I wanted to share some final thoughts on how I see my work as a chaplain and how Ministry by Walking Around, or MBWA, for short, is essential for a chaplain – let alone any follower of Jesus Christ. While I have written about what walking does (to us and for us) and what we are to do as we walk, in this final installment I want to share about where I see walking take us – in life and in ministry.
Ministry By Walking Around: Where Walking Takes Us
Perhaps it is fitting that the people of God – when they have gotten to places where they ought to be, have walked their with their feet. Take a moment and consider all the movements of the people of God throughout history and through time, or perhaps even consider the current refugee crisis from Syria?
People, in their entire life have been moving – and using their feet, primarily, to get them places. Even in the very beginning we see that one of the activities of our parents was to walk with God in the Garden. We see the people of Israel walking (en masse) into the promised land. And another example is the travels of the apostle Paul and his occasional company. There are many examples that we could consider, as I write, I am thinking of Abraham, David, and even Caleb (from my last writing) but allow me to put some of the greater walking movements into a few (not all-inclusive) containers:
MBWA: Out of Life, Into Death
To be honest, sin (and its effects) have profoundly impacted many of the walking movements in human history. Right now, millions of displaced people are moving about the globe in proportions that it has been deemed an epidemic. But the first parents exchanged the life-giving moments of walking in relationship with God to walking out of the protection of the Garden and into a world suddenly filled with violence and death (the first death coming at the hands of God who sacrificed an animal to clothe His people). The banishment from the Garden was a protection so that man would not be eternally separated from God, but it was a movement out of life and into death. Certainly, there are many times when our walking is the direct result of sin, or pain – but I want to speak to something that is slightly different.
There are other moments and movements, even in ministry by walking around, whereby we move out of life and into death. Or, at least, that might be what it seems. Consider Abraham and Isaac’s story of the walk up Mount Moriah. For Abraham, the test of God was placed upon whether he would let go of (sacrifice Isaac). It isn’t until later that we understand that Abraham’s faith was such that he believed that the Lord might somehow raise Isaac to life. Certainly, this seemed an out of life, into death moment. We might do well to consider Jesus’ road to Golgotha – he certainly knew that the path to Jerusalem meant certain death.
Sometimes, in answering the call to obey God, we will move from life-giving spaces into certain death. Another person that comes to mind is Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He made the decision to go back to Nazi Germany and lead the Confessing Church during World War II, though it most likely was a decision to go to his death.
In my own story, I have wondered if my decision to leave the parish might not be a life to death moment – career-wise, financially, etc. Even as a chaplain, there have been other moments where I have wondered whether I was walking into a “death trap.” Maybe it was in standing up to be an advocate or attempting to be a peacemaker in a role of reconciliation. Regardless, if God calls to obey, we must go there; we must walk there. Ministry by walking around will always carry risk and it may take us to places where we seemingly walk out of life and into death.
MBWA: Out of Slavery, Into Promise
Ever wonder why the people of God have had major movements? Abraham from Ur, Israel from Egypt, Israel back to Israel (after the diaspora)…
There are many cases where God moves his people out of conditions where they have been enslaved into something that is not them – a culture, a country, a condition. This is certainly true and telling in all of the cases above – the people of God where in places where they could not be fully what God intended them to be. While there might have been blessings for them to dwell in a particular place for a particular time (Israel became a nation under the protective cover of Egypt, Israel learned discipline from being scattered) God is always moving His people, in His time to places where they can grow, thrive, and live out the promise that lies within the greater community, the greater body.
MBWA: Out of Ambiguity, Into Clarity
Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas.
If I am Paul and Silas, I am frustrated. The essentially walk the length and breadth of modern-day Turkey and they try to do ministry. They try to serve and preach and talk to people but the doors are closed. The author (Dr. Luke) doesn’t say how the doors were closed. Did they feel compelled in their spirits? Were they oppressed? Chased by bandits? I can imagine God using any number of ways to “close the doors.” And why not Turkey? We must read on (vv.9-10):
That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there.
Ah! There it is – they finally end up in the sea town of Troas – probably a bit grumbly (imagining how I would feel) – and then God “shows” them where to go. I think we sometimes read through the text too quickly. Paul and Silas, on foot, would have taken a lot of time to cover the ground from Phrygia to Troas. There would have been nights spent out under the stars, sleeping on the ground or in stranger’s homes – all the while not having a clear sense of where God was leading them and the why’s and wherefore’s.
But, then, God produces this clear and compelling “call” and Paul and Silas move on into the clarity of a new day. Doesn’t mean the journey is easy. Doesn’t mean that there are tons of roses and financial gains to be made along the way.
Often times, in ministry by walking around, the clarity that comes is in retrospect. We see it afterward – the reasons why God moved us here or there. The reason He gave us a particular circumstance, experience, or relationship.
MBWA: Where Walking Takes Us Summary
In my 40 years of life experience (which is by no measure great), I have seen much of the way that God has been leading and the places where He has taken me – in life, in vocation, in ministry – and I know His goodness in all of these things. While in the moment I may not understand a particular reason or why He led in that way, I have seen Him bring much to fruition that I had discounted or had not been clear about.
Friends, let us not be afraid of where walking may take us. For if we realize that God is directing the path, as we realize a life surrendered to the peregrinatio, we will see the wonderful ways that God works and we can exclaim with the apostle Paul,
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.im and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.
God’s paths are beyond tracing out and within ministry by walking around we experience all the places where God leads us.
Rev. Brad Kenney