Serendipity in Inasmuch
Serendipity moments are special—unexpected, gratifying times that put a big smile on our face that sticks for a while. Such a moment occurred a few weeks ago as my wife and I were attending the North Carolina Baptist Missions Conference in Winston-Salem. We made our way into the huge sanctuary of the host church for the plenary session looking for a place to land. We chose a row that had empty seats past the two occupied seats on the end and excused ourselves as we squeezed past the elderly couple in those end seats.
As we were seated, we spoke to the couple. When I asked where they were from, they replied Germanton, NC. I said: “I know that town. Germanton Baptist Church was one of the first outside Fayetteville, NC to do Operation Inasmuch.” The wife said: “We know. We are Charlie and Violette Smith.” That was it—the serendipitous moment! Of all the places we could have sat in that sanctuary, we landed next to two of my Inasmuch heroes.
I had never met the Smiths, but I knew them from a distance for perhaps 20 years! I have told part of their story many times through those years. Now I share it with you.
An unexpected opportunity
Charlie Smith led one of the home repair projects in Germanton Baptist’s first Inasmuch Day back in the late ‘90s—repairs on a mobile home. As they went in and out of the home on which they were working, fetching tools and supplies, a young man who lived up the street noticed the activity. He noticed a church van parked there. He’d never seen a church van in that mobile home park; police cars but no church van.
He was curious and walked down to the home where the project was going on and asked Charlie who he and his friends were and what they were doing. Charlie said something like, “We are from Germanton Baptist Church, and we are helping So-and-So here by repairing some things on her home.” Because he’d never heard of such a thing—people serving others for free—he asked other questions and Charlie answered each one the best he could.
The conversation lasted maybe 10 minutes. The young man went back to his home enlightened but still wondering why “strangers” would spend their Saturday helping someone they didn’t know just to be helping her.
The next Saturday, Charlie Smith went back into that mobile home park not to do home repairs but to follow up with the young man he’d met the week before. This time the conversation was different—how God loves everyone and wants His people to do what they can to meet others’ needs and, most importantly, how God loved that young man. At the end of this conversation, the young man made the decision to follow Jesus.
There are several lessons about serving in this story. First, Charlie Smith was a model Inasmuch Project Leader. Not only was he willing and able to lead a home repair project but he was also open to the opportunities to share the gospel that might come from that serving. Some project leaders would have cut the initial conversation with the young man short feeling that it is more important to get the job at hand done. Not Charlie. He took time away from his repair work to talk to the young man until his questions were satisfied.
Second, notice it was not the young man’s home being repaired but a neighbor’s. We might expect that a person whose home is being repaired for free by volunteers to be grateful enough to ask why they are doing what they are doing. Truth is this question can come from unexpected sources as it did for Charlie. The Holy Spirit can and does use what we do in serving others to create opportunities to share the gospel. We just have to have open eyes and ears to recognize those opportunities when they come.
Third, and most importantly, serving others wins credibility for sharing the gospel. When we serve people with no strings attached, they are willing to listen to us share almost anything, especially the good news that God loves them, and Jesus died for them. In a world that is more resistant than ever to that message, serving opens doors and creates genuine opportunities to share it.
Message and Ministry
The ministry of Operation Inasmuch is helping people in need—food, clothing, repairs to their homes, a warm visit to alleviate loneliness, etc. The message of Inasmuch is “We do this because God loves you and we do, too.”
We at the Inasmuch ministry have consistently said these two—message and ministry—go together. Some churches give a high priority to evangelism—sharing the good news of God’s love in Jesus—anyway and every way they can. So, here’s my question: Is compassion ministry in your evangelism toolbox? If so, you know how well it works. If not, you are missing possibly the most effective strategy of evangelism in the Twenty-first Century.
Compassion ministry was the primary tool in Charlies Smith’s toolbox and what a serendipity moment it brought about! By the way, the Holy Spirit specializes in serendipity!
What do you think?
Have you had an experience like Charlie Smith? Have you had chances to share the good news of God’s love in Jesus in the midst of serving people in need? Let me know your thoughts.