We have a group at our church that does a weekly sandwich ministry together. Though we already had a group that makes sandwiches each week for a local shelter, another team realized some folks don’t go to shelters, and that they might be missing out on a real opportunity to connect with different folks in our community if they didn’t go out to where the people are.
So now, every week, they walk the streets of downtown Portland and hand out upwards of 100 sandwiches. As they’ve met folks who live outside, they’ve identified other needs some folks have, such as socks, new underwear, rain gear, flashlights and batteries. Each week, they come back with a list of needs, and each week our congregation helps fill those needs.
To me, this kind of ministry is exemplary of what missional church is about. We don’t simply wait behind the walls for people to come ask for something; we go out, meet people face-to-face and get to know them. Yes, we offer them a meal, but we also share stories, learn a bit of their history, and they come to know that there actually are flesh-and-blood people behind all those steeples and stone facades.
But one of the greatest gifts of missional church is the opportunity those who go out to serve have to be changed themselves by the experience. And I don’t mean the warm fuzzies we get from doing a good deed. I mean we’re changed by relationships, and sometimes, we get more out of the experience than those who we are supposedly helping.
Never has this been more true than today with respect to our sandwich ministry.
The street team went out on their usual wednesday rounds and came upon a man to whom they had given a sandwich last week. Without much thought, they handed him some more food, and the man’s face lit up.
“Here,” he said excitedly, “I have something for you.” Out from his handful of possessions he pulled this:
We reach out into the world to serve rather than to be served. But on those rare occasions when grace breaks through, something beautiful and unexpected happens. Aside from the remarkable artistry and touching thoughtfulness of the gift, it’s especially significant that this piece, which now hangs in our church offices, was made from coat hangers that likely were discarded by someone who never gave them a second thought.
We’re surrounded by beauty all of the time. Sometimes we just need a little help seeing it.