The Power of Words


“I came from a really rough background,” the man told us as he trained our mission team to be better tutors for the children in our neighborhood. “I was twelve years old, and I didn’t have much going for me.

“One day, I was in a gymnastics class right around the corner from here. The teacher was full of life and all the kids wanted to be around him. At one point as I was trying a gymnastics move, he said something that I will never forget.

He said, ‘This kid won’t quit.’

“If it wasn’t true before he said it, it became true after he said it.

When I went to middle school and had trouble, I said to myself, ‘I’m a kid that doesn’t quit.’ When I thought about not finishing high school, I said ‘I’m a kid that doesn’t quit.’ When I was the first person in my family to go to college and I was facing difficulties, I said, ‘I won’t quit.’ Then I completed graduate school because I am a kid that doesn’t quit. Now I am teaching other people to encourage at-risk children, all because of four words a young teacher said to me when I was a child.”

As I listened to this man talk, I wondered what that gymnastics teacher felt like that day long ago when he went home and his wife said, “How did the day go?”

He might have said, “Not much happened, just the same old work with a bunch of rowdy kids.” We may never know the effect our words have on another person.

When we think about the possibilities for compassion ministries, one of the things to remember is that for many people, it is more important for them to be noticed than for them to have their tangible need met.

Then even the words we speak can have an unexpected power. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue,” the Bible says (Proverbs 18:21).

More Serious Than a Hole in the Wall


If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail. —Abraham Maslow

One time I tried to install shelves in the kitchen of my small New York City apartment. I had a hammer, screwdriver, and little experience. It didn’t go well. For months, every time I washed dishes, the over-sized holes in my wall were evidence I didn’t know what I was doing. Some time later, a friend who knew what he was doing came and completed the job. He had the right tools and the right expertise.

In ministry we are faced with problems more serious than a hole in the wall.

We are faced with the problems of humanity. Abraham Maslow once tried to explain humanity based on the needs we all share. His Hierarchy of Needs (adapted below) helps us understand some of the human problems we come across.

A.H. Maslow, “A Theory of Human Motivation (1943),” Psychological Review 50 (4) 370-96, accessed May 26, 2015,

A.H. Maslow, “A Theory of Human Motivation (1943),” Psychological Review 50 (4) 370-96, accessed May 26, 2015,

As ministers it’s helpful to remember a couple of things.

First, this isn’t what they need, it’s what I need.

Every day I need food, sleep, water, and shelter. But that’s not all. I also need security, acceptance, confidence, and purpose. We are always in a better position to help others when we realize it’s not their problem, but our problem.

Second, just as an experienced carpenter has many tools in the tool-belt, ministers must use the right tool, at the right time.

Some tools provide relief, and others provide release. Relief work meets needs at the bottom of the pyramid. It is the immediate response to need. It may involve the simple act of giving someone a sandwich, a coat for the cold, or a mattress on which to sleep.

Release work sets people free from destructive habits, addictions, defeating behaviors, and stinking thinking--ultimately release from sin. Release work often has both an immediate component and a component that takes much longer.

Jesus understood what people around him needed. He understood their problems. Jesus addressed these problems in multiple ways. He told stories, made friends, healed, and fed. He spoke bluntly, gently, subversively, and compassionately. Humanity’s problems were uniquely addressed as Jesus met people’s needs, set them free from sin, and taught counter-intuitive principles for living God’s way.

Then He sent us, His followers, to do the same.

Cleaning a Toilet


They didn’t know what to do. The Graffiti outreach team was in a new neighborhood and wanted to reach their neighbors. Many were from different countries, and many were going through serious financial challenges.

A few team members asked their mission trip leader what they could do for the day. He took them to a local drug store where they bought cleaning supplies. They then trundled into a small grocery store across the street. The area was filled with local stores run by neighbors from far away countries. This owner was from the Middle East.

The group and their leader asked if they could clean the owner’s restroom for free. The owner waved them to the back of the store. Later he came to see what was going on. He thought the group had just asked to use the restroom. He couldn’t believe they were on their knees scrubbing the floor.

There were language barriers in talking to him, but with a little help from an Arabic translation app, the team was able to communicate they were followers of Jesus and simply wanted to bless the man and his business.

At first, the store owner looked angry. He did not understand. But then, a tear slid down his cheek. He suddenly embraced the mission leader and spoke in broken English, “We are brothers.” He led the group to the front of the store where they had a deep conversation about who Christ is and the differences in what they believed.

The store owner did not accept the Lord that day, but the team felt they had made more progress than if they had simply given the man a tract condemning his religion.

Now in that neighborhood, a new Graffiti church meets with new believers. In one of their outreach programs, they have 40 people on the waiting list—most from countries with few Christian witness.

God has so many ways to reach people, but one of the ways we use most in New York City is to meet the need first. The Bible says many things about God but summarizes it all in 1 John by saying God is love. And what is love? The Bible says love is patient and kind.

There are so many conflicting cultures and values in our present world. Isn’t it amazing how kindness seems to cross every culture? Sharing Christ doesn’t necessarily require a complicated evangelical strategy. It may start with a willingness to clean a neighbor’s toilet.