This post is the first in a series on God’s Story, the Foundation for FH’s Work in Relief and Development. You’re invited to follow the series, and read the second post here.
Have you ever experienced a moment that broadened your view of the world? I have a friend who ministers to youth in Watts, Los Angeles. The neighborhood of Watts has come a long way since the Watts Riots of the 1960’s and its more recent reputation as a violence-prone and impoverished area. Still, my friend often meets youth who are at risk of joining gangs, dropping out of school, or being placed in juvenile hall. Recently, he told me a story. A while ago, my friend took a trip to the beach with some of the youth. He was shocked to discover that Jose, one of the teens in his program, had never been outside of Watts in his life.
The neighborhood encompasses just 2.1 square miles, but this young man had never been outside its borders.
That day, Jose discovered a world outside of what he had known before. He saw buildings, people and landscapes that were unknown to him. Best of all, just 15 miles from his home, he saw the ocean. He breathed the sea air and felt sand between his toes. He discovered the world surrounding his neighborhood, and that world gave context to his experience. Sometimes, we all get stuck in our own version of Watts. We get so focused on our own experiences and viewpoints that we don’t see the bigger picture.
Whose Story Is the Main Story?
Our stories are like Jose’s experience in Watts. We are nearsighted. Our thoughts are consumed by how to feed our families, take care of ourselves, and find happiness. Our prayers center on ourselves and the people we know. We keep reading our own story.
The problem is, when we start our journeys with our own stories in mind, we don’t have context for where we fit. The only way to find our place and truly understand our own stories is to first understand God’s Story, found in Scripture.
In The Jesus Storybook Bible, Sally Lloyd-Jones writes, “The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne–everything–to rescue the ones he loves.”
At Food for the Hungry, we know the pitfalls of starting anywhere outside of God’s Story. We have found that if we looked at poverty by focusing first on what we see, things would look bleak. It wouldn’t make sense why God would allow such suffering to happen in the world, and we wouldn’t see the potential He has built into every human being He has made.
Where Do We Start?
Starting with God’s Story means that we see God with us, right in the middle of our need. Every part of God’s Story points to His good plan for mankind.
Creation. God proclaimed that everything He created was very good! (Genesis 1:31) We see God’s character in Creation. We recognize the image of God in everyone and the relational nature of the interactions between God and His creatures. Through the natural world He created, we discover His perfect design for people and the rest of creation to flourish.
The Fall. When Adam and Eve sinned, every relationship was affected. Our relationship with God was broken, and in turn our relationships with others, ourselves, and the rest of creation broke too. But God did not give up on us.
He had a plan to restore us and everything He had made to Himself.
Redemption. God provided us a way back through Jesus Christ, who died, rose again, and conquered death. He “reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18 NIV). In fact, we have the opportunity and the responsibility to be part of reconciling broken relationships.
Restoration. Someday, all hungers will end worldwide. We are comforted that injustice and suffering will end one day. While we seek reconciliation right now, we are convinced that the day is coming when every tear will be wiped from the eyes of those who suffer. (Revelation 7:17). Finally, the world and all creation will work in harmony for the first time in a long time.
God’s Story Gives Meaning
Knowing God’s Story gives meaning to the stories of every person we meet who lives in poverty, as well as our own stories.
Bryant Myers writes, “The Biblical story puts our stories in their place. We learn that it is not my story, or your story, or our story that is the main story, the story that gives meaning. Meaning only comes from God’s story.” (Walking with the Poor, 1999)
Myers explains that in order to pursue transformation, which is our hope when working with the poor, we must understand the community’s story in the context of God’s Story. First, he says, “We have to embrace the whole of the Biblical story, the story that makes sense and gives direction to the stories of the communities where we work, as well as to our own stories.”
When our primary context is God’s Story, everything comes into view.
Rather than seeing our lives as primarily about our own comfort and well-being, we instead see that God has given us the ministry of reconciliation, to restore broken relationships to wholeness. And rather than feeling hopeless about the condition of the poor, we discover that God has a plan to end their hunger, both now and for eternity. We also discover that through our participation in God’s Story, reconciliation transforms and equips us to love our neighbors better.
Remember Jose, the teen from Watts? A trip to the beach changed Jose’s world. He had seen the bigger picture, which helped him to understand the context of his own community.
In the same way, when we want to understand our own purpose or find answers to hard questions, it helps to take a step back to see the big picture: God’s Story. Next time you wonder why brokenness exists in God’s world, ask Him what He wants to reveal to you from His story.