“The stories of Narnia seem childish to some. But to others, they are utterly transformative. For the latter group, these evocative stories affirm that it is possible for the weak and foolish to have a noble calling in a dark world; that our deepest intuition will point us to the true meaning of things; that there is indeed something beautiful and wonderful at the heart of the universe, and that this must be found, embraced, and adored….(Lewis) borrowed and scripted (a story) that he already knew well, and had found to be true and trustworthy – the Christian narrative of Creation, Fall, redemption, and final consummation… the Narnia stories allow us to step inside and experience the Christian story” (Alister McGrath 2013)
Have you ever wished you could be transported to Narnia? Or at least be transformed by it as you step inside and experience the Christian story - and then see that worked out in real life? Well, it is happening in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Greg Enas and Don Palmer are calling Christian brothers at a common stage in life to do the same through an invigorating group named Narnia Indiana. Narnia gathers men from around the city who are mostly in the second-half of life to think about how the Lord would have them to serve the community – especially the under-served.
And so Narnia Indiana invites Christian men to, “Work and play with real friends, in what you are truly interested in, to help others flourish.” It is, “An opportunity for men to enjoy true friendship, having fun together as they serve those who are ‘under-served’. Not a program, not an initiative that competes with anything that anyone is already doing – it is a way of being together as friends focused on common mission.”
The men of Narnia Indiana have worked hard through their lives, and they are still looking to grow spiritually and as servants of the community. Too many people who retire, especially early retirees, under-utilize their own gifts and resources – to everyone’s detriment. Enas and Palmer tap into the land of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia to motivate men in the second-half to serve together generously and with delight.
God called the Ephesian church to invest themselves in others generously through the example of the Apostle Paul when he wrote: “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive’" (Acts 20:35). Narnia Indiana embodies that principle, and it wants to know how to apply that truth robustly. Many members probably hold to free-market principles, but they also know that challenges in the community will not be solved by lower taxes alone. God commands generosity – though not by way of coercion. Narnia men want to respond to the grace of God by heeding the command he gives to help the weak.
The group meets monthly for lunch in various centers of ministry around the city. As lunch begins, the men answer questions designed to draw one another into deeper relationships and share experiences of life. Devotions follow. They usually urge the brothers to look forward to what the Lord has for each man in the future – to further growth and service. The message is thoroughly biblical and thoughtfully crafted to meet the needs of men in their particular phase of life. The main program consists of a speaker or panel for the next thirty to forty-five minutes. Recent months have featured speakers such as the Christian man who heads Indianapolis’ Department of Public Safety. He articulated the sincere efforts the department is making to be more efficient and effective. But, he urged the men to remember that public safety officials can only address problems – it is up to righteous men to nurture positive growth. Another month, Christian leaders in the Hispanic community shed light on the needs of that population of our city which has grown from being very small to about 400,000 across the state in less than 20 years. One lunch highlighted work being done by a ministry to and with women in the city – seeing hearts and lives changed by the gospel one life at a time. The meetings bring the men into contact with people involved in ministries all over the city. The face to face connections are stirring men to action. At the conclusion of each meeting, table discussions allow for a debriefing session to encourage the men to consider what they should take away from the meeting. From beginning to end, iron sharpens iron.
Narnia Indiana has been operating for two years, and men have responded with visible delight. Part of the commitment to Narnia Indiana involves financial giving. The group works with the National Christian Foundation – Indiana to raise funds to “help the ‘under-served’ become productive, flourish, or live with dignity” as members become involved in various local ministries. More significantly, members team with other members and get involved personally with needs in the community. They are quietly serving. Some may read books to young children in a hard-scrabble neighborhood as part of an after school program. Others use their vocational skills to serve; one man devoted his logistics skills to increase efficiency in allocating perishable foods from restaurants and groceries to food pantries and shelters. As a result, some 40,000 more meals were served to the hungry in the city over the course of a year compared to the previous year without increasing the volume of food gleaned. In a host of ways, they are engaging in the life of the city, and Jesus is being glorified.
Where will it all lead? No one knows for sure. At the conclusion of one Narnia lunch, Palmer said something to the group like, “I really have no idea exactly what we are doing or are supposed to do, but the one thing I know is that we don’t want to look back ten years from now at the needs in our city and say we didn’t do anything when we could have.” But, it is not service driven by guilt, it is tangibly driven by joy. Jesus is changing everyone touched by Narnia.
With each monthly lunch invitation, Enas and Palmer promise, “We aspire to make the Narnia lunch the best 90 minutes of your month.” That zeal and joy are contagious as Narnia Indiana comes alive each month – and the story is utterly transformative.