Several months ago, the desperate principal of a local elementary school called the director of our School on Sunday tutoring/mentoring program with an urgent request. She had a fourth grader that was two years behind academically. Both parents had been incarcerated for drug violations, and the remedial work the school was providing was not enough to get her caught up. There was genuine fear that this bright child was going to be so far behind academically that she would never catch up, one more casualty in our ongoing battle to address the social, mental, and environmental challenges that public school children are dealing with.
To summarize a lovely story with many details, today this young girl is happy, healthy, and catching up academically with her peers. It has involved more than just tutoring, which we do well. Loving children is what we do even better. Let me share the words of our SOS director: “This precious little angel girl knows nothing of the issues the Methodist church is dealing with. She only knows that Christ United has shown her the love that any child of God deserves. Through her tutor and our church, she knows that she matters. Makes me proud to be a member of Christ United.”
I received that message, along with a picture of a beaming little girl, as I was traveling back home from a very challenging meeting in Kansas City. I was tired. I was discouraged. I was not hopeful. I needed the story of a fourth grader to remind me of what we do in the life of the church, and why we do it. That picture was all I needed. The church is the only institution in the world that claims love as its primary value, and the transformation of lives as its primary mission. Suddenly, I couldn’t wait to get back home and back to work in the church I love and serve. Pulling into the church parking lot early this morning, I suddenly remembered the promise that Jesus made to Peter: “You are the rock on which I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
In the midst of all the turbulence and chaos of our contemporary culture, in the midst of the culture wars and the theological battles that have engulfed our church, the only thing that can destroy us is forgetting the mission that Jesus gave us. Now and then we just need to stop and remember why we do what we do, and gives thanks for a graceful God who blesses our work even in troubled times.