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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

"The Weight of Mercy" (Deb Richardson-Moore)

TITLE: The Weight of Mercy: A Novice Pastor on the City Streets
AUTHOR: Deb Richardson-Moore
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Monarch Books, 2012, (288 pages).

From a journalist to a Baptist pastor, from a world of male-dominated clergy environment to an inner city Church, the author gives readers an inner look into the struggles and the overcoming of these struggles in a tough rundown environment. With addiction as the number 1 enemy in the neighbourhood, Pastor Deb and her team minister together against all odds. Deb writes about her earnest efforts to try to minister to as many people of all kinds of problems in the streets. Her team runs the soup kitchen and collects items to be given away to the needy. She preaches sermons to reach a wide age group. From 88 year old, and middle class people, to young 10th graders, to a congregation that comprises of many homeless, and down and out individuals in society. She learns the hard way the consequences of not following the advice of her predecessors, "No money; no cigarettes; no rides." The authority and respect given her as a pastor, often evaporates when the tough circumstances arrive. Like how she deals with defiant staff members like T.C and Butch. She even had to make the painful decision of terminating the services of Butch who had gotten into drugs. She experience first hand that while the healthy finds inner city streets terrible, the sick and the injured will find them "nightmarish." Problems abound even for a church that tries to help these people. One of them is the way the recipients of gifts, take the very things and gladly exchange them for money to feed their addictions! The ministry is wide-ranging. The Church ministry does not only provide food and grocery items. They distribute fuel like kerosene for cooking, candles, clothes, children's crayons too! Thanksgiving proves to be one of the most demanding days of the calendar, with Deb not only needing to help feed the many homeless and hungry, the ministry needs to manage the many volunteers wanting to help. She lets her ministry informs her preaching, and her sermon informed by the Word of God. After her ordination, he grows in confidence.

Deb too has to struggle with the fact of her as a woman pastor. On several occasions, she has to swallow the bitter pill of discrimination from both the clerical front as well as some congregational expectations. This is where the "weight of mercy" lifts her above self-pity or regret, toward doing something about it for the sake of Christ's love. Through Truine Mercy Center in Greenville, SC, Deb switches back and forth between ministering the word and ministering mercy to the needy. She tries hard to meet both physical and emotional needs as well as spiritual needs. She has her idealism constantly challenged by the realities of life. Even her own staff proves to be challenging too. If helping people with their basic needs only extends their own selves to do more crack, is it a worthwhile endeavor? What if instead of helping them, they are harming them? Is it right to be spending $2 million on a building infrastructure instead of direct tangible help? These questions constantly demand answers.

Despite the tough environment and the frequent bouts of discouragement, there are many positive signs too. Such as when she sees how one crack addict by the name of Quinn administers band-aid to the hurting. Then there are loving friends who affirms her even as she ventures into the hard task of ministry to the alcoholics and the drug addicts. With delicate details of the many different encounters of addiction, the author has given readers an inner look into the reality of ministry among addicts.

My Thoughts

I am amazed at how the three big impediments to ministry are so powerfully overcome by one individual. Firstly, Deb Richardson-Moore has to overcome the stigma of serving as a woman pastor in an often male-dominated ministry. At various occasions, it can be disappointing, even disgusting, just to see how the hiring denomination crumbles the resume of prospective ministers on the basis of gender. Yet, Deb overcomes with grace. Secondly, qualification and ordination is not the same as real-time experience. Being a novice, Deb has to learn many things on the fly. Like how to manage her strange group of staff members, working with the authorities above, and to weave her experience in the ministry with the Word of God each time she preaches. Thirdly, the ministry itself is downright discouraging, with questions constantly being asked, as to whether the help is truly helping the hurt and the injured. With little positive results, the ministry is downright discouraging. Before long, she too suffers bouts of despair, dealing with transient people who comes and goes. She can only cling on to the hope that even if in the short term, the addicts are not going to quit their habits, in the long run, they will remember the love enough to turn over a new leaf and make a positive change for their own lives. She understands too that not everyone they help WANTS to be helped. Not every person they serve will eventually be saved. Not every good intention ends up in the right direction.

I am amazed at the strength and fortitude of the author, how she lets the love of God shines through her in words and in works. While this book has opened my eyes to see the dangers of addictions, and the uphill task of sharing Christ's love to people who are not easily likable, it has also opened by eyes to see how I myself am able to respond if placed in Deb's same shoes. Will I give up quickly? Will I start to question God? Will I start to dismiss away people who simply refuse to do something constructive for themselves? The more I think of it, the more I believe that ministry in such challenging areas is not for everyone. It is a calling. Deb has that calling, and in sharing her stories in this book, maybe, it will be a match to light up those of us, whose hearts are just beginning to warm up, whose candles are closer to catching the flame of love, the fire of dedication. May this book light the way and to reveal more people who has this calling, but is waiting for the timing.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5


This book is provided to me free by Kregel Publications and Monarch Books without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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