My Love Affair with Those That Reek of Jesus

I’m flying to Dallas today to teach two classes until August 8th at the Salvation Army South Region Territorial Youth Institute. One of the five day classes is on Bridge Building, the other five day class is on How to Study the Bible.

Last year I spent a week with them teaching and it was one of the most transformational things I’ve ever had the privilege to do. The youth that the Salvation Army bring to this event are no joke! From the outside looking in, few of them have hope for a better future. Few of them know any life other than hustling, drugs, gangs, baby-mommas, guns, welfare, systemic poverty, death … you name it. Now not all the youth at this event are in that situation, but my experience was the majority definitely are.

My first conversation that week was with a 17 year old kid. I asked him how his week was before coming to the Institute, and nonchalantly with no discernible expression, like it’s just a normal part of everyday life said:

“Well, at the beginning of last week I was hanging with my cousin at a party and then my brother showed up and shot my cousin in the face while I was standing right next to him. He died in my arms. It was a gang thing, you know. The funeral was yesterday and now I’m here. I’m trying to figure out how to get out of that life.”

What?! What?! Did he just say that to me? I’ve literally never had anyone say something like that to me in real time.

And let me tell you that stories like that were not uncommon. In fact, they were by far and away the norm. The life so many of these kids live is beyond my, or many of your, realms of contemplation. Teaching these kids how to read and study the Bible, and also how to love our LGBT brothers and sisters was an honor. The conversations and questions and friendships I built from that intense week have lasted since, and I am interested to see what this year will bring. I pray it will be exactly what they need to further their own lives, stories and journey. It was an honor to even be around them and let their will to survive transform me! And then, to get to do it again… words don’t describe the feeling. Well, maybe these words: Heavy responsibility.

But throughout that week, and this past week leading up to today, I have been thinking about something that really gets under my skin. Let me set it up this way:

The biggest contingency at the Institute, that I knew of, comes from the g-h-e-t-t-o of Atlanta. It is also where friends of mine live in the middle of raising a few month old child, and also where they work for the Salvation Army. They live across from a prostitution house. Murder and burglaries are normal. In fact, when I went to stay with them this last time they even asked me if I wanted to because their house got robbed a few days earlier and staying with them at such a juncture would probably be dangerous. And those friends of mine… they’re white and stick out like a sore thumb.

Here’s the thought I just couldn’t, and still can’t shake:

Hey Andy Stanley and North Point Church and Brad Lomenick and Catalyst and all you other cool Christians in the mecca of Atlanta – where you all at?

You talk, tweet, blog, hold events, preach, write books and whatever else you do so much about leadership and raising up the next generation… From what I see and read and listen to I guess that just means the next generation of folks you’re talking about are those that look and live like you.

You know when Jesus said ‘what you do for the least of these you do for me.’

I contend that Jesus meant the least of these in your OWN NEIGHBORHOOD, IN YOUR OWN CITY.

Not in Africa. In Atlanta.

You’re always the hero of the story when you go to Africa.

You’re nothing more than the privileged white man when you go to East Point or College Park surrounding Atlanta.

Where would Jesus, if he lived in Atlanta, go? Would he walk to the ghetto down the street and invest his time and energy and intelligence and love there, or would he fly, for thousands of dollars, to a foreign land because across the world they “need more help”. Look in your back yard for those that “need more help”.

Andy and Brad and any other cool Christian in and around Atlanta – you better thank the Lord, Creator of Heaven and Earth, that the Salvation Army is there picking up and loving and teaching and raising up those you don’t want to touch with a million foot pole. And you also better start giving them your money so they can keep doing what they’re doing in theirs and your neighborhoods in Atlanta … you know, doing the things you don’t; or don’t want to do.

If the aforementioned ARE investing their time and energy and love and passion and knowledge in those areas, where is the color at their church/events? Why don’t those living in poverty in the ghetto not showing up to be taught or to live a more faithful life of love and leadership?

Where are those who the day before, got shot in the face by a relative over gang related stuff? Where are they at your church or event?

I can just hear it now:

That’s not our target demographic…

They don’t come to our churches or events and we can’t help everybody…

The Salvation Army is already doing a great job and it’s their expertise and have a handle on it…

Blah blah blah

You know why those kids don’t go to North Point or Catalyst or the like? Because the “leaders” and their “followers” aren’t willing to invest the time and effort and credibility and longevity into these kid’s lives enough that they will actually start to trust them. And PS – Jesus never waited for people to come to Him. He sought people out. The Pharisees waited in their temple courts for those in need to come to them. Who are YOU acting like?

Why don’t you give them all scholarships to attend your conferences or services or events or gathering or whatever? You make enough money to do such a thing. If not, why don’t you hold stuff in THEIR neighborhood and show light where light is meant to be shown!? GO IN PERSON and make sure they get there and attend! No, you won’t make a penny off of them. They might not turn into the next YOU, but the potential impact in their lives and the chance that one more person can gain the tools and advantage to be taken out of the cycle of poverty they live within and truly become the leader you love to talk about will be immeasurable.

And you know what? Maybe they won’t. And that is why, what the Salvation Army is investing in SO reeks of the incarnational life and work and ministry of Jesus. The outcome was secondary to the fidelity of living in relation to, and relationship with.

I don’t care what any of you reading this might think or perceive about the Salvation Army. This Youth Institute, and what my friends do and live in their everyday life is the real freaking deal. I’m humbled to even get to be in the same space as my heroes. I just pray that from today through August 8th I might teach and be fully available, 24/7, to be there in any way I can; that this week, like last year, will be a launching pad for a new set of solid relationships with a group of youth that I can pour myself into for the long haul to be there for whatever they need from me personally.

Much love.

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  • Bryan

    Amazing and challenging post, Andrew. It’s time for Christian communities to stop being so insular and to start intentionally reaching outside their walls. So many Christians nowadays are surrounding themselves with Christian X, Y, and Z and not spending enough time engaging the real, hurting people who need the healing only Christ can bring. Thanks for the great challenge to not just Atlanta’s Christians, but to all Christians.

  • This made me cry it is so right on! Thank you for saying it.

  • melinda

    before you start getting shit for this…

    Because yeah, you called some people out, but maybe we’re supposed to be calling each other out. And maybe if there’s some insight on how you can live more missionally at home, they’ll call you out too.

    Wouldn’t be all that bad of a thing if we started looking a little more like Jesus and a little less like The American Church (c).

  • Andrew,

    First of all, welcome to my home state. Tell the Republic of Texas that I miss her so =). On to my main point…

    I agree with you and I disagree with you on these words, Andrew. On the one hand, it is shameful that the American church ignores her poor neighbors in the background of their multi-million dollar structures, and it is baffling to see suburban Christian criticize those of us who have moved into the inner city of America. My family still stares at me as if I were a stranger to them when I declare, “I love my neighborhood, and it is the hood of Memphis!” Jesus truly did say in Matthew 25, “Whatever you do to the least of these, you have done unto me.” By the grace of God, I have moved into the inner city of Memphis to be a neighbor to the poor, and I’m still learning how to do that (you don’t want to look to me as an example. LIving and working in Binghampton for 5 years has revealed MANY prejudices and much pride within me. By the grace of God, Jesus is redeeming my spirit of those sins and restoring me to a righteous love.).

    On the other hand, Jesus did command us to make disciples of all nations. The Psalms say over and over again to declare the glories of the Lord to all peoples, to all nations (EG Psalm 96). Isaiah says that it is too light of a thing that we would redeem only the tribes of Jacob, but that God would make His servant a light unto the Gentiles so that salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. Jesus told his disciples in Acts 1 to wait for the Holy Spirit, and then they would be witnesses to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth. Paul tells the church in Rome that it was ambition to proclaim the Gospel where it had never been heard before (Romans 15). God declares again through Isaiah (43) that He is redeeming all people from North, South, East, and West for His glory. Just as God commands us to love our neighbor in our own city, Jesus makes it clear throughout the whole narrative of the Scriptures: you are to proclaim this Gospel and seek justice throughout this entire creation.

    Andrew, I believe that you and I are ultimately on the same page, but I would caution against any blanket statement that condemns international missions. Yes, some missionaries, whether famous or common, travel overseas to proclaim the Gospel for completely wrong reasons, but remember that Paul would still rejoice in that proclamation (Philippians 1:12-18). Some people also move into the inner city to seek not justice but rather fame and glory for themselves.

    God knows and judges the heart above all else – the heart of the inner city missionary, the international missionary, the GLBT bridge building missionary, the homeless, the home owner, the poor, the wealthy, the foreigner, and the native. But you already know that, Andrew.

    Love you! Have fun in Texas,

  • Jill

    I can tell you’re really frustrated and I hear your heart and your passion. I don’t see how calling people out specifically is going to be helpful, but…I hear you. And I hope and pray that we can figure things out like that in American churches. Maybe it is time to rethink things.

  • Ahhh… So nice to see that no one stole you and that you are still you.

  • Alec Kemp

    Andrew thank you so much for that challenge. I totally agree with you. Jesus went to the lost and showed them love and changed lives. As His followers we should be doing the same. God bless you Andrew in all that you do. I’m going to see what God wants me to do here in the UK.

  • Thanks Andrew, I needed some encourgement today. Thanks for supporting inner-city work and solidarity, and for bringing a positive discussion about LGBTQ communities into it.

  • Thank you for the great post Andrew! Yeah, we need to be involved with the neighborhoods in our city, including the poor neighborhoods. Then, and only then, might we be in a position to be involved elsewhere, including other countries.

  • I totally hear you dude. Two of the most amazing years of my life were spent working with gangsta kids in inner-city Durham, NC. But be careful about poverty elitism, as Rachel Held Evans terms it: It’s become something different than a sanctifying work of mercy when our encounter with the poor becomes our basis for throwing stones at others. The only reason I had to say something is I’m REALLY bad about this myself.

    Keep on living the life, brother, and may God use you as an instrument of His mercy with these kids!

  • pm

    Matthew 5:47 NAS
    “And if you greet your brothers only
    what do you do more than others?
    Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”

    The phrase, ‘meet-and-greet’ is a standard practice in many churches where they offer a brief nod, a smile or two, and a quick hello to those who come into the building facility. Yes, it’s friendly, and you might even catch up with your friends beyond what’s been posted online for FB, twitter, etc. It’s also a common practice in business circles where the connections and conversations become vital to establishing/maintaining key relationships.

    However, the words recorded in the Gospel of Matthew is more than business as usual, even more than what’s expected. It is a challenge to go beyond one’s own comfort zone of normal, everyday behaviour. It is a inner ‘follow-me’ crisis point.

    Loving those most unlike you. Going to those people who don’t fit into the sameness of your network of friends. This is a choice, a prayer, an opportunity and a mission.

  • Shanell

    Wow never truer words spoken. You are an amazing Christian. May you countinue to be blessed, and help spread the word of the lord.

  • Caleb


    Have you tried contacting Andy Stanley or Northpoint Church? I mean I think you would be able to get in touch with Andy Stanley and maybe that could cause Northpoint Church to become more involved in ministry in downtown Atlanta. I think Andy Stanley loves Jesus and wants to see His gospel shared with everyone so maybe he would positively respond to your challenge to seek out diversity and meet the needs of the broken and disadvantaged.