"the spiritual need is real and primary"

Heather is celebrating Christmas in France with her parents, who are missionaries there. Here's part of her last message from her trip:

Last year [Paul and I] worked at a homeless shelter in Champaign, Illinois; coming out of that (sadder but wiser, as they say), we drew some conclusions: one was that addicts need Jesus, and not just the name of Jesus on their lips either, and another was that spiritual needs are as real as material needs, and are primary, even when you're poor. I kept myself in reserve with those conclusions, though; I've thought about the Third World for years, and I thought, "Is it that way even with real poverty? The kind they have in the Third World?" I didn't consider that I had an answer to that question, but I considered that I needed to see for myself to know.

I have a Nigerian friend whose mother has sold fried cakes in the market to support the family for years. They have no running water even though they live in the city; four people share two rooms and a single mattress on the floor; all the clothes hang in the kitchen, which doubles as a changing room. That's “real” poverty all right, though not the very worst. But the greatest trial in this family's life isn't poverty—it's the behavior of their husband and father, who left, years ago, after (for reasons completely mysterious to me) spreading awful slander about his daughter all over the community. That's what my friend—the daughter—thinks about in bed at night.

That's only one example. But I've had the growing sense, since coming to Nigeria, that even if you're talking about plain human suffering the greatest source of it isn't poverty. It's people being evil to each other.

And in a way that conclusion is the same one Paul and I came to at the shelter: the spiritual need is real and primary. Whether it's the need to feel God's love, the need for God to take control of your interior chaos, the need to know that in God's eyes you are as valuable as anyone—or the need to be turned away from evil. The need to learn to love, to love God and your neighbor.

The ministry Paul and I would like to start is based on this. The basic idea is to bring, for free, people who are poor and/or homeless out into the country for a weekend (or more) of Bible study, sharing, prayer, and alone time with God. It's witness and potential discipleship, done through hospitality. It would be in the US, and so it would be geared toward the American poor—meaning we should expect many addicts among them. Paul and I have studied the Twelve Steps (of Alcoholics Anonymous) and find them very biblical, and we've visited a couple who are doing this kind of retreats-for-the-poor work in Virginia, who use the Bible and the Twelve Steps together in the Bible studies they have at their retreats. Their retreatants often come from halfway houses. We attended one retreat and afterward couldn't stop talking about what we would do if we were doing this ourselves.

Hospitality, discipleship, counseling, sometimes evangelism—and it's not impossible there might be some spiritual warfare now and then. Completely different from what I've been doing in Nigeria—but it sounds very good to me, actually. And I'm sure I would continue having wild ideas (and implementing the best 5% of them) on the side.

So the upshot of all this is: soon after I get back to Chicago, we're scheduled to visit some friends of ours to talk about whether they want to partner with us in this work. They're a group of Christian friends, originally from our home church in Chicago, who live together on a farm called Plow Creek in rural Illinois. We've spoken with them a little about the vision, but the visit in February will be the time when we really present it to them. Basically, we will ask them if they are interested in hosting a retreat ministry for the poor on their farm. We would seek out donors for the expenses of the ministry & our daily bread, organize it, and do the work of hospitality and of leading some retreats, inviting our Plow Creek friends also to lead some of the retreats or Bible studies as the Lord moves them.

But this is very tentative. We really don't know if this is the time for the Plow Creek community to undertake a project like this, or if this kind of thing is part of their calling. So—my last prayer request—will you please pray that if God wants this ministry to exist, he will either make a place for it among our friends at Plow Creek or show us another place? And that if he doesn't, he will show us what he does want us to do?