I recently attended a retirement gathering for an old friend of mine. In fact the gathering was something like a reunion of old friends, co-workers, and acquaintances of long ago. It felt a little like a funeral without a body lying around. But it got me thinking about the beauty and power of being befriended along the journey we’re all traveling.
Which of course reminded me of Jesus (the master befriender) who always had an empty seat at the table, or an outstretched hand ready to touch the outcasts, the marginalized, the minorities, the not-so-with-it-folks who were startled at His invitation. Some weren’t ready for such a waterfall of grace. Others inched forward on trembling steps of hesitant faith whispering under their breath “Lord I believe, but please dear God help my unbelief”!
And then I thought about the Church; not the Church as an abstract study in ecclesiology but the real hurting, fractured, pandemic Church of today in the good ole USA. And I wonder if all the undoing and shaking and questions we face may in fact be a way of awakening His beloved to the steady unpretentious, unspectacular unforced work of befriending a confused, beautiful, and hurting humanity; of welcoming sinners in the way of Christ.
Many years ago I was befriended by an Asian American Jesus lover named Steve Hong. Our paths were woven together through other friendships and connections that had already spanned some years. Then nearly 15 years ago our story lines and friendship converged when I took the call to pastor a church in South San Francisco (the community where Steve and Cathy lived). We’ve shared countless sandwiches and struggles, along with many tears and joys. We’ve been stunned by injustice and made glad by gospel beauty, kindnesses, and grace. But most of all we’ve enjoyed the simple honest conversations that happen between friends. Sometimes I wonder if in the busyness of doing ministry, (building churches, launching programs; and all the other efforts we so strenuously give ourselves to), that in the end the thing that matters most will be the authentic, honest, vulnerable friendships we’ve made and nurtured along the way.
In all the turbulence we face as Jesus lovers in our world today, the ethos, vision, and heartbeat of Kingdom Rice gives me great hope! The world has changed in the decades since I was befriended all those year ago but the deeper needs of the human heart remain the same; to be listened to, respected, and known; to have the mess of my humanity shared with another broken human being who will hold my story in grace. While Kingdom Rice has a specific mission and vision, this is its heartbeat because it’s who by God’s grace Steve has become and is becoming; a companion along the way, one who will honestly open his messy story to others, and create the safety needed for them to do the same; and in so doing he is making ready the way of the Lord.
May blessings and grace be poured out over Kingdom Rice and all those who pray, support, and serve our befriending Christ.
P.s. Mark wrote more about how he was “befriended” at kingdomrice.org/blog