These are the same women helped and empowered through our other projects such as stove-building, women’s circles and the sanitation project.
You can check out the video below and then go to their storeto purchase a life-changing project yourself.
These are the same women helped and empowered through our other projects such as stove-building, women’s circles and the sanitation project.
You can check out the video below and then go to their storeto purchase a life-changing project yourself.
“…devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds* to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home* and ate their food with glad and generous* hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”
In the immediate aftermath of Pentecost, the Spirit’s anointing manifested itself in the believers sharing their prayers, bread and money with one another in a community of faith.
But is this, I wonder, meant to be a good thing?
Does Luke intend for us to see here in Acts 2 a blueprint for how we should do Church?
Typically theologians and preachers romanticize the Church of Acts 2. It’s there that we find the closest approximation of the ‘true Church.’ I know I’m guilty of unrealistically lauding Acts 2 as the ideal after which today’s Church should strive to embody.
Not only is the Acts 2 model unrealistic, I now wonder if it’s even a good, faithful model of the Church Jesus intended. After all, a community of believers sharing their possessions together, eating together, gathering together, teaching and praying and fellowshipping together just may entail too much togetherness.
To take the Gospel to the very ends of the earth.
As easily as one can romanticize the Acts 2 Church, it’s just as easy to view it as a static, inward-focused community- both static and stationary, camped out in Jerusalem.
Maybe what we’re supposed to see in Acts 2, especially when contrasted with the rest of Acts’ unfolding, is not a romantic ideal but the caution that Christian community is not an end in itself.
In fact, I’ve come to think that a better reading of Acts understands the actual birth of the Church, in the sense of the community of disciples living up to and living out their calling, happening in Acts 8.
It’s not until Stephen’s bold ministry in Acts 6 and 7 provokes persecution and eventually martyrdom that the disciples disperse beyond their community.
It’s in fleeing that the disciples inadvertently find their former calling: to be a missionary people, a community on the move.
If this is a fair reading of Acts then I think it follows to say that Christians do not seek community as an end in itself but rather community is the result of us seeking other, larger ends.
We build community not for its own sake; we build it incidentally, as our hearts and energies are captured by the greater cause of proclaiming the Gospel message
The anthropologist Victor Turner distinguished between ‘community’ and what he labeled ‘communitas.’
Whereas ‘community’ can be described: as something to be built, as inward-focused, centered on encouraging one another and creating a safe space, Turner says ‘communitas’ is the experience of deeper bonds, support and relationships of people who undergo a shared ordeal.
What Turner labels ‘communitas’ is what people on mission trips often experience as the ‘spiritual high’ of their time serving the poor. With a cause bigger than ourselves, community just sort of happens on its own.
Communitas is only experienced by taking risks together, suffering together, and working together for a cause greater than the community itself.
In other words, when it comes to the ideal Church Turner would have you think of Saving Private Ryan more so than Acts chapter 2. Too many churches miss this experience of ‘communitas’ for no other reason than that they avoid shared ordeals. They opt for a safe, secure environment. Indeed they make a safe, secure environment their goal.
Alan Hirsch explains ‘communitas’ this way:
“…it is a community infused with a grand sense of purpose; a purpose that lies outside of its current internal reality…It’s the kind of community that happens to people in actual pursuit of a common vision of what could be. It involves movement and it describes the experience of togetherness that only really happens among a group of people actually engaging in a mission outside itself.”
I’ve got a bunch of new blog followers since we started the project so couldn’t resist posting the video again.
Here’s some photos of our ongoing project in Chuicutama, Guatemala. Thanks to all of you who’ve supported our work. And we invite you to continue supporting us.
Pictures in chronological order
Construction and completed pictures of phase 1 – construction of Treatment Plant
photo descriptions in order:
building forms for pouring roof of septic tankbuilding filter tank
installing man hole in street
connecting community center to system
finished filter tank, water inlet manifold, canal
treatment plant from bellow
finished man hole in street
treatment plant from above finished
75% of the children in the Highlands under 7 years old are critically malnourished.
Hearing that stat my first thought, perhaps oddly, was peace.
The scriptures declare that God’s vision and promise to us is shalom, which is usually translated as “peace.”
It’s meaning, however, is much richer than what is conveyed by our English word.
Shalom means wholeness, healing, justice, and righteousness, equality, unity, freedom, and community. Shalom is a vision of all people whole, well, and one, and of all nature whole, well, and one.
According to United Methodist Bishops it is “the sum total of moral and spiritual qualities in a community whose life is in harmony with God’s good creation.” They specifically relate Jesus’ ministry to the gift of shalom and affirm, “New Testament faith presupposes a radical break between the follies, or much so-called conventional wisdom about power and security, on the one hand, and the transcendent wisdom of shalom, on the other.”
The book of Revelation imagines the completion of human history and the full realization of God’s redemptive purpose for the world in terms of “a new heaven and a new earth.” Its visionary author, John of Patmos, described when God would be with and among human beings.
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away’ [Revelation 21:1-3].
John seems to have in mind the words of Isaiah:
For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind… I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; …They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—and their descendants as well…
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord [Isaiah 65: 17-25].
The gospel of the Kingdom of God, the gospel that proclaims the promise of shalom, is surely good news for the poor.
But what is it for us? Is it message one of woe?
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep [Luke 6:21-25].
It need not be. Matthew 25: 31-46 is typically identified as “the judgment of the nations” or “the last judgment.” It speaks of “the Son of Man” coming in glory with the angels, sitting on his throne with all the nations gathered before him.
It is judgment because it envisions sheep being divided from goats. The sheep will go to the right, the goats to the left. To those on his right, the King says,
““Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” But those on the left: “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
And what was the difference between the sheep and the goats, those who gained entrance to the kingdom and those shut out? Simply, their response to the poor and oppressed determined the judgment.
Of course, the judge first expressed the matter in terms of their response to his need.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Both the saved and the damned professed ignorance. ““Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison?”
““Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
Is it a mistake to suggest that our salvation hinges on our response to the crises like the aforementioned stat?
And why would that be?
Probably because, despite what Glenn Beck would have us think, the biblical witness is clear—from the exodus, through the Hebrew prophets, to Jesus himself—that God acts for and calls us to liberation of the oppressed.
Theologians call it God’s ‘preferential option for the poor.’ Meaning, God attends particularly to the plight of the poor, the most vulnerable, and exploited and expects his people to do the same. To this we might add now that effectively responding to the needs of the poor and oppressed is a moral priority for those who seek to live in faithful relation to God.
Further elaborating this point, is a piece written by Dr. Barry Penn Hollar, with whom I collaborated on a Christian Ethics book a few years ago:
The story of the exodus of the Hebrew people from Egypt is central to this claim. The exodus was and remains the fundamental, identity-shaping experience of the Jewish people. It is the focus the Passover festival, which to this day roots Jewish identity in the experience of liberation by the almighty hand of God. We who are Christians remember that it was in the context of the Passover festival that Jesus began the festival that is our fundamental, identity-shaping experience: the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist.
At the center of the Exodus memory is an insight about the very character of God: God’s compassionate sharing of the experience of oppression. “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt. I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters,” God says [Exodus 3:7]. This is not a detached and disengaged awareness. Rather, God says, “I know their suffering.” The Hebrew word “to know” is used with reference to sexual intercourse or intimacy. It implies a sharing of the experience to which it refers. God knows and shares their suffering. Moreover, it is an awareness that leads to action.
The verse continues: “I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians.”
This portrayal of God as one who shares the suffering of the poor and oppressed and acts to deliver them is consistent throughout the Old Testament.
Amos, Isaiah, and Micah were noteworthy for their insistence that injustice and oppression was a religious issue or a matter rendering the peoples’ relationship to God faithless and their worship inauthentic.
Consider these words from Isaiah:
When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow [Isaiah 1: 15-17].
And listen to Amos:
I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream [Amos 5:21-24].
Finally, consider Micah:
‘With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God [Micah 6:6-8]?
Let’s be honest:
Can we consider the statistics of the world’s poverty, the global reach of our national influence, the degree to which the international economy is organized for our benefit, and doubt that these words apply to us?
Is all our worship, then, no matter how sincere and doctrinally proper, a sham?
When we stand to praise God—lifting our hands and our voices in air-conditioned sanctuaries with cushioned pews, dressed in finery that has been produced by women’s hands in factories whose conditions are unknown to us—does God, in fact, despise it all?
However you answer, you have to at least admit: there’s sufficient cause to wonder.
Below are two images of the Clinic/Community Center we built in December in Chuicutama. The finishing work is set to be done once the rainy season is over. The other images show the septic system which we built last week (it’s across the street and down the hill from the Center) which will be the first building linked into the system.
Digging septic tank foundation. Check out the guns.
Tying the wire onto rebar before pouring concrete forms.
Carrying wood down for concrete forms. Check out the guns.
Pouring cement into form after 2nd level of septic tank. Check out the guns.
Paul watching my brother-in-law do all the work.
Bending rebar. They did about a million of these.
Day 4- Septic Tank ready for roof/lid once it’s dry.
Clinic/Community Center waiting finishing.
I just got back from Guatemala with a mission team from Aldersgate. We worked on the first stage of our Toilet Project, building a large septic tank to which the homes in Chicutama (CHEE-COO-TA-MA)will eventually connect.
Here’s my brother-in-law, Mike Keller, explaining the project:
When it comes to poverty and mission, listening is more important than lugging bricks and mortar.
Here’s a piece from a book on Christian Ethics I wrote with Dr. Barry Penn Hollar a while back:
While statistics on poverty are informative and useful, they do not enable us to understand what it’s like to be poor, what it’s like to live on less than 2 dollars or even a single dollar a day.
Since the poor are often illiterate and typically spend nearly all their waking hours struggling to survive they are unlikely to give expression to their experience in memoirs, fictional stories, or poems.
It is a challenge for us to hear their voices because, among the many burdens that abject poverty imposes, the destruction of the human capacity to give voice to one’s sorrow, the capacity to connect with other human beings through self-expression, may be among the most devastating.
A project of the World Bank called Voices of the Poor attempts to overcome this significant gap in our understanding. It has “collected the voices of more than 60,000 poor women and men from 60 countries, in an unprecedented effort to understand poverty from the perspective of the poor themselves.”
It is based on the conviction that “poor people are the true poverty experts.”
Among the revelations of this study was that “poverty is multidimensional and complex… Poverty is voicelessness. It’s powerlessness. It’s insecurity and humiliation.” I encourage you to go to the website and read as much as you can. Here I can offer only few of the things poor people themselves have to say:
“Poverty is like living in jail, living under bondage, waiting to be free” — Jamaica
“Poverty is lack of freedom, enslaved by crushing daily burden, by depression and fear of what the future will bring.” — Georgia
“If you want to do something and have no power to do it, it is talauchi (poverty).” — Nigeria
“Lack of work worries me. My children were hungry and I told them the rice is cooking, until they fell asleep from hunger.” — an older man from Bedsa, Egypt.
“A better life for me is to be healthy, peaceful and live in love without hunger. Love is more than anything. Money has no value in the absence of love.” — a poor older woman in Ethiopia
“When one is poor, she has no say in public, she feels inferior. She has no food, so there is famine in her house; no clothing, and no progress in her family.” — a woman from Uganda
“For a poor person everything is terrible – illness, humiliation, shame. We are cripples; we are afraid of everything; we depend on everyone. No one needs us. We are like garbage that everyone wants to get rid of.” — a blind woman from Tiraspol, Moldova
Which should point out how unwittingly destructive it can be for white-faced volunteers to show up to a developing nation and treat people like they’re ‘poor.’
We just got back from Guatemala, working on the first phase of building a sanitation system in the community of Chuicutama in the Highlands of Guatemala. If you’d like to learn more and/or support our work, as it’s a multiyear project, you can do so by clicking here:
Before we left a few asked me: Shouldn’t we focus on helping the poor here at home?
As though we have to choose between them.
I bristle whenever anyone asks a question like that.
First, as I like to say, Christians, not just doctors, are without borders.
Second, as I’ve frequently whined, unless you’re talking about Indian Reservations (which you’re likely not) there’s no real comparison between poverty in the developing world and the poor in the United States.
Even the poorest of the poor here can walk into a gas station and get a glass of clean water.
That’s the exception in most places.
In his book Globalization, Spirituality, and Justice, Daniel Groody has summarized an array of statistical data in compiling a snapshot of the world as if it were a “global village of 100 people.”
In that village “the resources are unevenly distributed.”
The richest person in the village has as much as the poorest 57 taken together.
Fifty do not have a reliable source of food and are hungry some or all of the time, and 30 suffer malnutrition.
Forty do not have access to adequate sanitation.
31 people live in substandard housing.
31 do not have electricity; 18 are unable to read.
15 do not have access to safe drinking water.
Only 16 people have access to the internet.
Only 12 own an automobile.
Three are immigrating.
And only two have a college education.
Overall, 19 struggle to survive on one dollar per day or less.
48 struggle to live on two dollars a day or less.
In brief, as the World Bank describes it, two thirds of the planet lives in poverty.
Groody also shares some startling statistics about what he calls “our collective spending patterns as a human family in relationship to basic human needs.”
According to these figures, the world spent as much money on fragrances as all of Africa and the Middle East spent on education in 2005. The world spends almost as much money on toys and games as the poorest one-fifth of the world’s population earns in a year. The United States and Europe spent nearly ninety times as much on luxury items as the amount of money that would be needed to provide safe drinking water and basic sanitation for those in our global village who do not have these necessities now. Moreover, it is sobering to consider that the world spends nearly four times as much on alcohol as on international development aid.
Every hour more than 1,200 children die of preventable diseases, which is the equivalent of three tsunamis each month.
Yet even the smallest reductions in military expenditures could dramatically affect human development.
For one day’s military spending, we could virtually eliminate malaria in Africa.
For what we spend in two days on the military, we could provide the health care services necessary to prevent the deaths of three million infants a year.
For less than a week’s military spending, we could educate each of the 140 million children in developing countries who have never attended schools.
We’re heading home from our week here in Guatemala, working on the first phase of building a sanitation system in the community of Chuicutama in the Highlands of Guatemala. If you’d like to learn more and/or support our work, as it’s a multiyear project, you can do so by clicking here:
As part of our week, we’re reflecting on the bible’s commandments about Jubilee. You can think of Jubilee as scripture’s economic policy. Jesus unveiled his own Gospel in terms of Jubilee in Luke 4, his first sermon.
A fifth component to the Jubilee command in Leviticus 25 is that every fiftieth year all property that had been lost through hardships or lawsuits or debts would be redistributed to its original owners. Naturally it strikes many as seditious even to mention the word ‘redistribution’ in Church. It sounds like a political term.
And it is political.
Just not in the way people would expect.
In Jesus’ day, to be a wealthy Jew in a land occupied by Roman invaders meant that in all likelihood your wealth was ill-gotten. Odds were that a wealthy Jew in Jesus’ day was a collaborator, against his people, with the Roman invaders.
This is why tax collectors were despised in first century Israel. Caesar hired Jews to collect excessive taxes from their fellow Jews- taxes that went to pay for the Roman army occupying their land and crucifying those who protested- and Rome encouraged those tax collectors to raise the rate and skim off the top for their own gain.
An analogy would be the US military hiring Iraqis to collect taxes from fellow Iraqis to pay for US military personnel. You can imagine how popular that would be in Iraq.
So when the rich young man approaches Jesus asking about spiritual matters (eternal life) we should be suspicious immediately about how he’s earned his wealth. And we shouldn’t be surprised that Jesus turns his spiritual yearning into a question about riches.
Jesus’ instruction to him ‘Go, sell all you own and give it to the poor, and then follow me’ should be heard as an echo of the Jubilee command.
He’s telling the rich man that for salvation to be made available to him then he must give back to the poor the wealth he has taken from the poor.
The rich man refuses, walking away weeping.
In the very next chapter, Jesus encounters Zaccheus, a tax collector. He and the rich, young man are meant to contrast with one another.
Luke describes Zaccheus as a little man but you can be sure he was a big shot, making a fortune off the backs of his oppressed fellow citizens. Zaccheus, though, is transformed by the grace shown to him by Christ. Though despised, Jesus wants to eat at his house for dinner. Such unexpected grace prompts Zaccheus to return his ill-gotten wealth to the poor, a response that provokes Jesus to declare: ‘Today salvation has come to your house.’
What’s this mean?
Are we to indict ourselves for the wealth we have and enjoy?
Are we to give everything away, examine what we have that’s been by another’s disadvantage or just feel guilty and pray for forgiveness?
Maybe none of the above.
I think we’re to realize that if Jesus’ Gospel isn’t simply an otherworldly, spiritual message but a message about righting the wrongs in our present world and living graciously towards the poor, then whatever ‘salvation’ means it has to mean more than our soul’s escape from this world.
Jubilee, the rich young man, Zaccheus: they all remind us that salvation is about more than going to heaven after we die. Salvation isn’t in the future. It’s not something that happens one day.
Jesus says ‘Today, salvation has come to your house.’
In the present.
Our salvation has to include our willingness to put our wealth into the practice of compassion.
Salvation is realizing, like Zaccheus, that oftentimes our wealth stands in the way of what God wants to do in the world and with us.
Salvation is participating with our whole selves- our hearts, souls, hands, feet and RICHES- in what God is doing through Jesus Christ.
Like Zaccheus, we are to feel so transformed by the grace shown to us in Christ, we’re ready to give our everything to his service.
Does some of our wealth come from unjust systems?
Of course, maybe even a lot it.
And part of any Christian’s discipleship is discerning those complexities and choosing to live in an alternative way.
This is why mission is as much a means of grace for the doer as it is for the receiver. Part of what mission does is to lead you to places you never would have gone were it not for Jesus, and to introduce you to people you never would have met were it not for him.
Mission here in Guatemala exposes you to the fact that such economic injustices aren’t abstract ‘systems.’ They’re not reducable to soundbites or political slogans.
They have faces and names that belong to people who are members with you in the Body of Christ.
Your salvation depends on you learning to see in them a greater value than the value you place in your riches.