Personhood in Ministry
I have been working at Cup of Cool Water for more than 4 years. In that time I have worked with hundreds if not thousands of at risk youth. It is interesting how certain words or phrases can become so common that we can easily disconnect ourselves from the person the word or phrase is connected to. When we say “Youth who are homeless” at Cup of Cool Water, we try to actively re-orient our focus so that we recognize the personhood of the youth before we consider their situation in life. It is a mouthful but it has been an important reminder for me.
Having worked with the many youth I have worked with I have ebbed and flowed in my ability to be present with youth and to recognize their personhood first and foremost. When I first started working at Cup I felt I had to be intentional about everything. I would pay attention to how I greeted you, I would pay attention to eye contact and I would think about the kind of questions I would ask. As time went on, these interactions became almost automatic. I have found that ministry requires a great deal of intentionality and most importantly, I have realized that this intentionality is impossible if not guided by the Holy Spirit.
I have built significant relationships with many youth and a few I would call friends. A number of weeks ago I had a difficult conversation with a young man I have known for the whole I time I have worked at Cup. I addressed his attitude and the way he spoke to other staff and volunteers. He was dismissive and simply said, “I’m an ass hole, and that isn’t going to change.” He then walked away from me. I found myself flustered, bothered and I found myself thinking about the long term consequences of his attitude and behavior. Would he ever keep a job with such an attitude? Could he maintain a healthy relationship with friends, family or a significant other? If I’m being honest, I have invested far more time in this young man than any other youth I have ever met. The fear, the anxiety, the stress were a result of me trying to prove to myself and others that my investment paid off.
The truth is, this guy is his own person and whatever my investment has been has been because Jesus called me to pour into his life. There have been hard times; times when I felt as if our meetings were going nowhere, if not backwards. There have also been beautiful moments when I felt like I had nothing to say to him but God spoke directly through me.
He is way better off now than when I first met him and my flesh wants to take credit for it. I battle this thing in me to see him as a project rather than a person who I have learned to see as a brother. In my better moments, Jesus lets me see through his eyes and I can see this relationship as it really is.
As a Christian, I have seen this struggle time and time again. We have such a hard time accepting the role we play in the kingdom of God. We play a critical role. When we see injustice and we ask where God is, we know the truth, that although God is already at work in the lives of each and every person, He is also present in that unjust situation when you as a person with the Holy Spirit alive in you steps into that injustice.
Let me end with a passage that has spoken profoundly to me lately:
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:12-17)