Kyle Canty serves as the World Changers/P2 Missions City Rep for Philadelphia. He is married to Pam and they have three precious children. Kyle enjoys the challenge of seeing how the Biblical text interacts with culture, and reading about God’s heart for the marginalized of society.
When thinking about being on mission with Jesus we should consider marginalized communities. Looking at the ministry of Jesus in the gospels we consistently observe Jesus going into places and around people who were the marginalized of Jewish society. For clarification, the marginalized of society are those who exist outside of majority culture. These are people who may have racial, ethnic, physical, language, cultural and class differences that cause them to stand out from those within majority culture. For example, within many cities across the US there are immigrants who’ve come looking for work and a better life and need to learn another language in a very short period of time. Their language difference sets them apart from majority culture, which is primarily comprised of English speakers. It creates obstacles and an outlook that is uniquely different from a majority of Americans.
There is immense diversity within North America and those who are followers of Christ should understand that He provides the example of how to reach those who are the ‘other’ of society. If you look through the gospels, the people groups that exist on the margins are people that Jesus seems to reach out to repeatedly. His approach is intentional, sympathetic, and engaging. As we think about short term missions we must consider how Jesus operated among those who were the ‘other’ within Jewish society. We must be careful not to approach those we are seeking to reach in a condescending manner. Many within marginalized communities can recognize when a van load of people from out of town arrive to straighten things up. If we’re going to serve those in need it’s important to look at some key characteristics of Jesus’ ministry so that we get it right.
Intentionally Reaching those in Marginalized Communities
Jesus intentionally went through Samaria. This is significant because of longstanding divisions between Samaritans and Jews. (John 4:9) The Samaritans represented a marginalized class of people within Jewish society. The mission of Christ provides a tangible example of what it should look like to deal with people who are on the outside of majority culture. Jesus sits by Jacob’s well and talks with a Samaritan woman in John 4; this in itself would set off all kinds of alarms for Jews and Samaritans alike. As a result of her interaction with Jesus she is changed and many Samaritans come to believe in Jesus that day. (John 4:39-42). Going on a short term mission trip to a city is one way of ensuring that you will interact with others who are of a different culture than what you’re familiar. Follow the pattern of Jesus who left heaven and experienced homelessness, oppression, and rejection in order to reach those who seemed unreachable.
Sympathize with Those within Marginalized Communities
It is not enough to simply be among those who are marginalized, but it is important to sympathize with individuals on the margins of society. As we go into places where culture, tradition, and language are unfamiliar it is critical that we show respect for those things we don’t understand. We represent Christ and therefore, as ambassadors of Christ, we must exercise compassion when we approach people groups who are struggling with life. (2 Cor. 5:20; Mark 6:34) In contrast to the compassion that Jesus showed to the multitude we run the risk of showing pity. Pity fails to acknowledge that another individual is an image bearer of our Creator. Pity looks down on someone’s condition, but compassion recognizes that we have received grace so that we might extend grace to others. This impacts how we serve someone in need. We no longer come into a community with a messiah complex, but instead we approach those on the margins with humility, pointing them to Christ.
Engage in Long-term Relationships with Those Outside of Your Context
Jesus exemplified ongoing, engaging relationships with those who were on the margins. Short term missions intrinsically calls for a very swift interaction with a community. There is no denying that a weeklong excursion into an urban context doesn’t allow for deep intimate conversations about life and struggle. Jesus was not afraid to engage individuals who had difficult life experiences that society frowned upon. Mary Magdalene was one of those persons whom Jesus reached who would have been ostracized because of her condition. He cast seven demons out of this woman. (Luke 8:2) Jesus invited her to follow Him and she was part of the crew that followed Him. Most notably, she was one of the first to observe the empty tomb after His resurrection. (Luke 24:9-10) Jesus invested in her life and because of this she is renowned.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. (Phil. 2:5-7)
The advantage of going beyond our comfort zone is that we get to know people who have different experiences and therefore a different world view. This happens as we engage in long term relationships. As an African American man I have many White friends and we talk about our unique experiences in this country. There are always ‘aha’ moments as we dig deeper beyond surface topics and discuss things like racial reconciliation. A key to digging deeper has been the commitment to remain in fellowship despite our different worlds. Jesus stayed in Samaria longer because the Samaritan asked him; He stayed and ate with Zacchaeus although criticized for staying with a tax collector. (John 4:40-41; Luke 19:1-9)
As you think about or prepare to serve among people who are considered marginalized within our society, please look at the example of our Lord. They have a narrative that is different than one you’re used to and in these difficult times it’s necessary to have an ear to listen, understand, and serve like Christ.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matt. 9:36)