The Jesus Experience
Why the world needs compassion ministries
by Jason Pino
Does God have an image problem? More and more, I have heard Christians asking this question. They see the people in their communities rejecting the gospel and they want to know if it is because they have not heard about God’s great and transforming love. Some address this concern with efforts to create better music, better videos or literature that is relevant to our age.
ln spite of the careful goal-setting intended to influence people and draw them to church to hear about God’s majesty, none of these things seem to make the intended impact. Careful marketing doesn’t seem to affect the deep-rooted image held by many unbelievers that God is not relevant and that He is not concerned about our daily lives.
lnterestingly other workers claim to be finding a viable way to change people’s perceptions about God. Their choice doesn’t require extensive advertising campaigns. These workers are sharing God’s truth through compassion ministries. They are engaging with their communities by providing help to the poor, after-school programs for kids, support groups for families experiencing trauma and countless other similar outreaches. These ministries require the time and patience of many dedicated volunteers, but they provide something greater than the static message of traditional media campaigns. They offer a dynamic encounter with the living Jesus Christ.
It is no secret that pain and struggle is the lot of humanity. None are exempted. And it is this shared reality of “troubles” and “burdens” that deeply influence the perceptions that lead to the individual choices behind ingrained lifestyles. In Ottawa, we see those choices played out in hundreds of young men and women. We see it manifested through homelessness, poverty and addiction. We see all kinds of addictions, whether they be to a myriad of substances or to the repetitive cycles of destructive lifestyles.
Over the past 12 years of working the streets I have listened to many stories. These youth have experienced physical and emotional abuse on an unimaginable scale. Many were either kicked out of their homes by their parents, or in acts of desperation felt compelled to flee their homes to escape violence and chaos. Once on the streets their misery is often compounded by the realization that society rejects them. lt is little wonder that the comfort provided by pills and alcohol, even though temporary, becomes so enticing. Statistics tell us that 95 per cent are using illegal drugs of some kind, and that 99 per cent are sexually active. These young adults are constantly faced with an excruciating sense of vulnerability as they are told to move on; go someplace else; stop bothering us. lmagine the intensified effect of having to deal with a profound sense of isolation, lovelessness, scorn, and fear-daily. Their disappointment is real. lt is borne of the daily sense that every promise, every dream and hope for happiness and peace they have pursued has only brought emptiness and frustration. These souls live in every city throughout Canada. Many are already homeless while many of the rest are quickly heading for that same destination.
After seeing so many of these youth I felt compelled to reach out, to share the gospel with them. I was challenged with the burden of knowing what to say. What words could I use that would penetrate their deep-rooted cynicism. How might I bring light to souls that only knew darkness? lt was bluntly apparent that words would never be enough. These kids needed life-changing encounters with God.
I had discovered earlier that whenever I had spoken to these youth about God their response was predictable. They would either reject the notion completely or they would note that although it sounded nice they could never accept the notion that a loving God had any interest in them. So, I adjusted my presentation. lnstead of just using words, I learned to intensify the message with gifts of food and clothing. I came to realize that these youth needed to be treated with dignity by people who would not only speak, but listen. They needed to feel that they were valued.
While attempting to build relationships and to listen I became aware of specific needs. ln particular they needed emergency shelter beds. My colleagues and I partnered with a church downtown who lets us use their basement as an emergency shelter for youth in the evenings.
Out of these experiences grew Restoring Hope Ministries.
While sharing this idea I kept hearing the same doubts. “lt sounds like a good idea, but we know it will never happen. No one will do something like that for kids like us.” Finally we were able to open our doors. The first young man to show up was blown away. For 10 minutes he just kept saying, “l can’t believe you guys actually did this. We never thought it would actually open.” Some of the youth who come to the shelter couldn’t remember having a peaceful night’s sleep in a warm and clean bed for months. Many had never been to a church service in their entire life. Now, as they lay down for the night, we come over to their bed and talk with them. We tell them about how much God loves them. And for the first time they look at us and say. “Maybe you’re right.” Then we ask if we can pray for them and 99 per cent of the time they say yes. They sit up, take our hands and let us pray for God’s peace and provision in their lives. No longer do we offer words alone. Now we are privileged to present a dynamic message: one that is underscored by the experience of God’s love in action.
Should this surprise us? The Gospel is full of stories of people who came to Jesus so that they could experience His love. They may have heard about His teachings and His ability to heal the sick, but they felt they needed to come and see for themselves if this was true-people with leprosy, tax collectors, prostitutes and others who had been rejected because of their previous choices and circumstances. They all came seeking a new experience. And Jesus never disappointed them. He always moved beyond His words to acts of compassion.
Today, people still walk around seeking peace, and love, and acceptance. They look to us as followers of Christ to not only provide instruction, but also a Christ-centred experience. Sometimes this takes years. Sometimes it results in frustration and stress. Getting involved in people’s lives can be a messy experience. Creating an experience is far more difficult than creating a media campaign. The words of our message must be exemplified by actually reaching out to our intended audience. Our example is Jesus who consistently demonstrated the love and power that He was speaking about.
Who are the people in your communities who need this experience? Are they kids who need a home? Husbands and wives who feel like their marriage will end if dramatic change doesn’t occur? Elderly men and women who may feel alone and cut off from the world because family and friends have decided to stop visiting them? The list of needs is long. Ask yourself, “How can I influence or initiate experiences that will shape their view of God in a way that is both positive and powerful?” Follow that with, “Lord, what would you have me do?”
Jason Pino is an ordained PAOC minister based in Ottawa who is currently working full-time as a steel worker. This allows him to do street outreach and the emergency shelter in the evenings. His desire is to see the hope of Christ inspire change.