Catching up on Witness worker reports, I came across an update from Mary Raber, who teaches at the Odessa Theological Seminary in Ukraine, a country continuing to experience turmoil despite the absence of stories in the mainstream news media.
In a class she taught about women in church history, she invited students to tell a story about a woman who had influenced their spiritual lives. Although the particulars of each story varied, three common threads emerged: hospitality, prayer and faithfulness.
She writes, “These things are simple rather than easy, but let them serve as a reminder to all of us that profound, positive influence is always within our reach.”
Consider hospitality. In its most simple form, hospitality is offered to family, friends and others with whom we feel comfortable. That’s easy. That simple practice becomes a radical act of influence—and far less easy—when we extend hospitality to newcomers, strangers or even those we perceive to be enemies. It can feel like work: Is my home clean and tidy enough? What should I serve? What if they stay too late? What if we have nothing in common?
Prayer, too, can be a simple act, but that doesn’t always make it easy. It’s not terribly hard to utter a silent prayer as we thank and petition God to act in our lives and in the lives of others. On the other hand, praying aloud can be challenging. Others will hear what we’re thinking, and that tests our comfort zones. What if they don’t agree? Does a prayer voiced before others change the listener’s heart? Does a humble prayer of petition influence anyone? And what about praying for one’s enemies? That might be the most difficult “simple” challenge of all.
Faithfulness is a huge influencer too, but modelling faithfulness for others comes with its own unique risks and uncertainties. As a young man, I was asked to take on an influential role in the church, something I had never done. I responded that no one knew me and, therefore, I had no influence. Why would anyone pay attention to what I had to offer?
“Everyone influences someone,” was the advice I received from one leader.
I carry those words with me to this day, along with regrets for all the times I have not lived up to good standards of faithfulness. I wonder who I may have influenced, and whether it was a good or bad example. Thanks be to God for mercy and grace, and for the gifts of hospitality, prayer and faithfulness. Simple, but not easy.
Dan Dyck is Mennonite Church Canada’s director of church engagement-communications.