Archives For Mission

9The women of Pixan are Mayan women from the Highlands of Guatemala being trained by Highland Support Project to to compete in the global marketplace.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

acts-2-42In his sequel to the Gospel story, Luke reports that after the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost Jesus’ community of disciples:

“…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.

What if the Acts 2 Church about which preachers so often wax poetic was actually a contravention of Jesus’ final commandment?

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.

Anyways…

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

good view

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IMG_0516I spent the last week in the Highlands of Guatemala, working on a sewage system for a Maya village in the mountains. I’ve heard it before but the numbers still have the power to shock:

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].

10109_10200197878452575_1696261927_nOne can only imagine how these words must sound to the millions in our world today who labor to build houses for others, but whose earnings enable them only to live in homes of scrap metal and cardboard.

Who work fields owned by others, the harvest of which is shipped to another, wealthier land while they most scavenge for food in landfills.

Whose children will die with bloated bellies before they see adulthood.

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?”  

His response:

““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?

 

 

IMG_0516As you might know, I just returned from the Highlands of Guatemala, a place whose staggering beauty is rivaled only by its systemic poverty.

Making the transition back to home from a place where clean water and a flushing toilet are literally a PIPE DREAM always leaves me feeling……?

Indicted?

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?

Despise us?

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.

You can give to this project here: Guatemala Toilet Project.

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Digging septic tank foundation. Check out the guns.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Putting block over rebar. Check out the guns.IMG_0538

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tying the wire onto rebar before pouring concrete forms.

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Carrying wood down for concrete forms. Check out the guns.

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What the community currently uses for toilets- pit latrines that fill into the ground and, once they’re filled, the toilet is moved to another location of their yard.IMG_0505

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pouring cement into form after 2nd level of septic tank. Check out the guns.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My brother-in-law, Mikey, making sure we’ve actually dug the adjoining tank foundation on the correct side.IMG_0533

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jeannie mortaring. IMG_0526

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Paul watching my brother-in-law do all the work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bending rebar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bending rebar. They did about a million of these.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leveling the corner blocks.IMG_0519

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Day 1.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Day 4- Septic Tank ready for roof/lid once it’s dry.

 

 

 

 

 

Clinic/Community Center waiting finishing.

 

 

 

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8329_1245755266240_8036607_nI 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.

If you would like contribute to the project: Guatemala Toilet Project.

Here’s my brother-in-law, Mike Keller, explaining the project:

8329_1245755266240_8036607_nI tell our service teams in Guatemala over and over again that the real project we’ve come for isn’t tangible. It’s relational.

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

Garbage

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.’

 

10109_10200197878452575_1696261927_nWe 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:

    Guatemala Toilet Project.

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.

For example:

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.

 

Dishonest Wealth

Jason Micheli —  July 18, 2013 — 1 Comment

10109_10200197878452575_1696261927_nWe’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:

    Guatemala Toilet Project.

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.’

Today.

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.

 

10109_10200197878452575_1696261927_nWe’re finishing up 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:

Guatemala Toilet Project.

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.

For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not remit your brother or sister’s debts.’

     NT Wright, an Anglican Bishop and theologian, quips that the Christian world can be divided into ‘gospels people’ and ‘epistles people.’

By that, he refers to the way Christians tend to frame the faith in an either/or dichotomoy: Christianity is about following the example of Jesus’ life (gospels people) or its about Jesus’ death and resurrection rescuing us from our sin (epistles people). Despite the frequency with which Christians so divide the faith, the problems with such a dichotomy should be obvious. Focusing only on Jesus’ life or only on the forgiveness of sins renders the other unintelligible.

And it couldn’t be further from what Jesus himself taught.

Again, the Lord’s Prayer.

When the disciples ask Jesus how to pray, he teaches them to pray for the forgiveness of their debts just as they forgive their debtors. Woven into Jesus’ prayer is the correlation between how God regards us and how we in turn regard others. We extend grace and forgiveness just as- indeed because- we have been shown grace and forgiveness by God in Christ. Likewise, our ‘debt’ of sin is reconciled by God through Christ not as an end in itself but so that we can extend God’s reconciliation to others.

 Salvation can never be something God does just for me; it must always also be what God does through me and with me for the world.

Our ‘personal’ salvation is but the basis from which Christ brings his Kingdom to all of creation.

In the first century, Roman taxation very often reduced Jewish peasants to a slavery of indebtedness. Jewish peasants frequently had to borrow money at debilitating interest to pay their taxes. As a result, many peasants wound up losing their property and found themselves sharecroppers on land formerly owned by them. In addition, the Roman tax system created a hierarchy of intermediaries, most often Jewish, whom Rome contracted to collect the tax.

In Jesus’ Parable of the Merciless Servant, the Jubilee year has been proclaimed, the ‘remittance’ of debts is offered by the king to a servant.

Now, if salvation were purely personal or spiritual- what God has done for me so that I can go to heaven when I die- then Jesus’ parable could end right there, a comforting echo of how God has forgiven us.

But Jesus continues.

Having been forgiven his debts, the servant later encounters a peer who owes him a sum of money.

Having just been forgiven his debts, the servant nonetheless demands his peer pay him the debt that is owed. The servant to whom the Jubilee was extended refuses to offer the Jubilee to another.

Jesus continues:

The merciless servant will now no longer receive mercy. His Jubilee is void. Handed over by his peers, the king orders his torture.

Jesus continues: ‘So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not remit your brother or sister’s debts.’

Protestants often point out how Jesus was not a legalist regarding the Jewish covenant and often sparred with those who were legalists. Didn’t Jesus say the Sabbath was made for people not people for the Sabbath?

However, on one key matter of the Jewish Law and Jubilee Jesus was absolutely rigid: only those who practiced grace towards others would receive grace themselves.

Our personal salvation, the remittance of our debts, is null and void if we do not return the King’s mercy with works of mercy of our own.

For Christians, the challenge of the poor is never just an economic or political challenge. It’s a theological and spiritual challenge. It’s a challenge to our sense of gratitude for the forgiveness shown to us in Jesus Christ, for those who truly know they’ve been granted unwarranted, Jubilee-like mercy for their ‘debt’ should be eager to extend gratuitous costly grace to others. Those who know that the mercy shown to us is great know too that now much is expected of us.

Just as Jesus challenged his first listeners to free those enslaved by debt incurred through injustice, Jesus challenges us today to free those who are bound by a systemic cycle of poverty and hopelessness.

 

8329_1245755266240_8036607_nThis week I’m in Guatemala with a service team from my church. We’re beginning work on a multi-year sanitation system for a Maya community, Chuicutama, in the Highlands. Our reflections for the week center on the theme of Jubilee, the biblical commandment mandates forgiveness of debts and economic restoration as part of God’s New Creation.

Jubilee is what Jesus announces as his Gospel in his first sermon in Nazareth in Lk 4. According to Torah, a big part of the good news of the Jubilee is reconciliation of wrongs in the world- a theme Paul picks up in 2 Corinthians.

To complement this theme, I’ve asked Frank Thompson, a friend, parishioner and former biblical scholar (of Jubilee) to offer his reflections.

The days before Jesus arrived at his home town, he began his work by literally re-enacting events in biblical salvation history.  His baptism by his cousin John was his “Exodus.”  He wrestled with Satan in the Judean Wilderness.  He faced down demonic powers and sicknesses of every kind which crippled and imprisoned people.  Now, his appearance at his home synagogue in Nazareth on the day of rest spelled out in the words of Scripture what all this meant.

He gave them his mission statement.  He asked for the ponderous Isaiah Scroll, and transformed the atmosphere of the synagogue by opening to the words in which the prophet sang of a new and richer meaning for the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25):

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Yahweh intended the Year of Jubilee to be a Year of Restoration in every physical aspect of Hebrew life:  a Year of Renewal, a Year of Freedom, and a Year of Rebalancing of Human and Natural relationships.  Debts are to be forgiven, property is to be repatriated, and slaves and indentured persons are to be set free. Fields are to lie fallow for

The essence of this entire behavior was and is to see the Creation as God sees it,  to accept that God created it,  to live in it, respond to it, enjoy it, and to invite every other person and creature into a world belonging entirely to God, and not to be exploited for selfish ends or taken for granted.

Of course, that’s a mission we would expect of Jesus.  He was filled with the Spirit of  God and able to live in a world as big and rich as God created it, and to be transparently eager to heal any ill or bring light to any darkness, or even life to any death.  He was a man as God had created Man.  He walked in the image and after the likeness of God.  People sensed that.

Nevertheless, the friends and elders in the synagogue in Nazareth were infuriated by Jesus’ evaluation of their attitudes.  They just didn’t get it.  They didn’t “hear” Jesus’ call to life at all.  They only saw an “uppity” kid or a person with an off the wall way of reading the prophet.  Their own ways of interpreting events contrary to their own likings filtered out what they were experiencing with Jesus.  Jesus walked out through the confused crowd and went on his way to the crowds and towns of those who would be glad to hear him.

“The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me . . . to bring good news to the poor.”  Jesus was a genius at meeting crowds of poor folk where they were and offering them the good news that the Kingdom of Heaven was for them.  It was impossible for the crowds around him not to sense the largeness of the life he was living and offering.  Everything Jesus had he was willing to give away. He sent his disciples on missions with only the clothes on their backs so that they would not be worried about their possessions.  They would “feel into” the lives of the persons they met.

It is often the unforeseen consequence of sending persons on mission from affluent societies face to serve cultures where persons are “dirt poor” and seemingly “backward” that they become overly protective of the technical items they bring with them.

It is well to hide one’s toys or compulsions to say, “Well, why don’t they do it this way or that way?”  It is an act of grace and courtesy to listen, to eat their food, and to enjoy their surroundings, and then to answer questions they may ask in response to our ways.

“The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me . . . to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind.”  The Palestinians to whom Jesus ministered were for sure oppressed not, only by Roman tyranny but also by the everlasting demands of their religious establishment.  They felt themselves to be captives.  More than that, the population was victimized by endemic diseases, mental and physical ailments and demoponic and congenital insanity of various sorts.  Jesus would look at a crowd and “have compassion on them.” Jesus walked through the towns, the homes, and the country side smashing “prisons” of every human sort, and leaving hymns of freedom behind him.

Do people of the church need to go only to distant places of desperate need to begin such a ministry, or are there such places on our door-steps?

Should persons made in the image and after the likeness of God cultivate the refrain of Genesis One that sees every element the Gods Creation as “good.”  Even when Romans crucified Christ, they, an couldn’t capture him.  He broke death and led captives to freedom.  With that kind of freedom growing in us as the Church, how much healing of life, mind, body, and heart can we see accomplished under the leadership of Jesus Christ?  How much hope can we and others feel and see?

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me . . . to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  Everywhere Jesus went, he faced a depressed and dispirited populace.  His spirit and message were counter culture to the long-established privileged political and economic powers that sucked the hope for a better life out of the people.  His message that the Kingdom of Heaven was near gave new hope to the people.  His frequent statements that the “kingdom is within you” were electrifying.  A kingdom the Romans knew nothing about and could neither tax nor control gave hope.  To realize that God has not forgotten us, but has heard our cries, and is with us is to know that we are persons whom God loves and whom God favors.  When the disciples of Jesus set out on the mission to which they were assigned, to tell of this kingdom and of this hope, they were uncertain and inexperienced.

They soon learned that the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of God, gave them a success in their witness, and they began to tell the story with greater confidence, and with the accompaniment of  such signs and wonders aswere appropriate.  The oppressed in the land soon began to follow Jesus in great crowds, until the very last, when he was crucified.  Then the witnesses to the Resurrection have been spreading the message of hope ever since.  We carry it to persons who watch us to see whether we live our hope.  We hope we do.

Jesus said, “Look.  I am with you, to the end . . .”  To feel the Spirit of Christ wrap Himself around you, and to say to Him, “I’m with you,” is the beginning of a powerful life-mission.

 

 

Jubilee. 10109_10200197878452575_1696261927_n

I’m 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:

Guatemala Toilet Project.

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.

Last Christmas I met a little girl named Anna in Cantal, Guatemala. At the time she was five years old. She lives in the Highlands in Guatemala. I built a wood-stove in her family’s house so that her mother would have something to cook over instead of an open fire.

Anna’s house is about half the size of my office  at church. It’s made of mud. The floor is dirt and sand in a village routinely devastated by mudslides. We built the stove inside Anna’s house where the only other possessions were a dirty mattress on a make-shift box spring, a torn and faded soccer poster, a beat-up pine cabinet and a tiny little Christmas tree with jagged, broken colored lights.

At that mountain altitude it frosts every night, but there’s no heat. Not even a door just bright pink tapestry hanging from the ceiling- and you could hear that cold in Anna’s breathing. It sounded like she had pneumonia.

Anna’s eyes are red and bloodshot. That’s from the fire her mother has to cook over. So too is the black snot running from her nose. Anna’s mother is named Maria and she’s only a teenager though she looks three times her age.

Her father works a tiny field outside their house.

Last year, Anna’s parents borrowed money to send a family member to the States to find work. So now they’re poor and they’re in debt.

Perhaps you’d have to be there, to meet them and get a sense of all the forces working against them and all the obstacles weighing down on them, to understand but that kind of systemic poverty…it’s a kind of bondage.

Bono, the lead singer of U2, was a part of a Jubilee campaign designed to benefit the developing world as the millennium neared. The Roman Catholic Church too, under Pope John Paul, saw in the Jubilee tradition a Gospel for the world’s poor today.

Bono writes in the NY Times:

“…redemption is not just a spiritual term, it’s an economic concept. At the turn of the millennium, the debt cancellation campaign, inspired by the Jewish concept of Jubilee, aimed to give the poorest countries a fresh start. Thirty-four million more children in Africa are now in school in large part because their governments used money freed up by debt relief.

This redemption was not an end to economic slavery, but it was a more hopeful beginning for many. And to the many, not the lucky few, is surely where any soul-searching must lead us.”

According to the Gospels, the twelve disciples only ever asked Jesus to teach them one thing.

     ‘Lord, teach us how to pray.’

And Jesus responds: ‘When you pray, do it like this.’

The Lord’s Prayer, as we pray it in church every Sunday goes like this:

Our Father, which art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name;

thy kingdom come;

thy will be done,

in earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive them that trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation;

but deliver us from evil.

[For thine is the kingdom,

the power, and the glory,

for ever and ever.]

Amen.

I learned to pray this prayer as a teenager when I first started attending church. I was surprised when I went to a Calvinist seminary and learned in chapel that everyone else prayed a different version of Jesus’ prayer. Their version was about debts not trespasses:

‘And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors…’

At the time I thought ‘debts’ sounded oddly pedestrian and strangely economic.

What I have since come to appreciate is how ‘trespasses’ doesn’t exactly resonate with what Jesus teaches his followers to pray in Matthew’s Gospel.

A third component to the Jubilee command was the requirement for the wealthy of Israel to forgive the debts of Israel’s poor. The prayer Jesus teaches them is a Jubilee prayer; Jesus’ prayer stubbornly avoids our attempts to spiritualize prayer. The word ‘debt’ used in Matthew is ‘opheilema’ in Greek, a precise term for an economic debt. Even the word most translate as ‘forgive’ is actually ‘aphiemi’ in Greek, which means ‘remit.’ Interestingly, it’s the most common verb used by Jesus.

So when Jesus teaches us to pray, he tells us to pray for the help to forgive our debtors. And Jesus won’t abide us manipulating ‘debt’ into a spiritual category, forgiving those who owe us in vague, relational terms. He’s talking concretely of economics. Forgiveness, for Jesus, isn’t simply a psychological term; it’s an economic one. Remittance.

The Lord’s Prayer, as John Howard Yoder translates it, means: ‘the time has come for the faithful people of Israel to abolish all debts which bind the poor ones of Israel, for your debts to God are also wiped away.’

By having us pray for our debts to be remitted, as we remit others’ debts, Jesus establishes a correlation between our practice of Jubilee and the grace of God.

It’s not surprising to think that forgiveness is at the heart of Jesus’ Gospel.

It is surprising to discover that, for Jesus, forgiveness is more than a relational term. Forgiveness is about more than Christ reconciling us of Sin. It’s about more than our reconciling personal relationships with others.

Forgiveness, for Jesus, is a material term too.

It’s about loosing those who are bound to systems of impoverishment.

It’s about recognizing (and thus being loosed ourselves) that many of us benefit from those very systems that impoverish others.

Consider how those indigenous Maya in Guatemala suffer economically in no small part because the global marketplace that guarantees advantage to American businesses makes it impossible for them to compete on an equitable basis.

Consider how the poverty which afflicts Native American societies is the result of generations of injustice perpetrated by the American government, a legacy that has harmed one society and benefited another.

Consider how the Banana Republic pants I’m wearing as I type this were made in a factory in Cambodia (not far from a garbage dump school our church supports)because that country’s only option is to provide the company with the absolute cheapest labor they can find anywhere in the world.

I don’t have easy answers for any of these issues. I’m not an economist nor am I convinced Christians should opt for easy answers. I think maybe we’re supposed to live amidst the uneasiness and wrestle with the conflicting values. We’re supposed face over and again the fact that our salvation is tied to the grace we show those who suffer at the expense of our comfort and lifestyle.

     Harsh thoughts, maybe.

     Words we’d rather shove aside so we can instead be ‘spiritual.’

     Maybe.

     Maybe that’s why Jesus tells us to pray this way whenever we pray:

    ‘And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors…’

 

8329_1245755266240_8036607_nThis week I’m in Guatemala with a service team from my church. We’re beginning work on a multi-year sanitation system for a Maya community, Chuicutama, in the Highlands. Our reflections for the week center on the theme of Jubilee, the biblical commandment mandates forgiveness of debts and economic restoration as part of God’s New Creation.

Jubilee is what Jesus announces as his Gospel in his first sermon in Nazareth in Lk 4. According to Torah, a big part of the good news of the Jubilee is reconciliation of wrongs in the world- a theme Paul picks up in 2 Corinthians.

To complement this theme, I’ve asked Mike Crane, a friend and parishioner to offer his reflections.

We’ve all been there before: that awkward moment—coming up out of the Metro, stopped at a long traffic light, or in any one of a dozen other situations—when a grizzled man or woman in wrinkled, dirty clothes calls out to you (or holds up a cardboard sign).

“I’m homeless.  Can you help?”

They’re right there—right in front of you.  And they’re looking straight at you.  Or, at least you feel like they are.  Now you have to decide.  Do I give them a few bucks?  Or do I look to the side (or right through them) and walk (or drive) on?  Either way you go—and if you’re like me, you’ve chosen both options at some point or another—it’s over in a minute or two and you move on, back into the comfort of the world you know.  Your world—light years distant from the one the grizzled drifter lives in—and from the eyes of the drifter.  It was just a one-off occurrence, anyway.

Maybe a one-off occurrence, though, has driven you to take a closer look at the drifter’s world.  You’ve felt moved to help with the local homeless ministry.  Now, it’s twenty sets of eyes looking at you.  There’s no avoiding the eyes, anymore.  Soon, you’re sitting down at the table to eat with four or five men and women from that other world.  You can’t help but notice the dirt under their fingernails.  And they want to talk to you—and for you to talk to them.  You’re drawn into their world—and you’re starting to think that the huge distance that you thought separated you really isn’t there.  It may be one world, after all.

By now, those one-off encounters on the street and the time you’ve spent with people at the homeless shelter are telling you there’s more for you to do.  So you decide to take a chance and head off on a mission trip to Guatemala.   You leave the modern airport—much like the one back home—and very quickly you’re struck by the crowded, poor conditions that exist side by side with the wealth of an international capital.  When you get to your destination, a small rural village, you come face to face with real poverty.  The people you meet aren’t homeless, but they live in a country with no natural source of potable water.  Where ten people live in a single room—dad, mom and kids living out their whole lives in less space than you have in your family room, back in “your world.”

How can we not address the need that we’ve grown increasingly unable to look past?

That one homeless guy at the Metro has become a roomful of homeless people at a shelter.

And that’s become a country—a world—full of people in need, trying to survive from one day to the next.

It’s like tending to a tree damaged by a tough drought.  And you look up to see that the tree is part of a grove of struggling trees—and that grove is just a part of a vast forest.

When we think about it, it can seem overwhelming.  Tending a tree—treating the grizzled drifter with dignity and helping him when we find him—is a manageable task.  It’s what we’re called to do, and it does make a difference.  That’s our mission.

But injustice has thrown our world out of kilter.

It’s allowed a country rich in natural resources, blessed with nearly forty watersheds, to have no potable water for its people.  It allows hundreds of millions of people to live at subsistence level while a relative handful have more than they know what to do with.

We have to understand justice issues, to argue for justice, if we expect to help set things right.

Mission and justice go hand-in-hand—and they bring us ever closer to the day when “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.”

When the eyes of a homeless person won’t trouble us—because she can’t be found, no matter where we look throughout our wide world.

 

10109_10200197878452575_1696261927_nI’m 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:

Guatemala Toilet Project.

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.

Believer or not, every one knows about the ten commandments. What’s not as well known is that when Moses is on the mountaintop, God says a whole lot more than what can be etched into a few stone tablets.

And God gives many more commands. Among them, is the Jubilee commandment.

A second component of Jubilee is the command that every fifty years Israel should leave their fields lie fallow as a sign of trust that God will provide for them. In this way, Jubilee insures that Israel never forget that the God who rescued them from slavery in Egypt also fed them with Manna in the wilderness, the God who parted the Red Sea for their deliverance also gave them water from the rock to drink.

Jubilee then was a symbolic act, a sign that God is the one who provides for us no matter how much our hard work and success delude us otherwise, a sign that fidelity to this God and this God’s desires trumps all our worldly urgencies.

When Jesus announces Jubilee as his Gospel in Luke 4 this is one of the practices he’s implicitly proclaiming. At first glance, however, its unclear how this aspect of Jubilee plays into Jesus’ ministry. Jesus never told anyone to leave their fields fallow and trust that God would feed them.

Or did he?

Right after his Jubilee sermon in Luke 4, just after narrowly escaping death at the hands of angry congregants, what does Jesus do next?

He calls his disciples.

And in calling them what does Jesus have them do?

Drop their fishing nets, leave their work- immediately- and follow him.

Only a few chapters later, in the sermon on the mount, Jesus echoes Leviticus when  he tells these disciples who’ve left their fields and fishing nets behind:

Do not worry and do not say: ‘what shall we eat and what shall we drink, with what shall we be clothed.’ For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Seek first the Kingdom and these things will be given to you as well.

     Removed from a context of Jubilee, Jesus’ commands to not worry, to consider the birds and the lilies, to note how God provides for them can sound like he’s encouraging us to be lazy or even apathetic. What’s worse, in the hands of prosperity gospel preachers, this passage becomes like a genie’s magic lamp, offering whatever wish we ‘seek’ after.

     This passage seldom makes any sense if it’s not read as Jesus calling together a Jubilee community, a people putting away their material priorities to pursue the Kingdom, trusting that God will take of their physical needs.

Just like the first disciples’ call, we engage in mission from a starting place of trust.  Just as it did for the first disciples and just as the Jubilee command did for Israel, mission calls us away from our trust in the world. Mission calls us away from all the objects, achievements and activities we label ‘necessities.’ What we prioritize in our lives points not to God but to us and our hard work. Much of what label necessary for our lives are simply trophies of our success. Mission calls us away from a life that points to ourselves and calls us toward a life that points to God.

Thus, going out in mission is never just a venturing forth in to the world. As it was for those who dropped their fishing nets to follow, mission is always a leaving behind too. We leave behind what we typically think important in the trust we will discover a something of surprising and surpassing value.

    True, most of us don’t have fields we can leave fallow.

     We don’t have fishing nets to drop on the beach.

     But all of us have us things the world tells us we need. We all have things we tell ourselves we need.

All of us have priorities and obligations, hopes and desires, without which- we imagine- our life would cease. We have ‘stuff’ we’re convinced we need for our lives to be full and complete.

The challenge behind and truth in Jubilee is that very often our ‘fishing nets’ get in the way of completely trusting and following God. We prioritize our lives with both trivial and important concerns and inevitably we give our discipleship whatever time we have remaining. With worry and anxiety, we seek first our own priorities and hope we’ll have time for what faith requires of us.

     Jesus is urging the opposite.

Seek the Kingdom. Worry only about the things of the Kingdom.

And God will provide the necessities.

This is why, as Kenda Dean says, mission is more than a trip. Mission, rooted as it is in Jesus’ Gospel, is a way of life.

It’s a disposition away from our daily, materialistic wants and desires and towards a life that gives witness to the God who comes to us in Jesus.

Surely, its no accident that Jesus rephrases Leviticus and tells his disciples to seek first his Kingdom while on top of a mountain.

Not only is Jesus echoing the first Jubilee command from Mt Sinai, mountains in the first century, as they are in present-day Afghanistan, were the domain of revolutionaries. By calling his disciples up to a mountaintop, like a revolutionary leader Jesus is  constituting them as a community of committed to a different set of values and priorities.

Jesus is leading them (and us) to turn away from one kingdom- the kingdom of personal gain and rat races, stock portfolios and slick, gotta-have-it advertisements- and towards his own.

 

This week I’m in Guatemala with a service team from my church. We’re beginning work on a multi-year sanitation system for a Maya community, Chuicutama, in the Highlands. Our reflections for the week center on the theme of Jubilee, the biblical commandment mandates forgiveness of debts and economic restoration as part of God’s New Creation.

     Jubilee is what Jesus announces as his Gospel in his first sermon in Nazareth in Lk 4. According to Torah, a big part of the good news of the Jubilee is reconciliation of wrongs in the world- a theme Paul picks up in 2 Corinthians.

To complement this theme, I’ve asked Laina Schneider, a friend and college student at Virginia Tech to post her thoughts on Jubilee. Laina studies agriculture at Tech and has served as Aldersgate’s mission intern in both Guatemala and Cambodia. Perhaps more importantly, as a college student her wrestling with questions of faith and life are just what the Church needs to hear. I’d encourage you to subscribe to Laina’s blog here.

During my time in Cambodia, I realized that everyone thinks Westerners are really lazy. 33526_1549442418229_3208720_n

Every time I stepped foot out of my hotel there were a group of motodops and tuk-tuk drivers yelling for my attention, all wanting my business. “TUK TUK LADY???” Often I just wanted to go on a walk, or the restaurant I was going to was only a few blocks away. They thought that any Western person wanted a ride everywhere, and they would charge high prices for even the shortest rides, thinking we didn’t know any better.

Although this demand for attention was annoying, it also made sense. In a city of nearly 3 million, where most of the vehicles on the road are mopeds, it is a very competitive business. Tourism is a blossoming industry, and many locals, from the city and surrounding provinces see this as the most realistic way to make money. It is not a cheap investment. Many drivers spend their entire life savings on a moto or tuk tuk, in the hopes of earning just a few dollars a day. There is often no profit involved; the money made from one ride will be immediately spent on street food, or go to their children’s school fees. After purchasing this expensive vehicle, especially if they have come in from the province, it is all they have. They live on their moto. Drivers will pull over on the side of the road and sit, very uncomfortably, to sleep on their moped. Tuk tuk drivers will sling up small hammocks from the bars of the cart to sleep in their off hours. It is hard for me to imagine literally having only one possession. What if it breaks? Or needs expensive repairs? Even if you can somehow afford the repairs, that’s at least a week of no income. These drivers’ lives are only their work; they’ve given up everything for the business.

The city is a jungle marked by patterns Darwinian survival.

They are literally enslaved to their poverty.

They have no choice but to keep working where they are, the risk of stopping to find another job is too great, and jobs are hard to come by, especially if you don’t speak English.

This is just one example of enslavement to poverty, people across Cambodia and the world, struggle everyday just to make ends meet, and often have no other choice.

We are so lucky, to live where we do and have so many blessings. We have been shown unbelievable grace, and now it is ours to share. Not only do we have time, money and skills to give, we can grant people grace just by showing them compassion and respect.

By building relationships in a process of empowerment we can simultaneously release them from their enslavement and define their lives with love.

 

33526_1549442418229_3208720_nThis week I’m in Guatemala with a service team from my church. We’re beginning work on a multi-year sanitation system for a Maya community, Chuicutama, in the Highlands. Our reflections for the week center on the theme of Jubilee, the biblical commandment mandates forgiveness of debts and economic restoration as part of God’s New Creation.

     Jubilee is what Jesus announces as his Gospel in his first sermon in Nazareth in Lk 4. According to Torah, a big part of the good news of the Jubilee is reconciliation of wrongs in the world- a theme Paul picks up in 2 Corinthians.

To complement this theme, I’ve asked Laina Schneider, a friend and college student at Virginia Tech to post her thoughts on Jubilee. Laina studies agriculture at Tech and has served as Aldersgate’s mission intern in both Guatemala and Cambodia. Perhaps more importantly, as a college student her wrestling with questions of faith and life are just what the Church needs to hear. I’d encourage you to subscribe to Laina’s blog here.

Each mission trip and organization that Aldersgate involved with is founded some level on the concept of reconciliation. Though how that element affects the overall purpose and role of the organization varies, we can see throughout, a tendency towards service with an oppressed people.

In Cambodia, the working class is one that only a short time ago was scarred by the powerful Khmer Rouge regime, who inflicted a genocidal wound in the kingdom no one could heal.

In Guatemala, the Mayans have been pushed out of their homes and told that their culture and language is lowly for hundreds of years. They have been forced out of their fertile fields and pushed into the last livable place high in the mountains. Their war-stricken country has taken the lives of so many men, leaving women and children to fend for themselves.

The Ft. Apache reservation was formerly a U.S. military post, chosen specifically to trap the Apache tribe and control their actions and interactions. American Indians, Mayans, and the Khmer people are all injured. They are calloused from a history that we today may not have had control over, but that doesn’t mean we should pretend it never happened.

Jesus’ message of Jubilee is centered on forgiveness, the forgiveness of debts, neighbors, and all wrong doings.

So what is our role in this Gospel?

Mission can serve as an avenue for reconciliation in places that we, or others, have done wrong. It is easy to say “sorry” or to act like because we are living now, that it wasn’t our fault. But it is our job as Christians to show love to these people. To reach out and show them that not only are we sorry, but we want to help them to help themselves.

Mission provides an opportunity for both forgiveness and tangible reconciliation in ways that not only provide relief and an apology, but also create a sustainable process to ensure empowerment of many generations to come.

 

 

33526_1549442418229_3208720_n     This week I’m in Guatemala with a service team from my church. We’re beginning work on a multi-year sanitation system for a Maya community, Chuicutama, in the Highlands. Our reflections for the week center on the theme of Jubilee, the biblical commandment mandates forgiveness of debts and economic restoration as part of God’s New Creation.

     Jubilee is what Jesus announces as his Gospel in his first sermon in Nazareth in Lk 4; one of the implications of the Jubilee, according to the Torah, is that the Jubilee year be marked by letting fields lie fallow. The land itself rests on the Sabbath year, which itself is an act of faithful trust that in that year the Lord will provide.

     To complement this theme, I’ve asked Laina Schneider, a friend and college student at Virginia Tech to post her thoughts on Jubilee. Laina studies agriculture at Tech and has served as Aldersgate’s mission intern in both Guatemala and Cambodia. Perhaps more importantly, as a college student her wrestling with questions of faith and life are just what the Church needs to hear. I’d encourage you to subscribe to Laina’s blog here.

Food unifies us. Humans, animals, plants. All life requires sustenance. Food is many different things to many different people. To some it is a cheeseburger, to others a bag of chips, and to many more a portion of grain. Our culture is one, which for some decades has widened the gap between food and dirt. Yet soil is the source of life. It is that blackish brown stuff you walk on everyday, literally supports our world, and is the medium in which all food is grown. Yet many people seem to think that the interaction of food and dirt, literally and associatively, is “gross”.

This separation is a symbolic representation of the disconnect apparent in our industrialized commercial food system. How many people know where their food comes from? Or the conditions or methods used to produce it? How about the energy required to process and ship it? Most people don’t know any of those things. Even in the middle-upper class movement towards “organic” or “local” food, most people shop based on assumptions of standards behind labels, which are often misleading. Not all countries operate this way however.

There are many cultures, like those you may encounter in Guatemala or Cambodia, comprised of people whose lives are centered on growing food for themselves, their families, and their neighbors. This life is, all at once exhausting, infuriating, exciting and rewarding. It is necessary and systematic, a physical and emotional struggle to ensure the existence of those you love. In our society, the breadwinner in a family provides the money to purchase prepared foods in a grocery store down the street, but in an agrarian lifestyle, the name is a bit more literal. Try to imagine the crushing realization that the rains are late, and your store of rice will run out long before the next harvest comes in. Imagine having to look at your children and knowing that you cannot give them the nourishment they need, and that your hands are supposed to provide.

     Christ’s idea of jubilee is directly related to farming.

Biblical stories are constantly using agricultural metaphors or themes: sowing seeds, grape vines, harvesting, gleaning, the list is endless. But the stories were written this way, because it was relevant. Everyone could relate to those stories, because they were all growing food and understood the fundamentals of agriculture. Jubilee was a time to rest and let the fields lie fallow. In fact, they were supposed to let the fields lie fallow every seventh year. This means that no new crop could be sowed, the fields could not be plowed, and that everyone would have to eat only what was in their store. This is an impossible request. Imagine being asked to not go to the grocery store for a year. You could eat whatever was in your pantry, but could not buy anything new.

Maybe God asked this because he had an intricate understanding of soil chemistry and fertility and wanted the land to build up some organic matter to recharge the humus layer of nutrients….maybe. Or maybe God commanded this so there would be a year of rest, for people to take a break, and appreciate the beautiful blessing that is His creation.

As usual, what God wants isn’t easy, but we can identify how hard it is for us to sometimes do what God commands, with this idea of the fallow fields.

 

Strangers No More

Jason Micheli —  July 12, 2013 — Leave a comment

10109_10200197878452575_1696261927_n     We arrived in Guatemala yesterday to begin the first phase of building a sanitation system in the community of Chuicutama in the Highlands of Guatemala. If you’d like to support our work, as it’s a multiyear project, you can do so by clicking here:

Guatemala Toilet Project.

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.

When Jesus preaches his first sermon in Nazareth, the initial reaction isn’t exactly ‘oh, that’s Mary’s boy. We’re so proud of him.’

Jesus unearthing God’s Jubilee command from the pages of the prophet Isaiah leaves the congregation restless and irritated. Jubilee, as far as they were concerned, was a divine commandment (from Leviticus 25) better off forgotten.

But what ignites the congregation in Nazareth, what provokes rage in them and drives them to drive him over the edge of a cliff is Jesus comparing them to the characters in a little known story from 2 Kings 5: the story of Elisha and Namaan.

Namaan is a Syrian general, politically active and socially connected in Damascus. He’s not one to trust much less respect anyone from a lowly nation like Israel.

He is a great warrior, but he has leprosy!

Namaan learns, to his surprise no doubt, that for his condition he must go to the best people in Samaria, people in the hated enemy, Israel. It is a bitter pill to think that his lowly enemy has his remedy. But he goes. He goes, like an important general, with silver and gold and a full entourage.

He goes to Samaria and asks for a royal appointment. After all, why would you not think the ‘powerful’ have the answer?

Eventually, Namaan is led to visit this nobody, this Elisha, an uncredentialed prophet who indifferently says to the great general, “Jump into the Jordan River in the morning.”

By the general’s standards, it’s a humiliation. No fancy medicine. No cutting edge, the-best-that-money-can-buy technology. But Namaan does it because he wants his life back. He jumps, with great disdain and dread, into the Jordan.

And he comes up clean! His leprosy has vanished. We are told, “His flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy and he was clean…” He is so happy and so grateful. He knows that the healing has come in ways he could not control. He gladly asserts, “Now I know there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.” He offers to pay, generously, and then he is on his way rejoicing.

He learned that his life was a gift that he could not have on his own terms. He learned that his enemy, a stranger with no ‘value,‘ could have wisdom he did not and could be a vessel of God’s blessing.

Standing in the sanctuary of First Church of Nazareth, Jesus tells his listeners about Elisha and Namaan so that they will know that ‘insiders’ or ‘believers’ like themselves aren’t necessarily the keepers of God’s wisdom and blessing.

It can be easy for Christians engaged in mission to see themselves as the ‘keepers’ of a truth only they themselves know. Too often missioners think they are the ones bringing God to those they serve. Like the powerful, well-off Namaan we scoff at the notion that someone like Elisah, someone who is poor, lowly and of no-account by the world’s standards, could be a source of God’s power.

Instead Jesus would have us see that those the world encourages us to see only as lowly strangers are in fact sharers in the blessings of God. That like Elisha, they can share something of God we otherwise would not know had we not made the journey to see them. Rather than bring God to anyone, we venture forth in mission to meet God in new places and among strange faces.

And it really is about seeing when you get down to it. Elisha learns to see his enemy,  the Syrian general, in a different light, for Namaan is genuinely changed not just healed.  Namaan sees in Elisha and the puny Jordan River a challeng to his definitions of power and value.

The story of Namaan is but an illustration of the Jubilee Gospel made flesh in Jesus.

The Good News brought by Jesus is the news that strangers and enemies are strangers and enemies no more.

The New Age brought by Jesus is for all.

 

This week I’m in Guatemala with a service team from my church. We’re beginning work on a multi-year sanitation system for a Maya community, Chuicutama, in the Highlands. Our reflections for the week center on the theme of Jubilee, the biblical commandment mandates forgiveness of debts and economic restoration as part of God’s New Creation.

     Jubilee is what Jesus announces as his Gospel in his first sermon in Nazareth in Lk 4.

     To complement this theme, I’ve asked Laina Schneider, a friend and college student at Virginia Tech to post her thoughts on Jubilee. Laina studies agriculture at Tech and has served as Aldersgate’s mission intern in both Guatemala and Cambodia. Perhaps more importantly, as a college student her wrestling with questions of faith and life are just what the Church needs to hear. I’d encourage you to subscribe to Laina’s blog here.

33526_1549442418229_3208720_n

On my first trip to Guatemala, I had prepared myself to work with an open mind, and to share the love of Christ with the people we were serving. I had learned at youth group that Jesus always loved and welcomed enemies and strangers, and this trip would give us an opportunity to do that.

After arriving and working with the families to build stoves, it struck me that their hospitality towards us was unconditional.

They didn’t just allow us to come into their homes because we were helping them build a stove. They would have welcomed us, just as anyone else, because they were a loving people.

The Mayans were and are an extremely oppressed population, and the fact that their love shone through decades of calloused hate and hardship, made their kindness all the more admirable. I realized that we weren’t welcoming the stranger by serving people we didn’t know, but that we were learning how to love our enemies from the example set by the Mayan families. They were graciously building relationships and working with us, all the while showing us how we should be living. So who was really serving whom?

This was a lesson that a lot of us learned on that first week, and we allowed it to really transform our understanding of what mission was. We talked about the trip being a time when we should step outside our comfort zones and empathetically don the practices of those we working with. This made perfect sense, and we eagerly practiced and discussed our efforts every night with the group. We were on a mission trip “high” as they call it; giddy with the vitality that accompanies devotion in the truest sense to what Jesus asked of us: to drop everything and go to serve him. We were happy when we were there, even if not in recognition of the reason. We caught a glimpse of the rich character that defined the Mayan people, and spoke excitedly of living more like them. Humans are fashioned by and after God, to be self-giving creatures, and when we did give freely of ourselves, we were filled with joy. We traveled and learned from the poorest of the poor, and saw lives and relationships defined by the richness of Christ’s love.

Even after that transformational experience though, we sunk back into our isolated ways of thinking and living.

Why did the mission trip high come to an end?

And why did we fail in our attempts to mimic the character of those faithful families upon our return to Western culture?

It is a hard question to answer.

Is it because we were bred into a culture of convenience and privilege?

Is it because we let the minor details of our lives overwhelm us?

How much do those things matter in comparison to richness of character and a life filled with love and joy?

Even if it may not be what we want to hear, I think the answer is right in front of us.

     A one-week mission trip shows us the quality of life we could have all the time, if we shift our focus away from material details and agree to give ourselves fully to God.

We should not only recognize the prevalence of God’s blessing in seemingly unexpected places, but also take it back with us into even more unexpected places, our own communities.