This past week I was in Rwanda, in a Congolese refugee camp for people who were persecuted because of their faith, politics, and ideas that were contrary to those in power. Looking across the table was a young man who in broken English asked me if I would be an advocate for refugees. I told him I would. Two years ago I sat in a tent in Lebanon with Syrian refugees (Muslims) who showed the kindest hospitality to me that you can imagine. This is my time to be reciprocal with that hospitality and support their opportunities to be free of tyranny. My motivation for supporting and advocating for refugees is not based on partisan politics, but rather on poor policy. Please consider joining me as we stand with refugees. These are some very practical ideas below.
What I anticipated was going to be just another conference, has been anything but that. Ya, plenty of papers have been read in fine academic style, but what has really stood out
are those that I have met and become reacquainted with from previous ministry and international gatherings. In the words of Steve Bevans – author of Models of Contextual Theology , the papers, while stimulating, provided the background music for authentic dialogue and conversation among Christians from all backgrounds. Walks and meals with priests from India and Vietnam who are committed to seeing the whole gospel impact lives has been refreshing. Conversations with new friends from Myanmar, India, Lebanon, Norway, South Africa, Finland, Brazil, Argentina and beyond, while from different Christian backgrounds than myself, have proven to be an instigating factor in my renewed commitment to innovative models for global mission engagement. The conference theme has been focused on Conversions and Transformations.
I have come to realize that sometimes, even Christians need to be converted. Converted to new realities and experiences. Converted by those we go to as we gain new insights into God’s Word. Transformation can take place again and again as we encounter God in new languages, liturgies and practices. This was best seen as Dr. Elsa Tamez recounted the story from 1985 when an Andean tribe handed back the Bible to Pope John Paul II & suggested that Christians should read the Bible. Sometimes we need to stop and listen before speaking. Perhaps those that we go to have something to teach us. This is not to put aside the truth of Scripture, but rather to acknowledge that distinct cultures have perspectives that give insight, not only to God’s word, but to all of life.
I had the opportunity to visit the DMZ (De-Miliatrized Zone) between South and North Korea with others from the conference. Ironically, it is probably the most militarized zone in the world. It was unforgettable. We were first taken to the Dora watch tower station where we were given a talk on the boundaries and conditions that they were facing in the DMZ. We were able to get up into the open air and view N. Korea from where the lookout was. Due to the rain it was a little hard to make out the towns and guard posts, but some of it was visible. The commander of the local battalion asked that we would pray for peace and unification of the countries. Done!
Afterwards we went to a military chapel where we had a service focused on praying for peace, unification and reconciliation. Prayers and songs were dedicated to this. A 3 star general (and his wife) came and shared his testimony with us. It lasted about 30 minutes. He told us how he came to Christ and how he was discipled by Navigator missionaries. Interestingly, the general described how he believes he was called to the military to serve and to share Christ with others. He views his service as a mission field. Again I was converted.
After hearing from the general we were guided by a company of soldiers along the southern boundary of the DMZ border. I got the sense that this was not a normal tour. Later we found out that they wanted to show world religious leaders the border situation up close. Again they asked that we pray for peace and unification. We stopped at several points to discuss situations they are facing, including a discussion about how the south handles defectors coming from the North.
While there is much more I could write on, the big takeaway was seeing believers from around the world engaged in global mission – with purpose and passion. There was a lot of talk about unification between the two Korean countries while we were there. I hope and pray they achieve that, but despite real issues of differences in doctrine and liturgy, I hope the Church of Christ will take that call seriously as well. Unity is hard when we have differences, but it shouldn’t limit us from joining with brothers and sisters who we have more in common with, than not. I’ve got some work to do.
Missiologist Andrew Kirk implores us to listen to two voices when reading Scripture, the voice of God (Scripture) and the voice (the cry) of the people. This process helps us to combine the central message of Scripture with the, “Reality of every situation into which the message and life of Christ comes” (2000, 14). Like a tapestry, when mission, justice and development are weaved together, a beautiful image of wholeness and flourishing comes forth from what some view as a useless rag. Isn’t that what God has done with all of us?
The complexities of hurt and suffering around our world today require that we develop responses that are multifaceted. So often in missions we have leaned upon singular reactions, when what is needed is a fuller, broader approach to bringing the restoration that is needed.
As René Padilla once put it, our missional approach should include a, “Transformational development [that] goes beyond felt needs to shalom, beyond charity to justice, beyond technology and money to the empowerment of people, especially the poor.”
The NATS that I wrote about in part 1 in that suburb of Cochabamba get it. They understand the need to stand up for the vulnerable. The day we marched I learned a very valuable lesson from them. God’s mission includes confronting injustices and working for conditions that allow for human flourishing in every new context.
Boff, Leonardo, and Clodovis Boff. Introducing Liberation Theology. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1990.
Bosch, David. Witness to the World: The Christian Mission in Theological Perspective London: Marshall, Morgan, & Scott, 1980.
Burch, Greg W. Community Children: A Minsitry of Hope and Restoration for the Street Dwelling Child. Colombia: Latin America Mission, 2005.
Christian, Jayakumar. God of the Empty-Handed: Poverty, Power and the Kingdom of God. Monrovia, CA: MARC, 1999.
Kirk, Andrew. What Is Mission? Theological Explorations. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000.
Linthicum, Robert Empowering the Poor. Monrovia, CA: MARC, 1991.
This past week the Multnomah community lost a friend and fellow servant. Khen Tuang was killed in an automobile accident along with his friend Peter who was a refugee from Myanmar (who tragically lost his wife in a refugee camp in Thailand in 2008, now leaving their three children orphaned). Khen’s wife and daughter were also in the car accident and survived (see http://koin.com/2016/07/28/multiple-people-injured-in-fatal-hwy-213-crash/).
Khen was part of the Global Development and Justice (MAGDJ) program at Multnomah University and he was loved by his peers in cohort 3. Khen was from the Zomi ethnic group (they are generally known as hills people/tribe throughout Northwestern Myanmar). Khen was from the Chen state of Myanmar (Burma) and was active in his church and a graduate from Bible College there. He had a passion to see peoples lives transformed through faith in Christ and community development work. Khen was all in. He was fully committed to preparing and returning to Myanmar to serve those who suffered in his community. Khen was passionate about seeing everyone reach their full potential as people who have been made in the image of God. This past year while researching child poverty in Myanmar, he wrote, “The Bible commends us to take care of the oppressed, vulnerable and the poor. We, as a church, need to help eradicate, holistically, from a biblical perspective, child poverty, while we nurture and feed those who are hungry and provide shelter to the homeless.” His research and topics that he often covered were focused on those who were marginalized. Child poverty, refugees living in Portland – these are just some of the topics that Khen wrote about.
Khen also had a keen eye for research even in a language that was not native to him. This past semester here at MU in Applied Field Research he flourished in learning and applying common development research tools to help the Zomi refugee community succeed in transitioning to life in America. Working with a local Zomi congregation (with pastor Muana Khuptong – Multnomah Biblical Seminary alumnus), Khen formed a research group with a Guatemalan and another student from South Sudan. Together they rose to the task of adapting these complex research tools to help identify resources and needs that are common to refugees moving to the Portland area. Over a 15-week period of time they met with the refugee community and developed a plan to provide additional support to this community.
Khen also loved his family. Even before he arrived in Portland, Khen told me that his family would not be able to join him the first year of his studies. We discussed this and he communicated that this was going to be difficult for him, but that he would work on a plan of having his wife and daughter join him after the first year. And he did just that. Just a week before the accident that took his life, Khen, grinning, walked into my office with his wife Huai and daughter ZemZem. We talked about their plans as a family and he asked me to pray for them (as he often did). As we were standing there, Khen removed his sandals and knelt down on the carpet with his wife and 2-year-old daughter following. I knelt with them and prayed a prayer of blessing over their sweet family. As they left my office, Khen, like he often did, thanked me profusely for the prayer. He was always so grateful.
Khen’s peers have taken it upon themselves to raise funds to help Huai and their daughter ZemZem as they face some difficult challenges ahead. They have started a GoFundMe site dedicated to raising funds to help the family. Please see the link https://www.gofundme.com/2h2yxus for an opportunity to support the family.
We are grateful to have known you Khen. The world is different because of you.
Khen and Peter’s lives will be celebrated at a memorial service on Thursday August 4th at 7:30PM at the Glenfair Church in Portland, OR.
It is clear in Scripture that God desires to use his followers in His mission. Joining God’s mission also includes developing a proper response to injustices faced by those we care deeply about. This often includes righting the wrongs that are committed against those whom God deeply loves. In his important study on urban poverty, Robert Linthicum remarks, “Marginalization, exploitation, and oppression are not simply results of poverty, but its primary causes” (1991, 10). Based on my experiences and research in Latin America and beyond, there are both intentional and unintentional actions by individuals and systems that are at work against vulnerable people groups.
Often times Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), churches and others fail to recognize that there are powerful systems and people who are seeking to exploit and oppress in order to accomplish their purposes. While we are right to acknowledge the potential and agency found in human capacities, we often seem to forget that these capacities are also dominated by sin and frequently lead people to sin against others. Development specialist, Jayakumar Christian, acknowledges the abuse by these powers – both human and structural. Social systems sometimes seek to denigrate and exploit the poor – this contributes to deepened poverty and broken relationships (1994, 178).
As Linthicum and Christian point out, these are often unjust political systems, mass media, law enforcement, religious and economic systems that are at work. When these become distorted and fall outside of God’s intentions, the Church is to remind them of their God-inspired mandates. It is critical that we identify the injustice that is occurring against those we love. Solutions for the poor often come in the form of development innovations, but if we fail to first right the wrong and understand the causes for why particular groups are marginalized than we commit the mistake of offering solutions without understanding the contributing factors.
In our work with street-living children (or who I prefer to see as community children – see Burch 2005) in Caracas, Venezuela, we often forgot that there were systemic reasons for why children were being forced to go to the streets. We sought to meet their needs, spent a lot of time with them on the streets, became their friends, cared for them, but infrequently sought to research or truly understand the injustices that were pushing and pulling these young lives into these situations.
Leonardo Boff and Clodovis Boff suggest that poverty is the “disfigured image of God” (1990, 31). If poverty distorts the image of God, then perhaps it is time that we ask what is causing the disfiguration (in every context). Through assessing injustices we are able to identify what is preventing the human flourishing represented in Christ’s mission (Luke 4:18-19).
The Mission of God
Anyone who has lived and worked alongside those who are materially poor and oppressed, understands the immense complexities in seeing transformation realized. Having worked with children living on the street, I recognize that changed lives often take long-term commitment and the presence of God working in and through both the recipient and the giver.
There really is no better place to start in talking about transformation than with the Mission of God. The great missiologist David Bosch recognized, “Mission has its origin in the fatherly heart of God” (1980, 240). We see this mission exemplified in God’s initial response in the garden as He speaks to His fallen creation: “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8). It’s here where we see God desirous of a restored relationship. He is pursuing His creation – seeking to find those that have turned their back on Him and seeking a renewed relationship. This is a critical point for those who sense a deep feeling of separation and stigmatization. Because mission is an integral part of who God is, mission continues to be the primary means for Church engagement around the world, even as we seek justice and work for healthy development.
“He has shown you, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.”
- – Micah 6:8
It was early morning and I was huddled around a fire with ten boys, ages 8 to 13. They were preparing to work in the community market in a suburb of Cochabamba, Bolivia. Each Saturday the boys show up around 5 a.m. in preparation for a days work. The children, using wheelbarrows, follow clients around the market carrying their purchased products and then either back to their cars or homes. For a number of weeks I joined them, hoping to learn about the lives of young workers (commonly referred to as NATS – Niños, Niñas y Adolescentes Trabajadores in Bolivia and beyond) and to observe how Bolivian churches reach out to this group of children.
Children such as NATS have a deep sense of justice. This was manifested in a march I participated in with them. Demanding a fair wage and safe conditions, the kids took to the streets to declare that they too should be treated with justice. They were standing up for issues that our Father is deeply interested in. Psalm 9:16 tells us, “The Lord is known by His acts of justice.” I saw the Lord in these acts that day as these young people stood up for fairness and equality for NATS everywhere.
As the NATS marched, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own work with homeless children and youth in Latin America over the previous decade. We were faced with so many injustices committed by the very ones that should have been protecting the kids. After a number of years of reflecting on our work and researching best practices for engaging with children living in difficult circumstances, I am convinced of the need to bring together mission, justice and development tools. In providing a multifaceted approach in responding to oppression, we position ourselves in a far better place for lasting change and a deep impact in the lives of those we are called to serve.
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. 2 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. 3 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,” 4 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.
A 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.
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