Written by Dan Baer
The Nathaniel Mission has enjoyed a long and storied legacy of service in Lexington. For decades, the lives of those in need have found refuge and hope in the services of the Mission. Countless individuals and families have received critical support in a wide variety of areas of need and can attest to the important place the Mission has filled in their neighborhoods.
As transition and change have come, both to the physical landscape of our neighborhoods as well as to the leadership and position of the Mission in the community, a need for a fresh expression of the Mission’s purpose has become all the more important. The Mission could no longer focus solely on those closest geographically to its location, and many of its previous ministries and activities required transition in order to stay current with the needs of our new neighbors.
Therefore, over the course of many months of intentional prayer and discernment, the Mission set about the task of rearticulating its purpose and vision for its future. The desire was clear: to express our great passion for being an active and vibrant embodiment of the Kingdom of God in overlooked and neglected areas of our city. We know that God had called us to this humbling task, and therefore we must set about the work in the form and fashion He would desire of us.
Throughout the process, one passage of scripture continued to rise to the surface. These words of challenge and encouragement seemed to simultaneously encapsulate our desire to work alongside our neighbors as well as God’s clear instructions for how that work could actually make an eternal difference. The passage is Isaiah 58:6-14, wherein God calls His people to a radical form of discipleship. While the people seek to practice their spirituality, or more particularly the act of fasting, solely for their own betterment, God’s strategic vision for their expression of faith is inherently relational, calling the people to take notice of and work to alleviate the suffering of others around them. For God, our faith and relationship to Him are their most powerful when they propel us into the lives of our neighbors as we work together for our mutual benefit in the Kingdom of God.
With such a call in mind, and with the trajectory of this work being clearly defined by God, the Mission has pulled three actions from the passage that now form our core values as we dive into the future God has in store for us:
Invest – “if you spend yourself on behalf of the needy” (Isaiah 58:10) – Too often our expressions of faith and action are perfunctory and shallow. We give here or there with little intentionality and with even less relational connection. God’s desire is for His people to see those in need as “our own flesh and blood” (58:7), and to invest ourselves in caring for these neighbors sacrificially. Just as Jesus said, “No greater love has anyone than this, that one would lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). The Mission knows that it must move beyond hand-outs and cheap services into the life-giving investment God calls us to. From volunteers to staff, we hope that every person who encounters the Mission would encounter hearts opened in love, hands offered in service, and lives given in sacrifice for our own flesh and blood in need.
Restore – “you will be called Repairers of Broken Walls, Restorers of Streets of Dwelling” (Isaiah 58:12) – It would be easy to see those in need around us as either simply faceless victims of broken systems or as selfish individuals preying on the generous, as too much of our world does. But we at the Mission intend that our investment in the lives of our own flesh and blood in need would open our eyes to their suffering and move us with compassion to restore their dignity and wellbeing. It is not enough that we offer a physical service or meet an obvious need. Rather, we hope that every ministry of the Mission would rebuild that which is broken and restore that which has been lost. Honor, value, respect, and love are needed in every human heart, and for those marginalized or oppressed in our neighborhoods, these experiences are few and far between. The Mission knows that investment leads to restoration, and we pray every heart we encounter would be restored in dignity, holy worth, and immeasurable value as one loved by God through us.
Transform – “you will find your joy in the Lord, and feast on the inheritance of your fathers” (Isaiah 58:14) – The miracle of God’s call in the passage is that what starts as fasting is transformed into feasting. While it seems like the call to investment and restoration is draining, taxing, or even impossible given limited resources, God’s vision is that of a banquet of plenty set before both those in need and those who serve. The mutual enjoyment of God’s plentiful provision is the certain result of His people genuinely and seflessly caring for one another. We believe that the same inevitable result will come about as we work to embody the principles of investment and restoration: that there will be many days of “feasting” as we take joy in the Lord’s transformation he works before us.
Invest. Restore. Transform. This is the heart of the Nathaniel Mission as we endeavor to serve our neighborhoods with the grace and love of God. We pray our efforts are empowered by the Holy Spirit, and that we find many kindred spirits who will walk this road alongside of us. Perhaps your heart is similarly kindled with holy passion to love the loveless and serve the needy alongside of us. We are anxious to meet you and find ways to partner with you as together we invest ourselves on behalf of our own flesh and blood, restore dignity and value to broken souls, and await the transformation God certainly is bringing, even to the most unlikely of places and people. Wouldn’t you come join in the feast? There’s a seat at the table for you.
Dan Baer, Executive Director
Ordained Elder of the United Methodist Church, Masters of Divinity
Degree from Ashland Theological Seminary
Lover of food, fun, friends, and football