This year we were blessed to have Ryan Taylor, Director of Network Ministries, speak to our community about his work with the chronically homeless and mentally ill and about his perspective on our call as followers of Jesus to serve among the poor.
After a time of worship and dedication of the day to God, Ryan began the morning by sharing with our students a message titled “Crossing Social Boundaries: Embracing the Awkward Life of Christian Service.” Examining the story of Jesus’ encounter with the demon-possessed man in Mark chapter 5, Ryan illustrated that, in order to be present with the man, Jesus’ had to cross a lake and break four social taboos of Jewish religious culture: 1) He entered the Garasenes, which was occupied by the despised Romans, 2) He entered the tombs, a place of impure dead bodies, 3) He came face-to-face with demon-possession, and 4) He entered a production center of swine, an impure animal according to Jewish law. Using the physical barrier of the lake as a metaphor, Ryan asked students to identify barriers that were keeping them from being present with those whom society stigmatizes. He acknowledged that crossing social barriers is often awkward, but Ryan encouraged students to see this awkwardness as a gift-as an opportunity to experience God in a new way.
After some small group discussion, and a snack Break, Ryan continued his discussion of social stigma. He explained that when Jesus said in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” he meant “You are in the right place when you see the beggar within yourself.” As long as we approach others from a position of superiority, Ryan said, we miss the opportunity for spiritual growth. Drawing on the insights of Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert in their book When Helping Hurts, Ryan challenged students to consider the “prepositions that they use when they think about service. We are accustomed to doing things “to” and “for” others, Ryan said, but service is most beneficial when we serve “with” the poor and “as” the poor. When we recognize our own poverty, we not only serve others better, but we recognize our own need for the grace of God.
Following another small group discussion time, students then split up to attend breakout sessions hosted by Julie Melton, President of Get Hope Global, an organization offering business training for women in developing countries, and Brian Cress, youth liaison for the International Justice Mission, an organization combating violence and human trafficking around the world. During these sessions, students came to see how many of the concepts that had been addressed earlier in the morning were also applicable in a global context.
With these things fresh in mind, students then went out into the community to spend the afternoon serving through the FRCS GO! program with local ministries and organizations such as Cafe 180, Bessie’s Hope, and Joshua Station. For some students, this was the first time during the year that they made a conscious effort to learn the names of the people with whom they were serving (something Ryan stressed that they should do). And others came to see that their service they was a more central component of their Christian discipleship than they had previously realized.
Finally, in the evening, adults associated with the school and the wider Denver community gathered in the FRCS Performing Arts Center to hear a final message from Ryan Taylor. Ryan shared some of his own personal story, as well as spoke about his two ministries-Network Coffee House, a hospitality house for the homeless, and Access Denver, a spiritual formation initiative for those ministering among the marginalized poor. During this final session, Ryan explained three components of this spiritual formation: 1) Consistent presence (to others, and thereby to oneself), 2) Creating space (by listening to and learning the language of others), and 3) Holding tension (as one realizes that one can’t “fix” others or “flip out,” but instead must take troubling questions to God in prayer). All of these are necessary, he said, if one is to minister “with” and “as” the poor. And one needs to do this, he added, if one wants to fully understand Jesus and what it means to be his follower.
People may come to our communities because they want to serve the poor; they will only stay once they have discovered that they themselves are the poor. ~ Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche
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