In a world filled with great distances between, peoples, places and ideologies, the greatest of prepositions is, with. The rich and the poor seem miles apart. Conservatives and progressives are polarized. My church, Knox Knolls Free Methodist Church, in Springfield Illinois is all the way on the other side of town from the people living on Pope Avenue. Miles away, worlds apart, have's, have not's, black, white, citizens, illegals, Republican, Democrat; distance.
All of these chasms are merely symptoms of the malady of sin. All of us are carriers. All of us suffer its deadly effects. None of us are righteous. None of us are innocent. In our sin we work hard to separate ourselves from God, who is the very source of the image imprinted upon our souls. If we pull away from God whose image we bear, we will also tend to pull away from other people who bear God's image. Innovation is no cure. Technology spreads the sin and its separating symptoms along with greater speed and efficiency. No damaged image has ever been restored and made whole by simply gazing deeper at itself.
The cure for sin and the separation it brings is a return of the image bearer to its source. John chapter one tells us, "And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known." In Jesus the one in whose image and likeness we were made has been made known to us again. We images can see our source. The cure for sin and separation is a radical act of WITH!
In Jesus the distance between form and matter, substance and accidents, soul and body has been bridged. The Word, the logos, truth itself and all of the invisible, immaterial first causes of the universe, became flesh, material, visible, and embodied in Jesus. Once embodied, Jesus lives with, or among us. Once Jesus is with us, the glory of God that we all fall short of can be seen clearly once again. Salvation comes from with. Reconciliation comes from with. Wholeness come from with. The cure for our sin come from with.
In 2013, Knox Knolls Free Methodist Church took a risk and did a VBS in a vacant lot on the other side of Springfield. Every Sunday evening for six weeks we gathered in the middle of a neighborhood filled with kids and with the permission of their parents invited them to join us for snacks, games and stories about Jesus. One eight year old boy who came to our VBS would arrive each week and immediately ask for food. The snacks we gladly gave him never seemed like enough. As we got to know him over the time we spent in his neighborhood we discovered that his mother worked third shift to support the family. Because she could not afford child care, she would lock her son and his brother out of the house during the day while she slept. Then in the evening she would lock them in the house to sleep while she went to work. In the midst of this food was not always available to the boys, so there were times when they would go a day or two without eating. This eight year old boy taught us that our attempts to live and minister at a separate and safe distance simply were not enough like what Jesus did to be effective.
We learned that this boy was not an isolated case. We discovered that the neighborhood were this child lives has more single mom's than 96% of the neighborhoods in the United States.
We learned that bringing this child to our church on the other side of town once a week, would do very little to keep him from being hungry and afraid during the rest of the week.
We learned that trying to save his soul without feeding his body has more in common with the distances caused by our sin than with the gospel and Jesus' way of doing things.
We learned that God was calling us to imitate Jesus by enacting radical acts of with. After that VBS we knew that God was calling us to move into the neighborhood just like Jesus did. But who would go? Where would they live? How would we sustain this ministry?
Building upon the relationships built with several single moms in that east side neighborhood by a Knox Knolls member named Tammy, God brought three young women who went WITH Tammy and started to do what she did. In November of 2014 a house was donated to Knox Knolls in that east side neighborhood only a few blocks away from where we did our VBS. The Gateway Conference of the Free Methodist Church gave us a grant and along with funds from our church we remodeled the house and in January of 2015 these three young women moved into the house in a neighborhood where no one wanted to go.
Each of these young urban ministers held at least a part time job. Like their neighbors they went to work. Each of the women paid a small amount to the church each month. All of these funds went to pay for utilities, insurance and ongoing maintenance of the house. Like their neighbors these women paid their bills. Each of these women agreed to live life together in the house according to a common spiritual rule based upon daily prayer. Like their neighbors these ministers had to figure out how to live together with others.
This prayerful community of female urban ministers, spend their time visiting their neighbors and inviting them into their home. Over the years they have walked WITH children through hungry times by providing meals at their own table. They have walked WITH women battered by domestic abuse as they sought to rebuild their lives and heal. These women have been WITH neighbors at court dates and doctor visits. They have been WITH neighbors while driving neighbors with broken down cars to the places they needed to go. They have been WITH neighbors around the ministry house table as neighbors whose water had been shut off did laundry at the ministry house. They have been WITH neighbors who are homeless and helped them find shelter. Ministry in the way of Jesus is all about WITH.
Since 2015, we have added a house in the same neighborhood for male urban ministers who want to live in community, love God and love their neighbors by being WITH them. In 2017 and house was donated to the Moundford Free Methodist Church in Decatur Illinois and Reside ministries was born. Reside seeks to help people and churches discover how they, like Jesus, might move into neighborhoods where no one wants to go, in order to lovingly be WITH the people there that God loves. Our desire is to walk WITH churches through the process beginning new works where God's people move with intention into close proximity neighbors in need.
This blog and website will be full of stories from our ministers about life at their houses. These stories will be about what it looks like to live in community with other ministers. These stories will be about ways in which God is at work in the lives of their neighbors. This website will also include information about how you can join in working WITH others to love God and neighbors by living WITH them in close proximity. This website will also include contact information should your church want someone to walk WITH them through starting a similar work in a neighborhood near you.
In a world full of sin, distance, and separation, dare to follow Jesus and live a life of WITH.