A Father To The Fatherless

Just when I thought my heart couldn’t break any more, we drove to our Compassion project today and saw this…

roof after rusty roof of the Mathare Slum, one of the largest and most congested slums in the world.

Over 800,000 people live within these 3 square miles.

Garbage is piled everywhere and sewage flows freely in between the houses.

And yet in the darkness of this slum we discovered a ray of hope.

We met Eliud Otieno.

Eliud is an 18-year-old Compassion-sponsored boy. His older sister died when he was young.

By 2007 he had lost both his mother and father leaving him an orphan, alone in one of the most filthy and impoverished slums in the world.

Thankfully, Compassion was there to help.

They purchased the slum-shack he was renting so that he could continue living there.

They stepped in and supplemented his food and provided financially so he could continue his education.

Eliud was eager to tell us about his Compassion sponsor, Nick Erskine, who lived in California.

Nick has sponsored Eliud for 11 years.

When we asked if he had any letters from his sponsor he immediately grabbed a stack of papers from the corner of his 10′ x 10′ shack.

One of the letters was written after Eliud’s mother’s death.

It was obvious that Eliud had a deep connection with his sponsor, a connection that continued to sustain him as an orphan living alone in the Mathare Slum.

We asked Eliud what he would say to his sponsor if he ever met him. He smiled and proceeded to deliver a message so moving that it had us all in tears.

As we left his home I noticed something written on the wall above his door…

It was a prayer he said he prayed every day as he left his home.

I was moved with the perspective this young man had while living in some of the worse living conditions I had ever seen. While many would consider his situation hopeless, Eliud recognized that God had graciously provided everything he needed. Nick, because of Compassion’s work in Mathare, is the answer to that prayer.

I think back on all the things I’ve prayed for in the last few years. Suddenly everything seemed so trivial when I stared at that simple prayer written on the cardboard wall of a shack in a Kenyan slum.

God loves me enough to feed me, bless me, and give me hope for the future. Amen.

Amen indeed, Eliud.

What Church ISN’T

There’s an ancient principle that says you can learn more about something by first defining what it’s NOT before you try to define what it IS.

Let’s take a look at a few things that Church ISN’T.

Church Isn’t About Protecting Christians From The World

Some of the church environments I experienced maintained that the church was a haven of peace and hope in a horrible, broken world. We were the sheep. They were the wolves.

We had to protect our sheep by keeping the wolves out. We were “in the world but not of it,” remember?

While there are many churches who consciously or sub-consciously adhere to the idea of being a place to hide from the evils of the world, I remind you the type of company Jesus kept when he walked this earth.

He could have adopted the Pharisee’s method of separating himself entirely from everything “unclean.” Instead, he was known as a “friend of sinners.” Can our church say that?

Church Isn’t A Club

One of our strengths as the church is the friendships and community that come out of our local expressions of worship.

People who have been hurt and rejected for years find healing in healthy relationships.

However, if we’re not careful, friendships can turn into cliques and new people walking through the door will find themselves on the outside looking in.

Our circle of friends is important but let’s not be so self-absorbed that we miss those Christ is calling us to serve.

Church Isn’t An Event

In Western culture especially, we have equated church with an event that happens once a week.

We get ready for church, we drive to the church, we do church, we come home and then we don’t think about it again until next week.

God never intended church to be an event that we only participate in for a couple hours each week.

We are the church.

That means that we carry it with us 24/7. It follows us wherever we go, whatever we do.

Church is as much a part of the conversation we have with a co-worker on Monday as it is about the worship songs we sang the day before.

Church Isn’t A Location or Building

While most of us know this intuitively, we still need to be reminded that the church isn’t a specific building or location.

Our buildings and programs create environments for church to happen but they are no more or less sacred than our living room or even the neighborhood pub.

Church Isn’t A Denomination

We each like to think that our own beliefs and doctrines are the “right way.” Which is understandable. We wouldn’t practice them if we didn’t believe them to be true.

The danger comes when we begin to see our way as the only way. There are some hills to die on but then there are other battles that don’t need to be fought. Some sprinkle, some dip.

Some take communion with wafers and wine, others with bread and grape juice.

One day soon we’re all going to be sitting up in Heaven wondering what all the fuss was really about.

Church Isn’t About You

This one is the most important distinction in my opinion. Church isn’t about YOU. It’s about THEM.

I have no patience for people who visit a church and come home complaining that the music was too loud, the message too long or the air conditioning too cold.

Some people view church as a “pick-me-up,” a little boost of joy and happiness to get them through the week. Show up, sing a couple songs, shake a few hands, go home and pull out the potroast.

The church was never meant to be a place to cater to Christian’s comforts. It is and always has been about “seeking and saving those who are lost.”