Dec 14

Widening My View of Family

Article by Susan Faehndrich-Findlay

When my youngest was approaching his high school graduation, I began to think ahead to the years when our house would be a lot quieter and ask God what he wanted to do with that time. One day a verse in my morning Psalm popped out: 

“He makes the woman of a childless house to be a joyful mother of children.”  (Ps 113:9)

I started to think about the doors that were opening now that I was heading into a phase of parenthood that was less time-intensive.  God had already been opening my heart to the challenges that newcomers face as they adjust to life in Canada. But this verse began to shift my thinking towards a family view of ministry. 

In 2 Cor 6:18, Paul quotes God as saying, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters.” When I read this verse in October, I was struck in a fresh way that each day as I pray “Our Father” my words imply that I have siblings – all the others who also call God – “Father”. Am I treating them like family? 

As newcomers arrive in Canada, they feel their separation from family acutely. I have a friend whose siblings have been displaced by war to many countries: Turkey, Iraq, Germany, Switzerland & Canada while her elderly relatives, too weak to flee, remain in Syria. The chances of getting their extended family together for a reunion are virtually zero.  

My mother-in-law lives in Switzerland. I know how much it meant to have her come spend six months with us last year after her husband passed away.  And now my husband is able to make regular trips to his home country to visit her. But for my dear friend from Iraq – who hasn’t seen her adult son since she fled to Canada over six years ago, there is no consolation. It is a similar situation for my Syrian friend, who longs to be able to see her mom one time before she dies and give her a hug. The separation enforced by immigration policies and financial constraints painfully continues year after year.  

Once I began to read the Bible wearing this family lens, the imagery popped up continually. Paul pictures himself as a mother, a father and even an orphaned child when he describes his relationship with the Thessalonians 

“Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you.  Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” (1 Thess 2:7b, 8)

For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom of glory.  (1 Thess 2:11, 12)

“…when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you.” (1 Thess 2:17)

This family language is shaping my view of ministry. I’m beginning to see more clearly my kingdom family that lays claim to my time and resources.  If my siblings are struggling, what is my responsibility towards them?  Paul tried to explain some of these family claims to the Corinthian church: 

“Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality.  At the present time your plenty will supply what they need so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: ‘The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.’” (2 Cor 7: 13-15)

Recently some newcomers arrived in Vancouver after a perilous, multi-year journey through many foreign countries. They had to flee their home country where they had become followers of Jesus, at great risk to their own lives. They had a relative at Christ City Church.  That makes them part of our church family, doesn’t it? What is our responsibility to these brothers and sisters who arrived in Vancouver with $25 and a plastic bag containing all their possessions? Paul seemed to be saying that our plenty could supply what they need.

James then said to me “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good it is?” (2:16) Faith not accompanied by action is dead. My daily bible readings were getting uncomfortable!

Jesus in Matthew 10, with his mother and brothers standing just outside the door asks: “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?”

Then he answers his own question: “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Jesus’ words undoubtedly shaped James, Paul and the early church. Am I letting them shape me in all my plenty?

I brought some of my musings to my CG.  What should we do? Immediately, people offered to share from their plenty and soon a weekly gift card had been set up for these newcomers so that they can make it until some other supports become available to them.  I feel like our CG is leaning into being on mission together as we support one another and some brothers & sisters who don’t participate in our group, but whose need became known to us. 

Recently, I accompanied a newcomer friend to view a room for rent in South Vancouver. It was perturbing to see the greed of the landlord who had squished multiple beds into every small room, including 3 beds in the doorless living room and was asking $1500 for each of the 9 beds in a very small bungalow. I went away wondering how we as a church can respond to the housing crisis with a posture of generosity rather than a posture of greed? 

  • How can we share our space, our plenty and our family life with others who have less? 
  • How can we live out being family with newcomers who have been separated from their family?  
  • How can we share our extended network to help newcomers find a home to live in and a job to earn a living (like we try to support our biological family members)?

In Jonah we saw that God is compassionate, full of mercy, slow to anger and abounding in love. I keep bumping into this description of God throughout the Old Testament. These characteristics shape our DNA as God’s family members.  

Eugene Peterson poetically describes the politics of incarnation as “adoring God, listening to his word & obeying his commands in the detailed & dense dailiness of our easily dismissed and frequently despised Galilee.” I’m excited to journey incarnationally together as we adore God, listen to his word and learn to obey his commands in our daily Galilee. We have been given much to share with abounding love in response to the one who gave everything for us out of his abounding love and made us into his family – people from every nation, tribe and language.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily held by everyone at Christ City Church.