On bread, fish and urban ministry

Based on almost every statistical category, Camden, New Jersey is one of the worst places to live in the United States. Just take a look at the graphic below as an example. Crime in Camden is 16 times higher than the national median. It is a tough place to live.

Camden Crime
From http://www.neighborhoodscout.com/nj/camden/crime/

Yet people, real flesh and blood people, who have the same desires for health and security as we have, do live there. And some Christians who are attuned to a sense of calling to minister to the people of Camden also live there and are having an impact.

CamdenThe church I attend has partnered with a pastor in Camden to help him minister in that environment. One of the ways that our church partners with him is to put together backpacks full of school supplies which are distributed to the children in the area.

Last evening I sat in on a training meeting to prepare those who will help in distributing the backpacks. While I was in the training, I was struck by a sense of how overwhelming the task is to minister in that environment. My work has often taken me to Camden, so I have some sense as to how big the challenge is in meeting the needs of that community. On a human level, the challenge is overwhelming.

Then I thought of a little boy who two thousand years ago was carrying his lunch while going to hear Jesus speak. Jesus was teaching the crowds and the disciples came to Jesus suggesting that he disperse the crowd so that they don’t pass out from hunger. Jesus took that boy’s lunch of bread and fish (John 6:9) and multiplied it so that everyone could eat. The success of the mission was not dependent upon the boy’s skill or the volume of food he brought. Success depended only upon the boy giving the lunch to Jesus.

In the same way, giving a few backpacks to a few kids in Camden on the surface does almost nothing to address the needs of that community. Yet, as we learn from that boy, a small offering given into the hands of Jesus can make a big impact. The point is that while we may want to do something great for the Kingdom of God, perhaps God will use a small thing to produce great fruit.

One of the cool things about eternity will be hearing stories of how a small obedience will have resulted in a big change in someone’s life. A handshake and a welcome in the church lobby, a word of encouragement to the grocery checker or a simple thank-you to a co-worker can be multiplied by God to accomplish his purpose in those lives.