Inspired by Bart, Yet Again…

…Should I really be surprised? I’ve copied below Bart Campolo’s latest newsletter from the Walnut Hills Fellowship, the "congregation" he’s a part of leading in Cincinnati.You can learn all about it and read more at, but for your edification and mine, I’ve included it here too. I pray that by the grace of God sometime in the near future I will know the joy and struggle of building God’s kingdom in similar fashion. But don’t take my word for it, here’s Bart:

June 2007

Dear Friends,

the time they reach my age, most inner-city missionaries are
responsible for established ministries which require them to manage
programs, supervise younger staff members, and raise lots of money.

it or not, they no longer have much time to delouse a mentally
handicapped neighbor’s apartment, sit quietly with a now-destitute
woman whose drug-dealing son was murdered the week before, wait in line
to restore a kid’s library privileges, try to establish rapport with a
twenty-something single mother of five who won’t stop watching daytime
television long enough to look at you or change her babies’ diapers,
taxi a few folks to the free clinic, talk gun control with a handful of
young men who are armed and might be dangerous if they didn’t know you,
and teach an innocent, malodorous and unparented ten year old how to
successfully wipe his rear end.

on the other hand, had time to do all those things and more…just last
week. None of it was planned very far in advance, either. In between
emails, phone calls, and a few meetings about the abandoned church
basement we want to renovate into our office and ministry space, all I
had to do to make myself useful was walk out on the street with my eyes
open. Marty doesn’t have to go even that far; kids just come to the
front door looking for her to fix them a snack or watch them play in
the backyard. For better and worse, our parishioners here – and their
needs – are almost always available.

will let you in on a secret: Most mornings I wake up feeling
impossibly fortunate, like a man whose fondest dream has come true,
because my primary job here is to creatively love my neighbors, and
feeling sorry for everyone who has to punch a clock or answer to a
boss. And most nights I lay in bed feeling physically exhausted and
emotionally overwhelmed, my mind racing with too many people and their
too many problems, and feeling envious of everyone whose job has more
to do with clear expectations and less to do with love. Sounds crazy,

will let you in on another secret: It may be a good thing that most
older missionaries who have to raise lots of money don’t get to spend
as much time with inner-city poor people as their younger staff
members. Those youngsters, after all, are often so fortified by their
certainty and so blinded by their guilt that they fail to understand
how deeply – and sometimes permanently – other people can be broken.
Their idealism makes it easier for them to be hopeful about changing
lives, and their hopefulness makes it easier for their leaders to keep
believing in their life-changing programs.

genuinely transformative as some of those programs are – especially for
those who serve – here again at street level my old eyes see past them,
to people I know will never change in the ways we missionaries tend to
value, whose lives are for the most part broken beyond repair, whose
identities have been systematically drained of recognizably valuable
characteristics. To invest yourself in someone with genuine potential
is a joy, I think, especially in a place like Walnut Hills. Remove
that potential, however, and the business of creatively loving your
neighbor becomes less clear.

I were still running a big evangelical organization, I might pretend I
still see this-side-of-eternity potential in everybody, and I might not
mention that my only real hope for some of my neighbors is God’s
that-side-of-eternity grace for us all, which clearly will have more
transformative work left to do on some of us than others, depending on
how badly messed up by our own sins and the sins of others we still are
when we get there.
I’ll just admit that right now I’m earnestly trying to figure out how
to love my most brutal and hopeless neighbors here without mixing in
judgment, cynicism, self-righteousness, contempt, or any requirement or
expectation of change or appreciation, and I’ll mention that, contrary
to the lovely writings of Henri Nouwen, Mother Theresa, or even my old
buddy Shane Claiborne, the closer we are the harder it gets.

In case you think I’m complaining, I promise you just the opposite is true. God, I’m so
glad to be here, at this age, doing this kind of work along with my
family, surrounded by dear friends and neighbors who can and are
changing for the better, trying to change along with them, inspired by
the enduring image of your love in Jesus, confident that you will
forgive my evident (in this letter, for starters) failure to let your
goodness guide me past my self, and buoyed by food, laughter, and other
daily joys. Thank you for this second chance! Amen.

you too for this second chance, and most especially thank you who have
been sending notes or gifts or both to help and encourage us to do what
we’re doing, do more of it, and do it better. You are dear indeed, and
our little fellowship is really feeling your love and support, and
happily sharing it around the neighborhood.

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