We are both faking it. We are pretending that our similar skin color, our kinship borne of similar ancestry and history, will automatically morph into an understanding of world view. Nothing, we have found, could be further from the truth. We only pretend to be familiar friends while in fact our world life experiences have moved us so far from one another that the single common denominator is Christ. The real challenge to beginning an urban ministry is overcoming the feigned, fake familiarity. I must be willing to admit that words like ‘poverty, need, desperation, hunger, crime, civil unrest and corruption’ translate differently. These words evoke a sense of desperation in me, quite disparate to the congregation, or Bible study and mission society meeting with whom I am sharing. I have feigned familiarity. ‘What do we eat today is not the same as do we eat today?’ Who is in the hospital is not the same question as how many days walk is the nearest hospital?’ And the real tie breaker is; ‘Do we bury him in the family plot, or do we leave him here for the animals to eat?’
We have to dig deeper, think outside of our frames of reference to remember that we are literally in a time and space warp. Starvation is not the problem in these homes, rather obesity, childhood diabetes, and lung disease not from charcoal fired ovens, but from cigarettes and kerosene heaters. We have to humble ourselves to the reality that we have only one a few things in common. History and skin color are the familiar things, however, worldview after 20 plus years has made us completely unprepared to meet the needs before us now. We have to feign familiarity. We must fake friendship, just to get into the door. We stumble over language, nuance, body movements (do we clap, do we cry, do we shout, do we stay silent?).
The ministry of Out of Nazareth has a face of Feigned Familiarity. We present ministries which we believe should speak to the hearts of the people in the throes of crisis of Biblical proportions. Young men imprisoned and dying, young women being prostituted, babies being aborted and the elderly being left without financial, spiritual, or material support. The response seems to be; ‘political agenda, social agencies and the ever familiar, God will provide’. There is a fine art to ask others to get out of their comfort zone, when I am sitting in a cushy seat myself.
The greatest challenge for us is to remain visionary and not divisive or vindictive. It is easy to become vindictive after comforting a mother holding a dying child, and now counseling parents restraining a child with a ‘boo-boo’ on the skin which will heal without the Band-Aid which will be peeled off within 1 minute.
Feigned Familiarity is our stumbling block to ministry in America. We don’t know who these people really are, or what they really want or need. But then again, we do. They need the love of Christ, no less and no more than those whom we served for 20 plus years in Africa. They need the non-judgmental, sacrificial, merciful love of Christ that restored us to a relationship with God by grace.
Feigned Familiarity must lead to Full Fellowship. It must lead to our hearts being broken for the things that break our Savior’s heart, whether the physical stomach is grumbling full or gassy empty, we are called to be servants.