Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Planting gardens for refugees: Meet some evangelicals

This past Sunday, our church hosted our annual Missions Weekend. Instead of the usual Sunday programs, we have a focus on missions – worldwide, national, regional, and local. Even our worship service had a focus on missions, but I’m not sure if it was a focus on missions we do or the missions outreach to us. 

The Rev. Michael Jones of Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church gave the sermon. Five singers from his church, the Friendly Temple Ensemble, sang both the welcoming hymn and the offertory. You can watch a tape of the 8:15 and the 11:15 service here; it’s available this week. I attended the 11:15 service.

I’ve never heard or sung an offertory quite like that one. Simply put, it rocked. And when the ensemble finished, the church roared in applause.

Yes, we are Presbyterians. But we rocked on Sunday.

Our Sunday School class has been studying the prophets, but we put that course aside to hear about the church’s Harvest mission. During the past decade, the Harvest mission has helped refugee families in St. Louis plant community and home vegetable gardens, hold programs for children, help refugees get acclimated to the United State and find resources. 

Many of these refugees arrive without speaking a single word of English. They come from central America, Afghanistan, Sudan, the Congo, Iraq, Nepal, Burma, Somalia, and other countries. Many of them arrive penniless. A vegetable garden may sound like a small thing, but it provides food, community connections, and introductions to people. It also plugs church members and their children into the lives of refugees. 

This is only one of our church’s outreach and mission programs. Last year, our church joined with Friendly Temple and sent a combined ministry team to Cuba. For years, our church has supported the Micah Project in Tegucigalpa, the capital city of Honduras, which provides housing, stability, and hope to the city’s abandoned boys. We support an orphanage in India. WE support scores of missionaries all over the world. We have numerous mission trips to such glamorous spots as Kurdistan in northern Iraq. We have an active ministry outreach to local jails and prisons. 

We often laugh about being stereotyped Presbyterians, but we are also something else. We are an evangelical church. We identify as evangelicals. If someone asked my religious affiliation as I left a polling place, I would say evangelical. 

Evangelicals. That’s the group routinely disparaged and often sneered at by many of my Facebook and Twitter friends, usually in the same breath as “81 percent of evangelicals voted for Donald Trump.” The people doing the sneering are often, and sometimes predominantly, other Christians, still angry about the outcome of the 2016 election. I can’t tell you how people at my church voted. I suspect a lot of them did vote for Trump. Some likely voted for Hillary Clinton. Some voted for third party candidates. How could they vote for a person such as Trump, someone who seems so antithetical to everything Christianity teaches?

I don’t know if I can answer that question, but I suspect at least some of the answer can be found in the church’s active pro-life ministry, which goes far beyond simply opposing abortion. Some of it can be found in people’s genuine concerns about the direction the country was headed. And some of it also can likely be found in a desire to see Washington, D.C. govern instead of rule. 

And some of it can be found in those vegetable gardens for refugees, teaching art to imprisoned women, providing a home and a life for homeless boys, leading Bible studies and Sunday School classes, and countless other things. These things speak to and from the evangelical soul.

Photograph by Morgan Clasper via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

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