|Imagine for a moment what Minnesota would be like if people were transformed by the love of Jesus and experienced the full blessing of God. If God’s peace, God’s love and God’s justice were unleashed in Minnesota, how would life be different?
When I think about this question, I envision things like crime being decreased, single mothers having help raising their kids and men becoming responsible fathers, that the homeless would be cared for, that marriages would be stronger and families would stay together.
I also think of closing the education gap between students of color and white students, and ending human trafficking in Minnesota (the Twin Cities is one of the top 10 worst cities for human trafficking in the U.S.).
As a follower of Jesus, I want to see that changed.
God’s intent, as revealed in the Bible, is to use the church and the followers of Jesus to overcome evil and bring peace and restoration to the earth. The Bible also tells us that in order to carry out this plan, it is essential that Christians work together, just like a healthy body.
But restoration begins with Jesus rescuing us.
In Ephesians 2, we learn that before Jesus reunites us to God, we lived self-centered, selfish lives, caught up in pursuing our own desires. When we and everyone else lives like that, societies break down, the vulnerable are overrun and evil takes over.
But God rescues us through Christ, and we become “God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works ….” As God restores us, He re-creates us to be an agent of His goodness in the earth. In fact, He has created and gifted each of us for specific purposes.
“Christianity Today” magazine recently did a feature story about Christians in Portland, Oregon, working together to combat the sex trade in that city. The city of Portland is known for its green parks, bike lanes and its music culture. Some people even thought of Portland as “America’s model city.”
But Portland had another distinction that people weren’t proud of. It had a major sex trafficking problem, especially with under-age girls.
But there were also individual Christians working in different places to change this. They were called “Portland’s Quiet Abolitionists.”
Sergeant Mike Geiger was a police officer who headed up Portland’s trafficking unit that works to rescue women out of prostitution. Esther Nelson was a 29-year-old program manager of a sexual assault resource center. The Rev. Rick McKinley was pastor of Imago Dei Community Church and wanted to fight the trafficking but didn’t know how.
Shoshone Tama-Sweet and his wife were going to be missionaries in Africa but ended up moving from Los Angeles to Portland to reach the youth culture, and that’s when they discovered the sex trafficking problem.
These Christians were all trying to do their part to overcome this evil. But none of them could change the situation by themselves.
Ephesians gives us the image of a human body as a way of understanding how Christians should be connected to each other, each doing the important good things we are supposed to be doing, so that all together we become a strong, complex, interwoven movement that is able to carry out God’s plan to bring peace to the world around us.
In the city of Portland, these four Christians began to connect with each other and mobilize thousands of other Christians—and people of good will—to combat sex trafficking.
Tama-Sweet, who had trained to be a missionary, became the leader of the Oregon Center for Christian Voices and, with the support from a huge network of Christians, has helped change legislation in Oregon that had previously made trafficking too permissible.
Nelson and Geiger started collaboration between the police department and resource center to help underage victims. They recently received a $500,000 federal grant to support their work.
When McKinley met Nelson and Geiger, he mobilized all the Christian artists in his church to create a media campaign. Today there are creative billboards, posters and art displays throughout Portland to combat sex trafficking.
The same is happening in Minnesota. In north Minneapolis, churches and faith-based community development organizations have forged new partnerships to rebuild homes and assist families since the May 22, 2011 tornado.
Ministries serving ex-offenders have come together in the R3 Collaborative, linking dozens of Christian services to create a “circle of success” to surround people leaving prison and ensure that they begin a new life.
In St. Paul, a group of praying pastors has joined together as Mission: St. Paul to pray for their neighborhoods, meet and get to know other nearby pastors and collectively bless their city.
Recently, 11 churches in Minneapolis have come together as Mission: Northeast MPLS.
It takes care, discipline and exercise to keep our human body healthy. The same is true for the Christian body.
Encourage your pastor to invest time in relationship with other pastors. Give them the freedom to invest time in ministry beyond that of your own church. And thank them for supporting networks like Transform Minnesota, local prayer groups and their denomination.
Working together like a strong, healthy body, the Church can transform Minnesota, just as God intends.
Carl Nelson is president and CEO of Transform Minnesota, formerly the Greater Minnesota Association of Evangelicals.