Written by Dr. Todd Mangum
Tuesday, 20 March 2012 00:00
Last week (by the time you read this, it will be “last month”), my wife, Linda, and I spent a night with the homeless. It was part of a ministry our church offers in cooperation with other churches – kind of a “divide and conquer” kind of strategy. Each church hosts some otherwise-homeless families for a month; people in the church provide the evening meal; and provide someone to come over later in the night to offer welcome, simple human warmth, conversation, help of any miscellaneous variety -- and give some added security by staying the night in another room in the building. That’s what Linda and I did.
It cost us a night. Truth is, we talked about not doing it – it’s never “convenient” and we keep up busy lives without this. But, in the end, we couldn’t come up with any reasons for not doing it as good as the reasons we knew for doing it, from what God says so clearly in His Word about how important it is to Him to take care of the poor, the vulnerable, the indigent.
You never know what you’ll actually do when you get there – other than the less-than-satisfying night’s sleep, which is the one “given.” Besides that, you could be confronted with nothing or a lot. Last year, my wife ended up serving as “moderator” between two mothers who got to fighting over how one of their kids was being treated by the other one’s kids. Except for that drama, though, the rest of the night was spent having casual conversation with the adults, while the kids (mostly teenagers) watched TV.
This year, the oldest child of the three there (between two families staying the month) was six – so two pre-schoolers and a first-grader. I’d actually brought a book along to read, in case the evening turned out to be a quiet one not involving us much. I never got to the book. The moment we walked in, the kids’ faces lit up as they came running to us – “Can we play?!” “Sure!,” we said, “what do you want to play?” “How about ‘tag’?!” Me: “Um – you mean, like, . . . running?” . . .
So that night we played “tag,” and “sharks and minnows,” and soccer, and hide ‘n’ seek, and ended the playtime with “chicken races” – where I had a four-year-old boy on my back, and Linda a six-year-old girl on hers. We boys won.
Turned out our night’s sleep wasn’t so bad after all. . . .
Now, from September through February, I’ve taught four Master’s level courses – in postmodern apologetics, in soteriology, in trinitarianism, in pneumatology; all important stuff, exploring with students headed to ministry some of the deep things of God, the missional character of God and how that character forms the goals of the Kingdom, and informs and impels our ground-level attitudes and practices, and forms communities of faith the serve His will, to endeavor to please Him, and, by His grace, to forward His Kingdom goals and missional objectives in the world. All important stuff.
But here’s a question that’s sort of haunted me over the last month. That night with the homeless cost us a night. And, Linda and I almost didn’t do it – not because we’re apathetic or lazy, but because our lives are already heavily invested in important things. But I have to wonder: in God’s calculus of what is important, I wonder if that one night with the homeless wasn’t worth more than many days and nights of contemplation, reading, and talking about His will?
I once heard someone say that, if a good lumberjack is given five minutes to chop down a tree, a wise one will spend the first four minutes of the five sharpening his ax. Wisdom in that, for sure. But, of course, if getting the tree chopped down is the goal, there better be at least a minute of actual chopping, right?
Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical. He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention. Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum