Angel, with the blue eyes, lurked on the outskirts of our Chester, Pennsylvania Message Community Infusion in July 2021. I don’t blame him for being wary of our enthusiastic bunch. How desperate do you have to be to clean up an empty city park, trim the trees, set up a praise team and band, bring in free food and give away free COVID shots — all so we can attract a potential contact who needs Jesus?
Very desperate. And I’m down with it. It’s not a pretty scene, ever. People with things to do and places to go have little time to stop and assess their existential predicament. It’s the people parked on the bench, who need everything — now — that gravitate toward any light of life.
Our work at Message puts us right in the middle of a desperate give and take.
At the Nexus
We are at the nexus between those anxious to put people in the right Hands and those who need to be there. Jesus found Himself at the same physical crux of give and take one day. Parched and famished, He parked Himself by a well. Imagine Jesus, lacking the resources to obtain what is needed, while there’s plenty nearby. Oh, how He found Himself in predicaments that track the human experience!
Anyway, Jesus had no way to get the water. He lingered, when “that woman” happened to draw water. That woman also found herself alone. As the story unfolds, we can reasonably infer that she was alone in her pain and lacking a social circle. Here, two people on the spectrum of need meet, each having something to exchange. Jesus shared the Water of Life. The woman took it. She left refreshed and forgot her bucket. Jesus stayed, and was fantastically, extraordinarily filled. I imagine the warm rays of God’s presence infused His very soul. They momentarily disengaged His body’s sensors for hunger and thirst. The little light in His heart constantly blinking yellow because so many failed to recognize His purpose was now full-on green. Oh, that felt so good.
“Meanwhile, the disciples were urging Jesus, “Rabbi, eat something.” But Jesus replied, “I have a kind of food you know nothing about . . . My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing His work. You know the saying, ‘Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say, wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest. The harvesters are paid good wages, and the fruit they harvest is people brought to eternal life. What joy awaits both the planter and the harvester alike!”*
Angel told me that he “was raised in religion,” but you wouldn’t see him inside anyone’s church or around church people any time soon. “See, I know I’m not right,” he told me.
I’ve heard that before. It’s self-exclusion.
I heard it one afternoon on a prayer walk in Baltimore, Maryland after the death of Freddie Gray. Two men, one sitting, but the one standing was still pinching what was left of a “cigarette.” He didn’t even want us to pray for him. “I’m out here,” he told me, “ain’t doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”
And now Angel was saying the same thing. I reminded him of what the Bible says: that it is Jesus who both keeps us from falling, and it is Jesus who will present us “faultless” before the Father (Jude 9). Don’t wait to get it straight.
That nexus moment is life-altering.
It was 10 p.m. one night, when Olivia, a very young and recently widowed woman with five kids, called Alice Dent, the CEO of Habitat for Humanity in Detroit, Michigan — it was the night after another Message infusion. We had spent a few hours breaking a sweat at Olivia’s house that day. Some of us wired her new garage for lights. Others, including me, were throwing sod, spreading mulch and decorative stone, creating flower beds, and planting trees and flowers.
When she went inside for the day, cleaned up, and sank into the sofa, Olivia stared at the new family Bible we gifted her. That’s when she called Dent. “Where should I start reading?”
I found myself at the end of the day, encrusted with dirt, and pain in my back after working on Olivia’s house. It was the best I’ve ever felt.
*John 4:1-6, New Living Translation.
— Carmela Monk Crawford is Message magazine editor; this article originally appeared in the Sept./Oct. 2021 Message.