Reshaping Our Language
When nightlight was first conceived 11 years ago, its first mission was to claim the inner city of Guelph for God. When nightlight as an organization was born, about 4 years ago, the visioning process ran a little deeper. Now that nightlight has grown to 2 locations, with more possible locations on the horizon, we found it was time to have a look at our mission one more time.
That’s not to say that what nightlight is is really in flux, but as we do what we do, we come to a deeper understanding of what it is that God has called us to. We run drop in centres. We create safe spaces for people normally pushed to the margins. We try to practically show people the love and acceptance of a God who took the initiative to mend the broken relationship with humanity. We’ve had some time to try to put that all in a cohesive framework.
In his book Exclusion and Embrace, theologian Miroslav Volf writes about how we construct identities that become insurmountable obstacles to having engaging with one another in a constructive way. The Christian must embody the will to embrace the other. This is not mere inclusion where we minimize the differences between us. When we embrace the other, we recognize their differences, but we choose not to allow those differences to keep us from expressing the love of God to the other. At the cross God embraces sinful humanity. He calls Those who bear his name to take up their cross do the same.
Our new mission statement is
Mobilizing people to overcome exclusion through life-giving relational communities.
Unpacking it a bit
Mobilizing people: nightlight has always been a voice challenging people to practice what they believe. The North American church knows that God calls Christians to help the poor and needy, but often that call never turns into action. The need seems overwhelmingly large. Our time and resources seem so limited. nightlight calls people to serve starting with a small, manageable commitment of a few hours a week. Of course, this is but the first step in a journey of discipleship.
Overcome exclusion: Society values people for different reasons. Some are attractive. Some are powerful or wealthy. Christian doctrine teaches us that human worth is not found in what we do, what we have or what we look like, but it is given to us by God who makes us in his image and who gives of himself to redeem us. God says we all have infinite worth, not just the rich, attractive or influential, not even just the good: Christ died for sinners (Romans 5:8). Christians can’t simply seal themselves off in a moral bubble from those who don’t fit their idea of “all put together.” We need to understand the depth of our own sinfulness and the extend of God’s redemptive grace at work in us. If we do, we’ll begin to see ourselves in the marginalized. We’ll begin to regard them with compassion, and we’ll stand in solidarity with them. This doesn’t erase difference, but it breaks down barriers across which we are unable to reach out.
Life-giving relational communities: Our previous mission statement talked about meaningful relationships. Over the past few years, we’ve learned how ambiguous those words can be. Some people came to nightlight thinking it was a singles bar. This language helps to clarify the kinds of relationships we’re striving to make.
First, they should be life-giving. By this we mean that the relationships should demonstrate safe, healthy and positive interaction. The volunteers should also exhibit the Christ-filled grace, love forgiveness and integrity in their relationships towards guests, helping them to see something of who Jesus is and why his message is applicable to them.
Secondly, nightlight is about community: While we don’t discourage the growth of individual friendships, we also recognize that people need to belong to a community. We seek to offer people a place to belong in relationship with others: a space to be accepted, encouraged and celebrated. If the poverty of relationships is really at the core of what causes other forms of poverty, then establishing communities where people are loved, supported, challenged and encouraged attacks the very foundation of poverty.
Not convinced that relational poverty is really the problem? What if your mother or brother or sister suffered from a mental illness or addiction problem and lived on the street? Would they stay there, or would you do whatever you needed to do to help them? Those of us who don’t live in relational poverty have people to support us when life sends us off the rails. Those who are relationally poor have only their own resources to draw upon. When those resources aren’t enough to cope with the setbacks and challenges in life, things tend to spiral out of control. Building life-giving relational communities gives people the support and encouragement that can help them succeed where otherwise they might be stymied.
In the gospel of Mark, Jesus says, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30 NIV). Jesus is speaking about the sacrifices and benefits of being a part of the body of Christ. We may be called to lay aside comforts, possessions, even relationships that make claims on us incompatible with our commitment to Jesus, but by being incorporated into the church, a body of believers who have done the same, we become relationally rich, finding brothers, sisters and possessions we never knew we had. Jesus calls Christians to lay aside the riches and comforts the world tells them to pursue, in order that they can find relational riches: reconciliation with God and with people in the church. It’s the church’s responsibility to take this same reconciliation to the world, inviting those on the outside into fellowship with themselves and with God. In the end, we must recognize alienation at the root of the world’s problems. The good news of Jesus is about reconciliation of the world’s people to God and, in the church, to each other. Nightlight strives to be a small part of that process.