Gratitude for ministries of companionship and relationship
Ministry is not transactional but about companionship and relationship.
“Keep our friends and family safe wherever they are.” This was the poignant, brief prayer a young woman high school student offered at Lydia Patterson Institute in El Paso when church leaders gathered there a few days ago.
Anna (not her real name) lives in Juarez and crosses the Mexico/US border every day to attend school. She offered this petition for safety in the midst of great insecurity, difficulty and fear. Living in conditions propagated by poverty and violence is not easy for any one and especially for children and young people 12-18 years old.
Anna and her fellow students spend 2-3 hours each morning in line at the border between Juarez and El Paso in order to attend Lydia Patterson. Their waking, dressing, leaving home at 5:30 am, standing in line to cross the Mexico/US border is difficult. These students express an amazing sense of gratitude. Gratitude for opportunities that ordinarily are unimaginable.
While their lives are often heart-breaking these young people are brave, courageous and filled with gratitude. The staff, teachers and guests of Lydia Patterson are inspired and transformed by the tenacity and sense of gratitude of these young students. These young people find intellectual, moral and spiritual strength at Lydia Patterson.
This Thanksgiving I am grateful for ministry with…which is about relationships. We hear from many ministry partners about transformative mutual relationships. Ministry is not transactional but about companionship and relationship. Ministry is walking with those crossing borders, advocating with those seeking justice, living non-violently in the face of violence, living hospitably in the face of rejection, and welcoming strangers and friends.
Rev. Fred Morris said, “In July 2015, the California-Pacific Annual Conference decided to open four Welcome Centers to provide aid and comfort to unaccompanied minors fleeing gang violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. We started the San Fernando Valley Refugee Children Center, Inc. in light of the hostile reception of the children in some communities in California. Our overarching goal is to reach out to these children and their families and offer our Center as a place of welcome and healing through partnerships with community organizations to provide for basic needs, services and resources.” (San Fernando Valley Refugee Children Center in North Hills, CA)
Lee Smedley of Support Connections of Lebanon County, Palmyra, Penn. said, “One of our graduates had left an abusive marriage and began to make money cleaning houses, businesses and churches. In the program and with working with her support, she was able to develop a business plan, logo and website for a business. Her goal was to grow her business to the point that she could offer employment for others like herself. She hired her first employee within 2 years of establishing the business.”
“On July 17, 2015, a 27-year-old African American man was murdered by a rival gang one block from the church I was pastoring at the time. That wasn’t the first time that had happened but that time God spoke to me. I heard a voice, ‘What are you going to do about this time?’ After engaging a young community organizing in conversation and then inviting church members, other colleagues and neighbors into the conversation we came up with the idea for the Neighborhood Center mode. We want the neighborhood kids to be safe and not interfered with. I was able to meet with several gang leaders and gang interventionists to ask for their assistance in creating a safe site at Saint Mark for kids to come and go safely.” Rev. Gary Williams, Saint Mark UMC, Los Angeles.
These are stories of relationships that give us cause to offer our prayers of gratitude and thanksgiving. As we gather at tables with family and friends may we remember those seeking safety and friendship. May our food nourish us as food for the journey of companionship and friendship. May our hearts be full of gratitude.
As Anna prayed, may all of God’s people be safe wherever they are.