The mission statement reads, “To glorify God by coming alongside the global missions community to enhance Kingdom effectiveness.”
I love that, and I’m most drawn to that sixth word. Alongside is a preposition that flows from their understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Paraclete, as many of you know, refers to the Greek designation for the Holy Spirit, particularly in John 16:7, as the one who comes alongside as our Comforter and Advocate. Alongside is defined as, “Close to the side of, next to, together and in cooperation with.” We met some very impressive missionaries in Albania, Doni and Gail Lilo, who work with Alongside Ministries. They seemed to us to embody the spirit of coming alongside as they humbly used their many gifts to serve their town and their church.
I don’t think alongside comes naturally to us as North Americans. I can think of two prepositional tactics I’m better at, and I’ve reverted to both modes a good bit in the last few months:
- Away: I’ve seen and heard a lot of painful things the last few weeks. It seems like especially in our last few sites, we have heard heart-breaking personal stories from the pastors who have hosted us—almost comical levels of denominational dysfunction, deep suspicion between churches and para-church organizations, backbiting, a lack of affirmation of women’s gifts in churches, and questions about why a pastor should get any salary at all. A common pattern for us is to have one or two events where we are teaching and then sometimes several hours to sit in coffee shops or living rooms where pastors and their spouses are eager to share their struggles, get our perspective, and just hear that we care. I’ve been tempted to look away, to stop listening, and stop taking it in and caring, more than once recently. Coming alongside is one thing--staying alongside is another.
- Above: We see things that make us sad, but we also see things we are just sure we would do better, things that would go better if this pastor or campus staff worker would just make this little change, just try this technique, just work a little harder that. It is oh, so tempting to tell them our thoughts. All our thoughts. And sometimes that is genuinely helpful. Sometimes we’re right, and people are grateful for our perspective and insight. But often what looks like not-working from our perspective is actually a pretty clever adaptation for a particular culture. When I asked a woman in one war-torn, chaotic country that I can’t name here what her favorite three things were about her country, her first word was, “Agility.” Then she sighed and said, “We are agile because we have to be! So little works as it should here.” Coming alongside means appreciating the amazing agility of the Christian workers we meet, and asking questions about what we don’t understand, rather than assuming that we do and judging it from above.
Alongside—it’s a good word for Advent, isn’t it? Christ went to great lengths to be able to come alongside God’s people. May you sense the Spirit of the Risen Christ coming alongside you in this joyful season.