The 19th-century philosopher Henry Thoreau said, ‘Most people live lives of quiet desperation’, which aptly describes the loneliness of people around us. People think that turning their back on God means they will be free to enjoy their lives, but like the Prodigal Son, it often leads to desperation.
Jesus declared: ‘The son of man came to seek and save the lost’ (Luke 19:10) – thank God he found us, so we can, in turn, be a blessing to others who are lost.
The loneliness we encounter all around us is, in fact, a mission opportunity!
Here are some ways to join our Lord as he reaches out:
1. Be hospitable to newcomers at church.
This is something we all think is important but don’t always achieve.
If you can remember when you last joined a group of strangers, it’s not easy to enter a strange environment, and for some, it’s a mark of their desperation just to come through the door.
As you initiate a welcome to a visitor, the Lord will help you know what to say.
At the recent Cross-Cultural Ministry Conference, we showed a video by Partners in Ministry addressing this topic. Many delegates have since shown it to their congregations, and you might find it helpful to reinforce some basic welcoming practices.
2. Give a simple smile to a stranger.
According to surveys, every second or third person you pass in the street regularly experiences loneliness, so your smile and friendly greeting may be much more important than you realise.
With one ear open to the Holy Spirit (as we move through our day), we can engage strangers longing for someone to talk to. Chances are, you will encounter people more than once and be able to build a relationship.
3. Welcome ethnic newcomers.
Migrants can encounter particular loneliness until they build a new network of friends. Often, they are homesick and missing family and relatives that they left behind. Jesus refers to this in Matthew 25, saying, ‘When I was a stranger you welcomed me’.
Some time ago, I realised migrants are quite moved by hearing their mother tongue, when all day long, they are struggling to learn English. Our (small) effort to learn a few words in the language of a newcomer communicates that our heart is open to them.
I have proven that just saying a few friendly words in Mandarin or Arabic, for example, has led to countless conversations with strangers willing to talk about their lives.
If this piques your interest, I am happy to supply a copy of the 90-page booklet Heart Talk to assist you with practising some greetings. The booklet features greetings in more than 40 languages, tips on using them and helpful information about the countries behind the languages. To obtain your copy, email email@example.com
Craig Heidenreich is the LCANZ’s Cross-Cultural Ministry Facilitator.