Brief Bio

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Quezon City, Metro-Manila, Philippines
I am a runner, pastor, sociologist, teacher, and missionary. After living in Chicago for 6 years, I discerned a call to go to Manila, Philippines to live and work among the urban poor, and combine my passions for ministry, running, and the oppressed. After serving in the Philippines in 2012 and 2013, I returned to the United States for two years to finish my dissertation, get ordained, spend time with my family, and work at a neighborhood center in Kansas City. Since then, I have been working in the Philippines with Companion With the Poor as a missionary. Each day I look forward to how God will direct my steps as I live into His work of restoring a broken world.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Lent Devotional #2: Crossing Boundaries

Crossing Boundaries...

How often do we in the church go out of our way or cross over societal boundaries to minister to "others"? I have been learning recently that Jesus did it all the time!

One of the experiences I won't forget was showering during my stay at the shelter. Being a community shower with about 7 open shower stalls, and no hooks to put your clothes on when showering, I had to put all my clean clothes on the floor atop my just worn shirt in order to keep the clean ones from getting dirty. But in this process my clean, plain white t-shirt dropped on the ground, getting a wet dirt stain from the dirty floor. But being my only clean shirt left, that is what I had to put on after the shower; an experience not dissimilar to camping, but in this context, definitely a new boundary I had crossed.

As I continue to reflect upon my four day homeless experience at the Franciscan Outreach Association, I am drawn all the more to Jesus' boundary breaking activities which helped bring in the Kingdom of God. A big part of my experience over the last year at the shelter has been crossing boundaries into areas of greater discomfort and yet greater impact upon the shelter guests... as well as my life. My time at the shelter has gone from passing out sandwiches as a part-time volunteer, to filling full-time volunteer responsibilities including doing the long shift from 10:30pm-3:00am (here I pass out clothes, sign people in, monitor the dorm, build relationships with the guests, etc.), to interacting with the guests and volunteers outside of the shelter (bringing some of the guests back to my apartment or to my church, going to their church, taking them to a movie and lunch, attending their work-training graduation; and hanging out with the volunteers where they live, going on trips with them, etc.), to just recently living in the dorm with the guests.

This last one has made the biggest impact on me thus far. While serving in a volunteer position for a year, the guests were still to me homeless patrons, carrying with them the stereotypes and slack that many homeless men and women get. Even when I would spend time with the guests outside of the shelter, they were still the person who slept in the shelter, and me the one who slept in my apartment in the suburbs. But after sleeping in the same beds that they sleep in (even in the cots which are where the "marginalized" of the shelter guests sleep), for four days I was no longer on a level up, but rather at their same level. Now I realize, as my classmate reminded me the other day, that these men should not be looked at as "other" but rather as no different that you or me. But the reality is, whether we acknowledge it or not, these people are considered by our society to be the "outcasts." It was through sleeping and showering with these men that my classmate's comment rang true...THESE MEN AND WOMEN ARE NO DIFFERENT FROM YOU AND ME. Sure many are drug addicts, mentally handicapped, alcoholics, and jobless. But aren't many people living in houses in the city and the suburbs. In all reality, the majority of the men at the shelter have had or currently have jobs, don't stink, don't beg, have families (many even their own children and grandchildren), and like us were we to be in their shoes, just need a little love and encouragement to get them back on their feet.

It is amazing that after 2000 years of having the examples of Jesus' boundary breaking activities, that we as Christians still put up boundaries between us and people who are different from us...if it is not the "homeless," then maybe it is "homosexuals," "foreigners," "gang bangers," "prostitutes," or "sinners." Let us be reminded: These are the people Jesus said were entering the Kingdom of Heaven ahead of us! (Mt. 21:32) He has invited them to His Table and we say it is to "uncomfortable" or "dangerous" to invite them to ours. And what is more, Jesus didn't cross these boundaries just to cross them. Rather, He did so to set others free who had for so long been considered "unclean" or "untouchable" even by religious laws. Even Easter, and the dreadful Good Friday, recognizes and celebrates Jesus' final triumphant boundary breaking activity over death and sin - raising from the dead and providing the gift of eternal life!

I realize I am being forthright, though by no means am I saying I have it all right either. Even 4 days in a homeless shelter can't break 23 years of boundary making. I am simply saying that the precedent has been set. Jesus left his place of comfort and glory to interact with lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, and sinners...all this to show that no one is out of reach of the Grace of God. If we aren't out of His reach, then the 23,000 homeless people in Chicago tonight are not either. As His followers, and having received His grace, we are called to be like Him - to put on our white t-shirts and get a little dirty :)


Dan said...

That's good stuff, Paul. Not only because it makes me think about it, but because it is making me really stirring up a call to action of some sort. Of what? I'm not sure yet. But... It's there.

Dorothy said...

Wow... amen.
Jesus doesn't see the outside--he never talked to a prostitute, he never talked to a tax collector, he never talked to the sinners, because in His eyes, everyone is beautiful.