Eastertide: The way is made by walking

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It was on Maundy Thursday that my husband and I began our pilgrimage in the south of France. Our walk on El Camino –the way. It was night, we were in an old stone church, hearing the readings about the children of Israel walking out of Egypt, and slavery, and starting their long walk to freedom.  Continue reading “Eastertide: The way is made by walking”

The Listening Life

I grew up in a sub-culture that was a bit famous for not being very good at listening. When people think of evangelicals, a lot of times they think of things like “intolerant”,  and “judgemental.” Most evangelicals don’t think of themselves in those terms. We think we’re loving, but unfortunately that love hasn’t often been communicated very well through our actions. Continue reading “The Listening Life”

“Not in my name”: How injustice inhibits evangelism

In Christian communities (churches, missionary groups etc) there often springs up this debate about whether we should be putting funds and resources towards social justice issues or towards evangelism. Here’s how the debate goes, for those of you who aren’t privy to Christian internal disputes.  Continue reading ““Not in my name”: How injustice inhibits evangelism”

Spider-web Relationships

 

Photo Credit to Emilie Bak Toldam from the Front Class January Team.
Photo Credit to Emilie Bak Toldam from the Front Class January Team.

I heard a description in college about three different ways of viewing the world:

The Western way is atomic. It breaks things down into the tiniest parts and analyzes them. Our great big world is made of minuscule atoms, of individuals. The Eastern way is oceanic. It views everything as one whole. Every little drop is really one aspect of a great ocean that is everything. The African way is like a spiderweb. The world is a web of relationships. It is the relationships between things that are important. The world is not the tiny elements or the big whole, it’s the spider-thin threads that connect things to each other.

I like to think African and I think that’s why I am involved in faith-based community development work. As someone who follows Jesus, I believe all our relationships are really, really broken. The relationships of people in Sweetwaters towards the Hilton community are broken. The relationship between teachers and students towards education is broken. Their relationships towards material goods are broken. Their relationships towards each other that end up in abuse, AIDS, teen pregnancy are broken. The Hilton community is also broken. Their relationships towards each other, towards the poor, towards those who work for them, towards the environment– all these relationships are broken.

And I believe the reason all these relationships are broken is because our primary relationship– our relationship with God–is broken. When God, the creator, who created all things good, who created things in harmony, who created Shalom, is not central to our lives, we have no power to really set things right. We were created to image God, to reflect the joy and love of the Trinity in the way we interact with the world. We still carry the image of God, but rather than dancing through life in relationship with one another and the world, we trod and stomp and break and kick our way through. No matter how hard we work at it, there is no way for us to live in perfect relationship with everything in the universe.

But the beautiful thing is that God makes a way to restore all the brokenness, and it all revolves around Jesus. Jesus Christ, who was God, who showed us what God is like, spent his time bringing restoration to the broken relationships: healing the sick, comforting the downtrodden, and freeing people from the burden of law and from the weight of their sin. His death and resurrection mean that we can actually be made whole again– that everything that was dead and broken inside of us can be made new and whole and alive.

Once we have the life of Christ inside of us we have the power to be a part of God’s plan of restoring the world. It starts with Christ slowly repairing all the broken relationships in our own lives, and overflows as we get to join in the work of restoring all the other broken relationships in the world. Johns gospel uses pictures like being reborn, becoming a spring of never-ending life water, becoming a light in the darkness. These are all pictures of being a source of life to everything around us.

There are people who don’t think the way I do that still make a huge difference in the world through loving acts of service and compassion as they give their lives to repair broken social systems. It’s just that I believe they are missing a crucial element: the broken relationship with God which causes this mess. As we can see from the materialistic, self-indulgent Western-world, just having a good education and clean water and more stuff doesn’t make you a happier, more-fulfilled, better person. Alternatively, there are some Christians who think that God only wants to restore your soul then fly it away to heaven when you die. They, also, are missing the fact that God is the creator of all things and therefore wants to restore all things. Salvation isn’t some abstract disembodied event, it’s embedded in the mesh of relationships that all need to be salvaged and put right. (Romans 8, Colossians 1)

The other week a friend asked me if I’d still be doing what I’m doing if I didn’t follow Jesus. I’d like to say I might be involved in empowering poor communities through education and mentoring. I hope I would be a nice enough person to still do that. But my actual motivation to do what I do is not because I have noble humanitarian instincts. Most of the time I’m pretty selfish. The reason why I do what I do is because I have a relationship with Jesus, and with that comes the joyful mission of being a part of his work in restoring everything else.

So really, the question for all followers of Jesus is not “are you involved in social justice?” or “why are you involved in social justice?” it’s “how are you involved in social justice?” And the answer to that, of course, will look different for everyone.

Walking Down a Long Road

David helped with worship and leading games
This past week was Spring Break for the kids and teens in Sweetwaters/Mpumuza. During the holidays, many kids are unsupervised, this means there is more time for them to get into trouble, but also leaves them vulnerable to abuse.
iThemba runs a Holiday club during the Spring and Fall breaks to give the children and teens something fun to get involved in, and also to reach them with the love of Jesus. This year, the kids club was an underwater adventure theme, and focused on the story of grace found in the book of Jonah. They played games, had face-painting, made lots of fishy crafts, and learned memory verses! The teens did the “True Love Waits” curriculum and were challenged to live lives of sexual purity, and depend on God to fill them with His true love. It was a huge blessing to get to help organize this event, and write the curriculum for the kids club, but the best part was working with the amazing iThemba team.
Playing the “Fishing Game” to learn the memory verse
It is tempting to run a club like this, and want to give a huge alter call and “claim statistics” on the number of kids whose lives are changed due to this club. But, while a holiday club can be a special one-time event–and we pray that it really did impact the teens and the kids lives–real life change happens over a long period of time, not because of a once-off decision. One time events like this fit into the larger story of what God is doing in these kids lives through the commitment and dedication of the discipleship field workers.
Sizwe, one of iThemba’s “fielders” at Holiday Club.
These “fielders” as they are affectionately called, have weekly Life Groups (Bible Studies), meet the kid’s families, and go to great lengths to help disciple these kids and teens. The fielders see their work as walking down a long road with the kids, not just pointing them in the right direction. Sometimes this means visiting a teen every afternoon for a month because of poor choices they are making. It means texting and calling kids on the weekend, or on our day off, just to see if they are doing okay. It means praying, not just for one, but for the hundreds of kids they are in contact with every week. This is a huge commitment. And it is not easy. Sometimes fielders get to see the fruit of their labor– teens who are now leading the Saturday kids club, kids who are now being respectful to their parents–but sometimes fielders will pour into a kid for a year, only to find out this person has been secretly getting into trouble behind their backs. You don’t do a job like that for the money, you do it because you feel called by God, and he is giving you the desire and the energy.
The great commission is a call to go about our every day lives, and as we are going, to make disciples. Who is there in your life that God is calling you to walk down the long road of discipleship with?

Praise God for the great work that the discipleship fieldworkers do, and pray that God will bless them, give them wisdom, energy, creativity and insight into the lives of these kids and teens. Pray for them as they follow up with kids/teens from the Holiday Club.