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The challenge of faith: Think people not projects

Seeking human kindess
Seeking human kindess
People are not problems to be solved. They are mysteries to be explored.—Eugene H. Peterson

Years ago, I found myself having a weird, yet undeniable experience at a Starbucks in Aiea, HI.

How do we best serve others?

Get to know people as people, not as projects.

I got called out for being too comfortable by a voice in my head that sounded too much like mine.

I desired to follow Christ, yet felt an equally powerful desire to stay within my comfort zone while doing so.

Then that voice (that sounded like mine, but it didn’t feel like I was talking to myself) asked, “You talk about serving the homeless, yet how many homeless people do you know?”

It’s an incredibly odd experience to feel defensive about a question you asked yourself.

But I began to answer, “Well, there’s the people that we serve at the River House (a nonprofit organization that served the houseless)… and then there’s Sandwich Patrol (a monthly venture of serving the houseless a brown bag meal all from money the youth raised)…”

Talking with myself

Then that voice (my voice) stopped me and asked, “No. Who do you actually know? What are the names of the people you’ve interacted with?”

It’s a weird experience to feel defensive about a question you asked yourself: It’s even a weirder experience to be stumped and silence by your own voice.

But it … I?… had me there.
The truth is, all the ‘ministries’ we were doing for the houseless people were so impersonal. We did our thing and we left. That was it. And we’d pat ourselves on the back for a job well done. Once we got back to the church, the people we served were a distant memory.

It turns out, we were treating people as projects rather than as human beings. And I had no one to blame but myself for allowing this to happen.

“Go and get to know someone,” I instructed myself.

After a church meeting (that so didn’t need to be a meeting), I felt like I couldn’t go home. I felt like I had business to take care. There was this intense feeling of, “I need to step out of my comfort zone now or I may never do so.” I got in my car and drove to Chinatown at around 9PM in the evening.

I’ve been to Chinatown many times, but never at night. Nothing looked familiar at night. I began to wonder if something was really wrong with me. But still, I felt compelled by the conversation I had… with myself… earlier in the day so I began walking around.

I had no idea where I was going or what I was to do. Should I just walk up to someone and say, “Hey, if you have a moment, I’d like to tell you about a friend of mine. Maybe you heard of him before? His name is Christ. Jesus Christ”?

That’s when someone asked me if I had 90 cents to spare.

I had a 5 dollar bill and offered to him and while asking if I could just hang out with him for a bit.. Thankfully, he was more than happy to let me.

His name was Reid. Reid was a veteran down on his luck and waiting for the money that was owed to him. He had been waiting for 11 months but was certain that it would come sooner rather than later. He had a heart attack a while back which was the main reason he became houseless. He told me about his time in the Vietnam War, his life pre-War and his life post-War, and how he got to Hawaii.

When there was a lull in our conversation, I asked him (without even realizing what I was saying until after I said it): “Do you believe in God?”I had no idea why I asked that. We were having such a great conversation and I was afraid that this would put a fork in that. If he says “yes” how do I follow up? “Cool...”?If he says “no” how do I follow up? “Cool…”?

He said, “Of course I do.” And,again, my mouth was moving faster than my mind because almost instinctively, I asked, “Why?

He explained that though he may have lost everything, God was always there revealing Godself here and there. Reid explained that he never felt abandoned, forgotten, or forsaken by God and that if he didn’t believe in God, he might not have had the hope to stay living.

He asked me if I believed in God. I answered him honestly: “I do. But I struggle sometimes. And sometimes, I think it’ll be easier to just walk away from it all and not believe in anything.”

“What do you do for a living, Joe?” He asked.

“I… well… I’m a pastor.”

Reid let out such a loud laugh, he woke up a few of his sleeping neighbors.

“You’ll be fine. Just continue to live out your faith the best way you know how.”

I visited Reid (and his business partner, Tom — a story for another time) every Thursday (until I was called to Southern California) usually with beers and pizza.

What has faith compelled me to do?

It’s been one of the weirdest things that faith compelled me to do. And because of that, I got to meet Reid who taught me the importance of connecting with people; building relationships; seeing the humanity and the image of Christ in the persons that we serve. Otherwise, people end up becoming projects which goes against what Jesus calls us to do.

We’re not called to be project managers, but relationship builders.

And often times, building relationships means getting to know someone, compelling us to step out of our comfort zone.

What does faith compel you to do? If you're seeking to get know some people, check out this list of faith communities seeking to build relationships online. You may also be interested in the following articles:


Joseph Yoo is a West Coaster at heart contently living in Houston, Texas with his wife and son. He serves at Mosaic Church in Houston. Find more of his writing at josephyoo.com.