Encounters

Esther Stansfield, Head of Mobilisation

Have you ever had an encounter with someone that changed you?

When I, Esther, and my husband Ben first arrived in Honduras to begin a two-year volunteer placement, we met a lady called Sonia. On hearing that we had nowhere to live (as our accommodation had fallen through) she instantly, without hesitation, invited us to move in with her family and stay for as long as we needed. We lived with her for two months and truly felt like part of her family. It was so evident to see how her daily encounters with Jesus filled her with compassion in her daily encounters with people. Her huge heart for hospitality has left a lasting impression on me, and still inspires and challenges me to extend the same welcome to those I meet.

In a world of increasingly digitalised interactions and obsessions with the number of followers, likes or re-tweets, Jesus’ investment in one-to-one encounters is striking. Quality over quantity, depth over shallowness, up close over distant. Jesus steps into the lives of those who others have stepped away from.

One such person, portrayed in John 4:1-42, is the woman at the well.

In the unventured space of Samaria, after crossing political, religious, social, and cultural boundaries, Jesus steps into the place where people gathered to share news and connect as a community – the well. There, he steps into the story of this women, a misfit shunned for having many husbands and living with one she isn’t married to; a Samaritan, hated and rejected by the Jews.

Why did Jesus do this?

Jesus connects her story with the big story of salvation; a story in which HE is the messiah rescuer she has been waiting for, declaring “I, the one speaking to you – am he” (John 4:26).

This encounter changes everything. The woman recognises Jesus for who he is, and in doing so recognises who she now is in Him. Her understanding of her part in God’s big story of salvation allows her to see everything anew.

First, she drops her water jar. Drops the very thing she has clung to, relied on for her survival. Next, she runs back to the village, back to those she was avoiding a few hours earlier, those who had judged and rejected her. No longer relying on things that wouldn’t satisfy, but getting refreshed by the ‘living water’ itself; being turned around and set off in a new direction.

For this woman, this ‘living water’ bubbles up inside her newly cleansed heart, overflowing to those in her community who she invites to come and listen “to the one who told me everything I ever did.” Jesus stays in their community for two whole days, connecting their story with His big story of salvation until all profess, “We know now that this man is the savior of the world” (John 4:42).

This woman’s encounter with Jesus is life-changing, not only for her but also for her community and for the nations! It compels and propels her to follow His example and step into the story of other lost and lonely people, in unventured spaces, crossing cultural boundaries to share His big story of salvation as a missionary to North Africa.

How does Jesus want us to be changed by our encounter with Him today?

Jesus wants our encounter with him to have a similar impact – helping us let go of what we’ve previously clung to, and be set off in a new direction. Jesus wants to step into our story, so that we can step into His; His story of good news to a world thirsty for hope and belonging and love and forgiveness and purpose. He wants us to see the part we are to play in his history-spanning story of salvation.

Latin Link is a community with a calling to step, as Jesus did, into the unventured spaces to help connect people’s stories with God’s salvation story.

On a daily basis, one-to-one encounters are taking place all over Latin America. These encounters are horizon-shifting, faith-fueling, life-changing.

Cesia Pascual, Latin Link member in Guatemala, shared this week about her call to step into the local women’s prison, to share God’s love with women who are often shunned by society, as part of the ‘Corazones Conectadas’ (Connected Hearts) ministry. Through counselling, discipleship and meeting practical needs, the ministry is transforming lives.

“It’s amazing to see how God can transform these women in beautiful ways,” Cesia says. “Although many people don’t want to step into a prison, we continue to work with them, showing them that God cares for them and they are valued.”

Cesia and the team have been able to carry on serving the women via Zoom during the Covid season of restrictions.

They’ve been able to share videos, books, Bible studies and run discipleship courses. “We now call each other sisters – for that is what we are with these women in the prison – whatever our background we can be connected through God’s love.”

Dan and Katherine Hollands recently returned from a Stride placement in Colombia (click the link below to view video interview). They shared with us recently how God opened doors for them to serve through an unexpected encounter with a circus community!

Just as lockdown was announced, a travelling circus got stuck in their area and had to pitch up on a green nearby. The couple prayed and felt they should take the step to connect with them in some way, and so they introduced themselves and began to get to know the circus folk. This unexpected encounter led to opportunities for them to build relationships with and serve the circus community - making food for them, leading church services for them, letting their kids lead crafts with the other children and, in their words, become like an extended family!

Despite all of the travel restrictions, we are thankful that Latin Link can still facilitate people stepping out in faith to step into the stories of those who God is calling them to encounter.

Who could God be calling you to encounter today – to connect their story with God’s big story of salvation?

Reflection
  • The encounter with Jesus changes everything for this woman at the well. What has it changed for us?
  • Which water jars – the things we rely on for our own security – might God be asking us to drop?
  • How can we support or join those who are stepping into the unventured spaces around the world today?

Prayer

Thank you, Lord, that you are the God who steps into our world, and into our story. Thank you that you invite us to step into your big story to share your love and compassion with a world that is hungry for it. Lord, show us today who you are calling us to encounter. Help us to drop the water jars which we are relying on instead of you. Use us to bring hope to those who need it most today. Amen.