Friday, November 21, 2014

what makes local mission so difficult?

(reposting this post from 2011, as this question came up again yesterday in a partnership meeting)

A team I sit on at church asked this question last week. Before I address the question from my personal perspective, I'll provide a brief context.

I'm writing this post from my home in Cedar Falls, IA. Our church recently had a team come back from their third trip to the Gorangosa Region of Mozambique where we partner with trusted leaders and friends with Food for the Hungry there. Members of the traveling team shared how they experienced so many of the development principles and practices that our church is learning about and committing to on this journey of walking with the poor. Mutual Relationships, Christ-centered evangelism and discipleship, Wholistic ministry, Empowerment, Indigenous Leadership Development, Next Generation Focus, Listening, Long-term commitment.

As we were discussing how these principles and practices are transferable in any context and culture, the question came up about why they seem so different and difficult in our own local context. I can't speak for others, but I can share what makes it difficult from my own life's experience.

Our family sponsors a little girl in Gorangosa, Mozambique, through Food for the Hungry. Her name is Maria, and we send about 8 letters back and forth in a given year. We talk about her, my daughter prays for Maria nightly, and our family hopes to visit her in 5 or 6 years when our twins are in high school. Every month, $32 is automatically withdrawn from my checking from Food from the Hungry for the children's program. Every year, our church has opportunities to pray for, learn about, and contribute in beautiful, concrete ways to our ongoing partnership work with FH in Mozambique, some 9,000 miles away. Though my lifestyle and daily choices do affect Maria and countless others across our oceans, God has used my own local context as the most powerful light to examine my life and illuminate His.

Every day, I wake up in my home and help shape my own community. I either live in a way that promotes positive transformation or a way that maintains or creates negative change. As a resident of the Cedar Valley, I am to be a responsible, contributing citizen. As a Christ-follower, I am called to be salt, light, and an co-laborer with Christ in the healing, restoring work He is doing here, especially as he advocates for the marginalized, oppressed, vulnerable, poor. Why is it so difficult then, when the call is so clear for me to be partnering with Jesus on mission locally in my own community?

1. The order of my life. The American Dream, materialism, financial and physical security, media, my relatives' lives around me, racialized society, education, ...you name it, my culture has powerfully groomed me to live a life isolated from the socially vulnerable of our community. I have ordered my days and my life in neighborhoods, schools, jobs, churches, and activities that have kept me separate from people of other races, countries, backgrounds, and socio-economic classes. This order of my life, then, is one thing that has made it difficult because I haven't been aware, listened to, befriended, known, experienced,understood, and therefore, highly valued, people whose lives are very different from me in my local community.

2. Time. The order of my life has kept me busy within the demands of this order. There are many people I love who have needs right within my own relational circles of this order. My family has chosen a lifestyle that also requires time to manage home and property. We are involved in numerous good activities within the order that take our time. Yet, in my experience with those who are marginalized in our community, time in relationship is what is most needed. Empowering social networks are missing among many who are under-privileged in my community. Developing authentic relationships in Christian community, growing disciples, sharing life and gifts together for youth development, jobs, housing, recovery, and other elements of community transformation.. these are needed and require time and commitment. The order of my life causes many separate people and places to compete for the resource of my time, and that is difficult.

3. My needs, my nature. Two of the most basic human needs are belonging and security. It is also in my human nature to seek comfort and pleasure and to avoid suffering and pain. When I primarily seek belonging, security, comfort, and pleasure for myself in anything other than Christ (and our American culture offers me plenty of tempting idols), I will keep myself from many of the people and places in which Jesus locates himself and is calling me. It is difficult to battle these idols and addictions and to step out into a more narrow way, placing my security and identity fully in Christ.

4. Power and control. The systems of our society are structured in such a way that give me privilege, status, and access that others don't have. I didn't really believe this very deeply until within this last year of my life. The history and reality of racist systems in our country have influenced everything about the order of my life....where I choose to live, who I know, how I view and interact with people of color, how I view poverty and the poor, and with no real conscious intent, how I've lived to protect my power and control of a certain kind of lifestyle at the expense of others. Though awareness and repentance have been needed on my part, it is difficult to work for change in the systems that are the very scaffolding upon which I've built my life and are often as invisible to me as the air I breathe.

5. Re-ordering my life. Christ calls me to some re-ordering of my life, and that is difficult. It's difficult to go against the grain of our culture and to fight the status quo. Re-ordering creates a crisis of values, priorities, habits. Re-ordering threatens the familiar and comfortable life I've known, and even now, when I feel called and committed to making some big moves in my life, re-ordering meets rejection and causes tension in my most primary family relationships.

 I understand why CCDA's John Perkins has named relocation, redistribution, and reconciliation as the 3 most effective strategies for re-ordering. All three work to break the tight grip maintained by the difficulties I've named in this post. All work in such a way that allow Jesus to integrate our lives and to bring us together with people to restore our communities. Imagine if Christ's people were so sold out for reconciliation to God and one another through Jesus, that they intentionally and strategically began to relocate and redistribute their time, talents, and treasure in order to share Jesus and pursue a redeemed Kingdom community together with people they may have considered other for most of their lives?

I love this vision. But this way is fraught with difficulty. Along this really messy journey of my local life, I can easily find myself losing hope against giants. I can easily find myself in fits of judgment, discouragement, frustration, and impatience...aimed at myself and at others. I can easily find myself defaulting to the world's ideas for comfort, ease, security, belonging. Yet every time I find myself in these places, Jesus seems to drop me gifts and graces for the journey. About the time I want to run or escape, I sniff the sweet fragrance of Jesus along this path. I see the footprints of Christ and the early Church along this path in Scripture, and I'm encouraged to keep following in His way. And always, Jesus reminds me that the re-ordering of my outer life must be coupled with a continued re-ordering of my inner life through an abiding relationship with Him so that I will be able to face all the difficulties with strength and perseverance, but more importantly with His heart of love and grace.

I'd be interested in your thoughts about what might make local mission difficult for you in your own local life. Please share comments.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

the loss of turtle island

Oh, how I wish I could go back a few days and invite many of my friends into an experience I had last night at the Mennonite Church in town!  Erica Littlewolf and Karin Kaufman Wall, both with the Mennonite Central Committee Central States (MCCCS), facilitated an interactive opportunity called "The Loss of Turtle Island" to explore the historic relationship between Europeans and the Indigenous nations who inhabit the land we now call the United States.  It was such an important exercise.

During the first hour, we stepped as First Peoples onto blankets that represented the land.  We listened as a timeline of policies, stories, and historical accounts were read that described the sentiments and actions that led to land domination and colonization by the Europeans.  Blankets were removed under us as the experience progressed.  Participants holding a variety of cards were asked to sit down at various times to represent the Native people who died from Small Pox, who lost their lives along the Trail of Tears, etc.. In the end, only four people remained huddled on a few blankets that were left in the middle of the room.




The experience was disturbing and sobering as we listened to...

-a short account of the millions of thriving First Peoples before the arrival of Columbus.
-a progression of events that led to the extermination of so many First Peoples, including the spread of disease, even the intentional spread of Small Pox.



-Troubling accounts that described how not only was the land that Native Americans lived on not recognized as theirs, but the Native American was not recognized as a person, a human.  Not until Standing Bear, a Ponca Native, who was arrested and detained for no reason, was there a legal battle to determine whether or not a Native was a human being.


As the trial drew to a close, Judge Dundy announced that Chief Standing Bear would be allowed to make a speech in his own behalf. Raising his right hand, Standing Bear proceeded to speak. Among his words were, "That hand is not the color of yours, but if I prick it, the blood will flow, and I shall feel pain," said Standing Bear. "The blood is of the same color as yours. God made me, and I am a man."[8]
On May 12, 1879, Judge Elmer S. Dundy ruled that "an Indian is a person" within the meaning of habeas corpus. He stated that the federal government had failed to show a basis under law for the Poncas' arrest and captivity.[9]
It was a landmark case, recognizing that an Indian is a “person” under the law and entitled to its rights and protection. “The right of expatriation is a natural, inherent and inalienable right and extends to the Indian as well as to the more fortunate white race,” the judge concluded. (source: Standing Bear-Wikipedia)  

-Troubling all the more was the movement in the late 1800's and early 1900's to "civilized and Christianize" the Native Americans by taking their children away to boarding schools.  This was done to strip them from their culture and assimilate them into the Euro-American culture.  Colonel Richard H. Pratt, the founder of one of these boarding schools, quoted, "Kill the Indian, save the man." 

The second hour of this experience was a critical debrief in the circle of the approximate twenty-five people present.  As we shared around the circle, I heard white people describe the anger, embarrassment, shame, sadness they felt.  I listened to people share new awareness of a history they did not get in public school.  I listened to people talk about how we do not consider our interconnectedness and how our lives and choices impact the lives of others in our world.  I personally thought about how internalized systemic oppression is...both for the oppressed and the oppressor, and how Manifest Destiny still lives deep within to this day.  I think I was most troubled by the actions that were done in the name of Christ, and I also thought about the patterns we tend to repeat and repeat and repeat through history.  Mostly, I wondered what we're doing today (or not doing) that we currently think is okay but is in reality, an atrocity and a continual perpetuation of injustice.  

Another question during the debrief was "How are you connected to this experience or events?"  As I listened around the circle, my connection to this experience was clear.  First, I am connected because I benefit from this history.  I was born on the side of privilege from these unjust actions to take land from people.  Second, I realized again that we can never grow forward into new creation without learning from our history, lamenting, and repenting from these patterns.  I know that I need to keep listening and learning, and I now have the responsibility to invite others into this journey with me.

With that said, Erica and Karin both shared a book that they  recommended I read as a next step.  It's called The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America (written by Thomas King).  I already placed my order.   Want to join me?




Saturday, November 15, 2014

why Christmas in Walnut?

In under a month, we will host the fifth annual Christmas in Walnut at Harvest Vineyard and the Boys n' Girls Club located in the Walnut Neighborhood of Waterloo. This event includes a community breakfast at Harvest Vineyard, a craft workshop for elementary age children whose parents are shopping downstairs at the Boys n' Girls Club, and a Christmas Store on the gym floor of the Boys n' Girls Club that is set up with new toys on sale for either $2 or $5.  

Four hundred invited parents will shop for their own children at the Christmas Store and will be able to purchase and place the gifts under their Christmas tree themselves.

Why do we do Christmas in Walnut?  What really happens through this half day event?

1.  Community members voice a felt need for Christmas assistance every single year in the Cedar Valley.  People with financial resources feel especially benevolent over the holidays and often want to bless others.  Why not create an event that allows the two to come together in a way that will help us fellowship, participate together, serve side by side in the spirit of Christ and Christmas?

2.  Christmas in Walnut puts Christmas giving back in the hands of the parent.  It allows parents to choose and purchase gifts for their own children and to put them under the tree themselves rather than being given gifts from a stranger.  This affirms dignity.  Last year, several shoppers were also volunteers at the event.  We are building community and capacity through this opportunity.  

3.  Christmas in Walnut helps bonds of partnership grow.  Harvest Vineyard, Orchard Hill Church, the Boys n' Girls Club, Cunningham Elementary, House of Hope, and this year, Irving Elementary and First Presbyterian join us. We are working to strengthen the relational fabric in and around the Walnut Neighborhood. This event helps us to collaborate and do just that.

These are just a few reasons of many in the layers of how God works through Christmas in Walnut.  I will spend more time in future posts unpacking more of the WHY!



Sunday, November 9, 2014

youth ministry meets business




Try Pie is teaching us so much about the benefits of mixing youth ministry with business! The young women of Try Pie are:

-learning to make a great product.  The pies are getting excellent reviews!
-learning about one another and building bridges.  There's a lot of great time to talk while rolling out pie dough and making pie.  We have Try Pie teens from Waterloo and Cedar Falls who go to three different high schools and three different churches .  
-growing in community.  Working together helps us to build friendships among the students and the adults involved.
-learning about our faith.  Try Pie is intentional about exploring what God's Word says to us and the invitation Jesus issues to each of us to follow Him.  
-learning about financial stewardship.  Try Pie teens are paid $8 an hour and are engaged in conversations and practice of how we give, save, and spend money.  
-learning job skills and entrepreneurialism first-hand.  Try Pie teens are experiencing what good customer service looks like, helping to determine marketing strategies, and have had key roles in the start up of a social enterprise. 


Check out our facebook page at www.facebook.com/linkteenstrypie

Friday, November 7, 2014

closing the distance

I spent some hours this week watching and listening to Leadership Network's  "The Nines" while I did some work around home and office.

I want to cheer the Leadership Network for taking on topics such as "Civility in Conversation", "Changing Sexual Norms", "Immigration", and "Social Justice".   Evangelicals should be growing in a sense of urgency to engage these conversations with intention, education, humility.

I want to encourage the Leadership Network to keep diversifying in their leadership community. Though there were some unique voices close to the people most addressed in the topics, it was still a pretty homogeneous collective that reflected distance and disconnect.

A lot of times, I notice that people like myself (and including myself) spend a great deal of time in huddles talking about people and topics, searching Scripture, reading books, strategizing, and organizing programs, projects, events, but all the while we maintain an order that keeps us distant from the very folks we talk about.

Sometimes we seem to think that we only need the Word of God for authority, but even the Word of God became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.  Yes, we continue to stand on the Word of God, but if we are honestly doing that, then we should also find ourselves standing with people in our community.

At the very least, we need to find and listen to voices and stories of those closest and most affected by the topics we discuss.

Keep going, Leadership Network, and keep fighting for a diverse demographic within your network.





Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Willard Wednesdays

I saw a friend in church on Sunday who mentioned to me that she was also a fan of Dallas Willard and was glad that I was referring to him on the blog.  This did two things for me...

-helped me realize there are a few eyes who actually find this blog and read it!   and...

-reminded me that I often stink at consistency!  Several weeks ago I posted that I was going to make Wednesday's "Willard Wednesdays" due to the fact that Dallas Willard is truly a gentle giant in the faith and a brilliant teacher on a life lived in the Kingdom of God.  I think I wrote a few weeks of posts and then got distracted and neglectful.  

So, thanks for the encouragement, M.A-L!  I'm back in!  

“[Jesus] matters because of what he brought and what he still brings to ordinary human beings, living their ordinary lives and coping daily with their surroundings. He promises wholeness for their lives. In sharing our weaknesses he gives us strength and and imparts through his companionship a life that has the quality of eternity." (Dallas Willard in Ruthless Trust - Brennan Manning)” 
1
“Individually the disciple and friend of Jesus who has learned to work shoulder to shoulder with his or her Lord stands in this world as a point of contact between heaven and earth, a kind of Jacob’s ladder by which the angels of God may ascend from and descend into human life. Thus the disciple stands as an envoy or a receiver by which the kingdom of God is conveyed into every quarter of human affairs.”