It is rare that an Adventist minister appears in an Evangelical journal, especially on topics related to social justice. Ever more rare is when it happens twice in two weeks! In the September issue of Sojourners, Ryan Bell, pastor of Hollywood Adventist Church, is quoted in the lead of the cover article on church-based community organizing.
Here's the excerpt, written by Danny Duncan Collum, a Sojourners contributing writer:
When Ryan Bell took over as pastor of Hollywood Adventist Church in California, it was a withering congregation with only about 50 active members. And, he says, "We had a homeless ministry we couldn't afford and a debt that was about to kill the church." Bell reluctantly closed the feeding program for the homeless but resolved to find a more practical way to address the issue.
Soon he discovered LA Voice, a congregation-based community organizing federation affiliated with the PICO (People Improving Communities through Organizing) National Network that was working to have the city create permanent supportive housing for the homeless in Hollywood.
The Adventist congregation threw itself into that effort, which succeeded against intense local opposition. After that experience, Bell told Sojourners, he went to the Voice organizer and said, ‘Where do we sign up to join?'" But the organizer told him that there had to be a committee of lay leaders involved. "I just groaned," Bell remembers. "I thought, ‘That'll never happen.'" But Hollywood Adventist is now an integral part of the LA Voice federation working for affordable housing.
In the September-October issue of Prism, Samir Selmanovic, author of It's Really All About God and founder of the multifaith community Faith House Manhattan, is interviewed about his deep passion to connect with those outside the Christian faith. Excerpts from the interview:
PRISM: You say that an evangelistic encounter with "the other" is a two-way street. Can you give an example of this?
Samir Selmanovic: At a strategy meeting for the evangelistic efforts our church hoped to undertake in our neighborhood, the chairman of our church board asked, "Who are our targets?"
The next day I approached people on my street on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and said, "Our church, the one with the red doors over there, has been trying to convert you for decades. Without success. We believe that Jesus Christ is the best thing ever. Could you please come to our next planning meeting and help us be better at it?"
A few folks looked back at me quietly, then glanced at the church, noticing it perhaps for the very first time.
"This is no prank, and there is no hidden camera," I reassured them. "This would be a neighborly good deed on your part. You can think of it as an anthropological field trip you can tell your friends about. And I'll throw in a gift certificate for your favorite restaurant."
At our next meeting, I made space around the table for the two brave souls who accepted my invitation. "This is Barbara, and this is Mark," I introduced. "They are our ‘targets.' Who wants to shoot?"
I thought that was funny. Nobody else laughed. One person said I was making a circus out of the meeting. I said our meetings had been a circus — until now. It was a difficult start to the evening for everyone. Why? Because, in the presence of “the other,” everything had to change. Our tone, our language, our goals, our methods.
Our guests asked us questions, curiously, patiently. And we had to speak in plain English instead of “Christianese.” They asked us about what we carry inside and why we want to tell others about it. By the end of the evening, our gracious guests actually helped us name the pearl that our Christian community had been holding — Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of God. We abandoned our plans to put on a show about fulfilled prophecies of the Bible and instead — as simply as we can — explain some of the teachings of Jesus. That’s what they wanted to know about.
They evangelized us! God “trespassed” outside the boundaries of our religion and then visited us in the stranger, as God did so often in the Bible.
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