Review by Dave Ens
What is the subject?
How does your church approach ministry to people at the margins? I See You challenges the church in her relationship to homeless and poor people.
The book is critical of the church’s blindness to people experiencing homelessness and/or living in poverty, stressing that the church needs to see people as Jesus saw them. The author goes as far to say that, based on the witness of Scripture, Christians should be the first to care for poor and homeless people in our cities.
Who is the author?
Terence Lester is the founder of Love Beyond Walls in Atlanta, Ga. He writes as someone who ministers among marginalized people. He also writes as someone who has experienced life on the margins, both as a child growing up in poverty and as a black man living in the southern U.S. Writing as a participant-observer adds value to the book as Lester relates stories of his own experiences living in poverty.
Why this book?
The book comes at a time when we hear about the growing crystal meth crisis in many urban centres, the expanding gap between social classes, and the ever-increasing demand for charitable services such as food, clothing, and shelter.
It is important for churches to ask if there is a role we can play beyond providing charitable items to marginalized people. Are there larger issues of justice and social responsibility to which the gospel calls us?
Confession of Faith
Mennonite Brethren churches are no strangers to the tension between a gospel that is social in focus and a religious one. However, perhaps those are artificially created distinctions. A full living out of the gospel needs to take into account both a person’s physical and spiritual context.
Lester writes, “Historically, the church has offered an invitation to those who don’t have a home or a place of belonging. Jesus aims to bridge the gap and create a community of disconnected people looking for more than just a physical space to exist in.” The challenge is for the church to move beyond seeing poor people as an outreach opportunity.
Lester calls on us to overcome common assumptions and stereotypes about poor people, seeing them as people made in the image of God. If we do not see them, we can pretend they do not matter to us. The church needs to get close enough to listen to their stories and experience what life is like for people living at the margins.
Throughout the book, Lester emphasizes the importance of community. Community is how people on the street survive and its how the church can make a difference. The church community is significant because for many marginalized people, their own families are the place where harm happens. The church can be that new family where people find healing and learn to live a healthy life.
The importance of community is central to understanding and working within poverty. Lester defines poverty as a lack of access. This includes access to necessities of life but also access to opportunities and networks. However, a more helpful definition of poverty is lack of community. People living in poverty find themselves community poor. They have no one on whom they can rely when things go bad and no one to walk a different path with them.
I feel this definition of poverty is more helpful for Lester’s writing as he challenges the church to recognize the social capital found within a church community and discover ways to utilize that capital for the well-being of people at the margins.
Who should read it?
I See You is a good starting point for churches seeking new ways to engage with people at the margins. Lester’s writing is engaging and filled with stories. The book is a good resource for small groups who can walk through the book one or two chapters per meeting.
The challenge will be to not see the book as simply more information but as a push to change our own attitudes and behaviours toward people at the margins.
“We treat people experiencing homelessness and poverty as if that is who they are. These people are not what they are experiencing. They are children, mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers.
“I’m advocating for people to realize how much of an impact we could have if we spent more time with people – serving, seeing, and loving those on the margins of society.”
is pastor at One88 Community Church – a MB church in downtown Winnipeg that seeks to sojourn with people, particularly those who live at the margins of society.”