Q & A with Eric Bryant

Eric Bryant serves as an elder, speaker and navigator overseeing the leadership team at Mosaic in Los Angeles.

Eric Bryant serves as an elder, speaker and navigator overseeing the leadership team at Mosaic in Los Angeles. Starting as a volunteer in the parking lot at Mosaic, Eric later worked with students and then helped catalyze new venues across the city. Eric is one of the co-authors of The Uprising Experience with Erwin McManus and Eric’s book, Peppermint-Filled Piñatas: Breaking Through Tolerance and Embracing Love, was published with Zondervan in June 2007.

Eric, why does God care for the poor? And why should the Church care for the poor?

From the beginning of His efforts to change the world, Jesus set His sights on serving those on the outside of society: the poor, the disabled, the oppressed, the forgotten, the untouchables. Jesus calls all of those who follow Him to do the same. When we run to God, He sends us out! As the church, we represent Jesus to the world around us. In fact, Jesus’ invitation was not for what we could get, but what we could give to the world around us.

Why have you dedicated your time to work in the inner-city?

Los Angeles is considered by some to be the first Third World city in the Western World. The history of our city and cities around the world includes stories of millions of people who are lonely, depressed and hurting. If we can make a difference in a socio-economically, ethnically and religiously diverse city like L.A., we can change the world! So many entrepreneurial, creative, and compassionate people are recalibrating their lives to start new businesses, non-profit organizations and churches to help meet the physical and the spiritual needs of those around us, working to help the situation and the person change. Ironically, Jesus promised that as we lose our lives in serving others, that is when we actually find our lives!

How has your faith compelled you to act on behalf of the poor and marginalized in ways that may have been initially uncomfortable for you? How did you know when you were practicing good discernment in avoiding a potentially dangerous situation in an urban area, and when you were just plain scared?

Los Angeles is a city of contradiction. Even though my family and I live in the middle of Los Angeles county and have served with at-risk teenagers in East Los Angeles, we couldn’t imagine living and serving anywhere else! Many people others would consider “dangerous,” we consider our friends. Too often we allow our fears or stereotypes to keep us from genuine friendship. We have had some scary moments. I have been ripped off and have probably been in places I shouldn’t have been, but the more we get to know a neighborhood or a part of our city the more confident we can be in knowing how to serve. Since our church, Mosaic, meets weekly in downtown, just blocks from Skid Row, we have had difficult moments with broken people who have been affected by tragedy and are under the influence of drugs, but we have also seen remarkable transformation partnering with those in our community who are experts in helping those who are homeless get the help they need.

To your knowledge, what are some ways that Christians are authentically addressing the needs of urban America?

The needs of those in the city are so numerous, we have discovered the best way to make the most difference remains partnership with others who are trained and passionate about different situations and people. We have people in our community that work in the public schools, in homeless shelters, as social workers, or in non-profit or government agencies. They are paid by their employers to serve people with tremendous needs! At Mosaic, we strive to mobilize people into long-term relationships with others in serving others through Serve LA, Awaken Humanity, small groups, ministries, or just as families on their own.

For those not living in the inner-city, what advice do you have for those who are still itching to be more justice-oriented in their daily life?

First of all, it is important to realize that injustices take place all the time – even in more affluent places. Helping people overcome addiction to pornography or alcohol, creating space in our churches or ministries for people who are not yet followers of Jesus, or even getting to know the neighbors or co-workers who have emigrated from different parts of the world are all great ways of bringing justice in places other than the inner-city. There are people in our suburbs who have genuine needs.

Second, I would survey your church and your community to discover what some of the needs may be. Third, I would find all the people who want to put their faith into action and start serving. Short-term trips into the city or into other parts of the world can be a great way to open the eyes of others, but we should also make serving others a priority especially where we live. Finally, we need to create a community in which people belong before they have to believe. Even in cities with millions of people all around, men and women go through their day without one meaningful interaction or even human touch. Creating genuine community allows us to discover and meet real needs of people who become our friends.

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When people’s faith wavers in the face of poverty and other human tragedies, how do you address that? How has your own personal faith grown or changed in the face of intense poverty and pain?

Although there are people in Los Angeles who are struggling tremendously, we don’t know intense poverty and pain like the untouchables do in India or the children orphaned and living on the streets of Zambia or Brazil. When encountering people with needs beyond comprehension, we have to remember that we can be part of the solution. We may not need be able to meet the needs of everyone we encounter, but if we can mobilize others to join us in meeting needs and even partnering with other churches, non-profit organizations, companies, and governments we can build momentum towards significant progress. Rather than being overwhelmed or even distraught by the needs around us, we can know that God cares for these men, women, and children. He cares for them so much he made us aware of their plight. I have personally never experienced intense poverty or pain, and I know that for those of us who have been given much, much is expected (Luke 12:48). We have been blessed by God to be a blessing to others (Gen. 12:1-3).

How do you fulfill Isaiah 61 and Luke 4 in preaching good news to the poor, binding up the brokenhearted, and setting the captives free on a practical level? What does that look like for you?

I included the story of Jesus interacting with his hometown in this passage in Peppermint-Filled Pinatas. Jesus was almost killed for sharing this message! The people did not like the idea of God’s blessing including others beyond themselves. Even in the Western church, we have slipped into that mindset, feeling like the church exists to meet our needs rather than being the church that meets the needs of the world (to borrow a phrase from our lead pastor, Erwin McManus).

For me and my family, we try to spend time with our neighbors, inviting them over for dinner or a movie. We try to spend time with people who are facing prison or were recently released from prison to help them truly discover life transformation. We try to serve people who are financially struggling by meeting practical needs like babysitting while the mother looks for a job. I have found incredibly fulfilling helping those in need by connecting them with others who are looking to meet needs. We can’t do it all on our own! We need to become churches that free people to be entrepreneurial in meeting the needs of others. We need to be willing to partner with others – even those with whom we may not agree – to make a significant difference.

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