When I first started going to Haiti thirty years ago, missionary Dan Shoemaker would talk about The Ministry of Presence. Haiti has been such a needy country for so long that it doesn’t seem like any of the missionary efforts (by either short-term and long-term missionaries) or humanitarian efforts have made even a dent in the problems.
The situation remains hopeless, at least from our perspective.
That’s where The Ministry of Presence comes in. Just being there.
I remember in the early days meeting with the leadership of a Haitian church. We were discussing how we as an American church could help them. They came up with a lengthy list of options for us, far more than we would be able to do. Being inexperienced in their culture I was overwhelmed with their needs. But we had asked and they answered as honestly as they could.
In my mind, what I heard was – We need your money – if you come with it that’s optional. So, being the prototypical American (blunt, to the point etc.) I asked, If you had to chose one, money or us, which one would you choose?
It took less than 5 seconds for them to respond, We want you to come!
What they wanted more than our money was our presence.
I’ve learned in the years since then that it is my presence in Haiti that makes the most difference. Just to be there with them in their suffering. To sit in their homes no matter how poor; to preach in their churches, sometimes with cracks in the walls so big that I can see farmers herding their goats down the street outside. Just to be there.
The Ministry of Presence is not just for a Third World Country like Haiti. It’s not just for missions. We all have the opportunity to practice The Ministry of Presence with those around us. With the widow who has just lost her husband. With the neighbor who is discouraged. With someone at church who is struggling with God.
The Ministry of Presence is just to be there. To talk – maybe. To pray – perhaps. To encourage – always.
But most importantly just to be there.
To let God use your presence in the lives of other people when they feel like no one cares. No one understands. No one will take the time out of their busy schedules to simply sit with them.
We all know the story of Job in the Old Testament. How he was attacked by Satan until he had nothing left. How his friends came to comfort him but actually ended up making his situation somewhat worse with their ill-timed theological explanations of suffering.
But what we often miss in the story of Job is that his friends started out well. They started out simply practicing The Ministry of Presence. Job 2:13 says they sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great. That’s The Ministry of Presence.
Perhaps had they stopped there Job’s suffering would have been different. But they didn’t stop there – they began to lecture Job and try to explain why God allowed him to go through such great suffering which only added to Job’s pain.
There will be times in life when giving advice or council is appropriate. But there will also be times when The Ministry of Presence is what is needed. I suspect that we often error toward the former and not the latter. For some reason it’s easier to talk than to keep quiet.
It takes great discernment to know when to keep quiet and simply be there. To simply practice The Ministry of Presence.
Stay in the Word