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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, liars, thieves, and prostituted women, accepting them, loving them, and 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. A few years ago, a woman who had heard of Maria’s ministry invited her to come and start a church in her village. “I did not know what type of people would come,” Maria remembers. As it turns out, most of them were pimps and prostituted women. But Maria 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,” she says. 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, individuals who got involved in this life because it was a way to feed their children. “Those are broken people, but we are all broken in some ways,” Maria says. “I

think the whole idea is to look at those people as human beings and to treat them as human beings.” So Maria started a church plant with pimps and women who were prostituted. Between six and ten adults and several children began to meet as a congregation once a week. And while the services overall are “fairly normal,” Maria has had some contextualizing to do.

showing His love to us.” Her patience is paying off. While the men 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,” Maria says. Maria’s simple, honest ministry is having other effects as well. At least one man and woman have spoken to Maria about “leaving the business,” and she is helping them find a new means of income. Compassion is “just a way of living,” Maria says, “accepting everyone, no matter what the differences in background or social status. It’s walking through the difficult times with them.” Doing as Jesus did? Maria knows what that means. “We need to show them grace, the same grace that God showed to us,” she says. “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.” n *Her name has been changed for security reasons.

“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, [and] what the word love means. And everything is in light of the Bible and the way God is

A version of this story first appeared in Engage Magazine at engagemagazine.com.

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NCM Magazine/Summer 2016