Ministry of Presence with Matt Malyon
Gospel and Mission Series
by John Hall
“What is the Gospel?” is the Missions Fest 2018 theme. We’re asking that question now, as part of an ongoing journey of expanding our understanding of God, His Kingdom and our role in it. If you asked 10 people what the word Gospel means you would probably get 13 definitions. We commonly use the word to refer to books in the Bible, the atoning work of Christ, an evangelistic message, a style of music and more. We’ve found that it is often the commonly used terms that we have the hardest time defining. Thus, the colloquial use in our personal context becomes the primary way that we define the word, and Gospel is one of those words.
To challenge our thinking on the topic of Gospel we are posing a few questions to people who interact with the Gospel in some form every day. Our goal is to spur us on in our journey to become the missional community that the Church is called to be. We hope that you’ll enjoy hearing from these missional professionals.
Q. Who are you, and what ministry are you part of?
Greetings, friends. My name is Matt Malyon. I’m a Jail/Juvenile Detention Chaplain with Tierra Nueva in Burlington, WA, USA, and the founding Director of Underground Writing. Since 1994 Tierra Nueva (tierra-nueva.org) has worked with those impacted by immigration and incarceration. We go into jails and prisons, schools and shelters, to migrant camps, and into gang networks, to embrace those individuals and their families who feel thrown away by the world. We seek to embody the Good News in Jesus: that God adores and desires them. Our relationship-focused model of pastoral care, inner healing, and hands-on accompaniment through complex legal and societal barriers seeks to restore those we find in today’s deepest underground places to God, to themselves, to their families, and to their wider communities.
Q. What does the word “Gospel” mean to you?
The Gospel means good news. And I take this literally. It is the great comfort of the incarnation – God cared enough about us to take on flesh and dwell among us. God’s embodied interaction with us – through the presence of Christ, and through his life, death, and resurrection – evidenced God’s love, affirmed our humanity, and began the ongoing work of restoring of all things. This is not a merely retrospective condition, however. I say this because I think I unconsciously embraced that error for years. The dictionary states that presence is “the fact or condition of being present.” This gets at the core of the matter. It suggests to me the active and continuing nature of Christ’s presence with us. This is the good news-that God’s presence has an ongoing agency. And this means that things, be it cultural, political, or personal, can be challenged. It means that things can change. People and things can truly be transformed.
Q. How does the Gospel impact you?
I grew up understanding I was artistic and I grew up understanding that my being such within a Plymouth Brethren church context was an oddity, as was any sort of ornamentation and most beauty, embodiment, liturgy, art, etc. I mention this because I think the specific ways that we are created to be in the world – our giftings, let’s say – are given to us for a reason. And if we believe in the good news, if we believe that God through Christ and the Holy Spirit are still present and active, I think one of the reasons that gifts/particular traits are given to us is that they help us navigate life. From this angle, and something a mentor of mine pointed out, they are gifts first to us. They are good gifts, to be used for ourselves, and-importantly-to be shared with others. This is such a risk for God, I think, in that such gifts given can so easily overshadow the giver. And though this has often, admittedly, been the case for me, it has truly been these very things that have humbled me and brought me back to the good news, to my proper place as a creature, as well as a creator (with a lower case “c”).
The Gospel continues to shape my life in ways both obvious and subtle. I do the work I do because I believe in the Word and in words. They are connected. I do the work I do because I believe in people. I believe transformation is possible. I believe that the resurrection and restoration of lives is a metaphor that is also a reality.
Q. How are you (in your ministry) a reflection of the Gospel?
I’ve come to think of the work I do as a ministry of presence-in word, in deed, in love. This is true whether I’m leading a study in the jail, helping someone who’s just been released get a driver’s license, or reading and responding to a poem by Czeslaw Milosz in a writing workshop. Presence involves a commitment to being with the people we are serving, and doing so with attentive compassion and love. This year, I’ve been thinking more and more about the parable of the prodigal son, particularly the father as he waits out on the road for his son to return, and most specifically about his gaze. To me, that gaze may be the key to fully understanding the good news. In that gaze I get a sense of his love, anticipation, and forgiveness. I tell this story often inside the jail. I tell the men that the father’s gaze is turned toward them. The men always respond with a mixture of cautious wonder and relief. My goal is to fully understand and indwell that gaze, and to grow in my capacity to reflect it to others.
Missions Fest Vancouver is an organization dedicated to supporting the local church in their efforts to become more missional. Learn more at: missionsfestvancouver.ca