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  Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road
Dr. Tim Keller
     

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Dr. Tim Keller

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Brian Fikkert
     
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Mark R. Gornik

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Lacking, Yearning, and Seeking in Flushing

October 30, 2017

BY ROBERT CALABRETTA


Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

Luke 18:15-17

In this passage, we see parents bringing their children to Jesus with the desire that their children might be blessed, remain healthy, and live good lives. We shouldn’t necessarily read any “Christian” motives in these parents. Yet, much to the disciples’ surprise, (and perhaps ours,) these are exactly the people Jesus welcomes into His midst, and even points to as exemplars of those who would share in “the good life” of His Kingdom!

Whenever I read this passage, I’m reminded of many of the parents I interact with in my neighborhood of Flushing, Queens. The neighborhood has historically been a symbol of freedom and opportunity for immigrant families. It is the site of New York City’s first public high school, as well as the first proclamation of religious freedom in America.

Even today, Main Street in Flushing and the blocks beyond it continue to serve as a city of hope for an incredible diversity of cultures and peoples. More than 57 percent of residents in the neighborhood are foreign-born, many of whom have left their native lands in search of the potential for “the good life” for their children.

The immigrant community in Flushing (and across New York City) faces unique challenges when it comes to raising children. One example is what some have termed satellite babies, those children who are born in the U.S., but sent back to their parents’ native country to be raised by relatives until the age of five or six, at which age they return to live and attend school with their parents back in the U.S.

This practice leads to bonding issues and disruption to family dynamics in an already challenging situation where families are learning a new language, struggling with the rising cost of rent and subsequent overcrowded housing, trying to gain citizenship, among other challenges.

*   *   *

I’ve had the chance to “walk alongside” my neighbors by volunteering once a week at an after-school program in the neighborhood. As I sit and talk and work with these precious children, stories emerge. Stories like that of a girl who came to join her parents who had been working here in the States while she lived with relatives for the first seven years of her life. She shared how difficult it was for her and her parents to relate to one another, as well as how she struggled adjusting to a new culture, city, school, and language.

God has allowed our church, King’s Cross Church, to come alongside those in our community with the driving force of the gospel as seen in Luke 18. We are able to share with our neighbors about Jesus, the One who sees all of our yearning and seeking that we bring to Him and graciously assures us that He will enfold us into His saving arms and never refuse to give of His great love and all that we truly need—namely, Himself.

However, there’s also a part in this text directly pointed at us, the Church. Jesus is commanding his disciples, and thus his Church, to consider the needs at hand and not meet them with a heart of rebuke, but a heart of welcome and hospitality. “Let them come…do not hinder them…”

There is a time and place for rebuke, but if you notice, it’s aimed at the disciples, not those struggling and crushed under the burden of life! The Church is rebuked, the people are welcomed, and children are blessed with the loving presence of Christ Himself. Could that be what we need to hear today?

*   *   *

Consider the following:

  • In pursuing justice, are we willing to examine our own hearts first and let the Holy Spirit rebuke us through the scriptures for ways we have misunderstood the heart of God?
  • Has our posture toward others defaulted on suspicion and cynicism, rather than empathy and compassion?
  • In what ways have we knowingly or unknowingly “hindered” those in our community from coming to experience the gospel of grace? Think through economic, cultural, and lingual hindrances that could be lowered or removed creatively. For example, more affordable fellowship events or community outreaches that don’t rely on being fluent in English to participate.
  • How can you intentionally place yourself in your community where you will be able to learn the stories of others? Think about a simple, achievable hospitality goal you’d like to set for yourself that allows you to build deeper, more committed relationships with people in your neighborhood.

Pray for Flushing:

  • Pray for economic reconciliation as gentrification continues to sculpt and shift our community. Many lower income households have been forced either out or into more crowded living spaces. Intercede for the Church here to be a compelling countercultural picture of the equality of the Kingdom of God, where the rich are humbled and the poor are lifted.
  • Pray for protection of human rights for immigrants living here. Pray for the great burden to make a living that many immigrants face, for the complex issue of “satellite babies,” and for the unique trials and influences that immigrant families face.
  • Pray for liberation and restoration in the rampant undercurrent of sex trafficked victims in Flushing, and that those responsible would be brought to justice.
  • Pray for families, students and the homeless, who lost an important space of rest and community when the PS 20 John Bowne playground was closed for reconstruction for up to two years.
  • Pray for the Church in Flushing, which has often been plagued with issues that distract us from looking outward. Pray for strong and faithful leaders to remain true to God and his Word. Pray also for the issue of a strong presence of cults that exist here, many of which prey upon the weak or vulnerable, and at times, attempt to infiltrate churches and disrupt the congregation.
  • Pray for King’s Cross Church and our vision to see Flushing flourish as we pursue the Gospel of the Kingdom here. We believe Flushing is an incredibly meaningful neighborhood as a cultural center, transportation hub, and haven for diversity. As the gospel saturates Flushing, we can see it flowing into the borough of Queens, bearing fruit thirtyfold, sixtyfold, and perhaps…a hundredfold.

*   *   *

Robert Calabretta came to know Christ during his college years and received his Masters of Divinity from Westminster Theological Seminary. Both he and his wife love the Flushing community and are thrilled to be a part of what God is doing in their neighborhood. He serves as the site pastor for King’s Cross Church. 

 

 

Lead image by Paul Sableman.

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