I sat in a haphazardly assembled circle of about fifteen fellow church-goers in the living room of a house on south Irving, balancing a plateful of food on my lap. We had met to discuss ways in which our particular church body could become more involved in social justice locally, through organizations and individuals who have already formed a foundation in which others could easily join. After listening to a few others share about Denver Rescue Mission, Joshua Station, and the up-and-coming Purple Door Coffee, I shared the heart behind Sox Place. After concluding my explanation of our mission, which is to “Bring the Father’s Heart to the Fatherless” through intentional, long-term relationships, one woman asked, “So what, exactly, is the purpose of your organization?”
While this is a legitimate question, I’m afraid that the realm of social justice and those involved have become so concerned with the numbers and hard data that we have often forgotten the real reason why we are here in the first place. Yes, it is important that we strive to give our youth the concrete resources they need to end their own grueling and torturous cycle of poverty and despair, but I find it much more important that we come alongside these children to share life with them – to experience joy and sorrow together. The outcomes and “results” that so many are looking for as the product of an organization like ours are simply byproducts of intentional, loving relationships.
We feed and clothe the homeless youth of our city not because we are interested in subsequently posting numbers that illustrate our “success” to expectant onlookers, but because we truly love and care for those beat-down and bedraggled souls that stumble through our door each afternoon. We do not have programs that require kids to participate in some form of religious agenda in order to eat or receive assistance with writing a résumé. We do not search every person that comes through the door to confiscate drugs or other hidden paraphernalia in order to meet some pre-determined expectation of distrust and safety. We do not require our kids to edit their language or their lifestyle in order to be clothed or feed their pets. We simply offer ourselves, as imperfect and inexperienced as we are, to love and care for God’s children the only way we know how: by sharing life together.
“What really, is justice?” President and CEO of World Relief, Stephan Bauman writes:
“Too often we theorize about justice, forgetting that justice is deeply personal. …In its fullness, justice is about right relationships – relationships that work. Injustice is about relationships that don’t. Justice for what some call “the Quartet of the Vulnerable” – the orphan, the widow, the immigrant and the poor – is especially important to God, due to its prevalence in Scripture. Injustice occurs when these people are left out, oppressed or exploited.
Justice is best incarnated by the people closest to those who suffer, not only geographically, but culturally too. When we live out justice in our relationships, we give witness to the person of Jesus and effect change.
…These relationships, when stitched together justly, weave a tapestry of hope that fundamentally changes society for the better.”
It is through these relationships that we can change the lives of those we care for so much. It is through the laughter and tears that we can create life-altering experiences.
Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries in L.A., writes:
“No daylight to separate us.
Only kinship. Inching ourselves closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. …We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away. The prophet Habakkuk writes, ‘The vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment and it will not disappoint…and if it delays, wait for it.'”
No, we don’t have a lengthy list of neatly organized and sterilized “success stories”. No, we don’t fundamentally alter the lives of every person who steps through our doorway. Most of the time, after countless years of rejection, we might notice a hint of change. And when we do see that person finally come to grips with how much they are valued and truly loved, we rejoice. We bask in the glow of a wall that has been overcome, but only for a moment, for there are hundreds, if not thousands, of lives that are yet to be claimed and beautifully marked by the fingerprints of a loving God. A God who spurs the naïve and incredibly inexperienced (yes, that would be me) onward to pursuing God’s Justice and His Heart into loving more of his children. We will have to wait for it, just as He waits for us, but when we finally catch a glimpse of His undeniable Love for us, everything changes.