I wish I had a bigger table.
If I had a bigger table, I could have more people round for dinner and more conversations could take place. Conversations over meals build relationships.
As a missionary in a city with over 200 languages and super-diversity that rivals London and New York, it’d be easy to get overwhelmed by the needs and opportunities. As a chaplain on a university campus peopled by Muslims, atheists, homosexuals, Buddhists, Hindus, etc., it’d be reasonable to think the task too complex. With students distracted by technology, academic pressure, alcohol and sexual freedom, it’d be normal to feel hopeless. But that’s only if I focused on the complexity, challenge, and corruption instead of on Christ.
As it is, I try to focus on Jesus and how He went about His life and ministry. Jesus walked with people, laughed with people and did life with people. He was in boats, homes, streets, and public places. He interacted with people on hillsides and across tables during meals.
They watched how Jesus interacted with others, how He handled conflict, whether He showed favoritism, how He treated the powerless. Those who spoke with Him learned something of His character and nature, of His essence and purpose. Conversations over time build trust.
When things got difficult and challenges seemed to come from every side, Jesus’ consistency became obvious. Even when His closest followers were fickle or had mixed motives, Jesus called them to dig deeper and to be better than they knew they could be. They loved what they felt when they were near Him, and what He inspired in people. Trust, properly safeguarded and respected, allows for influence.
So I have cups of tea with people and listen to their stories, the stories that reveal their heart. I meet a friend at a cafe, often seeking out a halal restaurant so my Muslim friends will be comfortable. I make my famous chili and gather a few friends for conversations about things that matter so they know they are heard and valued.
Some of the people I’m in conversation with have recovered from addictions, or are still reeling from significant loss. Some of my friends do not know Jesus themselves, but they know I know Him and seem okay with Him being included in our conversations. They also know that I mention them in my conversations with Him, and that when they are gathered around my table, I acknowledge Him with gratitude for what we are about to share.
I know they are watching, and that they’ll see my inconsistencies, my struggles, and mixed motives. I am determined that they’ll also see my confidence that God loves me even in my weakness, and that I desire to live faithfully because I’m grateful, not fearful.
Authenticity is costly and not superficial. It’s what people are looking for, longing for, and it mostly occurs in relationship. So in the midst of a big city, in conversations with refugees, indigenous Maori and New Zealanders of every variety, “I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some, doing everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings.” Sometimes that common ground may be around a table.
To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.