UM News Service recently published a piece on Billie Jean Baker, the recipient of a Harry Denman Evangelism Award from the North Texas Conference. Baker has worked with Oak Lawn United Methodist Church and its associated coffeehouse, Union, to strengthen their outreach to homeless individuals. Baker is formerly homeless herself and has survived a host of other challenges in her life, including sexual abuse, being placed in foster care, dropping out of high school, alcohol and drug abuse, prostitution, divorce, chronic illness, and alienation from some of her children.
I love Baker's story because it so well illustrates two important things about God's call to mission:
First, Baker is an excellent example of mission from the margins. Mainstream society might overlook Baker because of the host of challenges in her past, but God did not. God called Baker to important work, work that Baker was able to do not despite her background but because of it. Because she had experienced homelessness herself, she could connect with other homeless individuals in a way that housed people could not. We should not condone society's marginalization of Baker or others, but we should recognize and celebrate the ways in which God is able to work through those on the margins.
Second, Baker is another example of how often God calls people to significant second acts in their lives. Even for Abram, God didn't call until him until he was 75 years old. While there are certainly many biblical, historical, and contemporary examples of God calling the young, there are also many biblical, historical, and contemporary examples of God calling people to new forms of service at later stages of life, service that goes far beyond what their lives up to that point might have suggested. In Wesleyan terms, God's grace is never done with us. And that is good news indeed.