IVP - Online Pulpit - Lives that Pour Out Into the Streets

September 1, 2009

Lives that Pour Out Into the Streets

In February I had the privilege of traveling to Vietnam with five members from my church. Our church had hosted Vinh, a seminary intern from Vietnam, for over two years, and his presence in our congregation changed us. We are seeking to be faithful as a multicultural, multigenerational congregation in southern California, the frontline of our rapidly changing national community. Vinh’s presence in our congregation gave us the opportunity to grow in openness to those who are very different. His life poured into our streets. And we decided to see the church that fostered the faith of this remarkable young man.

Visiting three different cities and one very rural community in Vietnam helped me understand why Vinh had such an impact on our church. In Vietnam there is little separation between public life and personal life. Especially in the north and central part of Vietnam, where there is much less Western influence, the people conduct life out in the open. The small shops that line most of the streets are places of business, but here shop owners also sit with their families and their neighbors while they eat their meals and drink afternoon tea. It’s nearly impossible to distinguish between paying customers and family members. And when you walk the street, it’s not uncommon to be invited to sit for a while.

The same is true of many of the Vietnamese homes, many of which have large doors or gates that open wide to the street and neighbors. The street or sidewalk is a part of the home. While I was having dinner with the Ha family one evening, several times neighbors stopped at this wide open door to talk. We could hear the neighbors all around doing the same thing—living their lives open to others.

I was struck by how dramatically this contrasts with the American obsession with privacy. We have weatherized our porches and air-conditioned our homes so that the windows and doors are almost always closed, and our blinds or drapes are often pulled. If we do venture out, it is into the privacy of our back yards. We are intentionally not open to the streets and our neighbors. One sociologist says that Americans have lost a sense of public space. In our search for privacy we have retreated, and we now fail to value publicly shared lives—lives that pour out into the streets.

Vietnam was a vivid picture for me of the task that lies ahead for my church. We must find a way to pour our lives out into the streets. Our church services and activities should be much more open to passersby. And more of our activities should be done on the streets and in the neighborhood. After all, according to the Scripture, “The Word became flesh and moved right into the neighborhood” (Jn 7:17, The Message). We need to do the same.

Unlocking the church doors and ministering outside of the church building and on the streets is challenging. Neighborhood children playing on our church’s lawn and basketball court are great, but we have only just begun. I hope in the not-too-distant future people all around our city will witness the lives of our church members pouring out into the streets.

Posted by Candie Blankman at September 1, 2009 8:44 AM Bookmark and Share

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