When I first heard that the theme for this month’s Faith+Lead blog posts was “The Good Life,” I wondered, “What exactly does that mean?” I often hear people throwing that phrase around, but I think it means something different to all of us. On my personal blog where I help couples with their money, I help them connect their money and their values to create a more “fulfilling life” together. Is “the good life” the same as “a fulfilling life”? I wasn’t sure.
I appreciate this definition from Leon Ho, Founder & CEO of Lifehacker: “A good life can be described as a life that is self-satisfying and self-fulfilling. It is characterized by personal joy, fulfillment, and enjoyment of the small pleasures of life. When someone says their life is good, it means that they can access the basic things that give them comfort and pleasure.” However, as people of faith we know there is more to it than just creating a good life for myself, it’s also about helping others find the good life too and pointing them to the author of that good life in the process.
As I reflected on the good life, I couldn’t help but recall my interview this past spring with Martha and Antoine Duran, pastors of La Viña Inver, a Spanish-speaking congregation in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota. I was immediately struck by the way they tend to the holistic well-being of those they serve, particularly those who are new to this country. Yes, they are ministers of the gospel, but they know that in order to share God’s word with someone there are often material needs that must be tended to first.
They have had countless people come to their congregation who have just arrived in this country with no possessions, relationships, or material support. For instance, three immigrant families walked from West St. Paul to Inver Grove Heights (nearly 5 miles!) on a cold Sunday morning. They didn’t own anything – no car, no jackets, no furniture – and were sharing a one-bedroom apartment. They came because they saw La Viña Inver on Facebook Live and thought the church could help them.
Pastors Martha and Antoine were eager to tend to the needs of those who showed up at their door, but also became overwhelmed by all of the people who needed help. They shared their concern with Pastor Pete Benedict, one of the pastors at River Heights Vineyard Church who helped to start La Viña Inver by providing start-up funding, support, and space. Pastor Pete connected Pastors Matha and Antoine with World Relief and Arrive who helped the people at La Viña Inver to get the support they needed, and he invited his congregation to support them as well. After he shared the story of the three families, he invited his congregation members to take pictures of things they would like to donate. They were quickly inundated with too many pictures to review and manage. Eventually they decided to err toward offering gift cards to Aldi or Walmart so that the families could have the freedom to choose what they needed. Opportunities like this have only served to strengthen the partnership between the two congregations. As Pastor Pete shared, “Giving us a chance to be part of what they are doing is [a] gift … the people [in my congregation] feel so grateful for the opportunity to do something genuinely helpful in a setting that they trust.”
However, as Pastors Martha and Antoine shared with me in our interview, tending to the material needs of the people they serve is only part of the story. They realized many of the people they serve were in need of reconciliation, education, and emotional healing. As they shared, “Our main point is to make some kind of reconciliation with God and between people … because we receive people that are broken in relationship with people and with God. If you study superficially our background [as Latinos]: ‘If you are here [in the U.S] it is because you need more money and because your heart is easy to to separate from others.’ So you need emotional healing. You need to learn how to live in this new culture as a Latino.” For them, Sunday morning worship is just one small piece of their ministry. As the pastors shared with me, “[The people we serve] do not speak English. They do not know what to do here in this new culture … they don’t know how to raise their kids … how to pay taxes … how to manage money … so we try to help them.” They provide financial education, parenting meetings, marriage courses, and more. Their congregation becomes a new home for those who left everything and everyone to find a new life in America. It becomes a place where they experience Jesus and find healing in their lives and relationships. They are helping those they serve to craft a good and fulfilling life in Jesus’ name, helping them to experience the abundant life God has promised not just on Sunday morning but all throughout the week.
Too often “the good life” becomes about good for me at the expense of everyone else. One of the things that stayed with me from my conversations with both River Heights Vineyard and La Viña Inver was the way in which their partnership is expanding the worldview of both communities and offering opportunities for relationships across language and culture. The two congregations meet the same time on Sunday morning- one in English and one in Spanish. The adults meet separately for worship, and the children and youth from both congregations meet together. This bilingual ministry started because the congregations didn’t have the space, staff, or volunteers to create separate offerings in Spanish and English.
As River Heights Vineyard’s Kids & Youth Pastor, Becca Buntjer, put it in the interview: “Well, our kids are doing this in school. A lot of our kids don’t have just segregated classrooms … they are together. And if they can do this in public school, then we can do this here. And we can do it really well. And I think it’s grown into something that– it just represents to me the final kingdom, the kingdom of God, when there are all these races and tribes and kingdoms together, worshiping together and celebrated and not asked to conform or be apart to make things easy. So I think it started out of necessity, and it’s grown into something that I feel is pretty beautiful.”
What began with putting up Powerpoint slides of the words to worship songs in English and Spanish has expanded to incorporating bilingual songs, creating separate circles to read the Bible stories together in Spanish and English, and expanding the leadership team to reflect the cultural diversity of the children and youth involved in the ministry. What a wonderful opportunity for both the Spanish and English-speaking children to widen their perspectives, learn a new language, and listen deeply to one another’s experiences as they grow in faith together.