God's Mission Statement
God has a plan; God has The Plan. We spend much of our lives planning and deciding how and whom our plans will impact. Often charity and church groups' projects have a mission statement and judge the project by its "metrics" – standards of measurement by which efficiency and performance of a project can be assessed. I get this. With the constraints of time, energy, resources, and money, groups have to make difficult choices to assure a project will benefit as many people as possible while remaining good stewards of what God has entrusted to them at the same time.
Over the years I've been fortunate to be involved with projects large and small, serving as President to signing-up-to-show-up. While there is a certain satisfaction in a job well done, I've received the most joy not from the fulfillment of a project's mission statement but from what God continued to do long after the earthly files were closed. There is nothing more exciting than having finished a project and later seeing how when the earthly mission was complete, God was just getting started. Ripples moved outward and blessed people and places not even thought of in the original project. I could fill pages of stories where I witnessed this first hand. Instead, I will share three incidents that still warm my heart.
"Climbing Faith Mountain" was our church's theme for the 2002 Vacation Bible School week. There was a plea for leaders from the pulpit one Sunday morning, so after the service I went to one of the tables in the Gathering Area and volunteered. I had a group of three year olds and had an experience so delightful that I went home and wrote the story, "And the Answer Is…" I submitted the story to several markets. A few weeks later an editor from the Chicken Soup publisher called and said she wanted to include my piece in their Christian Soul 2 compilation. The book came out in 2005. (Spirituality for Today ran the story in the July 2006 issue.)
I was elated. The story was my first published inspirational piece. There was quite a stir of excitement among my family and friends. I even went on a local Christian television show. Gaining confidence from this first success led me to write more stories. Embarrassingly, I was so taken with my new writing projects that I seldom thought much about the Chicken Soup story after that.
A couple of years ago, I logged into my email one morning and found what I at first thought was a "suspect" message. The name was unfamiliar and the email originated in the Middle East. When I opened the email, a man from Saudi Arabia had written saying he had received a copy of Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul 2. He'd read my story and it had touched him because he had a three-year-old daughter. He complimented my writing and ended by saying how meaningful the story's message was to him.
Our VBS's mission was to teach community children about God. God had a much bigger mission. He used me, the group of three year olds, and our story to reach people around the world. Here it was ten years later and His message was still being heard. What message did the story have? The answer to all your questions is God.
The second experience I want to share occurred a year ago. I was serving on my church's Local Outreach Council at the time. One of our ongoing projects is with the elderly. We provide fellowship and worship on a regular basis to seven nursing homes in our community. At Christmas church members sponsor individual seniors by giving them a gift bag filled with sweat suit like clothing and socks. Some of these precious elderly have no family to care for them. The following month, I was walking my dog when my neighbor from across the street came up to me.
"Jan, your church gave my sister a Christmas gift bag. You can't imagine how much that meant to her." My neighbor Jo paused and then continued teary-eyed. "And to me. I never realized how much your church cares about this community – not just its members – the people who live here and are not even a part of your congregation."
Jo is a faithful servant to her older sister, and I'd forgotten she was a resident at one of the homes. My neighbor is affluent by materialistic standards and her sister certainly didn't "need" the clothes. Because she is pretty much the sole caregiver for her sister, what Jo needed was the knowledge that she was not alone. God heard that need and filled it through us. Our mission was to wrap the elderly with warm clothing; God's mission was to wrap our community in the knowledge that they, too, are continually loved and prayed for.
The last example happened about twenty-five years ago. I was the Chairman of an Inter-City Family Literacy Project whose mission was to target mothers and their pre-school children in the three poorest neighborhoods in Atlanta and raise their educational levels. All the mothers were single, school dropouts at an early age, and were on full government assistance. The preschoolers from these areas scored in the lowest one percent on their kindergarten entrance tests. The metrics were not good. A few of the women received General Education Development Certificates. Some raised their educational skill levels. Most, however, left the program. But one woman's story said the metrics were wrong. I'll call her Linda.
Linda had never been married, had eight children, most by different fathers, and was a second-generation welfare recipient. She dropped out of school in the seventh grade with her first pregnancy. She didn't fair well in her academics, probably because of a learning disability, but she excelled in so much more. Linda always wore a smile, encouraged the other students, and carried the love of God in her heart. Each morning she'd dress herself and her eight children for school and then they walked together to the other children's school. Linda and her two preschoolers caught MARTA (Atlanta's public transit) and came to their school. In one of our afternoon parenting sessions, Linda confessed that she knew she'd probably never get her GED, but she was determined to see that her eight children finished high school. She also shared that one morning a group of teenaged boys asked her where she and her family went each day. She proudly told them they were all attending school. She later told us that one of the boys approached her and confided she'd inspired him to return to school.
"If an old lady like you can do it, I can too!" he'd said.
Linda was one of God's quiet stars. Who knows what other ripples she sent out into her community, or her children sent out as a result of her commitment to the literacy project?
Mission statements are useful and keep us focused as to who we are and the road we will be taking. God's mission statement takes that road to farther places than we could ever imagine!