On Tuesday I shared my latest feature story for PRISM about a community-led peace and reconciliation movement in Sierra Leone. If you haven’t checked it out yet, please do.
In the same issue I have a review of the newly released second edition of Walking with the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development (Orbis) by Dr. Bryant Myers of Fuller Theological Seminary. For anyone interested in missions or faith-based development, it’s simply a must-read.
Those who have read When Helping Hurts (my thoughts on the revised edition soon) or Toxic Charity (thoughts here) have been forced to consider the sometimes less-than-wonderful outcomes of well-intended service projects and mission trips. Some come away from those kinds of books feeling paralyzed, afraid to do anything at all. Others dig in their heels, stubbornly refusing to change course. Neither, obviously, is the right way to go, as the authors of those books do make fairly clear.
Wheaton anthropology professor Brian Howell says churches “should abandon most travel-intensive ‘projects.’” He’s concerned with travel that emphasizes relationships and learning, and urges us not to forget needs closer to home.
David Livermore, a “cultural intelligence” guru, says the key to good short-term trips is for leaders to set clear objectives that make sense for everyone involved.
Finally, Trinity’s Robert Priest argues that international trips and local service projects don’t need to be mutually exclusive.
The fact of the matter is that the number of short-term mission participants continues to rise (confirmed both by actual studies and by perusing Facebook photos this time of year), and increasing numbers of evangelicals are getting involved locally in service projects. As far as I’m concerned, these are positive developments, taken overall. Despite the potential of both to do harm if not done well, they can also be mutually enriching experiences for everyone involved. But they need to be done wisely. I agree with Howell, who emphasizes relationships and learning. I agree with Livermore on the importance of having clear objectives. And I agree with Priest that we shouldn’t have to choose between local projects and international trips.
If I were to add my two cautionary cents, I’d say it’s important to be realistic about what we can actually expect to come out of a short-term trip. In the economy of the kingdom, there is very little that can be accomplished during a two-week trip or during an afternoon at the local park. Real change takes time. Lots of time. Often, the one who goes to serve is the one who is impacted most positively. We need to be honest about that.
We also need to be honest about the fact that a short-term trip is a largely artificial experience. What happens in the weeks, months, and years ahead is the true measure of impact. And we should examine our motivations for participating: is it for the accolades we’ll receive at church? Is it for the spiritual buzz we’ll feel? Is it mostly to get a new profile pic with an orphan? Is it because of a resident god-complex (to borrow Jayakumar Christian‘s incisive and helpful term)?
Our motivations may never be 100% pure, and we may never be completely sure of the results of our participation. That’s reality. While all of this should give us pause and lead us to listen better, and to think and pray more deeply, we shouldn’t use it as justification for our apathy and selfishness. Following Jesus is about faithfulness, which is ultimately impossible when we play it safe and bury our treasure in the sand.
A lot of the content that appears on this blog has to do with books I’m reading, events I go to, writing projects I’m working on, and other stuff I think might be worthwhile for the kind of folks who’d read a blog like this in the first place. That tagline at the top — “exploring the intersections of faith, development, justice & peace” — is as much for me as for you, reminding me to only post stuff that somehow fits within these set parameters (I make occasional exceptions in Repaso, my weekly roundup of all kinds of good stuff from around the internet).
From time to time I do a series of posts about a given topic that has something to do with those intersections. Two years ago this month, I did a six part series on the “Seek Social Justice” study produced by WORLD Magazine and the Heritage Foundation. Last April I ran a five part series on John Perkins and the Christian Community Development Association, focusing specifically on Perkins’ book, Beyond Charity: The Call to Christian Community Development. I’ve done a couple of other smaller series as well, like a three part look at Nicholas Wolterstorff’s book, Until Justice and Peace Embrace, which I posted last October.
These series have been meaningful for me, allowing me to reflect for a few weeks at a time on a particular thinker, theme or issue. And I’ve received positive feedback from them, which is always nice, and leads me to believe they’re helpful for others as well. So with all of that in mind, I introduce my next series…
Those of us in the evangelical stream of Christianity who are interested in one way or another in the intersections of faith, development, justice and peace, stand on the shoulders of a lot of faithful women and men who have gone before us. Not so long ago, there were significant roadblocks for those seeking to understand how an evangelical, missional Christian faith might relate to and inform one’s understanding of what it means to serve the poor, mediate reconciliation between actual enemies with weapons, seek the welfare of the city, and to otherwise contribute to the common good in meaningful and tangible ways. We’ve come a long way from the height of the fundamentalist-modernist divide in the early twentieth century North American church, and no, it hasn’t primarily been my generation that has brought this about; we’re just starting to reap the benefits of the faithfulness of others. Rather, I’d suggest it has a lot to do with the Lausanne Movement and some of its key early leaders, people like Billy Graham, Rene Padilla, Samuel Escobar, Carl Henry and John Stott.
The First Lausanne Congress was held in Switzerland in 1974, with 2,700 participants from more than 150 countries. TIME called it “a formidable forum, possibly the widest ranging meeting of Christians ever held.” Here’s a three-minute video about that first gathering.
After the congress, a group of theologians and other Christian leaders drafted The Lausanne Covenant, with John Stott as its “chief architect” (more on Stott’s important contributions here). It’s a remarkable document, and it’s worth reading slowly and thoughtfully. For the purposes of this blog I want to highlight one section in particular, titled “Christian Social Responsibility.” Here’s how it reads (I know it’s a lengthy excerpt, but trust me, it’s worth it):
We affirm that God is both the Creator and the Judge of all people. We therefore should share his concern for justice and reconciliation throughout human society and for the liberation of men and women from every kind of oppression. Because men and women are made in the image of God, every person, regardless of race, religion, colour, culture, class, sex or age, has an intrinsic dignity because of which he or she should be respected and served, not exploited. Here too we express penitence both for our neglect and for having sometimes regarded evangelism and social concern as mutually exclusive. Although reconciliation with other people is not reconciliation with God, nor is social action evangelism, nor is political liberation salvation, nevertheless we affirm that evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty. For both are necessary expressions of our doctrines of God and man, our love for our neighbour and our obedience to Jesus Christ. The message of salvation implies also a message of judgment upon every form of alienation, oppression and discrimination, and we should not be afraid to denounce evil and injustice wherever they exist. When people receive Christ they are born again into his kingdom and must seek not only to exhibit but also to spread its righteousness in the midst of an unrighteous world. The salvation we claim should be transforming us in the totality of our personal and social responsibilities. Faith without works is dead.
(Acts 17:26,31; Gen. 18:25; Isa. 1:17; Psa. 45:7; Gen. 1:26,27; Jas. 3:9; Lev. 19:18; Luke 6:27,35; Jas. 2:14-26; Joh. 3:3,5; Matt. 5:20; 6:33; II Cor. 3:18; Jas. 2:20)
There were three papers presented at that first Lausanne Congress that, according to pastor, professor and missiologist Dr. Al Tizon, “laid the theological foundation for evangelicals to engage wholeheartedly in ministries of community development, justice for the poor, advocacy for the oppressed and the transformation of society, alongside ministries of evangelism, personal discipleship and church expansion.”
Over the next three weeks, I’ll take each of those papers/presentations in turn, providing a bit of background on Padilla, Escobar and Henry, respectively, and drawing out some of the key concepts and arguments they make. I think you’ll see that what they had to say in 1974 is in many ways just as relevant to us today, if not more so. And just as they served to correct some of that generation’s blind spots having to do with the intersections of faith, development, justice and peace, they can do the same for us today. Following these three installments, if all goes well, I’ll take a look at some of the more recent contributions of the Lausanne Movement, specifically related to the 2010 Cape Town Congress.
I’m excited about this series. I hope you are too.
1. A Letter to OWS
Makoto Fujimura, head of the International Arts Movement, has written a letter to the Occupy Wall Street Movement. He has a love/hate relationship with movements, he says, and encourages and implores those involved with OWS to remember a few essential things:
The value of your movement is in spontaneity, diversity, and flexibility. Do not let extreme ideologies hijack your movement. Do not let the media define who you are. Avoid every temptation to name a spokesperson or a leader, no matter how charismatic that person is. Keep pressing into raising questions more than giving answers. Be generous, mysterious, and enigmatic. A movement is organic and generative, and your passion must be carried into the conversation for the next generation, from Wall Street to dining room table discussions. Above all, do all things out of love.
2. The transparent church
Skye Jethani blogs about a public art installation in Belgium resembling a see-through church, and what it can teach us as Christians:
The architects said they were motivated by the growing number of abandoned churches in Belgium, and the declining role of religion in the highly secularized country. They have titled their structure “Reading Between the Lines” because it “extends this idea of transparency onto the church and equally onto the observer who must learn to read between the lines even among things that are seemingly transparent. Just because you can see something doesn’t make it real, neither does something not exist because it can’t be seen.”
3. Do missions destroy cultures?
This one by Jordan Monson, a church planter in Spain, has sparked a good conversation at RELEVANT on the role missions and missionaries play (or don’t) in changing other cultures. Monson says, in effect, that missionaries have great power for good and for ill in the cultures to which they are sent:
Christians—and missionaries—can be at times the best and at other times the worst representatives of Christ. They’re not perfect. They will make mistakes, and they will take some cultural presuppositions with them no matter how much they are trained not to. Missionaries will unapologetically keep campaigning against female mutilation, deceivingly referred to as female circumcision; they will fight against cannibalism, witchcraft and human sacrifice. But they will also miss the mark sometimes and carry their Western values too far. Missionaries are still sinners, but when they follow Christ and make His glory their chief end, they elevate culture and follow the call of Jesus.
4. Most powerful photos of 2011
This collection of photos is stunning and sobering. It’s been a rough year for many in our world, and I was struck by just how many photos of natural disasters and mass protests were included.
5. Who owns this mess?
In this New York Times Magazine piece, Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto (who I’ve blogged about here and here) weighs in on the global financial crisis (see also his bio at the end of the piece for why he’s to be taken seriously):
Once it is clear that this recession is about the organization of knowledge or, more precisely, the lack of organization, Western governments can step in to get the facts. That will allow them to target the disease without getting stuck in the left-versus-right controversy about regulation and government oversight. We need increased truth-telling; increased recognition of what exists and who owns it.
When Peterson set out to make the Bible relevant, he didn’t mean to make it hip, or even successful. He meant to make it ordinary—to make it spiritual. He meant to show people that spirituality is nothing special as we normally understand “special.” It’s the quotidian quality of Jesus. In Peterson’s straightforward words, “life, life, and more life.” Peterson is straining to help Christian believers to understand that that message is the message of God.
7. “Far as the curse is found”
Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Seminary, writes a wonderful reflection based on the lyrics of “Joy to the World”:
There certainly is a lot of cursedness around these days. There are the “macro” curses of homelessness, poverty, political oppression, the sexual slave trade, religious persecution, whole populations devastated by war and disease. But there are also the “micro” curses that afflict many individual lives in highly personal ways: grief, abandonment, loneliness, abuse, fear of the future, difficult illnesses—and much more. The good news of Christmas is that Jesus has come—born a baby in the manger of Bethlehem… God chose to experience the curse in a very intimate way, experiencing our cursedness from the inside by becoming one of us. The final “conquering,” of course, came at the end, when Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose victoriously from the tomb. But it had to begin with his utter helplessness in the Bethlehem stable. “God with us”—in the cursedness of our helpless estate.
Repaso is intended as a thought-provoking compilation of news and commentary from the past week related to the intersections of faith, development, justice and peace. As always, I welcome your thoughts on any of the links and ideas in this roundup!
[Photo credit: Randy L. Rasmussen/The Oregonian via Buzzfeed]
After a wonderful wedding and honeymoon, and a corresponding break from all things Internet, I’m slowly but surely going to be blogging again — though probably not quite as frequently as before, at least for now. I’ll kick things off by highlighting what looks to be a really cool event.
My friends at the Association for Development through Education in Costa Rica, with whom I lived and worked for a couple of months in early 2010, are planning a conference for January that will certainly be one unlike any other conference you’ve ever been to. In partnership with a Costa Rican seminary, a mission organization and a community health group, they’ll be exploring the “zero down” development model ADE is using, and considering its wider implications for various sectors in different places. Here’s the blurb:
A bilingual conference looking at answers to the tough questions of the interaction between faith, missions, money, and development. No one is coming with all the answers, but as we come together, learn from each other, and look specifically at the “zero down” model we hope to take steps forward to further understand these difficult relationships.
Here’s the conference promo video (also available in Spanish):
If you’re interested in reading more about my experiences with ADE, here are a few posts from that time:
I wrote about teaching English via Cha Cha Slide here;
I gave a Palm Sunday sermon about Jesus, friend of chorizeros, described here; and
I gave a video tour of the community and house where I lived here.