Over November 7-9, 2014, a few of us Young Adult Missionaries traveled to Denver, CO for Imagine What’s NEXT. Through music, messages, conversations, and fun, this UMC gathering gave college students, and folks from agencies and organizations, time and space to connect, worship, and consider opportunities for service and vocation.
On Saturday evening, we were issued the $5 Challenge. As we departed for dinner and evening worship downtown, the organizers gave each participant $5 cash. We were not to keep this, but to use it to make the biggest impact possible in downtown Denver. They gave a number of ideas like buying a package of socks to give away, treating someone to dinner, or buying a bus pass for someone. They encouraged us to take pictures of our experiences and post them on social media with the hashtag “#5challenge.”
As for the missionaries, the gears in our minds were spinning. Personally, I had just given a talk earlier in the day, and one of my points was an old standard at Church and Society: we often fail to make the distinction between acts of charity – temporary assistance for urgent needs – and justice – lasting transformation aimed at God’s Kingdom. God calls us to both through our lives of faith (Micah 6:8, Matt 23:23), but we often focus our ministries on charity. For us, the $5 Challenge was to think and act outside the box and do something a little closer to justice.
An idea budded and blossomed during break time: what if we bought sidewalk chalk and wrote messages of inspiration, encouragement, advocacy, and awareness on the streets of Denver? We ran with it. After dinner, we fortunately came upon an office supplies store 5 minutes before close (yes, we were those annoying customers). Six of us went in and spent $3 on 3 packs of chalk. We hit the streets.
Before our eyes, the results multiplied like fishes and loaves blessed by God. People read our notes as they walked by, some engaging us in conversation. Some people wanted to write words of wisdom and inspiration for themselves, so we gave them chalk to take with them on their own journeys. We tagged each of our notes “#NEXT14” so that socially-networked passers-by might go online and see what else we were up to at the conference.
I like to think that people’s lives were changed, even just a little, by our “street tweets” – that someone would know that Christians carry messages of hope as well as challenge – that another might grow in their awareness that all people are valuable and treasured – that yet another would come to realize we were created to be alive and vital. A few strategic and beautiful words, bathed in the power of the Spirit, have the power to transform lives forever.
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’ —Luke 19:39-40