The Ministry of Being Present
by Joey Santos
This Christmas season was a little different for our family. It was marked by loss and sadness due to the passing of my 50-year-old brother, who lived with his wife in Indianapolis, Indiana. He went to be with the Lord on Sunday, December 22. All that day and the next we worked through the details that follow someone’s passing, which was a little complicated since I was the only family around, besides my brother’s wife, who requested that I take care of the arrangements for her. I remember going 41 hours without sleep, and all I could feel was sadness, exhaustion, and a bit of pressure between her and my parents who were dealing with this situation all the way back in Brazil.
It was late at night, December 23, and I felt fortunate to be able to drive back to Maineville, Ohio, to celebrate Christmas with my wife and our two boys. I spent Christmas Eve catching up on Christmas preparations at home, while in my mind I kept thinking through what had just happened with my brother. Late that afternoon I stopped by Christ’s Church to check in and to pick up a special gift we had put together to thank the staff at The Monkey Bar for all they had done for the Church at the Bar. Once at the bar, for the first time in days, I was all by myself, on a very unusual sunny 60-degree day in December. I went outside and asked if they would start one of the firepits for me, which they did. I wanted to relish a few minutes alone—to reflect, pray, read a book, and decompress from what had been a horrible start of the Christmas celebration for many of us.
I was extremely tired and being alone for a few uninterrupted moments sounded really good. But God had different plans for me.
Ten minutes into what I perceived as peace and quiet changed when a young couple decided to ask if it would be OK to share the firepit with me. I said yes, thinking that was all they wanted. Since I had AirPods on, I assumed it would give them a clue, but apparently it was not enough to stop them from wanting to chat. They started asking a few questions, so I respectfully removed the device from my ears and engaged in conversation with them. We talked about the unusual weather we were having and the history of The Monkey Bar.
Then I decided that if we were going to chat, I should get to know them better, so I asked them a few questions. Turns out, this couple had recently moved from Dallas, Texas. They had no family around and seemed hungry to get involved in some type of community. After an hour into the conversation they finally asked, “So, what do you do for a living?”
I responded, “Did you see the sign for ‘Church at the Bar’? I am the pastor.” That’s not what they expected to hear, but after an hour of conversation, they knew I was there just to get to know them. What was intended to be a quiet moment for me turned into three hours of ministry—on Christmas Eve! We talked about our church, opportunities for them to connect with others, how we are building community through CCLive, and more. And, God gently reminded me that this is why our church is here at The Monkey Bar. The couple committed to check out Church at the Bar.
On January 5, I was asked by the owners of The Monkey Bar if I would be willing to stop by around 5:00 pm to participate in a funeral service at the bar. I know, strange, right? They wanted a pastor present to provide some type of spiritual support if anyone asked. Two days prior I had led a service in Indianapolis celebrating the life of my brother, and this day was my first day back at the church since his passing. When I got the phone call, I was reminded of the encounter with that young couple from Dallas, so I immediately said, “Yes, I will be there.” I knew God had a reason for me to be there that evening, I just did not know what it was yet.
Once I arrived that evening, I saw a group of around 60 people gathered in one place to honor a man who had served his country and built his community of close friends at the bar. At one point, Mark Altemeier, the bar owner, said a few words and introduced me by saying, “This is Joey Santos, the pastor of Church at the Bar, and he is available if anyone would like to talk to him tonight.” The person in charge of the memorial approached me and asked if I would say a few words to everyone. Since I did not know his friend who passed away, I told him it would be more meaningful if he said some words instead of me, but he insisted, asking if I would be willing to share some words of hope and close with a prayer. I agreed to do so. He said a few words about his friend, and then told everyone that I would share some thoughts and say a prayer. It was an incredible opportunity. After the prayer, people were thankful that I participated in the memorial for their friend, and many of them, with tears in their eyes, spoke with me.
Just Show Up
I am absolutely amazed by what God is doing through The Monkey Bar and Church at the Bar. People are open to listen to what we have to share because we simply decided to show up. Every time we make our presence known in places where Christians would not typically go, we are telling people they matter and that we will meet them where they are.
By simply being present on these two occasions, I earned to right to share Jesus, and those with me were willing to listen. My challenge to you in this year is to be open and available to be used by God, wherever he may call you to go. You don’t need to worry about having all the right words to say. The ministry of presence speaks volumes, and I firmly believe God will give you the right words in each situation if you will commit to show up when he asks you to. There are opportunities before us all the time. Simply listen to the Holy Spirit when he calls you to go, and then obey.