Exiting the Wilderness
“I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.” He got right up and went home to his father. “When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him.” -Luke 15:18-20
I don't deserve to be here.
According to data and statistics, I should most likely be incarcerated, homeless, or deceased. I can remember so many times in my life when I was lost or felt so alone. I can recall the feelings of loneliness, solitude, and even the thoughts of suicide, as I drifted in my wilderness.
In truth, many of us should not be in the position we are in. Most of us have disregarded the teachings of our parents or loved ones only to find ourselves in a wilderness of some sort (a place of solitude). And while many of us have been blessed and fortunate enough to sojourn from our wilderness back to the place we call home, I believe it is pertinent we understand that everyone is not as fortunate to have a place where they can land.
That is the message of our parable. How is the church called to labor with people who have lost their way and have no place to return to?
In this particular text, we see a noble father laying down tradition by tearing off his robe, running to embrace his son and weeping. This is extremely countercultural for a father in this context to do something like this, even if he was excited to finally have his son home. And that is the lesson that God wants the church to understand. In order for the church to be effective with implementing social change, it must be ready to break protocol; defying societal norms and expectations to “run, embrace, and kiss” those who are lost and seeking a place they can call home.
Putting people first is at the heart of this parable. It is recognizing that God is in every single person on earth; recognizing that Black people, Brown people, LGBTQIA, incarcerated folks, folks without advanced degrees, refugees, etc. are all made in the image of God.
This is why I went to seminary. I was tired of seeing my students, fellow teachers, and community feeling like they had nowhere to land or return when they were in crisis. I answered the call -- while breaking protocol with ministerial expectations -- to teach communities of faith that making a difference will require us to adapt to what we have been taught.
This is the task of the Millennial Preacher, who must to be able to deliver biblical emphasis for why justice work (and specifically community development) is a cause the church is responsible to engage in. Working with this population of people requires trust, sensitivity, and passion; I have to be able to not just teach about systemic development and reform, but also actively live in my reform with my church community.
This is my reason for creating the program “The Landing Spot,” focused on bringing together people who are like the prodigal son in Luke, who are returning from prison, addiction, and other wildernesses and connecting them with community resources, financial literacy programs, job training, etc.
We need programs like “The Landing Spot” in order to bring about the type of transformation in the hearts and minds of communities, and connect our returning citizens to the resources that they need to lead successful lives.
This program will directly impact the spiritual, emotional, and financial needs of the men and women of low-income communities. The main goals of the program are to bring together churches, governmental agencies, and nonprofits for the purpose of directly addressing prison re-entry, homelessness, poverty, and employment.
I'll be the first to admit that these are lofty goals and dreams that may not very well come to pass. However, I’m not willing to give up on anyone in God's Kingdom simply because God did not give up on me. Just like the noble father, God ran to me to embrace me, kiss me, and clothe me. And because God did all of that, I would like to think the prodigal had a duty to do the same for another person.
This program will allow us as a church to change the way that we think and interact with wilderness folk, and more importantly, have strategic plans and support for people when they are finally ready to exit their wilderness. This is just one way that the church can be engaged and a force in social justice. This is the work that I am called to; showing churches and communities that God is madly in love with those people who are still wandering in the wilderness and teaching agencies that God requires us to work together to create a place where people can land after their time in the wilderness.
Darrin Lamont Sims Jr. was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. Growing up in such a racially divisive city had a large impact on the way Darrin saw social justice, even from a young age. He soon made the decision to attend Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where he double majored in Political Science and History. Upon graduation, Darrin realized his calling to serve in his community, as well as in other communities. He answered that call by serving as a teacher for Teach for America in Nashville and in St. Louis. Understanding the need for black male teachers, Darrin chose to be a beacon of light during the riots and turmoil that happened in Ferguson as a teacher in the community. Soon after, Darrin followed the Lord’s guidance to move to Atlanta, Georgia, and enter into Candler Divinity School at Emory University. Here, he was afforded an opportunity to study abroad in Haiti. It was this experience, as well as teaching during the Ferguson turmoil, that led him to see the power of God within marginalized communities. Since then, Darrin has devoted his work to social justice through the word of God. Darrin currently teaches, preaches, and organizes in Atlanta, supported by his beautiful wife Chauncey and their two children, Emmett and Zora.