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Two Pastors on God at Work in Ordinary People and Places

Moses Chung and Christopher Meehan cowrote the book "Joining Jesus: Ordinary People at the Edges of the Church." They hope these stories will give people and congregations hope, encouragement, and imagination to see what God is already doing in their neighborhoods.

Moses Chung is the mission innovation director for Resonate Global Mission, an arm of the Christian Reformed Church in North American (CRCNA). He is an ordained CRCNA minister and lives in Cypress, California. Christopher Meehan is an author, freelance writer, and former newspaper reporter who recently retired from CRCNA communications. He is a commissioned pastor at Coit Community CRC in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In this edited conversation, Chung and Meehan talk about their book Joining Jesus: Ordinary People at the Edges of the Church. 

Why did you decide to research and write Joining Jesus? 

CM: In 1996, Scott Hoezee and I wrote Flourishing in the Land: The 100-Year Journey of Christian Reformed Missions in North America. Moses and I met when he moved to Grand Rapids to work for the denomination. We started talking about doing a book about how CRCNA missions work has changed in the U.S. and Canada in recent decades. 

MC: I didn’t think readers would be interested in a blow-by-blow account since 1996. But I told Chris I’d be really excited to work with him on a book about God at work in under-the-radar places. 

How did you decide which people, stories, ministries, and places to feature? 

MC: In my work I’d witnessed God at work in places few people knew about, like campus ministries, church plants, and ministries among non-majority ethnic groups. We began with Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, because I knew for sure there were all kinds of stories flowing from Spirit and Truth Fellowship. Chris and I also had lists of people we’d met or heard about. 

CM: I spent several months gathering background contacts and recommendations for whom to talk with. I’d done stories on some of them and met others at prayer summits. We also interviewed lots of great people who didn’t get in the book. Moses and I traveled together for a few years and finished gathering stories as the pandemic arrived. 

Why did you decide to format Joining Jesus as more than an eclectic story collection? 

MC: We got excellent feedback from Susan Felch, who said, “These are wonderful stories, but that’s that.” Alan Roxburgh, who founded TMN (The Missional Network) and wrote our foreword, asked, “What is the story behind these stories?” Those were good questions, but we were feeling a bit stuck. 

CM: Moses and I met many times at the church he attended while living in Grand Rapids. We had completed all the interviews of how the Spirit is alive in different places. We had a working title—Go Local and Stay Put—but we wondered how to discern emerging themes and biblically frame the book. The idea came to us both at the same time to do “dwelling in the Word” together. [Similar to lectio divina, dwelling in the Word is when people gather time after time to listen to, contemplate, and discuss the same Bible passage.] We did it with Luke 10:1–12 because Moses had often used that dwelling passage in ministry settings. 

How did Luke 10 help you frame and organize the stories? Had many people mentioned Luke 10 in interviews? 

MC: Other than Karen Wilk, Resonate’s Go Local Catalyzer in Edmonton, Alberta, and two copastors in British Columbia, no one had mentioned Luke 10. But as Chris and I dwelled with Luke 10, we had an “Aha, thank you, Jesus!” moment. Just like the seventy disciples that Jesus sent out two by two, the people we interviewed traveled lightly and followed Jesus into hard places. Pastor Andy Kim followed God from Atlanta to North Philadelphia. He walks the streets with Mario Pagan, who once sold crack outside the bar that is now Eighth Street Community Church, a Spirit and Truth church plant. Pagan is now an elder and pastoral assistant who teaches and mentors kids who face the same neighborhood struggles that he did. Kim and Pagan helped create Vocatio, a Christ-centered alternative high school that prepares young people for careers and further education.   

We saw people joining Jesus in hard places and staying put despite danger and disappointment. We saw the Spirit working in Seattle, Washington, among Christians who used what they had to meet people where they were in youth football, coffeehouses, and homeless shelters. The Spirit is also developing a worshiping community among neighbors who share meals in Wilk’s suburban neighborhood, where richer people have their own hardships. 

What other Luke 10 themes emerged through your interviews? 

CM: We met with people who have followed the Spirit in “doing the next right thing.” In under-the-radar ways, they offer hospitality, peace, and compassion. They welcome migrant kids in California and help immigrant families get mortgages in Kansas City, Missouri. They demonstrate God’s unfailing covenantal love along with showers, laundry services, and Wi-Fi to Detroit residents who have no electricity or water. I especially liked eating hot dogs and soup with people who shared why The Village Church in Tucson, Arizona, is so important for them. Their commissioned pastor, Rod Hugen, told me, “Our music is almost always in a minor key, almost a dirge, because it is spoken out of brokenness.” 

MC: In Luke 10, Jesus sent people “to every town and place.” We experienced campus ministries and ministries among nonmajority ethnic groups where, across Canada and the U.S., faithful people kept showing up. Chaplains and students at University of Toronto improvised how to incarnate Christ in their weekly “Wine Before Breakfast” campus communion services. None of the people we talked with would see themselves as heroes of their stories. In big cities, small towns, and the Navajo Reservation, they loved “their place” and stayed put. After many, many years, something incredible happened. The gospel slowly transformed their lives and communities. 

What do you hope that congregations and individual Christians—including those not part of the CRCNA—will do with this book? 

MC: I hope congregations will talk about the stories together and have the hope and imagination to realize that God can do the same thing in each person, their neighborhoods, and their churches. Joining Jesus is a different strategy. We don’t go in with “Hey, world, we’re here to fix you and solve your problems.” Rather than starting with “Believe this or you will go to hell,” have the patience to be a person of peace while God works slowly.  

Maybe attendance is declining and youth are leaving your church, but don’t despair or give up. Just open your eyes and pay attention. As a church, ask God what faithfulness looks like in your context. God will speak. Scripture is living and can speak. Expect to see God in your ordinary lives and neighborhoods and in unexpected people like Mario Pagan.  

What might congregations need to let go of or agree to so they can begin applying your Luke 10 vision of going local and staying put? 

MC: They might need to let go of anxiety about the future. God’s work is slow. Trust that God is already at work in changes around you. Encourage each other. God’s going to do beautiful things beyond your imagination. 

CM: Lots of churches think that if they don’t grow, they’re not a good church. But rather than comparing themselves to bigger, better-known churches, I hope congregations will consider that maybe where they’re at is OK. Often God simply asks us to say yes to small things, which builds trust in us and neighbors. Take pleasure in the people and place where you are. Live with the people and love them. Read the prophets in the Old Testament—but also be keen and alert to the prophets among us in person and in books like Joining Jesus.