By the Rev. Tad de Bordenave
Mission work should be looked as an investment. For investments like money, time, opportunity, resources, we look for results. We expect influence, impact, and situations that will make a difference. The same should be true for missions. This is not being cold but realistic. We cannot be expected to cover the world with our mission hopes. We must evaluate and examine our investing strategies for missions. Some segments deserve our all, while others make unwise or unrealistic investments.
Where we should invest in missions should be clear. Some people, frankly speaking, are simply remote, savage, small, and drunks or dregs. Others, thousands or millions of people, are worthy of investing the energy, prayers, and hopes of the Christian forces for the glory of Christ’s Name.
The fourth chapter of the Gospel of John has yielded chapters, books, and blogs on the wisdom drawn from the Lord’s encounter with “the woman at the well.” On evangelism, cultural awareness, and discipleship, that chapter has fed us well.
Another angle brings us different kind of challenge: How do we get to know people like her? How do we meet her–befriend, understand, appreciate, take in, take home, and take to church people like her?
Remember, she was a prostitute. If she went to the well at this odd hour, it was because to her acquaintances she was NOKD, “Not Our Kind, Deary.” She was cast out, avoided, and seen as scum. They didn’t want anything to do with her, and she probably didn’t care to hear their murmuring about her.
How do we meet and take in people like her, Bottom Dwellers of today’s world? No, not all are prostitutes. Some are the guys holding the sign on the corner hoping for a dollar, others are refugees with unknown backgrounds, or inner-city dudes with dreadlocks, druggies looking for opioids, immigrants who don’t speak quite like they should, or neighbors who don’t think, parent, or vote the way we do.
We do live in bubbles, don’t we? We like what’s familiar inside, and we get a little shaky when we go outside. Another way to ask how we meet her is to ask how we can open cracks in our church bubbles. We need people like her in our pews. Otherwise, there are daunting observations about both—the makeup of those in the pews, and the opportunities for grace in her life.
One answer is to follow the Good Shepherd. This reference comes in only four verses: Luke 15:4-7. If we shadow the Good Shepherd, we can make out the features of the person who meets “the woman at the well.”
He has had his dinner and now has a book and some decaf coffee. One of the workers appears and mentions that one of the sheep is missing. What to do? There are viable options. Take it as a tax write-off, consider it a miscounting, or remember there are, after all, 99 left.
Nothing will do but to put down book and mug, dress right, and head out. As a sheep that is lost, this one is not strolling in the next field. No, the search takes the Shepherd through swamp, briars, creek beds, and mud. Furthermore, the lost sheep is not fluffy and delighted to be found. This roaming sheep is scruffy, muddy, smelly, and not at all delighted to be taken back to the paddock.
Carrying on this analogy with imagination, we learn more. The Shepherd did not take the sheep to bed with him, not even into the house. He did wash him down, give him food, and preen over him as one of the best of the best.
We can take it from there. How do we meet “The woman at the well”—whomever she may be, wherever we meet her? How do we treat her with the compassion of the Good Shepherd and His one lost sheep? The same way He treated us and welcomed us from our own lost territory.
For us this means abandoning our protected and uninterrupted time, our precious priorities, our sense of entitlement to what is called our “unwrinkled life.” More importantly, we must accept challenges to the stereotypes that have justified keeping her at a distance.
She needs time. Understanding, time, basic needs, and the unassailable verity that she has worth. That’s the least of what it means to take her in. Maybe taking her to our home, certainly taking her to church, a place where she can meet the Good Shepherd. He does send us to search for her, doesn’t He?
The problem with the worldly-wise investor is his vision. He keeps his distance from her: he sees the messy and the smelly, the lazy and the schemer. He looks elsewhere for a better mission investment. In another parable Jesus sees the women at the well in another guise. All of them—the hungry, the sick, the prisoner, and all others like her—He sees as Himself. When we meet her and take her in, we have taken in the Lord Himself. When we do not pursue her, we have forgotten how He searched through mud and found us. When we have avoided “women at the well,” we have not seen in her His image, His presence, and His love in her. As we have taken her in and loved her in all her manifestations as Bottom Dwellers, we have loved Him.
And, yes, He has another name for our worldly-wise investor. His name for him is decreed: “Goat.”
Photo: Two brothers in the town where I grew up. One was mentally challenged, and the other was gassed in WWI. The memory that keeps them before me is how my mother cared for these gentlemen throughout the year, impressing on me the model of love for the unreached.