What can one church do to make a difference in the seemingly endless struggle against generational cycles of poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, inadequate health care, child abuse, and elder abandonment? A church can actually do quite a lot, as described in the book by Laurie Beshore and JJ Brazil entitled Love Without Walls: Learning to Be a Church in the World for the World. It tells the extraordinarily moving story of Mariners Church Outreach Ministries.
In 1984 Mariners Church went through a church split which saw numbers dwindle to 200, and the college pastor, Kenton Beshore (husband of the author Laurie Beshore), agreed to take over the senior leadership on condition that the church elders personally meet any financial shortfall in the first year. The second year the church had a surplus and decided to form a team to decide how best to give the money away. This was the start of the church’s journey to understand God’s passion for the poor.
The book goes on to describe how the understanding developed through studying the Bible, through encounters with the poor which did not go as planned, and through opportunities to serve which seemed bigger than the church could handle, including:
- A camp for foster children that drew more volunteers than any previous church event
- The difficult and lengthy process of gaining the trust of residents in a poor neighbourhood when trying to establish a learning centre
- Discovering that handing out free stuff makes it more difficult to establish authentic relationships
- How significant outreach ministries were started by passionate individuals who became extraordinary leaders
- How the church has been changed by its partnership with an African church
In addition to the inspiring stories that the book tells about individuals and their ministries, it describes a repeatable process that will be useful to other churches in developing volunteers from the first “safe first step” exposure through to empowerment in ministry.
One thing that impressed me was the extent to which failures and mistakes are described. Churches and charitable organisations often do not disclose their failures for fear of adversely affecting donations, but the ones who are really making a difference in the lives of the poor are the ones who are humble and courageous enough to tell the full story. I thoroughly recommend this book, which is one of the most helpful ones on church ministry that I have ever read.