Racial Koinonia

Most people who truly know me, would say that I am not a very outspoken person. I keep a lot of my thoughts to myself (or reserve them for my classes), but I have been wrestling for sometime with my memories. Memories of privilege. Memories of opportunity. Born in Inglewood, California, a few blocks from the Lakers Forum (there you go – you know my team), I was whisked out of Los Angeles (well known as the white flight of the 1970s) into the suburbs of Orange County where I grew up in a white and wealthy community, dominated by suffocating materialism. I often found myself face to face with law enforcement officers. Officers who showed great restraint in the midst of circumstances in which they would have had every right to enforce the law – which would have led to grave consequences to myself and friends.

As I reflect back on my youth, I was a privileged young white male who found mercy more often than I deserved by law enforcement. Whether it was the frequent traffic stops or the frequent mischievous acts that landed me in the back of patrol cars. Police showed mercy on a regular basis. Contrast this with the results from the Ferguson report:

From 2012 to 2014, 85% of people subject to vehicle stops by Ferguson police were African-American, 90% of those who      received citations were black, and 93% of people arrested were black.

In 88% of the cases in which Ferguson police officers reported using force, it was against African-Americans. From 2012-2014 black drivers were twice as likely as white drivers to be searched during traffic stops, but 26% less likely to be found in possession of contraband.

Scripture calls for equality in ways that are not often found in our public conversations. Equality would mean equal rights and fair handling of all cultural and ethnic groups regardless of religious backgrounds, political ideologies or economic statuses.

Take a look at James 2:1-4

“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”

I have great respect for law officers and am grateful for their service. I am simply calling on all officers and those given power and authority to show fair treatment to all people groups. I am especially grateful for those who showed mercy on me as a young person.

It’s time we reflect on Scripture and it’s role in creating a fair and just society that bows to its Creator.

An Incarnational Christmas

Cochabamba August 29-31 108A few years ago while living in Costa Rica our family participated in neighborhood reenactments of the Christmas story called “Las Posadas.” Just prior to Christmas, families begin acting out the Christmas story in their neighborhoods. As if we were Joseph and Mary, we went door to door with fellow neighbors calling upon those in the house to open the door of the Inn.  Eventually a home would open their doors and invite us inside where we would sing Christmas songs and say prayers and eat Tamales. One of the things that stand out to me about those Christmas reenactments was how relational they were. These were times for neighbors to get together and relate to each other over coffee, tamales and song and tradition. Here we were – aliens, foreigners in their land and they invited us into a most sacred Costa Rican tradition. I am reminded how important it is to recognize that the incarnation – that is – Christ becoming human, is ultimately about relationships. It’s about our relationships with God and about our relationships with one another.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning” (John 1:1)

Christ dwells from eternity. He is part of the Godhead and has no beginning and no end. He is the Alpha and the Omega. He is all powerful, all knowing, He is Sovereign and fully in control, yet he was born in a dirty manger, raised by working class folk – was a refugee in Egypt for years as a toddler, and as an adult he associated with prostitutes, touched diseased beggars, spent most of his time outside the city gates – away from the centers of power, and died alongside common criminals.

That is the paradox of Christmas! It makes no sense to our puny brains. It defies logic and science and reason. That is the incarnation of Christ and the reason we celebrate the King.

Here’s the deal; The incarnation, that emptying we see in Phil 2:6-7, calls us into a relationship that seeks reconciliation both vertically and horizontally. It calls for us to be reconciled with God. That is why Christ came. He came as redeemer to call us to reconciled with God. But it doesn’t stop there. He also calls us into a relationship that radically transforms our daily interactions with one another. The incarnation calls for just relationships and right living here – today.

That’s Christmas – that’s the incarnation.

Third Highest Peak in Oregon and Fighting Human Trafficking

Can I brag about my wife for a second? She’s an amazing woman who is an incredibly self-less and caring person. Christina Grissen-Burch is about to stand on top of Oregon’s third highest peak for someone she doesn’t even know. Here’s the details:

August 28-30 she will be taking a three day fundraising climb up South Sisters, the third highest mountain in Oregon at an elevation of 10,358 feet.

100% of the funds they raise will go to help human-trafficking victims in Sierra Leone, Africa.

In 2012 World Hope International opened a Recovery Centre there for survivors of trafficking, a place where they can get spiritual, physical, and emotional care while they are in the process of healing.

Would you consider sponsoring her climb?

A gift of $5, $10 or even $20 is a significant help!

Checks can be made out to: Northwest Women

Mail to: Christina Burch, 10858 Arndt Rd NE, Aurora, OR 97002

For more information on World Hope International, and human-trafficking please see their website at: www.worldhope.org

Protecting Children – Evangelism, Outreach and Naive Assumptions

Children have a right to be protected

Children have a right to be protected

In light of the ongoing controversy in Portland about CEF and the Good News Clubs originally covered here on OPB’s Think Out Loud, I offer a few more ideas on engaging with children and youth in ministry. For the previous post see: Child Evangelism – Toward a Participatory Approach.

Several years ago while visiting a home that was established to protect children I came across a depressing scene. The home had been established by a well-known mission agency concerned with abandoned children the world over. Over time the home and local response team had deteriorated, the original substitute house parents had left and out of a need to provide adult leadership, those in charge began to place short-term missionaries who were unprepared to care for these children. The methodology that was chosen by many of those in responding to the needs of the children was forced prayer and fasting. The results were devastating!

As I have previously noted, children should be encouraged to voice their ideas – even participate in the design of outreach programs, but if we fail to protect children and youth under our care, we will fail the very youth we seek to care for. Recent documentation on holistic child development among Christian child-care workers can prove to be helpful as we look a this issue.

As Heather MacLeod mentions, it is common for some to be attracted to working with children at risk for selfish and even harmful reasons. MacLeod underscores this by pointing out that “increased media attention in the last decade has highlighted this fact, identifying cases of physical, emotional and sexual abuse of children by staff and volunteers. Christian organizations and church groups have been included in this attention” (2003, 245). The author goes onto suggest the development of child protection policies as an essential tool to caring for children within Christian outreach. She says, “child protection policies are aimed at reducing the risk of anyone who is associated with the organization abusing children” (2003, 247).

For specific information on child protection policies see Celebrating Children, pages 245-255. In addition to this, Viva International provides capacity-building tools such as a Child Protection Principles. See Viva International for more. Another great resource is provided by Child Hope in partnership with UNICEF. See CP Manual.

Let’s do more to rise above naive assumptions about how to protect children and move toward outreach models that are clearly based on best practices in the field of holistic child care.

– MacLeod, Heather. 2003. Child Protection. In Celebrating Children: Equipping People Working with Children and Young People Living in Difficult Circumstances Around the World, edited by G. a. J.-J. W. Miles. Carlisle, UK: Partnernoster Press.

Child Evangelism – Toward a Participatory Approach

In light of the recent controversy (just read a few of the comments on OPBs site and you’ll get a sense of the controversy) over the launching of the Good News Club’s by Child Evangelism Fellowship here in Portland (Read and Listen to OPBs Think out Loud coverage here Good News Club) – some thoughts.


In a journal article entitled “Involving Children in Health and Social Research” the authors present an interesting question: Are children to be perceived as “human becomings or active beings” (Balen et al. 2006, 1)? It is argued that children should be recognized as social actors, rather than as “objects to be studied.”

I would suggest that as we approach missional engagement (including evangelistic activities) with children we recognize their human dignity and place as actors in society. As children who have been created as unique people with dignity we will want to recognize the idea that they have been created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26) and thus have an active part to play in this world. Given this theological insight, the opinions and actions of children matter.

What I am not suggesting is that children are mature persons able to participate on equal standings as adults in every circumstance. But given their place in their own developmental process, I suggest that we consider the possibility that children, as actors in society, be perceived as people who are given ample opportunity to develop their faith in a responsible way that is coherent with their developmental process. In acknowledging their place as subjects, rather than objects of missional engagement or evangelism, we are declaring that children also have something to teach us as adults as well. It was Jesus who recognized the important role that children play in the kingdom as he looked to the book of Psalms (8:2) to support the sporadic declaration by children that he was indeed the Messiah (Matthew 21:15). If Jesus permitted the participation of children, why don’t we?

To include children as participants means to recognize and respect their voice. Some have concluded within medical ethics that children aged 14 and up are in a position to give informed consent as to whether or not they agree to become subjected to research. Children aged 7 and up are believed to be developmentally capable of giving assent (which is, in a non-legal sense, the agreement of a child to participate in the research process) (Balen et al. 2006, 34).

In thinking through missional engagement with children, I would suggest guidelines that are in the same spirit as that of social and medical research. Children should be approached and informed as to the purpose of a meeting. Given that parents (or guardians) play an essential role in the lives of children, I believe that they too should be notified and given a reason for an activity and invited to participate where possible. Children below the age of seven should be given access to spiritual resources as well, but in a way that is in accordance with their developmental process. Manipulation should be avoided at all costs and if children do make a spiritual decision, proper discipleship with parental acknowledgement should be engaged. Coercive activities are contrary to the nature of spirituality and the ways of Christ. As children progress in their faith development, they should be given the opportunity to not only receive spiritual support but give as well. It’s when we recognize their place in the faith community and provide them with the opportunity to help in fulfilling God’s mission that they will become active participants in the extension of God’s kingdom.

Scripture is clear – we fall short of God’s purposes and standards and desperately need to be reconciled with our Creator. Giving children and parents alike access to spiritual resources is an important task of the Church, but let’s keep in mind that children might just have something to teach us in the process! Their active participation in consenting to be part of a Church or religious activity is critical to recognizing their human rights and dignity.

Balen, Rachel, Eric Blyth, Helen Calabretto, Claire Fraser, Christine Horrocks, and Martin Manby. 2006. Involving Children in Health and Social Research. Childhood 13 (1):29-48.

Powerpoint “Creating Community for Children at Risk” for Mission ConneXion

Hey all, thanks for visiting my seminar. Here is my presentation. Please take some time to browse. Under the menu section you will find a number of resources I have put together, including some articles I have written about ministry with at-risk youth and children. If you would like to purchase my book, click on Community Children to purchase it from Amazon.com

Click on Creating Community for children at risk for powerpoint in pdf

Costa Rica Update

Here are a few pictures from our recent trip to Costa Rica with the Butteville Community Church group. March 24th – April 2nd. We had a group of 11 (including our family) and spent the week ministering at Colegio Monterrey (an associate ministry of the Latin America Mission). The week included attending class with the students and ministering as opportunities came up in and outside of the classroom. Several of our H.S. students had the opportunity to share their testimonies with other H.S. students from the colegio. One of our members, Glenn, led the faculty and administrators through a technology workshop which was helpful as the Colegio establishes their own plans for the future in regards to the use of technology in the school.  Upon completing the week, our family remained in CR to close things up. Greg closed down his office at ESEPA and we met with friends and colleagues we have worked with during our years in CR.

Let’s Go! Greg and the youth group delegation


Enjoying some down time with a few of the team members

English class is on!

An English Lesson

Technology workshop

A Captive Audience of Preschoolers

A conversation with don Alfredo Mora (School’s director)

Kira and classmates at Colegio Monterrey

Tyler and his class for the week

Kenya trip – Nairobi & Kitale

I think my head is clear enough to try and detail a few experiences from Kenya. This was my first trip to Africa and was in particular a very exciting opportunity to hear how churches and seminaries are engaging with children ministries in the region. The first part of the trip was devoted to the Now and Next consultation, where 106 theologians and professors came together, from 82 represented nations in what was one of the largest gatherings to discuss theologies of childhood and practical implications for ministry. It is always moving to see people touched by the presence of children and Jesus’ placement of the child in the midst in such meetings. Much of our time together was spent hearing from the likes of Marcia Bunge, Keith White, Ruth Padilla de Borst and others. It was a special time to work in global work groups in thinking through the Church’ agenda in caring for young people and training Christian leaders to develop quality based programs. Our final report included a theological and missiological statement that recognizes the lack of priority and focus theological circles have given to children. Much confession took place as we recognized room for improvement in our class rooms and ministries. In the end, it was a great opportunity to help represent ESEPA and to join together with people from around the world to strengthen our response to caring for young people today.

The gathering was made possible by the support of the Child Theology Movement, Compassion International, Daystar Christian University, the 4/14 Global Initiative, the Global Alliance for Holistic Child Development, the International Fellowship of Evangelical Mission Theologians (INFEMIT), the Lausanne Movement, Overseas Council International (OCI), and World Evangelical Alliance (WEA).

After our meetings concluded, I flew out to Kitale to visit with some ministries dedicated to holistic ministry with children. One project was Oasis of Hope, a ministry dedicated to caring for street-living and working children. In addition to a drop-in center, Oasis places an emphasis on informal education, street outreaches and three residential homes (among other things). I was invited to join the director, Geoffrey and team, at the drop-in center (and agreed to teach 3rd and 4th grade classes by teaching some Spanish words and recounting God’s stories and the lives of people who have been forever changed through his grace). After classes, soccer (football) became the entertainment and I couldn’t help but get involved. In addition to visiting and teaching (if you can call it that) at the drop-in center, we visited downtown Kitale, where dozens of kids as young as 8 could be seen sniffing glue (which brought me back to memories of serving with Niños de la Luz and all the other places where I have seen this). We also visited the homes of many of the children who are involved in Oasis of Hope taking small gifts to their parents (in many cases grandmothers and moms). Oasis of Hope staff check in on the families once a week to see how the children are doing. I was deeply moved by the poverty, yet resiliency of these families in the midst of difficult circumstances. In addition to these home visits we visited with both a girls and boys home that are run as family units, including house parents and no more than 8-10 young people. At night we we did a “blanket drop” where we found children sleeping on the streets and placed blankets on them anonymously. One young girl woke up just as I was placing a blanket on her and broke out in spontaneous dance expressing her joy. She kept repeating to everyone “thank you for my blanket”.  Many of  the kids asleep awoke to her announcement and were startled to see us placing blankets on them. In many ways I was reminded of other ministries I have been a part of over the years with the children, but blown away by the amount of children on the street. I also had the opportunity to visit with sister Freda’s medical clinic outside of town where we prayed for patients and saw all the programs that they have going in the form of a nursing program, children’s home, community farm, and children’s boarding school. While my time at the medical clinic was limited, it was certainly powerful. In one case, I prayed for a young man paralyzed from TB that has affected his spinal cord. As we prayed, his leg began to shake and I was told that this was the first that they had seen of this. I continue to pray that he fully recovers. My resolve for promoting training programs, both academically and through practical workshops, that will increase effective responses to care for children at risk and reduce poverty has only been increased because of this trip. No doubt God knew what he was doing in getting me to Africa. Here are a few pictures from my time there.


Documentation committee members - long nights and lively discussions produced a significant theological statement


Now and Next Theological Consultation

Teaching 4th graders at Oasis of Hope' children center

Always time for football

Home visits with Oasis team

Dinner with Geoffrey (director) and Olivia and their precious daughter

Class is on at Sister Freda's medical clinic/school

Baboon encounter

This warthog chased me off the path!

My new friend

One way to support either the work of Oasis of Hope or Sister Freda’s ministry is through Guidelines International: click here for more information Support

You may also go to the Oasis of Hope blog site and contact Lydia Monroe about donations

Local Alliance for Holistic Child Development

Over this past year, ESEPA, Roblealto Child Care and VIVA of Latin America have been dialoguing about the need to train children at risk workers in quality child-care. On November 4th we all came together to sign an agreement to launch a new certificate program in Desarrollo Integral de la Niñez y Adolescencia (Holistic Child Development). In essence the certificate program will be administered by ESEPA and will have significant input by the other child-care organizations. Professors will be appointed by the three institutions. The emphasis of the courses will be on Bible, holistic care of children and development. It is our prayer that this will extend into other programs on the bachelor and Masters level in the future. We would appreciate prayer as we launch the program on January 22nd.


Signing of the Agreement

The Alliance