Participation in a community hammered by poverty: Story of a New Testament scholar

I am always encouraged when a biblical scholar spends time with those living with poverty. This means that the scholar engages with both the Scripture and God’s world at the same time, which enriches her/his own understanding of the Bible and the people whom God loves dearly.

Here is the story of Timothy Gombis, Associate Professor of New Testament at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. (I posted this elsewhere last year, and I think it’s worth re-posting.)

“In the 90′s, my wife and I were in a doctrinally oriented church in which being Christian meant having the right mental furniture, having our doctrine sorted out right, and getting others to think the way we did.

During my doctoral studies in the early 00′s, we became convinced that being Christian was communally-oriented and needed to be lived out through service to one another and others. When we moved back to the States in ’04, we looked for a church that exalted Christ and reached out the poor and marginalized to absorb them into a thriving community life of flourishing. We found that church, an urban church plant that served a community hammered by poverty. We read the Gospels and sought to put many of these challenging texts into practice–learning to forgive one another, invite poor people to our homes, receive invitations to enter their homes (not easy for middle class people!), share the ministry load with “others” who didn’t do it like we did, etc. Those were wonderful years–hard, but so rich. Lots of other things to add here, but that’s just a sampling…

We recently moved to Grand Rapids and participate in a ministry that provides shelter for homeless people. We take up concrete service opportunities to participate in the ways our church proclaims the gospel and participates in it.”

The following is an excerpt of a separate correspondence I had with Tim. I really like what he says here.

“What changed everything for me was the day-in, day-out exposure to what it meant to live in poverty.  We recognized the power-differentials in our relationships when we just handed out money.  We invited others to minister alongside us in relationships of reciprocity and mutuality rather than top-down relationships of power-inequality.  It was tough, but it completely transformed us.

So many other lessons, too, but our eyes need to be opened through the actual experience–incarnational experience.” (Used with permission.)

(Click here for Tim Gombis’ blog post, and his story above can be found in the comment dated 30th April 2012.)

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