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Who said messy can’t also be beautiful?

Each Saturday for the past four years, folks like Kim, Adam, Erin, Alejandra, Bibi, Amber, Juan, Heather, Daniel, Mac, Aciano, and I have loaded up our vehicles with totes of healthy(ish), kid-friendly food. We have dispersed throughout the large, rural area of land that comprises our school district, delivering those totes to various households along the way. We partake in this work weekly as part of the Abundance Summer Food Program that is a ministry of Faison United Methodist Church and Faison Iglesia del Nazareno La Roca.  

On Saturday, July 6, Amber and I teamed up to deliver to five of our families who live in furthest corner of all of the corners we deliver to. We have taken this route each Saturday this year in part because we do want to burden our volunteers with the extreme distance and time that this route requires — it can take over two hours to run just this route. With that said, the hidden reason we take this route each week is because I really enjoy rewarding myself at the authentic Mexican restaurant that is out in what some what call “the middle of nowhere.”

As I sat at the table enjoying my give-yourself-a-pat-on-the-back meal, I noticed that the young woman who just checked out at the register was getting into her truck with a little girl who appeared to be about 3 years old. I then noticed that she started to back that truck up in the parking lot. I then sat in a state of powerlessness as I watched her back that truck right into the front of my truck at a rapid pace. My poor, beautiful, 2017 Toyota Tundra took a beating. 

Amber and this young lady tried to communicate with one another for a few minutes as I finished my last couple of bites of food in an emergency case of comfort eating.  The young lady spoke no English, and Amber speaks no Spanish. After I finished, I joined them outside and surveyed the damage. It was worse than I thought. So bad, in fact, that we were lucky to be able to drive it home. Realizing there would be no insurance claim, and realizing she was painfully anxious and afraid, we agreed to just exchange phone numbers.

As I climbed into the cab, my first thought was, “It’s just a truck.” My second thought was, “See what you get for trying to do something good? If you weren’t out here delivering food, this wouldn’t have happened.”

It’s funny how when you are doing the right thing, unfortunate things continue to happen. It’s tragically funny how when those unfortunate things do happen, the little voice inside your head berates you for doing what is good. My third thought was the words that I have told my congregation and many others over the years,

“Mission in your own community is messy.”

The young lady who backed into my truck had an English-speaking friend call us almost immediately. Within a few hours, six folks showed up at my house to survey the damage and to offer to make things right by any means necessary. Through the interpreter, there was an offer of a cash payment, and there was an offer to have my truck repaired by someone they knew. In a risk-taking moment of vulnerability born more out of indifference than principle, I handed these strangers the keys to that 2017 Tundra and told them to take it.  They took it, and they fixed it. It doesn’t look like it did pre-accident, but it is just a truck. They are good people, and I am glad that we met.

Here’s the thing — this whole truck experience, which was brought about as a result of our summer food program, is really indicative of the summer food program itself. 

We, the organizers of the program, are dented up people from dented up places and dented up churches who go to dented up places where we get to know and love other dented up people.

You see, Abundance is so much more than a food program — it is a people program. We do not do ministry to the families in the program, we do ministry with them.They take a risk and make themselves vulnerable to us, and ideally, we do the same for them. It’s so beautiful when it happens.

We have the ability to actually see our neighbors, and they have the ability to see us. Trust is built. Mutuality happens. We hand each other the keys to our wrecked up lives and we say, “I trust you enough to be a part of my brokenness with me.” Our summer food program may not be as sustainable as it could be, but let me tell you, it can be beautiful nonetheless.

Wendell Berry has said that we live in an age of divorce, meaning things that were once together in the world are no longer together.  Further, things that belong together are now separated. Much of what people of faith are called to in the present day is the putting back together of some of the things that belong together. 

As Berry would point out, we humans do not have the ability to put back together all the things at once, but we do have the opportunity to put back together one thing and then another, and then another, and so on and so forth. 

The first things that need rejoining are neighbors to neighbors. 

Until we are able to have empathy for, understanding of, trust in, mutuality with, and love for those with whom we share community, we will remain disconnected. And so long as we are disconnected, no other things can be put back together in any way that is sustainable.

The Abundance Summer Food program, and the people of faith who participate in it, believe that our work makes space for connection among folks who would otherwise avoid one another. People of faith should take seriously the work of connecting with their neighbors, especially those they would otherwise avoid, understanding full and well that such work requires vulnerability and a level of risk that faith institutions are typically not comfortable with.

It doesn’t have to be a summer food program. If communities of faith have their finger on the pulse of their community, they can identify the greatest need and begin the work of putting things back together. It might be messy, but who said messy can’t also be beautiful?

Rev. Jabe Largen is Pastor of Faison United Methodist Church in Faison, NC.  Jabe and Amber, along with their children Ella, Isaiah, and Olivia have called the Faison area home for over 8 years.  Jabe is currently working on a Doctor of Ministry degree through the Candler School of Theology at Emory University with a focus on Community Engagement/Mission.