In Mark 10:46–52, Jesus encounters the blind Bartimaeus and asks: “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus replies that he wants to see, and Jesus declares him healed based on his faith.
The question Jesus asks is very interesting. He does not assume the man’s needs, but rather invites him to name what he wants the most. Once that has been named, Jesus responds through healing.
A process with community
It is a well-established development principle that any community work must be based on the needs and context of each specific community. I learned this important focus on community in my pre-pastoral studies in international development (IDS).
It would seem that IDS has tapped into a reality that Jesus already knew: that the people, challenges, and needs of each group are unique. The local community is the voice that must determine what is best for them, based on their unique DNA.
For instance, you cannot take a model that worked in rural British Columbia and apply it to urban Nairobi expecting the results to be the same. In fact, to do so can cause great and lasting harm.
Helping is a process that involves listening to and journeying with a community. It calls us to be like Jesus and allow another to tell us what they need.
We are invited to set aside our assumptions and ideals of what is best for others, then allow those others to speak.
In a way, it shifts Jesus’ question – “what can I do for you” (a question suited to who Jesus was) – to “what can I do with you?” (a question suited to us as we engage with our fellow people).
Unstructured: a beautiful experience
Last year, a team of Fort Garry MB’s young adults group went to Pimicikamak (Cross Lake) in northern Manitoba to join the new (and only) MB church in the community. A normal short-term mission trip would have had us go in with a plan and schedule of events, activities we ourselves selected.
This was not the case.
Thanks to guidance from Matthew and Hilda Garrick, leaders of the church, and Paul Winter, national Indigenous ambassador with the C2C Network, we were invited to journey alongside.
Instead of following a schedule, we walked into the community daily, available to step up to what was needed moment to moment.
At the beginning of the week, we wondered what we would be doing. By the end of the week, we asked, “What haven’t we done?”
Our week was full and busy; each day took on new activities at the drop of a hat.
We cleaned up garbage, sandbagged, visited and sang with elders, shared our testimonies in the middle school, led a blanket exercise in the high school, prayed with the church and with complete strangers, attended a memorial service, had an impromptu gospel jam session, and participated in sharing circles. One of our team members (a trained first responder) even helped with an ambulance emergency and went on call as a firefighter.
This isn’t to highlight how well we did. I’ll be honest: many on our team really struggled with the lack of structure and schedule. We had moments of stress, and even times when we didn’t want to do what was being asked of us. We wondered whether or not we were “effective.”
Yet in the end, the trip was one of the most beautiful experiences in my ministry as a pastor.
Our goal was to participate in the ongoing work of reconciliation with First Nations brothers and sisters by connecting with this sister church. In order to do so, we had to follow the example of Jesus’ posture toward Bartimaeus.
We journeyed alongside our brothers and sisters, listening, observing, and allowing the community to guide us toward where we could best serve.
When we as individuals or churches are honest about our history, we must recognize that we have often failed to take that posture. This is especially relevant to the Indigenous people of Canada. White Christians have expected others to adapt to our ways and view of the world. We cannot continue in this way.
Building community – outside and even inside our churches – must be based on the uniqueness of its members and location. As we, the church, grow as communities or reach out from them and into others, let us recognize where we differ, and respond with openness instead of rigidity.
Instead of coming with answers, may we listen as we ask in earnest: “What do you want me to do with you?”