Originally published in God Reports
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do.” (Matthew 21:31, NLB) And so he angered the religious people of his time by associating with sinners, with liars, thieves and prostitutes, accepting them, loving them, sharing with them the purifying grace of God.
When Maria was asked to start a church in a small mountain village in central Europe, she decided to do as Jesus did.
One day about two years ago, a lady who had heard of Maria’s ministry through her sister invited her to come and start a church in her village. “I did not know what type of people would come,” Maria remembers. “Some of the people we started to have were a few pimps and prostitutes.”
But Maria (whose name has been changed for security reasons) was not shocked. In fact, she had come in contact with a pimp in this village before. For a while, Maria had led a Bible study at his house, and he had asked her to pray for his business – but when she discovered what it was, she instead prayed for God to change his business. After a lot of arguments and prayers, he agreed to change jobs as long as he could earn enough money to provide for his family. Maria helped him secure a loan to start a livestock project and he is now happily employed in honest labor.
Since Maria had witnessed the change in this man’s life, she wasn’t shocked when she found out who made up her new congregation. “I just looked at them as normal people, people with messed-up lives – as almost all people have.”
Having worked in this geographical area for several years, Maria knew that most of her parishioners were men and women with no work and no education who got involved in this type of business because it was the easiest way to find money for their families and feed their children.
“Those are broken people but we are all broken in some ways. I think the whole idea is to look at those people as human beings and to treat them as human beings even if they do something like that.”
So Maria started a church plant with pimps and prostitutes. By now, between 6 and 10 adults and several children are meeting once a week. And while the services overall are “fairly norma,l” Maria has had some contextualizing to do.
“I have to contextualize my sermons every time I preach so they can be in light of their understanding of life,” she explains. “About half of my sermons are about holiness and what it means to live as holy people, to live life differently, how to treat people humanly, with love, what the word ‘love’ means, and everything is in light of the Bible and the way God is showing His love to us.”
Occasionally, there are difficult questions to answer. Why were men allowed to have so many wives in the Old Testament? Why does the Bible say that there was no man like Solomon so full of wisdom – when he did such bad things? Was he a pimp?
And not just the sermons need to be adjusted to the situation. In this church plant, Maria is the only person who doesn’t smoke. But she knows the members of her congregation cannot survive without cigarettes for more than half an hour and that it is pointless to preach a sermon to people who cannot concentrate. So she has scheduled in a smoking break in her services, long enough to restore their concentration and provide Maria with a congregation of attentive listeners. “I do what I’ve got to do,” she says. “You really rely on the Holy Spirit to do the work, you are there to preach and show love, and you leave the results to God.”
And her patience is paying off. While the pimps originally came to the church “just to see” and none have yet made a conscious decision to accept Christ, they are clearly interested. “They ask us to pray, they confess what they’re doing and ask for repentance, they’re interested in the sermons, they listen carefully and they ask questions after the sermons.” And Maria’s simple, honest ministry is having other effects as well. In the past two months there has been no incident of trafficking in the whole community.
Doing as Jesus did? Maria knows what it means.
“We need to show them grace, the same grace that God showed to us. We did not deserve his grace but we received it. We should be the channels of this grace!
“This is why I keep going there. We all believe in a God who is powerful and He’s in control.”