The other day Marty invited some neighborhood kids over to help with a mailing she brought home from work. Before they got started, she sent 12-year-old Heather across the street to fetch 13-year-old Jasmine, who has been part of our fellowship from the very beginning. Heather returned a few minutes later, alone and puzzled.
"They were in there, but they wouldn't open the door" she told Marty. "Jasmine's mother said you need to call her."
You should know that Jasmine's parents, Jacob and Mariah, are good people who have had hard lives. They generally steer clear of our dinners, but I've gotten to know them pretty well just stopping by their house. They have been hurt in some awful ways, but they have worked hard to keep their family together. They have also supported their youngest daughter's friendships with all of us. Until now.
"Jasmine can't hang around with you people anymore," Mariah told Marty over the phone a few minutes later. "We know who you are."
Marty was confused. "Who are we?" she asked.
"You're reptiles," Mariah replied matter-of-factly. "You don't want to be reptiles, but you are."
Marty was even more confused. "What are you talking about, Mariah? Who told you this?"
"It is a Prophecy from the Most High," Mariah replied.
By now, Marty felt sick to her stomach. "Please, Mariah," she said, "I don't understand." She heard Mariah ask her older daughter Jade to explain, but Jade never came to the phone.
After Marty hung up, Heather and the other kids told her they weren't surprised. Evidently, they had been hearing strange things about us from Jasmine for a few days. Later that afternoon, I went across the street to talk to Jacob face to face, but he wouldn't even look at me. No wonder. Reptiles, it turns out, is his storefront church's euphemism for children of Satan.
If all of this seems bizarre or ridiculous to you, well, I can see why. But to me, to all of us here, it seems tragic as well. Suddenly, because some crazy storefront preacher has appointed himself as prophet, and because extraordinary suffering has made Jasmine's whole family somewhat paranoid in the first place, Jasmine herself has been cut off from a circle of friends who have done nothing but bless and support her.
We have been rejected before, of course, albeit in ways not quite so bizarre. Last year, when one of our favorite neighbors suddenly would no longer speak to us, it took me months to find out that her oldest daughter, the victim of a boyfriend's molestation, had demanded her mother have no relationship with any man, including me. Over and over again, people in this neighborhood who are starving for love and friendship draw close enough to us and one another that they can almost touch those things, only to push us away for reasons that don't always make sense. And it hurts, every time.
Of course, given who and where we are, I always expected us to deal with lots of rejection. After all, this is a hard place filled with hard people who have learned the hard way to beware of strangers. What I didn't expect, however, was that so many people would reject us long after we had proven our goodness to them. I should have, of course, being a student of Jesus.
I won't insult your intelligence by spelling it out, but I will say this much: God knows better than anyone how it feels to have someone take the full measure of your love and throw it back in your face, even when both of you know they're going to have a hell of a time trying to live without it.
Bart Campolo is a veteran urban minister and activist who speaks, writes, and blogs about grace, faith, loving relationships, and social justice. Bart is the leader of The Walnut Hills Fellowship in inner-city Cincinnati. He is also founder of Mission Year, which recruits committed young adults to live and work among the poor in inner-city neighborhoods across the U.S., and executive director of EAPE, which develops and supports innovative, cost-effective mission projects around the world.