Today I’m honored to have a guest post from Dr. David Bronkema, chair of the School of Leadership & Development at Eastern University. I had the privilege of studying under David, and consider him both mentor and friend. Here he reflects on the basis of his hope that Christians of all sorts are waking up to the holistic implications of the gospel.
It is always a treat to return to Honduras.
After having spent five years there in the 1980s, working with a Honduran Christian relief and development organization, the country is near and dear to my heart. Our Masters in Organizational Leadership in Latin America, with a concentration in International Development, has given me the opportunity to get back there three times over the last year and a half since we launched that program. Just as we do with our programs out of Africa, we bring students and faculty together, in this case from all over Latin America, for two and a half weeks, delivering the introductions to six courses that will be followed up online for the rest of the year.
Even though a lot has changed in Honduras, the basics remain the same. The same, familiar “smell” of the country as I walk through the airport terminal. The breathtaking landscape of steep mountains dotted with pine trees clinging to a bit of thin topsoil, from which subsistence farmers try to eke out a living for their families. The desperate poverty of the country, traditionally ranked second or third poorest in the Western Hemisphere, after Haiti and Nicaragua. And, the hope that fills one’s heart in talking, sharing, studying, teaching, learning, and praying with our brothers and sisters from Honduras and the rest of Latin America.
This hope I feel is rooted in the deep commitment of those students, and the students that God sends our way from the United States, Africa, and around the world, to follow His calling in their lives wherever that may take them. And, for me, it has been bolstered over these last years since I joined Eastern by seeing how the evangelical movement is reawakening to the importance of being obedient in the areas of tackling poverty and working for justice. “I’m here because I feel like I’ve missed something central to the Gospel,” shared one of our students in Honduras, a leading pastor in the evangelical movement in that country. This is a sentiment that in the 1980s in Honduras would have led any pastor to have run the risk of being labeled a “liberal” or a “communist” by fellow evangelicals, with their commitment to Christ being serious questioned.
It is a true blessing to be working at Eastern University where we are called to help students work through how to prayerfully combine evangelism and social action. Unfortunately, holding fast to the centrality of verbally sharing the saving message of Jesus Christ; being obedient to His call to tackle poverty and work for justice; and deepening our relationship with Him and our own processes of becoming more like Him in word, thought, and deed, is not an easy one either at a personal or organizational level. Christian agencies and organizations fall prey to the secularizing tendencies of the world by going for “easier” sources of funding or a host of other pressures which drive them to drop the proclamation of Jesus as Lord. They also fall into the temptation of not prayerfully examining the call to go beyond just relief and engage in advocacy and development work. And, in both cases, keeping the Bible and prayer front and center as the lens through which to inform, critique, and nourish one’s actions tends to fall by the wayside as we struggle to get all things on our plates done quickly.
“How can we not share Jesus Christ?,” asked one of our development students in class recently, trying to make sense of why self-labeled Christian development agencies struggle with this issue. “Why is it even an issue that you would combine both?,” asked a person in one of our Adult Sunday school sessions two weeks ago in the “conservative,” evangelical church of which we are blessed to be a part, and in which a decade ago the “social” aspect would have been absent.
Indeed. As I listened to our Christian brothers and sisters from the South go around and share about themselves in the classroom in Honduras, I was struck once again by how God works so amazingly in both areas, and the blessing of hearing the testimonies to that effect. “I come from a family of [more than 10 children]…” shared at least four or five. “I come from the rural area, from a family that had nothing…” shared at least another as many. And, here they were, having overcome all kinds of obstacles that most of us can only imagine, in a Masters program, having graduated from college, leading organizations like World Vision and Plan International, pastoring churches and leading the administration of different denominations, and heading up management consulting companies. And, all driven by the commitment to let people know about Christ, the source of their hope, and to be more effective in their social and spiritual outreach.
The challenges of this world are tough. As we talked and shared in the classroom in Honduras about how to engage in biblically based development program planning and fundraising, in the rest of the country the legacies of the coup of last year continued to play out. Torture, assassinations, and disappearances perpetuated by a lethal mix of corrupt government, military, rich businesspeople with their private bands of thugs, and drug traffickers geared towards protecting their own are rapidly becoming the norm, even as the poverty of that country continues to rage on. The hopelessness, frustration, and fear of my friends involved in politics and business is palpable.
But, as Christians, our hope in Christ is great. We live in a fallen world, one in which we are called to be yeast. And, I feel incredibly blessed to be part of a group of students, staff, faculty, alumni, and brothers and sisters all over the world who feel called by Christ to act in this fallen word, prayerfully discerning where God would lead them and building up more and more tools with which to do so effectively and faithfully.
If you’re interested in learning more about Eastern’s international development programs, feel free to ask me or explore the program on Eastern’s site.