My sophomore year at the College of Charleston I was able to wrangle a whole group of college students into serving at an after-school program for inner-city children struggling with reading and math. I could not believe how quickly those college kids threw their support behind me in this endeavor. I was thankful for their hard work and dedication. A year later family and friends supported me financially in a 3-month internship in Peru so that I could work with teenage mothers coming out of abusive situations. I lived with a bunch of Spanish-speaking-wild-women for 3 years, and when the racial-profiling laws coming out of Arizona threatened to pass in South Carolina, it was easy to round up passionate supporters to picket and march against racial injustice. I lived purely off of financial support from church members and friends for 2 years when I was working in full-time college ministry at the Savannah College of Art & Design. I stood amazed at the way people gave so generously to me so that I could focus on caring for college freshman who were struggling with eating disorders, broken families, overwhelming pressures from school, and addiction.
What I’m trying to say is this: The absolutely only reason I have been able to serve in these variety of ways throughout the years is because generous individuals have supported me, come with me, and given financially to the cause. Every time, I was astounded and humbled that individuals wanted to support me. I have found it to be true that people, no matter their age or stage of life, really do care about the brokenness they see in the world around them. People want to be actively involved in addressing that brokenness. People want to make a real difference, especially when it comes to issues of social justice.
Church planting, however, is not very trendy.
My husband and I are in the process of raising support to join a team of Costa Ricans who are planting and growing churches around their country. Our job title will be “Assistant Church Planters.” I’ve tried writing up the vision and goals of our future work to explain to potential supporters – things like “establish, strengthen, and grow the local church according to God’s will.” But it just doesn’t have a ring to it. I’m not convinced that people will read my words and think, “Wow! That’s something I want to be a part of! How can I support them?!” Church planting seems boring. In fact, my own mother told me that my first attempt at a newsletter was too “churchy.” Really? Too churchy? Of course it’s churchy! That’s the whole point!
That got me thinking, friends. Establishing and serving churches may not seem like a very compelling cause. It may not speak to you or move you when you hear the words and the vision. It doesn’t have the same appeal as giving to an afterschool program for kids in poverty, or a shelter for battered women, or opposing clearly racist legislation. But the church planting movement in Costa Rica has moved me, and I want to tell you why.
John and I want to go to Costa Rica to join the MTW church planting team because the local church (ICRICEN) and it’s three church plants are striving to meet the needs and address the brokenness of their community in visible, tangible ways. The church in San Jose finds itself surrounded by universities and young college students, facing all the same battles that American college students face, plus some: Trying to figure out who you are, the weight of responsibilities from classwork and jobs, financial debt, learning how to build relationships, loneliness, depression, anxiety, broken homes, abusive parents, alcoholism, addiction, pornography, eating disorders, sexual assault. College is when you begin to wrestle with some of these issues for the first time, I know. I sure did! And the church in San Jose, which stands and continues despite the ever-changing influx and outflow of students around them, wants to meet those young people where they are with grace and the healing hope of the gospel.
One of ICRICEN’s church plants, out in the rural agricultural community of La Montaña, faces different battles. The church serves the community through hosting yearly medical teams, providing access to some of the only medical care that some community members may ever see in their lifetime. Through those medical teams it became apparent that the depth of brokenness was greater than the church could have imagined. Horrendous stories of childhood sexual abuse, along with adult survivors of childhood trauma, came to the attention of the physicians and church members who serve in this community. Out of this great need, the church has created a counseling ministry that continues to recruit and train counselors to serve in an on-going capacity to address the violation and brokenness that runs rampant.
The Church provides something that no outside resources can – community and the hope of the gospel. An addict doesn’t just need a recovery program. He needs friends. He needs accountability. He needs people to eat dinner with. To learn with. To worship with. Change and healing and justice don’t spring forth in isolation. Services are great and needed, but the Church provides more than just services, it provides the community needed for long-lasting change. The Church provides a place to learn, to grow as an individual, to hear the hope of the gospel, to be known and seen and valued – not because of anything that you’ve done or haven’t done, but simply because you are made in the image of God.
You know what else? There is no true salvation – for our broken souls or our broken bodies or our broken lives – without the Church, because we are saved into the Church. Jesus does not merely save us from our sin and brokenness. He saves us into union with Him, and thus union with His body, the Church. Ephesians 5 says that Christ loved the church and “gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” If we want to see lives redeemed and transformed, if we want to see social justice, if we want to see true community for the lonely and the hurting, then the Church – God’s people – have to be there, showing up, in the mess of it all.
Church planting, “churchy”, Church : words that used to make my millennial blood curdle. Friends, not anymore.