The Scandal of Authority
"Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you."
September 26, 2014, Words By: Joel Van Dyke, Image By: "Mumbay Prostitute" by Salvatore Barbera (CC BY-SA 2.0)
At Street Psalms we embrace a particular perspective that invites us into a grace to see from below. We do theology from below, reading the Bible with the excluded and damned. We practice spirituality from below, together learning to see and celebrate good news in hard places. We share a spirituality of imperfection that delights in the Spirit’s dance among awkwardness and disarray.
A perspective like this often leads to profound, disorientating questions about authority.
In the Dominican Republic, Pastor Francis Montas and his wife, Loly, shepherd a church of young people – Casa Joven – that meets on Saturday nights in a converted Santo Domingo nightclub. They have been core members since the beginning of our Dominican Republic missional community, led by CTM Caribbean Director Mario Matos. Their work with street kids, incarcerated juvenile delinquents, and las chicas de Sarasota (prostitutes) serves as a prophetic wake-up call to many others in the Dominican church.
One Thursday night, Francis and Loly called a special prayer service because so many young people in their flock were having serious problems. They did not know what else to do in the face of such difficult circumstances. They met in a little house near one of Santo Domingo’s most infamous streets for prostitution – La Avenida Sarasota. Their prayers for one another seemed strained and blocked somehow in a way that they had not experienced before. They began to question their own authority related to their work as a church, and a prayerful attention began to shift to the young women working on the street outside of this prayer meeting. They began talking about the women and praying for them. Eventually they felt compelled to leave from where they were and spent the next several hours outside asking beautiful questions of the “Chicas de Sarasota.”
I had the chance to go out to the streets with Francis and Loly and their team seven weeks later, during which time they had not missed a Thursday night encounter with the girls.
We experienced a numbness-shattering picture of God’s scandalous grace in the strange world of evening call girls. Every sex worker we talked to lit up as the young women from the church called her by name and embraced each with bear hugs. The women on the street updated us on their week, shared stories about their children, and received prayer with eager anticipation – all the while completely ignoring potential clients who passed by.
We had just finished sharing and praying with a group of three sex workers when one of them, whom I will call Gloria, asked if she could pray for us. Needless to say, that was an inversion of roles I had not anticipated. We all joined hands on the sidewalk of Avenida Sarasota at 2:30 a.m., and I heard one of the most beautiful prayers of my life. When Gloria uttered her “amen,” a smile exploded onto her face. She sheepishly confessed that it was the first time she had ever prayed out loud. I pretended to cough while trying to wipe away tears. Gloria received more bear hugs from the ladies and an awkward handshake from me. She said that she planned to come to church that Saturday night where I was scheduled to preach.
I thought about her promise several times over the next several days, and on Saturday night, Gloria indeed came. When the service concluded, she received hug after hug from the young worshipers, including this guest preacher, whose awkward handshake on the street a few nights earlier would no longer suffice for Gloria. She approached me with arms opened wide and a smile erupting with joy. Authority remixed??
How blessed the church in Casa Joven has become, and how their vision and mission for their city has been recalibrated through their interaction with these young women! Casa Joven is living out the missional implications of questioned authority in which the outsiders “get it.” As a result they are encouraging many other “insiders” throughout Central America and the Caribbean to exchange hugs with the “outsiders” of their respective cities and neighborhoods. And in so doing, they are giving the question of “authority” a graced-filled facelift.
Joel Van Dyke
Street Psalms Director for Latin America
Guatemala City, Guatemala