Reaching People in Land of The Margins

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The new unreached people group in America is a land called The Margins. These are a people group that have grown up in a land that is vastly unfamiliar from the America I grew up in. The cultural norms for them is a world of violence, sexual exploitation, abandonment, rejection, addiction, poverty, racism, and the complete breakdown of the family structure. These cultural norms have produced behavior norms that often are seen in the American church as sin issues or character flaws. The church has reached out to the margins with a gospel that preaches that Jesus died on the cross for their sins and they, should they accept His payment for sin, can live without shame and guilt and be free from the bondage of a life of sin.

The problem with that gospel in land of The Margins is this: They do not see their behavior norms as sin. In fact, many of these behavior norms were adopted as a means of survival. In fact, without these learned behaviors, they would not be alive to talk about it. This presents a real problem for well-meaning Christ followers who dare to enter this strange land looking for “people of peace”. The concept comes from Luke 10 as Jesus is sending out the 72 disciples.

“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you”—Luke 10: 5–6

“Very simply, a Person of Peace is one who is prepared to hear the message of the kingdom and the King. He is ready to receive what God will give you to say at that moment. This should be our prayer as we venture forth each day. “Lord, bring into my path today a Person of Peace, and give me the grace to speak your words to this person.” One who is not a Person of Peace will not receive what you have to say. We are not to belabor the issue.” Excerpt From: Mike Breen. “Building a Discipling Culture.” iBooks.

It seems simple enough to go out to find those who are open to hearing us talk about who Jesus is and receive the gospel message. But the problems lie’s in translation. In the land of Margins if we present the gospel in the context of our own understanding of life without considering the language and the lifestyle of the culture of the person we are speaking to, we may hear rejection and move on when what may be actually communicated to us was confusion.

Some of the behavior norms that we see every day in the lives of our survivors of sex trafficking and even aged out foster care kids are as follows:

  1. Manipulation
  2. Stealing
  3. Fornication
  4. Verbal Abuse
  5. Disrespect of others Boundaries

These are not seen as sin or out of the ordinary in the land of The Margins. They simply are seen as real life. The realities of life in The Margins plays out in the following ways:

  1. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  2. Complex Trauma
  3. Inability to Trust Others
  4. Addiction to Drugs, Alcohol, Porn, Sex, Gaming etc.
  5. Gender Confusion

There is a reason I don’t bring a purse to mentor meetings. I expect that I am being lied to. I have not proved that I am trust worthy yet so I can’t expect truth. Naturally, if you have experienced nothing but abuse from men, you might gravitate towards women in relationships. And, if I experienced so much trauma and pain in life, perhaps surviving would depend on breaks from pain and masking it over with drugs and alcohol, too. The truth is, in my land, there are coping mechanisms as well. There are sins that I am more prone to minimize because they have become cultural. Keeping up with the Jones, frenetic busyness, gossip in the name of prayer concerns are just a few examples of sins I have often overlooked. The point is not to shame people here but to recognize their culture is different from mine.

When the church looks first to communicate freedom from sin and looks for behavioral changes (to make people look more like us), we have lost the ability demonstrate the heart of Jesus. The church becomes a relic of the past, unsympathetic, out of date and even harmful to the cause of the gospel.

I got an email from one of our survivors a few months back. I was overjoyed at what I read. She wrote about how her two mentors (we always work in two’s) were her guardian angels. They walked her through the transition out of forced prostitution while she was pregnant. She had already lost 3 babies to the state and decided that her life must change if she was going to be able to be a mom and raise this baby. Her mentors helped get her into housing, set up a nursery, helped her get a job and even threw her a baby shower. They faithfully visited her every week in addition to dozens of phone calls and text messages. They were there when her baby girl was born and helped her through the transition of getting home and healing from the birth.

I shared the beautiful note with her mentors and both of them were shocked at what I read. One mentor said, “But she doesn’t even like us!” Both mentors went on to explain that she often hung up on them and demanded help and ridiculed them when they would not comply. They frequently had to set boundaries around when she could call. She would skip or not show up for planned coffee dates. She never thanked them for their kindness but rather treated them like they owed her. They kept showing up, week after week and month after month on the slim chance that they were breaking through the tough exterior. Occasionally she would break down crying and share a random disconnected piece of her painful story. If they responded with compassion she quickly shut them down. They could tell that she wanted to trust…but couldn’t. There was nothing in her language or behavior that would have ever indicated anything along the lines that these two mentors were “guardian angels”.

It took two women (thankfully they could encourage each other to stay when one of them was simply ready to toss in the towel) to KEEP SHOWING UP. They had to learn what it meant to love someone who has no ability to respond to love. They had to rely on the fact that they heard from God that this woman was a person of peace regardless of her response.

When we train the faith based community to move to the margins it requires learning the native language and cultural practices. And the gospel message of “repent from your sins” does not work. Expectations of normal human decency do not work and reciprocal behavior is a pipe dream. We have learned that the gospel message of new life, new identity, and a sense of belonging to a family in place of rejection is where we see breakthrough. And this breakthrough comes partnered with actions that demonstrate “I’m not going away”. It is the same gospel message, the same Jesus, the same life change but the language is different.

We trust that besetting sins will be worked out in a love relationship with Jesus.

If I were to plant a church that was full of the people who have found new life in Christ through Priceless it would be a church full of former prostitutes, sex slaves, addicts to be sure. But, it would also be a church full of former Pharisees like myself. These are the people who have taken up a spot on the front line and watched God show up in crazy supernatural ways out desperation for Him to do so. Once they have seen the supernatural power of God in the land of The Margins they are ruined for the ordinary. They simply cannot return to passing out bulletins on Sunday morning or baking goods for the bake sale. They crave community because they want to be with others who can share their joy and their broken heart for those in The Margins. They won’t find satisfaction about chitty chatting about wall paper or boat engines anymore. They have learned…love. And true love WILL sacrifice and it won’t even feel like sacrifice. Only in this context do we even have a shot at making the wealthy, churched, half caf skinny latte drinking American desire moving to the land of The Margins and call it their home.

This post has been republished with the permission of Gwen Adams and was originally published on

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4 thoughts on “Reaching People in Land of The Margins”

    • Thanks Katrina. This post was written by Gwen Adams. She heads up Priceless, an NGO in Alaska helping victims of sex-trafficking. I know she’s been doing some amazing work in this area.

  1. Great Daz that you’re drawing attention to those one the margins whose culture is so different and that requires incarnational approaches to reach them for Christ

    • Chris, this post come from Gwen Adams. She’s doing some awesome work with victims of sex-trafficking in Alaska with Priceless. You’re absolutely that as we think about reaching those on the margins, we need to consider our approach as we highlight Jesus’ presence.


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