Urban Mission: Empathy and Evangelism Must Go Hand in Hand

Our church hosts an interdenominational soup kitchen (because of our location in the city centre). We take it in turns to provide the volunteers and the soups.  It was our turn.  Picture this….

It is winter and one of the coldest winter days we’ve had so far, overcast with a freezing wind blowing.  It is cold and dark.   Everyone is seated with half a loaf of bread waiting in lines for the soup.  A volunteer begins preaching a basic evangelistic message about the need for redemption and salvation. Then there was a long prayer and another pep-talk afterwards.  By this time the soup that we had already served up into cups was luke-warm to cold.

I’ve taken courses in Practical Theology.  I continue to read around issues of Christian Spirituality.  The soup kitchen we’re involved with often makes me realise some of us need a course in Christian Pragmatics or Practical Spirituality.

Lesson 101 in Christian Pragmatics: people are people, not just ministry opportunities. When freezing, people need saving from the cold and a hot cuppa soup, so drop the sermon and entrust souls to God’s care in a 30 sec sound-byte prayer.  God understands.  Save sermons and elaborate prayers for long, warm summer nights!

Another lesson. One pot of donated soup managed to keep on bubbling despite being off a stove top.  It is not a good sign having an orange, fermenting froth on the surface (and an interesting smell).  Some common sense prevailed and the offending container was vetoed. I didn’t want to block the drain by tipping it down the sink so I poured it down the toilet.  Unfortunately I didn’t check for large soup bones at the bottom and managed to block the men’s toilet (I couldn’t quite recover all of them despite having my arm up to my elbow in the toilet bowl). Lesson 102 in Christian Pragmatics: don’t be so heavenly minded you’re no earthly use.  Doing things unto the Lord doesn’t guarantee protection from your stupidity and blocked drains!

Jesus said people can’t live by bread alone.  Profound thought.   And true.  But he also fed the 5000 because they were hungry after a long day of hearing him teach.  Stomachs matter too.