The very first statement Jesus ever voiced about his concern for the poor, oppressed, marginalized people was when he cried out as one of them – eyes shut tight, mouth wide open, wailing, kicking, shaking and dripping with blood and amniotic fluid … when God voted with his birth, he voted for the poor.
This book studies past orders of Christ-followers that ministered to the world’s poor, and chronicles a movement of young Christ-followers today doing the same thing. The book starts with a couple of introductory chapters, in which it gives the definitive characteristics for the “new friars”. They are: incarnational, devotional, communal, missional, and marginal. The rest of the book goes in depth of each of those aspects.
When I was in Mozambique, I played with a group of kids about an hour a day or so… they more happy and more satisfied in their ratty, sometimes almost non-existant clothes than any children I have seen in America in a long time. I found myself not wanting to help them get out of their poverty as much as wanting to join them in it, because they were so satisfied.
Bessenecker was dealing with this same issue at one point in his ministry, and he shares a dream that he had. It’s too lengthy to quote here, so I’ll just summarize it: He dreamed that he was in a garbage city, and the dung truck pulled in with a very full load. As he walked by, he noticed to his horror that his three children were on top of the truck, covered in feces, playing happily. And, at that moment, he felt God speaking to him, “”As their father, are you satisfied? Even if they are satisfied, are you satisfied?” [pp. 48]
Often it seems that people who are passionate about serving the poor can seem to neglect actually getting around to sharing the Good News to them. It is easy to get so busy doing God’s work that you forget about God Himself. Bessenecker does a good job of avoiding this in the sections about devotion and mission. Here are a couple of choice morsels:
As wonderful as it is to bring the Kingdom of God to the hollow places on earth, even this is rubbish in comparison to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus. Intimacy with Christ must be first. Without it, mission is empty and self-serving. [pp. 99]
Jesus is the only worthy obsession; all other obsessions must be beaten into submission. [pp. 170-171]
Even though I have heard the term a lot, I had never sat down and thought about the meaning of incarnational ministry. But think about this:
To undertake an incarnational approach to ministry is to be sent as Jesus was sent – to empty yourself of all that alienates you from a people and to become to a significant degree as they are. [pp. 62]
Since Jesus is the perfect example of what we should look like, then is this the kind of ministry he calls us to? As the Scripture Bessenecker quotes there says, “Jesus said, ‘As the Father sent me, so I send you.” I think this is the meatiest part of the book, one that I am going to take a little while to digest. But we’ll get to that after while.
There weren’t a lot of bones in this book. I thought that the authors writing style was a little monotonous at times, but that’s a writing style thing, not a real issue. He did a fairly good job of balancing sharing the gospel with caring for the poor. Obviously he tends to one side, but the one side is what the book is about, so it makes sense.
The only other thing I would say is that when I first picked up the book at the library I was expecting more how-to. It was actually very little how-to; it mostly chronicled what is already going on.
I am not sure what the digestion of this book will look like for me. With getting married in a couple of months, I am not able to move into a slum in Bangkok right now. But I was thinking about the closest thing with consistently have in America: trailer parks. God has been bring trailer parks to my mind over and over again lately. Me and Kay are going to live in a trailer (but not a park) after we get married. I wonder if God may not be preparing us for an incarnational ministry in trailer parks. My dad found the statistics somewhere that show that around 95% of people who live in trailer parks will not leave to attend an outside church. It’s just in the dreaming stage right now, but what would it look life if we were to bring the church to them in their trailer park? The outline of this book will be one I refer back to when we begin such a ministry – are we incarnational, devotional, communal, missional, and marginal?