Before ascending into heaven in Acts 1, Jesus had some very specific words for The Way at verse 8, "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." This is instruction we have largely taken very seriously. We are active participants in our Jerusalem- the communities where we've chosen to live. We are involved in local churches and the wider community. We do not forsake the gathering of ourselves together whether in worship services, small groups, or intimate gathering of friends. We volunteer. We run for local office. We attend school games. We shop locally. We make sure our communities are safe, healthy, strong. We also have gone to the ends of the earth. We raise the funds for missions trips. We save up to go to conferences. We explore when out of the country for business. We make the world more than a little paint on a globe, we make it real, close. We are in Jerusalem. We travelled the world, but what about Samaria?
Are you skipping Samaria?
You have been to many of our 7 continents. Some lands you've travelled to multiple years in a row. You have fallen in love with various cultures in places where you stick out like a sore thumb. You enjoy the food, the lifestyle, the learning, the people. But you travel over highways to avoid driving through the poor communities right here. You lock the doors to make sure you keep its elements out. You have been in dangerous communities around the world, but did you skip Samaria?
You have lived in multiple countries, as a student and as an adult. You went there full of excitement. You were a listener and learner. You sought out mentors, teachers, and friends who would be willing to show you the ropes, explore the beauty, find the treasures. Yet, poor communities in your own backyard are shunned, ignored, visited only when in need of help, service, missions. The world has become a place of learning, but have you skipped Samaria?
You have lots of pictures of small dark children with dirty faces in far away lands on your desk, but are there any people of color in your wedding pictures? your family pictures? your Facebook pictures? your church pictures? Do you know children of color, but somehow missed developing relationships with peers of color? You have travelled the world and found people to love, but did you skip Samaria?
Samaria is the place that has been historically rejected. It is the place full of "those" people- the ones who are unclean and impure. Samaria is filled with people who worship a little differently than you. It is the place that is unfamiliar, not because it's separated by an ocean but instead a highway, railroad tracks, or bridge. Samaria is the place you heard about growing up- the place you never want to go, where you don't belong, and no matter how 'low' you go- you never have to worry about ending up there. Samaria is the place that falls lower in our hierarchy of good and bad places to live. In America, Samaria is usually defined by class and/or race. If the door was closed, just me and you, you could tell me where Samaria is in your small part of the country.
Its true that Samaria is not a perfect place. Its vices are not well hidden nor well contained. But Samaria is more than the sum of its vices. Samaria is historical. It did not pop-up out of nowhere. Its community members didn't take a vote and decide only the poor and just one race are allowed. Poor communities around the world have a story and so does Samaria. It is rich with the stories of who we are as a people- a whole people who chose division. There are stores of pain, deception, violence but also of triumph, movements, and beauty.
Samaria is filled with real people, young and old, hopeful and tired, brilliant, educated and uneducated. It is filled with people who have dreams and those whose dreams have long died. It is filled with people who laugh and cry. It is filled with people who worship and seek spiritual guidance- some just as you do, and others very differently. It is filled with real people.
Samaria has an expertise all its own. It is not culture-less. It has a language, a being, s sense of self, an identity. It claims its space in the world. It has dance and music, language and clothes, hobbies and pastimes. It has a way of communicating, of celebrating, of mourning. It lives, moves, breathes. Samaria has something to teach the world, if the world would only listen.
God is in Samaria, at the margins, with people, and we can be a witness of all of this, if we would stop skipping Samaria.