting to do ministry from a distance. At that point I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the men and women who were inside of that caged vehicle might have ended up there because the church never got close enough to them to help them change the direction of their lives. Just a thought to be pondered. Is it possible that too many of our church leaders and parishioners are imagining invisible “keep back 50-feet” signs on the backs of those within the very communities that they have been called to change? God has not called the church to be comfortable; God has called us to be comforters of those among us that continue to experience the harsh day-to-day realities of an unjust and inhumane society. If in fact we truly believe that what we have to offer is real, then we should not be afraid to get closer to the less fortunate. God is more than able to help us, the real question is are we willing? If we are, God can and will use us to free them for good!
In his book Beyond Charity, noted biblical justice author John Perkins writes: “Our mission is to open doors and invite pain and suffering in; Jesus did not absorb pain from a distance and neither can the church. This is a particularly important lesson for any congregation that wants to take its mission seriously. The church should make every attempt to be a companion of and a comforter for this pain.” Listen closely to the following verses: “Praise be to our God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5 / NIV) Clearly this text is more about being comforters to those that are suffering than it is about being comforted for the mere sake of our own comfortability. Because God is the “father” of compassion, so too we ought to be children of compassion who willingly extend comfort to those that are in any trouble as a response of gratitude [which by the way is obligatory] based on the compassion and comfort that God extends to us when we are in trouble. In the same way that we are benefactors of the sufferings of Jesus the Christ, which causes our cups too overflow with comfort, so to the marginalized and oppressed should be benefactors of that same comfort as we enter into their sufferings with them. When we are deceived into forgetting from whence we have come - we become comfortable; when we become comfortable we no longer see the need to be comforters, thus the ministry from a distance mentality ensues. It invades our existence and renders us impotent and irrelevant as it relates to true ministry.
In his Sermon on the Mount [or the beatitudes as it is more commonly known-Matthew 5], Jesus says in verse four: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Now within the confines of this one line there are nestled two promises; the first promise is that whoever mourns will be blessed, and the second is that they will also be comforted. The word mourn is being used in this context to mean: “deeply-sorrowful lamenting, as in the death of a loved one.” Could it be that Jesus is implying in this verse that if the church would allow itself to become vulnerable enough to begin mourning the spiritual and physical deaths of the marginalized and oppressed, it will in return be blessed [equipped and endowed] by God with the kind of power that will enable it to become the primary source of comfort for humanity’s brokenness? Imagine what would happen if churches everywhere truly began to mourn over some of the atrocities that are happening to human beings right in our own back yards, and dare I say right inside some of our very own houses of worship. A crucial element in laying a foundation for ministry through which true and lasting change will take place occurs when the church moves from “self-comfort” to mourning over the condition of others. If a church’s heart has genuinely been broken by the things that break God’s heart it will not be able to resist undergoing the transition from its own comfort zone, to a place where it now mourns humanity’s brokenness to the point of action.
Michael Bethune’s 'Unto the Least of These' is the first Christian book I have ever (and I really mean EVER) encountered that strikes me as thoroughly Christ-like in its message. The idea that the degree at which we attend to the less fortunate is indicative of the way we treat (or identify with) Jesus (a true measure of our spirituality, our humanity and purpose) …this idea is truly wonderful, inspirational, and massively important. I am not a Christian in the traditional sense, but I’ve always maintained a deep respect for the teachings of Jesus, particularly regarding humility and charity. 'Unto the Least of These' contains a timely message in clear and inspirational language. This should be published and gifted to all the CEOs of the world banks, the insurance companies, the drug companies, oil… all the lost and greedy souls promoting mass suffering and destroying our planet. Perhaps I’m getting a bit off topic here… sorry. Back to the point... Michael Bethune’s message, as so skillfully, lovingly, and honestly conveyed in his book, is an important one. "Blessed are the poor in spirit..."
This is a useful and worthy book for the current economic times in which one out of seven Americans live in poverty. Even more so, greater and greater numbers of people worldwide live on less than 50 cents a day. I hope more organizations will move back to compassion and help rather than focusing on other reasons (like use or non use of contraception) to offer help. I love the line: "Imagine what would happen if churches everywhere truly began to mourn over some of the atrocities that are happening to human beings right in our own back yards . . ." How about those that are happening every time a member of the American military presses a button in Nevada to fire a missile from a Predator drone in Afghanistan or Pakistan? Imagine what would happen . . . I wish you the best with this.
Well written, and the kind of subject that will reach many, not just Christians. There is a great universal message in this and you put it forth in a compassionate no-nonsense way. It's refreshing no matter what my beliefs are. Nicely done and good luck with your work.
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