During a year of serving refugees in Serbia, Tori Stone thought a lot about what it means to be a stranger. The theme of the stranger has been with her ever since.
Thoughts about being a stranger followed her back home to Mississippi, where for the first time she felt like a stranger in her own community. And then on to Manchester, where for the past year she has studied for her Master’s degree in theology at NTC. Welcoming the stranger was the focus of her MA dissertation.
What she learned from her studies will continue to shape and inform her experience as she moves this autumn to Dundee, Scotland, to become part of a coffee shop ministry and church planting project.
We asked Tori to share what she learned about being a stranger and welcoming the stranger through her time with NTC, and about the church plant she will become a part of this fall.
Would you elaborate on why you started thinking about what it means to be a stranger or to welcome the stranger, and why you chose that theme for your MA dissertation?
Tori: I chose the topic because of my year working in Serbia with refugees. But I think, through that year, I learned the stranger isn’t just refugees. Where I’m from in Mississippi, there’s a lot of racial tension. The place where my church is, there’s literally train tracks, and on this side is black people and this side is white people. Although people get along, there’s still that clear distinction. The majority of churches [are segregated]: there’s a black church and a white church, and that’s the way it’s always been.
I noticed it more than I’ve ever noticed before after being in Serbia. The pastor I was working with that summer really had a heart to break down those walls and the tension and to bring people from “the other side of the tracks” into our church … and to show them they’re welcome. We were having a vacation Bible school, so we went and passed out flyers. One of the places we passed out fliers was an apartment complex, and it was all black people. I realized I felt more comfortable there … than I did actually being in the church. It was a very weird feeling. I felt more comfortable being uncomfortable after my year in Serbia. I just saw the need and the hurt and I thought, “This is where we’re supposed to be; not just sitting in church every Sunday, comfortable, singing our hymns and doing our routine.” It’s walking the streets, seeing the stranger.
How did you explore your questions through your dissertation?
Tori: What responsibility does the church have to those who are considered the stranger, or put on the outside, who don’t fit in? What’s the biblical perspective of that? Through my research I came to the conclusion that, actually, we’re [Christians] the strangers.
There’s a specific passage in 1 Peter; it talks about the way that we are now strangers in a strange land, but then we’re also exiled. We’re strangers because our home is actually with God, this is not our home. But we’re exiled among people who don’t believe.
So my conclusion that we are the strangers, to me that changes the perspective of how we do ministry, and how we see other people. Because if we are the strangers, ministry becomes being welcomed by others rather than us having to welcome them. We’re the ones on the outside, who don’t fit, and people look at us differently – and it’s supposed to be like that. But because of that, the walls that separate us are broken down because we aren’t able to put up the walls. We’re the ones on the outside. It’s usually the person on the inside who puts up the walls. We don’t have the right to put up the wall because this isn’t our land or our territory to put up walls on.
How did studying for your MA help you prepare for future ministry.
Tori: While doing my undergrad [at Trevecca Nazarene University, Nashville], I was focused on the theology of it. I feel like my year here at NTC, I’ve learned more about ministry and what that looks like. Also, living on campus … Mick (Chaplain) and Deb (Warden) worked to make a community that represented what the kingdom would look like. Hurlet is so diverse, not only in different ethnicities, but also age differences. The way that works out, it says no matter what age or ethnicity you are, if you’re called by God to do this, then you’re called, and we’re going to build a community around that and work with that.
I think before this year [at NTC] I had the head knowledge of what ministry looked like … and not necessarily the whole ministry experience. Although I haven’t been in a ministry position full time this year, I feel like I’ve still learned more about what ministry looks like, and I feel more prepared to go into ministry.
Describe the ministry you’ll be doing with Blend Coffee House in Dundee, Scotland, through which you’ll plant a church with several other families.
Tori: This week they got the keys to the coffee shop. They’ve started doing renovations and things like that, getting the furniture, tearing down walls. The hope is to have started by October. Two couples will be focused on managing the coffee shop. I’ll be focused on the church plant.
Coffee shops are the centre of the community in this generation. One of my ministry flaws is I’m not good at initiating conversation with someone. Evangelism is the last in my skills. I like the idea of being able to work part-time in the coffee shop where, if I see someone I’ve seen on the street, I can start a conversation while giving someone coffee. It gives me a foundation to speak to people.
How do you imagine that your time at NTC will inform your ministry in Scotland?
Tori: When I first left Serbia, I was very focused on refugee ministry, but I see [there are strangers] in every kind of ministry that we do. Moving to Scotland I don’t know what the differences are going to be, as far as the kind of people I’ll be working with, what the culture in that specific area looks like. But there are going to be people who are different and exiled in that community, and those are the people I have a heart for and want to reach out to. There are people everywhere like that.
To find out more about studying a Masters in Theology at NTC take a look at the various pathways on off