Thursday, March 29, 2012

Equality of Resources or Equality of Responsibility?

A couple of years back, a book was written as a wake up to those doing short term missions called, "When Helping Hurts". The basic idea was that in many cases, our attempts to help others "less fortunate" than ourselves, often times leads to dependency and actually hurting those we originally intended good for.

More recently, Robert Lupton, in his book "Toxic Charity", says, "Doing for others what they can do for themselves is charity at its worse...We must come to deeply believe that every person, no matter how destitute or broken, has something worth to bring to the table."

The bottom line is that we are all created in the image of God and each one of us have a divine spark that allows us, to a large degree, to choose betterment or even development. True, not all of us are equal in terms of capacity or potential. I was born in a western, middle-class family with unlimited possibilities for life. Much different than a person my same age say born into a war-torn, famine ridden country in North Africa. Though not equal in opportunity, we are equal in responsibility of what we do with what we have been given...large or small.

When individuals or groups of the "haves" like myself, attempt to intervene with betterment ideas and programs into a group of the "have nots" like my counterpart in poverty in North Africa, we tend to do things for them such as give away programs or resource mobilization projects. Without realizing, we begin to do things for people that they could actually do for themselves thus robbing them of the dignity for self-determination and making them the objects and recipients of our pity thus reinforcing in our minds (and theirs) that we are superior and in some way they are defective. Lupton says, "When we do for others what they can do for themselves, we cripple them."

No doubt there are situations requiring immediate relief and mercy such as those things and events coming about due to acute happenings like earthquakes, tsunamis, war, famine, etc. However, I work for an international relief and development NGO and by far the largest problems we see and address are the chronic, long-term things such as poverty and hunger that really have no easy and quick fix.

A key then, that we can keep returning to, is the simple question: who is responsible for determining their course in life? No doubt there are many things that go into answering that question. It is simple yet complex in that there are many outside things that effect my choice as well as my counterpart's choice in another place, setting and set of circumstances. But when an individual or a community is given the chance and chooses to assume responsibility for their own development and destiny, we see a light of hope begin to emerge in even the darkest of circumstances. The move from self-pity and hopelessness to building or rebuilding a better life for themselves and their children to come.

As I close this post out today, I realize that it is easy to write about these things but not so easy to put them into practice. But one thing we should remember and Lupton makes it clear from his book is that, "...Both achiever and survivor share a common responsibility: to make the most of their unequal lots in life."

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Seeking Social Justice: The Product or the Process?

I recently finished a good book called, "What is the Mission of the Church", by DeYong and Gilbert. In one chapter, they discuss the current trends and meaning of social justice and make the statement, "Justice in a fallen world is not an equality of outcome, but is equal treatment under a fair law." They base their views on the Old Testament concept and teachings of justice saying, "Doing justice is not the same as redistribution, nor does it encompass everything a godly Israelite would do in obedience to Yaweh...Doing justice implies, then, fairness, decency and honesty."

DeYong and Gilbert moreover discuss two current main views of social justice: the unconstrained view and the constrained view. The unconstrained view is a result oriented view that says wherever people do not get their fair share, there is injustice. Conversely, but related, is the constrained view that sees social justice as a process by which people are treated fairly. In other words, not a 'fair' distribution of goods and resources but a 'fair' system.

I tend to agree with the authors on this point. While I am moved with compassion (and sometimes a bit of anger) when I see the results of social injustices, I tend to think it more wise and effective to focus on the process of how to make systems more just. While there is always a place and need for those to cry out with passion, stand up and even intervene for the injustices which exist, there is also a very important need for the church and the followers of Jesus to stand up for systems which help to exclude these issues.

Bringing it frighteningly closer to home, when I read the Bible exhortations touching on justice, they seem to have more to say to me as a person than they do to society as a whole. The often quoted justice statement in Micah 6:8, "Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God", is easy to proclaim to a crowd and society, but isn't it more challenging to take these words and commands to heart and let God change my life to these attributes? I wonder if the world wouldn't become a much better place if all of us who call for and promote social justice would allow God's justice and plan for justice to work in our own hearts first?

I am big on being a process oriented person. In sports, you play the game like you practice the week before. In education, you learn how to learn not just meaningless facts. And in Christian life in regards to social justice, you "do" and practice justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God before, and as a preparation to, your fight with society.

When I pray for "social justice", I eerily hear a voice that says, "Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God." I tend to think that there are better ways to effect justice in this fallen world. God seems to think that a great place to start is in my heart.

As Deyong and Gilbert say, "The story (of the Bible) is not about us working with God to make the world right again. It's about God's work to make us right so that we can live with Him (and others) again."

God, let there be justice and let it begin in me...

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

An Incredible Giving Church...

I would like to tell a story about an incredible giving church. I was at Second Baptist Church in Springfield, MO the other day as a part of their Global Missions Conference. They featured Kevin Ezell, President of NAMB on Sunday morning and Baptist Global Response (BGR) on Sunday night. About 40 ministries/missionaries attended coming from local ministries in Springfield, the state of Missouri, other states and international entities.

The church is led Senior Pastor John Marshall. The missions pastor, who helped put it all together along with his great staff, is John Edie. John Edie had contacted BGR out of the blue last year and asked if we could be there representing BGR and Southern Baptist relief and development work overseas. When I said "yes", I had no idea of the blessing that I was going to experience.

This is a church that believes in missions. Almost 25% of their annual budget is given to missions both domestically and overseas. Their annual budget for their Global Missions Offering is about $600,000 each year! On Sunday night during the BGR focus, they not only gave generously but held one of the most creative and inspiring missions program I have ever been a part of.

The idea was to get all their people involved and connected with some type of international aid through BGR. So they took our BGR gift catalogue from our website, made a brochure promoting individual and group giving that was very personalized. They promoted the giving idea months in advance to their membership and small groups in a way that each person/group could give a specific thing to help someone overseas.

For instance, a Sunday School class could give $1,000 to provide a water system in a developing country. A children's group could give $25 to provide a water filter for a family overseas. A goat could be purchased for $50, a pair of rabbits for $25 and 20 chicks for $15. All of this would go through an existing BGR project to help someone in need around the world.

On Sunday evening, the service started with worship in song and a quick interview of BGR by John. We basically told the congregation what BGR does and how a mosquito net, a goat or a water filter helps people and helps us also share God's love. Then the chaos and what I call "parade of love" started.

Animals were brought into the sanctuary representing what the members' donations would go for. Rabbits, chickens, a goat and even a cow made an appearance on stage! Sewing machines were marched down the aisle representing micro enterprise. Water filters, blankets and mosquito nets were also brought in. Then, the children were invited to bring their coin offerings up. They had been saving for months to "buy" an article of their choice to send overseas through BGR.

If that was not enough, Sunday School classes and small groups began coming forward in six different areas to microphones and began sharing what their group or they as an individual were going to do. Remarks like, "such and such a Sunday School class was going to sponsor one water system for a needy community." Some classes said they wanted to buy one of everything. Families pledged to purchase goats, cows and chickens for needy families outside the USA. Small children came forward and pledged their allowances to buy a pair of "bunnies" for another child. The GMC participating ministry leaders were at the front of the church recording all the gifts given on whiteboards. It was total chaos and it was a total thing of beauty!

At the end of the evening, the members of Second Baptist gave about $65,000 to help with overseas needs through BGR. Unofficial tallies of what was given included:

28 water systems for developing countries,
139 water filters for needy families,
75 sewing machines for micro-businesses,
25 BGR In Home Care Kits,
280 mosquito nets,
77 blankets,
121 starter chickens,
75 pair of rabbits,
111 goats,
41 cows and
65 stock for fishponds.

The whole evening was overwhelming. It was chaotic, festive and very moving.

I want to thank John Marshall and John Edie for having such a wonderful, giving church. I would even call them an incredible giving church.

Thank you Second Baptist, Springfield, Missouri. You have blessed a lot of people around the world with your generosity!