We have a saying at the GO Seminary of the Americas: "The fingerprints of the local church should be all over its neighborhoods. The community should love the church so much that even if it disagrees with what the church believes, it would grieve if it were gone."
We want to plant and lead the kinds of churches in our communities that would leave those respective communities feeling diminished by our absence because our redemptive presence was so strong. When Jesus walked into a village things changed for the better. When a church is established in a neighborhood things should be positively different not because of us but because of who we follow and how we follow him.
In our Incarnational Ministry and Strategies II course students are challenged to develop ways of creatively engaging their culture with the Gospel and ever-serving presence of the local church. We want to pour ourselves out for others and invite them to be a part of us if they are so led.
Today something completely unexpected happened. Today we hit the streets with squeegees, sponges, cold bottles of water and fliers. We thought we were just washing windshields and reaching out to public transportation drivers that serve our neighborhood. We later discovered that we were also saving lives.
Public cars labeled with the same letters follow the same routes and are a form of public transportation here in the Dominican. We have a circuit that runs directly through one of our neighborhoods. They pack their cars full of fares and their passengers can get from one side of Santiago to the other and back by following the connecting routes. These men drive all day long in crazy traffic (they make a lot of the “crazy” themselves) and it’s thankless, hot work. Because the “A” car circuit goes through our neighborhood daily for up to 12 hours at a time, these drivers are considered a part of our community. One of our students asked “What if we serve them and let them know that we care for them and are grateful for their work? We could wash their windshields and give them water.”
It was a fantastic idea! Culturally, here in the Dominican, when a windshield gets washed at an intersection or elsewhere there is an expectation that the driver will pay for the service, EVEN if the service was initially refused. They almost always have to pay something. The students wanted to turn the system upside down. We’ll serve them at no cost AND we will give them a bottle of water as a thank you for their service and invite them to the neighborhood church.
So we prepped, got materials together, and set out to the “A” car route. It went like this: 1. Student hails the car and begins immediately washing the windshield 2. While another student sticks his head in the car insuring that the service is free and 3. Hands them a bottle of water 4. While saying, “We’re able to clean your windshields for free because Jesus cleaned up our lives for free. Your windshield will get dirty again but Jesus can clean up your life forever. If you want to know more about it, come visit us one Sunday.” 5.” Here’s a flier with a scripture, address of our building and times of service. Have a great day!” The scripture is from John 4:13-14 and reads: “Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
We did one car after another… more than 80. But one was unique. The driver took the flier after we finished and handed it back to a passenger as he drove off. Towards the end of the street the car stopped and the passenger got out. He walked back to the students. He asked them to wash the windshield of his life. At first they were confused. He broke down and confessed, “You guys are here for a reason. For me. I changed my mind. I changed it in the back of that public car after I heard what you said and read this verse. I need that water. I’m at the end. I had made up my mind to murder my family and kill myself today but now I won’t. I’m not going to do it. I was going to do it tonight but now I can’t do it. He went on to tell of extreme financial difficulties, that he had not been able to provide for his family, that he can’t find work to provide for his wife who is pregnant with twins and the twins and singleton they already have together. He was at the end of his rope, desperate and ashamed, believing that they would all be better off if they were just dead. All together there are 7 of them.
The students prayed for him. They took up a modest benevolent offering to get him through the night. They confirmed where he lived and got his contact information so that they could follow up with him the next day and connect him to the church and pastoral staff.
Something as basic and ridiculous as a squeegee saved the life of two adults and 5 children today. We never knew weeks ago when this plan first was born that it would be used in such a miraculous way. The church, the People of God, went to the streets today and a difference was made. Lives were saved. It’s an encouragement to be sure but the question follows, how many has the Church lost due to its preoccupation with comfort and complacency? How many more will die?
Today the fingerprints of the Church were on a squeegee that taught me that pouring ourselves out in small and great ways is a matter of life and death. We only discover this in the act of serving. There is a real battle going on that cannot be fought from a posture of comfort.
May the Church reject complacency in favor of a commitment to grow in its service and its redemptive engagement of the culture and community surrounding it.
Redeeming, Renewing, Restoring.