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I. Malik Saafir

The Rev. I. Malik Saafir.

Human Relations Day: Join in seeking justice

A UMNS Commentary By the Rev. I. Malik Saafir
3:00 P.M. Jan. 17, 2013 | LITTLE ROCK, Ark.

"What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" - Micah 6:8b, NRSV

God calls us to do justice wherever we are. At Theressa Hoover United Methodist Church in Little Rock, justice comes in the form of mental, emotional, physical and spiritual healing through outreach programs, especially for individuals grappling with addiction.

During our Recovery Summit in September 2012, we challenged other congregations to take the risk - to reach, touch and restore lives. We urged participants to free people from the power of addictions, the pain of abuse and the effects of personal wounds and losses. We believe God calls us to life-changing, radical ministry.

Theressa Hoover United Methodist Church started a unique partnership with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries in 1981. My predecessors founded Black Community Developers Inc. to heal the lives of children, youth and families wounded by social inequalities based on race, class, gender, sex, sexuality and age. For more than three decades, we've sought to be a church engaged in mission.

Since its inception, Black Community Developers has risked providing outpatient services and residential treatment for individuals recovering from substance abuse, as well as programs in HIV/AIDS prevention, job training, permanent and supportive housing and youth intervention. In 2010, we kept the acronym but changed the name to Better Community Development Inc. to reflect the inclusive nature of our mission, vision and outreach programs.

A radically inclusive and progressive congregation, Theressa Hoover forged a partnership with Better Community Development based on the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). In this parable, a priest, a Levite and a Samaritan see a man stripped, beaten and left half-dead on the side of the road. The priest and the Levite ignore the man and pass by on the other side. The Samaritan sees the man, dares to risk and provides the resources needed for him to recover fully.

Which road will we choose?

This parable calls the church to travel the dangerous road of social justice - to meet the poor, the disadvantaged and the underserved at the places where others have robbed them and help them to recover from the wounds of social inequality.

In his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. distinguished between the risk not taken by the priest and the Levite and the risk taken by the Samaritan. The priest and the Levite raised the question, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" The Samaritan, on the other hand, asked, "If I don't stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"

These two questions are ever before The United Methodist Church. They challenge us daily, and God calls us to respond.

Will those on the side of the road know us as the church that passed by on the other side? Or will they know us as the church that provides outreach programs and that takes the risk to heal their wounds?

Human Relations Day is an opportunity for United Methodists to share in seeking justice for our neighbors. On this day, congregations are given the unique opportunity to join with individuals, groups, businesses, community organizations and residents to heal the wounds of social inequality. The special offering supports neighborhood ministries, community advocacy and work with at-risk youth.

Human Relations Day encourages us to be the hands and feet of Jesus and to stay on the side of those whom others choose to forget.

*Saafir is senior pastor of Theressa Hoover United Methodist Church, Little Rock, Ark.

News media contact: Barbara Dunlap-Berg, Nashville, Tenn. (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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