Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Programs / Partnerships (8 of 8)

An error that the church can fall into is that when it comes to alleviating poverty or addressing a social issue, we automatically want to start a program. We believe that the church must be the agent to fulfill the need.  This problem solving mentality and the need to fix what is broken is mostly driven by a western mentality and worldview – remember “Alafu?” It is compounded by the fact that westerners happily fund programs and the global south happily accepts and becomes a dependent on the merry-go-round of relief and development.  It is merely a reflection and the fallout of post-colonialism.

Partnering internationally and funding programs can be attained through mutual accountability, transparency and trust. The problem is that cross-culturally we even define words like "accountability" and "transparency" differently.

Creating or funding programs doesn’t easily translate to global partnerships or effective ministry.

It is well believed that the global relief and development sector is compromised with corruption and greed.  Unfortunately, church and para-church ministries have not had a much better track record when it comes to ethics and fiscal responsibility.  We are not posting blame only on the receiver and the helped in these transactions.  Well-intentioned givers continue to make enormous blunders that in the end create more harm than good. 

While it may be unlikely to ever see the laic sector clean up it’s reputation, for the sake of the Gospel, the church must lead in ethics and hold one another to a higher expectation.  We need to recognize that the church of the global south might be better positioned with a broader worldview to lead the west in their charitable giving.  We need to be committed to shed the prevalent colonial mentality and work on level terms and conditions.  Again, we need to define words like "level" and "transparency."  The west needs to ask the right questions and the global south needs be willing to bring up the difficult conversations – for the sake of the Gospel, we need to minimize “beating around the bush” and not be so afraid of hurting someone's feelings. 

We might all be sitting at a table speaking French but while holding our own world views, we are still speaking different languages. 

While the world is becoming smaller and global church partnerships are becoming the norm, we should also look at the other side of the coin.  Rather than just giving to the church of the global south, the western church should also challenge others on how to shape a culture of giving within it’s own indigenous church.  While the western church has not “cornered the market” on giving and could still be more generous, generally, there is an even poorer culture of giving in the church of the global south.  I am not comparing dollar for dollar but comparing a generous heart of giving; the kind of giving that scripture calls us to.   The African church, for example, has become accustomed to depending on others for their needs.   They have been given so much assistance that they have forgotten how to be generous, depend on God in giving of their own funds for the sake of the gospel.  It is almost as if God, the Holy Spirit is left out of the equation. 

The underlying message is that “God has not given us enough and therefore we should go elsewhere to get more funds in order for us to do ministry.”   

When African church-goers won’t give because the west will give (a classic, crippling, welfare, poor mentality in development circles) God becomes diminished and the church is left with a poor, unhealthy relationship with God. 

Part of the issue also stems back to the fact that global church tends to emulate and model themselves after the western church with big buildings, bigger productions, and bigger programs. The global south will likely never keep up with the western church on programs such as these.  But, do they even need the programs and buildings to spread the Gospel?  The question should be, “do these programs even translate cross-culturally?  Is this part of the fallout of colonial missionary mentality on what is required to do church?  How much of this is the global south waiting for someone to tell them what and how to do it when they likely already have the means to get it done? How often does the colonial minded church quench the global/universal work Holy Spirit?  The western church has begun to realize that bigger buildings and programs do not necessarily translate to more lives changed.  When will the church trust in God’s economy and follow his universal kingdom mentality?

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Asset-Based Mapping - Development (7 of 8)

A practical aspect of the "Pastoral Circle."  

As we do development work, the theology of the church tells us that we primarily need to focus on the assets and strengths of the community not just their needs.  What we need to remember is that God is already at work in the lives of the people of the community.  Again we should be prayerfully asking, “Where is God already at work?” and go there.

Secularism says resources are always limited. God is never limited.  Development is more about discovering and exploring God’s world than merely trying to help people survive.  It’s about creating new resources, not redistributing scarce ones. 

 “Where is God already at work?” ... go there.

When we focus on the needs we are communicating that the people have a problem and they do not have the capacity to fix it.  If not approached with care, this approach can quickly create dependence mentality, give us a savior complex and all the more compound the marred identity of the poor.  We are not trying to “fix” anyone, we just focus on transformation with hope. 

We should be finding organizations that are already working in the community and see if a partnership is viable.  Most government leaders have desires of transformation for their communities.  We can help them move from mostly a political agenda to a godly perspective.  The strategy begins by talking to people and asking them what their hope is for the community.  Mapping helps the community understand themselves and leverage the good things that are already present.

We are not trying to “fix” anyone, we just focus on transformation with hope.

Mapping out our communities and ministries on the same map can help the church see where God is at work and how we can bring our networks together. It can assist in helping identify and network through the locations of outreach ministries, social engagements, residences and benevolence cases with pastor’s residences and church locations, seeking discipleship opportunities.  We can partner with government resources, NGO’s and any program that might assist in leveraging a community asset or provide access to addressing a need. It will help the church find the right partners and programs to assist the needy seeking relief and rehabilitation.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Thank You For the Work You Do!

Often, people thank me for the work I do as a missionary.  I get it, living and working in Kenya can be very difficult and a hard life for most to imagine.  But, I never really know how to respond well, other than to smile and say, "thank you."  I almost feel like I should thank them back for what they do.  I always want to take the conversation deeper and remind them that in God's eyes, they/we are all called to fulfill a unique, special purpose.  Whatever that looks like for them, it is very important to God.

Does our over-inflated views of each other's work come out because we are not yet fully living out our God-given purpose or do we forget to stay on course?  Of course God has seasons for us and might not have just one single purpose or career for us.  I have had jobs and times where I was not feeling any purpose in my work.  It took close friends and mentors to get me out of those valleys.  I still sometimes wish for a 9 to 5 with a steady paycheck; but that fades quickly when I again treasure what I get to do.  For now, it has to do with serving in Kenya, which I humbly feel privileged to do.  I live recognizing that tomorrow  all that could change and God could lead me elsewhere.

This video below, "Forming Fully Christian Workers," is what got me thinking about this.  Are you searching for more meaning in your career?  Is your church and pastor supporting and encouraging you in our vocation?  How can you refocus your current job for the sake of the Gospel - to be Kingdom focused?  For some it might be time to change careers and do what God has called you to do.  It doesn't mean that you should be a full-time missionary and that God will send you to Africa, but maybe it does.

Check out this great resource and pass it on to your pastor: madetoflourish.org   Maybe we should all thank and support one another more often for the work and careers we perform.

Pastor Tim Keller gives good thoughts here regarding this topic.  A true disciple understands their Christian vocation and purpose.   It ties together with my last few posts regarding the "Pastoral Circle" and providing access to the marginalized in our own communities.

By the way, thank you for believing in the work we do in Kenya.  Your "thank yous" are encouraging and meaningful.  The awkwardness is my own issue to get over.  Let's do this together!

To our partners, thank you for the work you do.  If you are not sure about the purpose it gives to you,  know that your careers are in part what allows you to give and support missionaries and ministries like ours.  In my world, that is being very Kingdom focused and giving for the sake of the Gospel.   

Monday, March 21, 2016

Does Every Ministry In Church Have the Same Goal? (6 of 8)

I had an opportunity to be on staff with a fairly affluent, influential church for three years where I served for a period both in the social justice department (helping the poor) and also the missions and outreach team (church planting).

Over time it became evident that although the social justice and missions departments had not worked closely together, with time, the two departments would either duplicate each other’s work or would become inter-dependent.  Through conversations and clarifying the vision it was proposed that they could join together and focus on a common goal, be inter-dependent. After all, everyone was on the same team and ultimately shared the same goal.  We even found that each of the department’s transformational development strategy and models were similar in their process and context.

- positioning the church for discipleship... more churches planted

Although it was not practically implemented, I saw potential where the missions department would work more hand-in-hand with social justice in reaching poor communities.  Even to the point that through social engagements, the church could go into a particular community to lay a foundation for ministry that could lead to a church.  The newly planted church could be a natural overflow of what God was already doing in that community.  In the missions and outreach department, church planters could be trained to be champions of justice causes and community transformation, all in the context of planting and pastoring a church.

It was a clear, focused strategy, that could be taught and multiplied, which could allow for growth and development and with time lead to effective community social engagements - positioning the church for discipleship eventually leading to spiritual transformation and more churches planted.

In this context, possibilities and opportunities for community engagements are endless and can look different in every area.  For some, it might be focused on vocational training; while others might serve a medical need.  The idea is to partner with local leaders, map a community and focus on the assets or strengths of the community (asset mapping), in order to together bring transformation. 

The ministry targets for church planting and helping the poor could be focused in the same communities; Targeting the slums or urban communities in the city, beginning with the church’s networks and current ministry engagements, pastor’s networks, church plant training and social development engagements, they all would work together for the sake of the Gospel.

A "justice" department in the church should not be viewed as the only department that does social justice but it ought to be seen as the department that helps “the church” (including all ministry departments) facilitate social justice in all sectors, community outreach, seeking transformation through discipleship - loving your neighbor.

 - Disciples naturally want to be the church


With these departments working together, church planters, pastors and community workers all are more able to contextualize and be intentional in the transformation of their own communities.  The church has a great chance to stay relative and be indispensable to their community. The church and the social engagements have a symbiotic relationship.  The social engagement can help birth and grow a church by making disciples.  Disciples naturally want to be the church.  The social engagement will help the church stay relative within the community. The church will help the social engagement stay focused on the commission – “go and make disciples.”

The church has always struggled to find the balance in fulfilling the biblical mandate to “go and make disciples”, evangelism, church planting…  and the obedience in reflecting God’s heart for the poor and needy in the world, such as tackling social justice issues.  Too often we separate the two “co-missions” and even find that we struggle to accomplish them individually.  We get frustrated and at times quit because we don’t see the results and even the whole process can feel awkward.  Evangelism can become a forced event, something we check off of the list when we feel we’ve done enough that month.  The reality is that the church generally struggles, or has given up completely to evangelize.

On the other hand, the church’s social justice and philanthropic efforts feel right and good in the moment but also can then essentially take the gospel, kingdom mentality out them and eventually the church will question why we do them at all.  Actually many churches get very far down the road and don’t even recognize they have gone the wrong direction.  Most likely they are a church struggling to grow, struggling in giving and struggling see the positive effects of their ministry.
-...the church... can quench the voice of the Holy Spirit

The trend that actually occurs is that churches have re-defined social benevolent causes alone to be the mission of the church.  They have replaced the “go and make” disciples with the caring for “the least of these” and don’t recognize that they might be somewhat off mission.  I would not hesitate to define this as the church falling into another of the devil’s schemes.  The immediate gratification that someone, the church, gets from doing good, can quench the voice of the Holy Spirit to the point that the church acts alone in trying, unsuccessfully, to accomplish the mission, all the while thinking it is still on mission.  The mission is not ruined.  Thankfully the Holy Spirit is fully in control and continues to bring in the Kingdom of God.  It just won’t necessarily happen with all of those he invited in to participate in the mission.

These writings are an effort to piece together the God given passions for the poor, benevolent programs and philanthropic ideas with the generally understood ideas of missions, evangelism and church planting.  The key is to “position for discipleship”  - to put ourselves, as the church, in a place where we naturally, undeniably will lead in such a way that others will want to follow us, follow Jesus.

Every ministry should ultimately be focused on making Jesus known.  When we look at his life in the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John),  we find him performing miracles to show that he was the promised Messiah.  The miracles were not just stand alone incidents for the sake of healing or justice.  He got everyone's attention, consistently spoke of the kingdom and prepared his followers, particularly the disciples, to carry on the mission after he was gone.  The disciples did not really understand their mission until after Jesus' resurrection and during those last 40 days.  But in those 40 days before he ascended into heaven,  Jesus clarified the mission, ordained the church to carry it out and promised to send the Holy Spirit as the Helper.  In the book of Acts (Acts of the Apostles) the early church apostles adapted well to the needs of the church.  They eventually got it!  The acts were all done in an effort to make Jesus known, to make more disciples of Jesus.  They worked together, every delegated department.

The mission has not changed. Today we are to carry it on.  Let's not lose focus and change it.   Make Jesus known this Easter.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Lack of Access - A Root Cause of Poverty (5 of 8)

My first trip to Kenya
- the way these three women cared for their community deeply impacted me.
While these thoughts pertain to our work on the ground in Kenya,  I believe that the principles can apply to any context.  I post this while keeping the previous 4 posts in mind; alone, it might seem limiting to the purpose of the church and to where the Holy Spirit is leading.

In referencing "the church,"  I am thinking about the global church but I also want to identify 3 different church world views.  First, the local church on the ground in the informal sector.  Second, the local church in the educated, middle to upper class that functions in the formal sector. And third, the partner church.  A church like the second but one that also seeks to partner cross culturally with others on the ground.  If you look at your own community I think you would find all three of these churches represented.  Maybe not at the same disparities as in the global south but definitely outside of each other's world views.

Our work in Nairobi focuses on walking with the local church in the marginalized community (the first example).  After all, in any context, the local church is by far the most equipped to reach the lost in their own community.  We also invite the local middle to upper class church (the second example) to engage in the work.  While their engagement is also limited by social disparities, it is not necessarily cross-cultural.  There are different cultural hurdles to overcome in this context but there is enormous potential for healthy relationships, transformation and the gospel all around.  Thirdly, we involve the international church as partners who understand the vision and help move it forward.  Even here, if we are intentional about our approach, there is potential for transformation all around.  This includes financial support, hosting visiting churches who serve on a short-term basis, and challenging individuals to have a deeper relationship with God no matter the context.  Sometimes it takes a cross cultural experience to help someone get an honest reflection of their own life and spur them on to a deeper purpose.  In fact, that is exactly what happened to us.

I am writing here in the context of our ministry vision, "The Pastoral Circle," which I discuss in a previous post, "Vision: the Pastoral Circle."   Positioning for discipleship is at the heart of all of this.  As the church, yes, we should be seeking to help the poor as a reflection of God's heart and also for the sake of our own hearts but at it's core, we do this for the sake of the Gospel, to tell the good news of Jesus. We approach poverty with our own poverty in mind. 

The Church Providing Access
As the church focuses on outreach and reaching each local community, it can gain ground by having  partners or a network with organizations influencing the sectors of society.  After all, laypeople are working, representing and leading the organizations in each of these sectors.  One of the church’s greatest strengths is in leveraging our congregations, empowering them to do their own work better, deeper.  We can help laypeople understand their calling and the daily impact for the Kingdom.  This can be defined as the church providing access.  We should be empowering laypeople, commissioning the church, to impact society and position for discipleship.

Friedman focuses on the powerlessness of the poor and defines poverty as the lack of access of social power [1] – the poor have little to no influence for themselves when dealing in sectors of the state, civil society, corporate economy and political community.  He goes on to suggest dimensions where the poor can create avenues for improving their role in society: social networks, information for self development, surplus time, instruments of work, organizations, skills, life space, and financial resources.  When the levels of these social powers are low and the household is unable to move out of poverty on it’s own, Friedman defines this as absolute poverty.  The assumption is that poor households lack the social power to improve the condition of their member’s lives.

The Church: In, To and With the City
Perhaps the greatest obstacle in helping someone, particularly in the city, move out of poverty is the fact that the majority of life for the poor revolves around the informal social sectors of society.  Life and survival depends on a society with an informal set of rules.  Everything from, housing, buying food, finding work, banking, governance, local law and including attending church are done from an informal worldview.  One can also define this by understanding the informality as a pure form of a rural mentality struggling to compete in an urban setting.

One way to look at a church’s effectiveness is to assess the level of impact by looking at it’s posture and presence within their own community.  Let’s look at three postures of the church in their communities: the church in, to and with the city.[2]

The church may be in the city but has failed to adapt to the changes in the community and therefore become irrelevant.  They find themselves present but not personal.  If they don’t adapt, this church will likely die within one generation.

The church may go to the city but finds that most of the congregation commutes from the suburbs and is no longer present in the community, other than on Sunday morning, therefore out of context.  Many of the families may have grown up in the church’s neighborhood. But in educating their children and seeking a better future for them, the children have moved out in upward mobility. They attend church on Sunday but they are now out of touch. The community views them as outsiders.  Many of their friends have upwardly mobilized themselves out of church. 

What we are hoping for when we desire a better future for our children?  We might educate our children and give them the opportunity to get great jobs; yet in the process, unintentionally removed and upwardly mobilized out the factors of hope, faith and the foundational relationship with Jesus.  We risk having educated but not made disciples.  As the church, is education the greater future that we hope for our children?

The church that is with the city is incarnated with the community – flesh and bone of the people.  They can be most effective because they can join with people in addressing the issues and transformation of the community.  When we are already present and positioned to build relationships we avoid the dichotomy between evangelism and discipleship.  The church needs to ensure that the laymen are committed to being with their community and building bridges that network careers to outreach, empowering both the poor and the non-poor to know their purpose, with a restored identity and a recovered vocation. 

At the core, this is transformational for everyone.  One’s faith and action is no longer only about Sunday morning or a quarterly mercy mission. The church with the city does not just go to work their career.  It is now more deeply tied to their identity, vocation and purpose. This church understands the great commission and the incarnational mandate to reach others with the Gospel.    The endgame becomes discipleship and how we are positioned to do so – the task of the church.

If we hope to help the church in marginalized communities move from the informal, disenfranchised sidelines to the formal sectors of society, we must create bridges and help provide the access with formal society – fair employment, good education, formal banking & lending, viable shopping, effective ministry and outreach and so on.  

The middle to upper class tends to believe that finances is their greatest asset [3] - after all, that is the greatest “ask” they hear and act on - providing this access or applying their vocation in a practical way is possibly the greatest asset the middle to upper class has to provide.

Lets consider an educated, middle to upper class congregation that influences their society.  The average attenders of the church are the leaders, and participants in the sectors of society.  They can range from politicians and government leaders to business owners and directors of influential organizations.  God blesses the church body and has appointed godly people into influential roles. 

As the church gets involved we want each member to be able to say, “my love of Christ and my understanding of my faith has been deepened.”

In this season, let us reflect on this risen Savior Jesus but may this challenge us into a deeper participation in the telling of his good news.

[1] “Walking With the Poor” Myers (118)
[2] “Empowering the Poor” Robert Linthicum
[3] Funding will continue to be necessary to help the church fulfill the demands of the needs in all areas of outreach particularly with discipleship and getting churches planted but finances likely will not be as great of need as providing access. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

"Alafu?" (4 of 8)


A man from the west approached a fisherman relaxing on the shores of Lake Victoria and asked him, “Why aren’t you out in the water catching fish?”  “I’m enjoying my day, just relaxing” the man replied.  The westerner inquired again, “Don’t you want to catch fish?”  The fisherman answered, “Ok but and then?”
W: “Well… you would get more fish!”
F: “What would I do with more fish? - My family is not so big.”
W: “Well, you would have more fish to sell to the market.”
F: “To the market? - And then?”
W: “You would have more money and could buy more fishing nets, eventually maybe buy a nicer boat.”
F: “That sounds like a lot of work”  “And then after that?”
W: “You could catch and sell even more fish!”
F: “And then?”
W: Getting annoyed, “You would have more money - to support your family!”
F: “And then?”
W: “You could build a bigger house!!”
F: “And then?”
W: “You, you could…!!!”
The exchange continued back and forth until finally the western man said with resolve, “Look! Don’t you want to do something with your life?” – “I mean, don’t you want to be able to retire and relax someday?”
F: “Isn’t this what you already see me doing now?” –  “I am already happy and relaxed. Why would I go to the trouble of all your extra steps?”

Surely everyone has a God-given purpose – an identity and vocation that we are called to pursue and fulfill.  But, the story above helps us to gain the perspective that particularly in development work, our own plans and ways are not necessarily the best plans for someone else.  The question, "alafu?"- “and then?” is always a good place to start - to test the steps of an idea or program, to try and get to the final outcome of our plan; especially when it comes to social engagements, ministry and the intentions of making disciples.   We need to check our motives and ask the right questions.

Changing gears a bit, I'll put this Bible story here.  This first interaction between Jesus and these disciples always amazes me.
"While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen.  And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him.  And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them.  Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him."  Matthew 4:18-22
It was a different conversation than the "Alafu" one above.  What must have they thought they were going to be doing?  Fishers of men?  How was that going to be putting food on their tables?  Jesus never let them down and gave them far more than they ever imagined.  This was the beginning of his ministry.  Calling out disciples, who would soon make the foundations of the church.  The Kingdom and reconciliation with God was at hand.

Jesus lived, died and rose again.  He is alive and active today.  The Holy Spirit is moving throughout the church, prompting us to respond to Jesus.  What is your answer?  And then?

Story adapted from “Ndere Troupe” – Kampala Cultural Centre

Monday, March 14, 2016

Depending on Jesus – Addressing Poverty Properly (3 of 8)

We are broken, sharing the Story of God with broken friends.
God has had a plan all along.  Our actions have never surprised him.  His answer to our sin, from the time of the fall of man, was that he would send Jesus to deliver us (Genesis 3:15).   God sending Jesus was not plan B.  There was no plan B.  He was and is the plan from the beginning of time.   We are shaped to know this, to need this.  That is why we love epic stories of good vs. evil.  It is why we love superheroes. They rescue people and the good guys win in the end.  Jesus came to earth, established his Kingdom, died and rose again.  It is the story of God and man.  He is still actively working through the Holy Spirit and invites us, his church, to participate until he comes again and finishes his work of restoring all things back to God.  There is no other plan for us other than Jesus.  He wins in the end and invites us to be on his side.  The question is, "Will we surrender all of our other attempts in our brokenness and acknowledge him in this way?  Do we know him as our deliverer? How do we respond?"

In my previous post,  I worked on a broader definition of poverty.  What about our response? What does this mean for us, the church?  While on this side of heaven we will never be able to fully define poverty, we must remain committed to asking the right questions, questioning our methods, and holding ourselves (each congregant) accountable to the process of loving our neighbor.  Only then will we begin to prayerfully live by the Spirit and follow God’s heart.  Jesus is the only person who ever helped the poor perfectly.  In every situation he knew exactly how to respond, what to say, what to do.  Through discipleship, we must continue to ask, “How are we going to help people become actors in their own [hi]story?”  -  This question applies to both the materially poor and non-poor.

As the church, we must understand that poverty is not just a lack of funds or resources.  We want to address poverty issues holistically: financial, emotional, social, relational and fundamentally spiritual poverty.  All of these issues can be addressed through discipleship relationships and a local church.

Man’s relationship with God is his highest form of wealth.
When we leave out the spiritual poverty and the discipleship dynamic, we are not representing or offering anything different than any other NGO and relief agency out there[1].  In fact, we misrepresent Christ.  To the common person, we become just another one of the thousands of inadequate programs that increasingly are diverging from plans that have their best interest in mind.  

There is no real explanation for why social systems exclude the poor and become self-serving.  A spiritual dimension is needed to account for the fact that social institutions frequently frustrate even the best and most noble intentions of the people who inhabit and lead them. Furthermore, there is no means to account for the destructive behaviors and poor choices of both the poor and the non-poor, nor for the fact that the poor often exploit each other. [3]   Pride, greed and corruption flow throughout all socio-economic levels, not just top-down vertically but horizontally as well.  In countries such as Kenya there is a mentality that thinks, “as long as I am ahead of you, I am ok.”  It motivates someone to get ahead, exploit others and stay there at all costs.  Even in the west we continuously rate our status competing with our neighbors in bigger cars, better grass and the best toys.  This goes on to impact and potentially damage all relationships including neighbors, the church and family.
Daniel Hays gives us a piece of the biblical perspective and how we all need to consider how we treat our neighbor.  Let us not forget that it is our sinful behavior that hurts others and separates us from God.  While in his analysis Hays uses the sin of racism to reach his point, the context of racism can be interchanged by our other sins against people such as: tribalism, pride, greed, selfishness, lust, corruption, entitlement and impunity.
 Hays tells us:

[2] Both the dignity and the equality of human beings are traced in Scripture to our creation.  Racism or the superiority of one’s own race is a denial that all people have been created in the image of God. This is at the heart of the definition on racism. ‘In short, racism from the Christian standpoint is a response that violates the equalitarian principle implied in the biblical doctrine of the imago Dei [the image of God].   Proverbs 14:31 and 17:5 likewise connect the implications of God’s creation of people with one’s ethical behavior towards other people.  Proverbs 14:31 ‘He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their maker.’ Proverbs 17:5 ‘He who mocks the poor shows contempt for their maker.’   The superior attitude taken by one in a socio-economic setting toward another in a poor setting is an affront to the God who created them both.  All people created by God deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

Development work is hard.  We make mistakes, there is a lot of discouragement but it forces us to constantly depend on Jesus.  Discipleship and accountability through the church and the work of the Holy Spirit can guide people into proper relationships with others.  Let us remember that we define transformation as a changed people and changed relationships.

The photo above is of two women at our community center, one that we have been walking with closely.  They are both very broken; abused, alcoholic, prostitutes.  What is beautiful about this picture is that it is a glimpse of the transformation in their own lives.  In the picture, one of the women is retelling our Story of God lessons to her friend.  In the midst of her own brokenness, she knows her need for Jesus enough to share her hope with her friend.  She is currently undergoing rehab.

What I have come to discover is that while I address poverty issues and walk with others towards transformation, Jesus still desires to work in me and my own issues, my own poverty.  Our work, living with the marginalized poor, often accentuates my own poverty and brokenness.  What we have to offer others is merely a testimony of our own brokenness but also one that is surrounded with hope in Jesus, our deliverer.  Jesus enables us to love our neighbors despite our own failures.  He is still at work, reconciling all things back to God.

[1] Good statistics are nearly impossible but some say that in the area of Kibera alone, there is around 1 NGO represented for every 10 people. (Nairobi, Kenya)
[2] “From Every People and Nation”  - J. Daniel Hays (p. 50)
[3] “Walking With the Poor” Myers (118)

Saturday, March 12, 2016

What is Poverty? Transformation is for Everyone! (2 of 8)

...And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow...  (Matthew 6:28)

Pop quiz! Read the sentence below then fill in the blanks with:  (Spiritual, Social)  Which one fits into which blank?  Which one comes first? 

“True _________ transformation cannot happen without _________ transformation.”

Now reflect on these points:
1. We are image bearers of God (Gen 1:26). Our goal is to be transformed into God's image and God's purpose for our life.  This speaks into our identity and our vocation.
2. Transformation is: changed people, changed relationships.  Relationships with God, self, others, environment.  This concerns every human being. 
Transformation has nothing to do with “making you more like me” outside of discipleship. 
3. Transformation is for everyone. When we confuse and interchange "the social and spiritual" then we can dangerously make an assumption that if we are socially sorted, then our lives are whole and complete and if we are socially broken then we are not yet fit to come to Jesus (or the church).   Also, we might slowly begin to think that the gospel teaches that if/when we are spiritually whole then God is ready to also make us socially, physically, economically complete and prosperous.  I believe these false teachings and beliefs have already crept into the church.  It is prosperity faith. This can be highly destructive and derailing for someone’s transformation journey.
4. True social transformation begins when we seek spiritual wholeness.  Our relationships with self (self image), others, and the environment will not be whole and true until we address our relationship with God (spiritual).
5. Positioning for discipleship.  This process of transformation helps us form relationships that guide us into discipleship with others, walking together, following Jesus.
 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:33
People usually make the mistake of thinking that when we speak of transformation, we are referring to the rescuing of the materially poor.  Often this is the mentality of the non-poor thinking about socioeconomic disparity and development work.  Actually, we believe transformation and wholeness is for everyone.  Certainly Scripture over and over commands us not to neglect the marginalized poor, to take on God’s heart of compassion and to take action in the relief and rehabilitation of society, but that is not what we mean when we refer to transformation or even social justice.

Let me turn our relief thinking on it's head a little.  Do you realize that we from the west are far more concerned, "anxious about clothing" (Matthew6:28), what we wear, than any "poor" individual I ever met? Sure, everyone wants to look nice, but I find much more of a concern and dependence on clothing and image in the west than in the global south.  This is also exactly why we tend to think that if we just bought someone new clothes, or found a better house, of a better something, we've done the right thing.  Not necessarily.  There probably was a bigger, deeper need.  Much of our materialism and need for comfort and convenience is unique to us in the west.  So who should be paying more attention when we read Matthew 6 and Jesus saying, "why are you anxious?" Who is poor and who needs the relief? Poor in spirit, poor in relationships, poor image of self, poor in purpose...

What is generally misconstrued is that the process is not limited to desiring for the poor to be "like us” socioeconomically or wanting to level the playing field by “rescuing people out of poverty.”  Yes, we should desire for people to live a life free from material poverty but not forsaking a relationship with Jesus and certainly not transferring our materialism in the process.  If the church helps rehabilitate someone materially but fails to introduce that person to a relationship with Jesus, then the church has missed the mission.  That individual is still poor, no matter what their social and economic status is.  I believe that Africa, particularly the youth, is already struggling with the materialism of the west and is at least coveting to be everything that the material west looks like.  Is that what we want for them?

- we believe transformation and wholeness is for everyone

What we also fail to recognize is that in this process of helping others, the “non-poor” are also transformed and made into the likeness of God.  Transformation happens because if and when we allow it, the process of discipleship and loving others transforms us all into Christlikeness.  Therefore, when the church is involved in the process, not only can the marginalized be helped, but the rest of society is also influenced and reformed into Christlikeness; whether we rewrite social policy in government that speaks to the rights of the marginalized, or a broken family is rehabilitated, or an individual is blessed in the process of becoming a giver, godly faithfulness and obedience leads to a changed person. Are you struggling with anxiety? Read the whole section of Matthew 6:25-34, it hits this to the core.

When the church influences the sectors of society[1] it is acting like Jesus, as the Body of Christ, positioning for discipleship, reclaiming it’s role and purpose in society.  Jesus gave the church the example to live by.  Let us recognize that while Jesus performed many miracles of physical transformation, he more often spoke of the Kingdom[2] one day.  Jesus’ primary purpose in performing miracles was to show or announce that he was the Messiah.  The church must reflect the same method and teaching about the Kingdom as we partner with God in what he has already been doing at least since Pentecost – performing miracles, calling mankind unto Himself, making disciples of Jesus.  Let us not make the same original mistake of Jesus’ disciples and hope in the kingdom of today and now, a material, earthly kingdom.  This would be nothing short of preaching a prosperity gospel.  It took the death and resurrection of Christ for the disciples to finally understand Jesus’ mission.  In the very same way, the church’s mission today is defined by the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ.

- Any program that seeks to eradicate poverty, has an immature Kingdom perspective.

Therefore, it is helpful for us, the church, to know and define our own place in the process of transformation.  The secular relief agenda has taught the world, including Christianity, that we need to define poverty and create programs to solve and eradicate the problem.   Any program that seeks to eradicate poverty, has an immature Kingdom perspective.  Global programs, organizations and governments are constantly jockeying to lead in the crisis but the majority neglect the role of a faith approach and the church.

What many organizations refuse to recognize is that social change is neither linear nor logical.   Logical framework that generally gets introduced as the remedy is weak.

The life of the godly is not a straight line to glory, but they do get there – God sees to it.  God is at work in the darkest of times – for our good and Christ’s glory. – John Piper

The underlying assumption is that the problem of poverty is mechanical in nature, as a consequence, that the solution to poverty can be provided by a linear, logical, rational, problem-solving approach that can be fixed by adding skills, technology and money.[3]

The world is deceived by mechanical and social systems and is not able to recognize the fact that the fundamental struggle of poverty for everyone is spiritual.  Ironically social systems, such as a community of poor people, do not work the same way mechanical systems do.

At best, most development workers and practitioners may allude to the spiritual dimension of life and poverty but they don’t develop it.  An atheist, Matthew Parris alluded to this in his article in the London Times: "I truly believe Africa needs God." He goes on to say: "Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa's biggest problem - the crushing passivity of the people's mindset."

This is the very reason why the church, the local church, can and should be the most effective agent in transformation. I mention the local church, because this is who we aim to envision and empower to do the work.  It doesn't take missionaries to do the work of the church but as missionaries we can help by partnering, clarifying the mission of the local church.  The church is fundamentally shaped to thrive on things that are not so measurable: love, faith, grace, hope and dependence on God. The church is positioned to develop and address the spiritual dimension.  The church has the theology of “principalities and powers.” In Jesus, we have the power to fight against the enemy who seeks to kill and destroy everything.  The enemy, Satan, hates anything that pertains to transformation and the kingdom.

Most secular organizations find faith to be an intangible solution primarily because it is hard to sell faith, cast a vision and receive funding without a tangible target and plan on paper. Read "Mission Drift - the unspoken crisis facing leaders, charities, and churches." - Greer/Horst

This Easter, we will celebrate that Jesus is risen.  He is alive!  He continues today to work out and bring in his kingdom.  How do we respond to that?   He has invited you and I in a relationship with him.  He has already invited you to participate in his broad kingdom mission of reconciliation.  In your own transformation story, with the help of the Holy Spirit, Jesus will guide you in your response and in what you ought to do daily to reach out to others.  Don't dismiss the ongoing work of Jesus in you this Easter season.  Transformation is for all of us.

[1] Formal areas of society in which the church can have influence.
[2] Matthew 3 – The Kingdom of God is at hand – prepare the way.  Matthew 5:3 – Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom. Mt 6:33 - Seek first the kingdom of God: Gentiles seek – do not be anxious about tomorrow.  Luke 12 Nations seek – treasure is where your heart is.
Isa 9:6-8 Increase of his government and of peace there will be no end.  Kingdom-  to establish it and uphold it with justice and with righteousness.
[3] “Walking With The Poor” – Bryant Myers (243-244)

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Transformation/Reconciliation – Positioning for Discipleship (1 of 8)

Over the next couple of weeks I will be posting several reflections that pertain to our vision and are at the heart of why we live in Kenya.  A lot of it compiles thoughts and practices about walking with the marginalized poor but I believe it can relate to anyone's search for truth and meaning. I thought it appropriate to try and tie my thoughts together with the upcoming Easter season. I invite you to join us in reflecting on our journey as we seek to share the Gospel - the good news about our Savior Jesus. Hope you get something out of it.  Here is the 1st of 8: Transformation/Reconciliation – Positioning for Discipleship.

Why did Jesus come to earth?

I recently got to attend a virtual workshop, "Helping the Poor to Flourish" hosted by the Chalmers Center, Made to Flourish network, facilitated by Brian Fikkert - author "When Helping Hurts".  In this seminar we were challenged to answer a fundamental question, "why did Jesus come to earth?" The most common answers were in the vain of, "to die on the cross and save us from our sins."  The discussion went on that while this answer is true,  Jesus' message is even more broad and talks about himself as being the King that came to reconcile all things back to himself:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.  Colossians 1:15-20

Isn't that an appropriate passage while we approach Easter,  as we reflect on his sacrifice and celebrate his resurrection?  Makes me want to know him more deeply and tell others about him, this loving creator and ruler of all things.  So what are we to do with this?  What should be our response?

One way that Christians would find a response is that we, the church, should walk with each other in this reconciliation or transformation (defined as a changed people and changed relationships - this fundamentally includes our relationship with God).  Transformation or the reconciling of all things, effectively happens through God's work inviting the church, the body of Christ, to get in discipleship relationships with others, just as Jesus modeled for us with his followers/disciples.

- we should constantly be seeking engagements that “position us for discipleship” 

These thoughts are rooted in our obedience to what is phrased the Great Commission “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19-20); which was proclaimed some 40 days after Jesus' resurrection, Easter.  In this mission, we should constantly seek engagements that “position us for discipleship”  - these are efforts that allow us to build relationships with people and the community and that will lead to a friendship that eventually leads people to a transformed relationship with Jesus Christ.  Saying, "let's walk together, watch me as I follow Jesus."

As people make the decision to follow Jesus, a physical church is not the end goal. Transformation through discipleship is the goal.  Discipleship breeds every wrinkle of transformation. The church, a group of people, is the natural outcome of transformation and the vehicle by which God ordains the hope in “The Kingdom one day.”  It represents and reflects the transformation that occurs within a community.  The church is the community that celebrates and encourages the reconciliation of all things back to God.

In Acts 1-3 the author Luke is concerned with discipleship and Christian community.  God’s plan is not just that the gospel will go to all peoples, but that all peoples will be brought together through the gospel to form one people in Christ.  God is calling the peoples of the world to share in community that includes their enemies and reconciles them with those who worship and live in other ways. The universalistic elements of Luke’s theology have implications not only on missiology, but also for ecclesiology (‘how we do church’) and the social interaction within the church.[1]

Being made in God’s image, we are image bearers of God.  The end goal of transformation is to help others know this and to live this out – to fulfill their God given purpose, identity and vocation through a relationship with Jesus.  We, the church, are involved through discipleship - to be a renewed person and renew our relationships with God, self, others, the community and the environment. 

  - we are merely participants in God's story

We should remind ourselves that we are not the agents that cause transformation.  God, the Holy Spirit is the one who transforms. We are merely participants in God’s story.  Our role is to go where God is, to be “Kingdom focused”

We still wait for the visible, bodily presence of Christ, but that does not mean the kingdom is not present at all right now. Though its fullness has not yet been realized, the kingdom has come, and, indeed, it continues to come as lives are transformed by the power of the Spirit. Our Savior has kept His promise that the apostles would taste the kingdom before their deaths, and today we too taste God's kingdom in our lives. (TT-Ligonier Ministries)

As the church, we are looking to join in what God is already doing. To be part of the work of Christ's reconciliation of all things.  Before we endeavor to plant churches she ought to be asking, “where is God already being active?” and go there. Transformational development work and principles help us to know and see the hand of God.  Myers defines this as “Recognizing the fingerprints of God” [2] – he reminds us that God has been witnessing all along (John 1:10). We need to use every conversation, every program activity, each moment of crisis, every glimpse of transformation in the Kingdom of God, as an opportunity to point to the work of Christ; to invite others into a relationship with him.  We term this – positioning for discipleship.

We celebrate his birth and life, overwhelmed by his death and rejoice in his resurrection.  Jesus, our King, having established his kingdom is still working and invites us to join him in his work until the fullness of his kingdom will one day be complete.

Over the next few days I'll post thoughts in defining poverty,  the role of the church in addressing poverty, root causes of poverty, justice, funding programs and partnerships...

See the post from March 9th for a deeper dive: "Vision - the Pastoral Circle"

[1] “From Every People and Nation” – J. Daniel Hays

[2] “Walking With The Poor” – Bryant Myers (322)