the ministry of watching sparrows fall to the ground

image found here:

image found here





It has been a few weeks. Death has been stalking this neighborhood. Suicides, both passive-and-not, have haunted us. I have sat in the apartments of recent widows and had nothing to say but “I’m sorry”. I have listened to people as they told me about all of their possessions going up in a blaze, looked at the floor where they and their 8 children now sleep. I have had people clutch my arms, tell me their stories in snippets, beg for bus money. I have heard so much that I cannot share with anyone.

Lately I have taken to chastising myself– what right do you have to be sad? You are just a newcomer, an outsider. Don’t co-opt the grief of others and pretend like it is your own. So I have settled into a numb sort of dullness. Objectively identifying situations with my lips: yes, yes, this is all very sad. But I am floating far above it all, afraid of being an emotional, slobbering wreck; tired of the increased distance I feel between myself and people who are not living this same life; hesitant to plumb the depths of my feelings towards the person who got me into this mess. Who is, of course, God.

Some people feel called to do certain things called by God they say and I listen with envious ears. I imagine a gentle voice, a guiding light, when all I ever feel (like my good friend Jessica says) is a great big shove from the Almighty one. A grim sort of determination is the sheen around everything that I do. Of course, there is joy–I cannot get over the pleasures of living in diversity–but still I think that compulsion fits the bill for me better than calling.

This compulsion does have its benefits. I am good at what I do. I decided I wanted to work with the poorest of the poor, the people on the margins, and I found them. I wormed my way into a situation where I work with them, live with them, eat and shop and play at the park with them. I believe that Jesus meant it when he said the real blessings of his kingdom were to be found with the poor, the sad, the sick and the oppressed. I believe it, but lately it has seemed as if the blessings are such a long ways off. I went there, to the place of promise and the kingdom, and I found crushing poverty, illness and death and depression, systems so broken they seem beyond repair. Where are the blessings? I am starting to demand. I thought I was going out to both preach the good news and receive it as well. I thought I would be a witness to God’s dream for the world and I would get to experience it too. But instead of debating the finer points of Pauline doctrine or sharing the stories of Jesus I find myself sitting in stuffy apartments, listening to sad stories being translated to me. And all I can say is: I’m sorry.

Is this witnessing? Is this being a witness? I don’t get to use a whit of my degree in Theology. Instead, I am burrowing deeper and deeper into the forgotten parts of our world and I am trying to keep my spirit and my eyes open. Really, when it comes down to it, I am not the famous missionary or preacher or theologian I always yearned to be. Instead, my ministry is about watching the birds. His eye is on the sparrow. I know this because he has asked me to be the witness to it, to be his eyes and ears and hands on the earth.

And I am here to tell you, they are falling to the ground in droves.


A boy wanted me to help him write his life story. It was very tragic, and he was insistent. I vaguely agreed, and then forgot about it. He was found dead this last Wednesday, and the newspapers did not print his name. Anonymous. A body in a neighborhood where no one cares what happens.

Some friends came over the other night and we prayed. I was ready to ask questions of God. I was ready to be angry. I was ready to listen. I was ready for him to speak. I was desperate for hope. We read Scriptures to one another, and they washed me of my self-consciousness. For the first time in a long while, I was able to cry.

My friend Molly read from Zechariah 8, inserting the name of our believed neighborhood for Zion. At the end, the prophet writes this:


Thus says the Lord of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, even the inhabitants of many cities. The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord and to seek the Lord of hosts; I myself am going. Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favour of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you. (20-23).



When I heard that, I could not stop sobbing. This is all I ever wanted to do. I never truly wanted to convert anybody–I have never been comfortable with the notion that I have all the right answers. But I have held on very tightly to the robe of Jesus, my priest and my prophet and my king. And he has taken me to places I would never have imagined for myself. He has wounded me and healed me and he has led me to the heart of the city, and to all the nations that reside within. And he has shown me that all the Father God wants is to be in relationship with me. He wants me to entreat after him, to seek him, ask him my questions, tell him of my sadness, burn with anger towards him, beat back the numbness of the Empire with everything that I have got. And all he wants to do is invite other people along with me.

He never wanted me to have all the answers. He wants me to follow Jesus towards the sparrows that the world has forgotten, to stick around and be a witness to their beauty and dignity as they drop, one by one, to the ground.


So I guess I am asking if you want to come along. Because I myself am going.












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30 thoughts on “the ministry of watching sparrows fall to the ground

  1. Bronwyn Lea says:

    DL, this is all kinds of raw and beautiful and sad. It occurs to me, who also sits with a abrogated-by-disuse degree in theology, that you are called to be a witness to the sparrows… and that the word for witness is also the word for martyr. There is real pain in seeing what you see, and there is real love communited when those who were forgotten truly are SEEN.

    Thank you for sharing this. Praying for you and the sparrows tonight.

  2. Cindy Brandt says:

    Beautiful. I will watch with you, through your eyes.

  3. This is one of my favorites of yours. Resonated with so, so much.

  4. Haley Baker says:


    Great post-I’ve been praying for you a lot this week. You aren’t alone, but you are a pioneer of sorts, a trail blazer with a big audience. Do you ever feel an intense loneliness even though life is so full to the brim? I feel that a lot. Sometimes I wonder why Jesus said that his yoke is easy and his burden is light? Yesterday we were discussing the sacrifice of following Jesus-how he basically told his disciples that the only way to really follow him was to give it all up. That there IS a price tag to this life. Someone in our course suggested an invisible price tag on each person or path we choose to engage, disciple, love. At first I felt like that was cheap-but it was this brilliant Scandinavian way of saying, “if you choose Jesus and then you choose to follow his way, reaching this person could cost you all your own comfort, or 200 hours of just spending time with them outside of work.” Sometimes we just casually throw around the word sacrifice but there is a TRUE real giving away of my own self. You do that! I always pray for joy for you, for a peace to wash over you so that you know you’re not alone, that you can just be you without the guilt or burden.

    How is the house? How is Ramona adjusting? How are you and Krispin doing?

    Miss you as always-


    Sent from my iPhone


  5. Annie says:

    Absolutely beautiful. So glad you shared this..

  6. Liza says:

    Yes. I’ll come with you.

  7. dianeemiller says:

    I, too, am with you dear one… in the depth of the journey in my beloved city.

  8. I am just sitting here this morning wrestling out my own missionary reality and this. just this. speaks so deeply to me. This compulsion to cling tight to Him, wearing the grit and the dirt f the darkest corners of the earth and be an invitation. This is our life.

  9. Jen K says:

    So blessed by this. Reading a book titled Visions from Heaven by Wendy Alex thats message rings true in this post.

  10. Y.A says:

    When my daughter, with two young daughters, was in danger of dying from cancer, so many Christian people said to me, “It will be okay.” In Christian religious rhetoric, it is okay with “God” if our daughters are dead. I knew (and know) it would not be okay with me, her hapless husband, or her daughters if she were to die before her daughters reached full maturity. At least the people of Israel, unlike the cowardly Christians, are okay with wrestling with their “God.”

  11. Christiana says:

    Love you beautiful friend. I love this line: “my ministry is about watching the birds.”

  12. pastordt says:

    Holy crap. This is so good and so real. I am so glad you are weeping because there is nowhere else for all this pain to go except out of your body in tears and wailing. I will go with you in prayer, in spirit, in walking the road of death with our two old moms, in being forced to nothing-doing by an injury, by reading whatever you put in this space and grabbing with all my might for one small inch of that hem. Thank you for this.

  13. hisfirefly says:

    the anger? yes. the disillusionment? yes. the raw, aching questions? yes
    He never asked us to know the answers, and I am far from knowing…
    but I go, and I’ll keep going.
    thank you for your open, broken heart

  14. Thank you. bless you. S

  15. I loved every word of this. Thank you for heeding the call.

  16. Jen w says:

    Yes. An though the miles stretch far between our family and yours, I weep alongside you.

  17. […] following was originally published at D.L. Mayfield’s personal blog. D. L. Mayfield lives in the exotic Midwest with her husband and daughter. Recently they joined a […]

  18. So sorry for you and your community’s losses. This is a hard ministry–watching the sparrows fall.

  19. Lila says:

    I hear where you’re coming from–I’ve lived most of my adult life in inner city neighbourhoods. Did I hear a calling? No, I heard a folk-song: Guantanamera and its line, “With the poor people of the earth I want to cast my lot.” The irony of the song title has really impacted me because it speaks of Guantanamo Bay and its tragic history.

  20. This is really thought-provoking. We are so eager to fix things, and so often the fixes are way beyond our reach. For the past 25 years, I have been in a series of triumphalistic churches, eagerly awaiting the next great move of God. I’ve come to realize that our actual calling is in the daily grind, doing the next right thing small though it be, and striving at least for proximate justice in the spheres where we have influence. My friend Steve Garber writes about this constantly. He was my IVCF staffer 30-some years ago, and now he’s at

  21. […] I won’t cower under the excuse that my small action is meaningless. I don’t want to live in a world where the little things stop counting, where, as D.L. Mayfield writes, no one is watching the sparrows. […]

  22. […]  The ministry of watching sparrows fall to the ground by D.L. Mayfield […]

  23. Jodi Theut says:

    Holding you and your sparrows in my prayers. Thank you for following your compulsions. May you and your neighbours know peace and joy in Jesus in ever deepening ways.


  25. This day has seen me feeling very sparrow-like. It’s good to be reminded that someone (indeed, Someone) is, in fact, watching.

  26. […] In a big, cold city on another continent, I know some people doing the work that I think might be the work we have to do to learn how to pronounce the evangel again. Now one of them has come close to issuing a manifesto. […]

  27. Nate says:

    Sounds like a tough but fascinating journey you are on. I look forward to hearing more.

  28. […] the ministry of watching sparrows fall to the ground by D.L. Mayfield – “…all the Father God wants is to be in relationship with me. He wants me to entreat after him, to seek him, to ask him my questions, tell him of my sadness, burn with anger towards him, beat back the numbness of the Empire with everything that I have got. And all he wants to do is invite other people along with me.” […]

  29. My heart has changed toward that lowly bird. Their incessant chirp- used to make me teeth hurt. Now it reminds me to pray without ceasing. There are more sparrows than all other birds on earth combined. And they are so common, small and dull looking, like so many of us. Their call is not beautiful like the oriole or the cardinal, yet they call. My voice is not always lovely, yet he hears me when I whisper. The “homes” of the sparrows are so much like trailer-trash yet they keep on making them using whatever they can find. The sparrow has no pride. They are tenacious and so cheap that at one point in history they could be sold two-for-a-penny. Yet God sees them when they fall. Truly amazing. Yes, I join you in tending to fallen sparrows. Yes, I feel him compelling me to run. Run with a pot of ham and beans. A bag of chips and sandwiches. A cup of iced tea. The wise woman “stretches” out her hands in order to give. It takes effort and in return gives blessings.
    Your posts leave me weeping. You are a follower of Jesus. Nice to meet you.


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