Taking It and Making It Mine…

Today we had the privilege of having a young man in high school guest blog for us. His name is Caleb and he is quite a remarkable student whose life experiences, thoughtful challenges, and genuine desire to learn have brought-forth a unique and interesting discussion. Hope you enjoy…and thanks Caleb for your honesty!

Over the past months it seems more and more often I have found myself in conversations about what it means to have faith and how to spread it with those I come into contact with. Growing up a MK (Missionary Kid) in West Africa, my whole life revolved around this question. My parents, by living out God’s call for their lives in missions, had directly affected the experiences I would encounter and my understanding of faith. From as long as I can remember I have considered myself a follower of Jesus. Being the youngest of three kids I looked up to and admired my brother and sister as well as my parents as role models in Christ. This was great! Everything I did was with a Godly overtone because of a Christian household where we were intentionally sharing Christ to our neighbors.

Now our family lives in the United States, and both my siblings are in college. Reflecting on the last five years back in our “home” country I find new incite. How have I shared my faith with the people around me like I was taught growing up in the mission field? Have I answered the call of the Great Commission? These questions poke at another. Have I truly been following Christ or am I just doing what has been right by the eyes of my parents and siblings and the Church? This is a hard question to answer. Of course I want to say “absolutely” and live a life full of Christ, but how do I know for sure that it is genuine. After many weeks of wrestling with this question, I don’t have the answer, but I do understand the question better. I must leave the security of knowing I have the excuse of saying, “oh my parents were missionaries,” as a shield to prove my faith. Accepting responsibility to live out my faith and know that it is the most important part of my life in needed to step away from using excuses such as these.

To share Christianity with the people I come into contact with is difficult. Although this may seem counter-intuitive coming from an MK it is something I struggle with. I have been called to be the salt of Jesus, but how do I make sure not to lose my flavor! Although my parents are church planters, I for myself must decide to take the bold step to share my faith. I was born into a Christian household, and baptized as a Christian. As I contemplate these questions, I think the answer is specific recommitment. Being committed to sharing my faith intentionally and directly as a missionary to all I come into contact with.

One of the most time-consuming parts of my life is school. As a junior going to a Christian private school it would seem to be easier to step out in faith and live the life we as Christians dream of all living. But many times I find it more difficult than ever to live out the commitments we have made in a setting such as this. I fear being scrutinized for asking the difficult questions to people who might be in the same situation as me, worried to share their faith. This is a chance for me to live out the calling Christ has for me. In West Africa, we were a family in a foreign missions-field, but to me my foreign missions-field is right here at “home,” a private Christian high school in Pennsylvania. “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”

More than a Project

One of the beauties of holism is that it moves us beyond a project mind-set.

As we heard about in the last post, a holistic approach gives us a chance to look at life in terms of relationships. What are the broken pieces of each other’s lives? Where do the relationships need reparation? This forces us to change the glasses we are looking at the world through.

It is easy in a fast-paced, urgent, and results-driven society to begin falling into ‘project mind-set’ as we call it. The questions that we ask, and the results that we are measuring, often have more to do with quantitative, tangible data on a project than they do with true transformation. And this observation comes from a lover of data and analytics. While these tools of measurement are highly valuable (and really cool to study and digest I might add), they don’t tell the whole story. A question that we have to ask ourselves as a faith-based nonprofit is – Are we seeing people’s lives and relationships being repaired?

If so, then we are beginning to move beyond a world where we view Africa, Asia, parts of South America, and Eastern Europe as projects that need fixing. Let’s be honest, only God can “fix” and repair the brokenness in these areas, and in our own lives too. We’re still a part of His plan though. We get to be agents for change that (and self-confession here) need reminded to love our neighbors as ourselves.

I don’t want to be viewed as a project for someone to come in and work on. I’d rather have a neighbor care enough to help me find work, to listen to me when I’m frustrated, to make me feel safe, to point me toward the only One who can offer true peace. The same is true of our neighbors around the world. If we can begin to see them as people just like us, who have likely experienced brokenness beyond what we can imagine, we’ll see the true beauty of a holistic approach toward world-missions.

Why we need to think about holism

   If you visited the blog recently you’ll remember Josh writing earlier this week, “Here at impact49, we’ve decided that giving people a few tools probably helps them with a more holistic approach to being self-sustainable while they focus on church planting.” That word—Holism—caught my attention. What exactly does that word mean? What does Scripture have to say about it? I’d like merely to glance at the concept of holism in relation to development so that we can continue to challenge our hearts and minds with regard to God’s Kingdom and His people.

    Bryant Meyers, professor of transformational development at Fuller Theological Seminary writes:

 Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meanings.

What insight! Meyers speaks to the idea that poverty is not simply a financial issue—but it is relational, too. What he means, simply, is that poverty is a result of broken relationships. There are essentially four relationships every human being on earth has at this very moment: relationship with the self, other, creation, and lastly, God. I think this is a wonderful framework for helping us to understand poverty from a Biblical perspective. Since the Fall, all of our relationships have been broken. You and I experience this everyday. We live in a world where broken relationships are the norm. You and I may not notice it as much because although our relationships sometimes suffer, we are insulated by our incredible wealth that helps mask the brokenness. But for those in other regions of the world that worry about the next meal or work from sunrise to sunset just so their family can survive, well, broken relationships abound. In fact, when we talk about the danger for some indigenous people to profess their faith in Christ because of oppressive governments and rulers, we are talking about broken relationships! They are everywhere.

    So what does this have to do with Impact49? Well, if we are concerned with impacting lives with the redeeming message of the Gospel, we must be focused on a holistic approach. Our God is a holistic God. He is personal and cares for every relationship you and I ever enter into (with Him, Creation, ourselves, and others). That’s why Impact and Global emphasize giving a  multi-tool kit to those in need. We give small-business training, discipleship training, and leadership training because we think that this might get at more than one dimension of a person’s life—it is holistic.  Holism is concerned with the whole person. It recognizes that people are more than just the sum of their parts. Take some time this weekend to reflect on what this means both personally, and from an Impact/Global standpoint.

 

More Than a Hammer

I was helping to remodel a buddy’s home recently, and in the midst of some mindless demolition work, he posed the question, “If you only have one tool to repair this house, what would you choose?”

My first thought was, “What is this, seventh grade?” I mean, I remember when we used to pose those ridiculous kinds of questions to one another all the time in middle school, ranging from cars and sports, to life-dreams and girls, but c’mon we’re older now. I’m sure we were the only ones who ever did that, but anyway…

Instead though, I played along. “Hmm, I’d probably choose a hammer,” I responded. Think of a hammer – it’s got great utility. It’s effective at everything from demolishing things to finishing them. At least finishing touches on putting things together. It is kind of like a multi-tool before there were multi-tools. He seemed to think that was a satisfactory answer, so we moved on in conversation.

But, the question made me think about what we are helping to equip people with around the world. As Xander explained, maybe giving people a tool is one of the most effective ways at helping to create self-sustainability. However, should we make them only choose one tool or give them multiple?

Here at impact49, we’ve decided that giving people a few tools probably helps them with a more holistic approach to being self-sustainable while they focus on church planting. So, the three tools that we give them are small-business training, discipleship training, and leadership training.

The small-business training gives them the tool to become economically self-sustained. In many areas around the world, it is difficult for people to even put food on their tables. So, addressing a way for them to provide for themselves is a huge source of empowerment. This tool also allows them to be a contributor to the local economy, which has many implications – they are viewed as small business owners by their neighbors, they help to provide jobs to others, the community sees them as a contributor. This is a pretty essential tool.

The discipleship training gives them the tool to make other disciples (which in the Bible seems like a key point). Through the training, the participants learn to become deeper followers of Christ as well as how to become disciple-makers. This often leads to home fellowships, small gatherings, and evangelism where God uses these local people to plant churches in their own towns and surrounding areas.

The leadership training gives them the tool to become better leaders in their homes, churches, and community. This tool helps to make everyone around them better. It focuses them on God and following Christ’s leadership example here in earth.

Let’s just say – it’s an awesome tool-kit! It really does provide the necessary tools for them to start a small project, and give it their best shot. The tool-kit looks to address economic, spiritual, and practical issues in the context that these folks live. And those are each important issues to be tackling.

So, as these people take on the project of advancing God’s Kingdom, let’s continue to equip them with the necessary tools to see the job through!

But Shouldn’t We Do Something?

     There have been a few occasions in my life that have required me to choose between actively pursuing a positive and actively avoiding the positive for fear that I will mess up and do more harm than good. Remember several weeks ago when we talked about getting out of the boat? It’s that choice between sitting within our fear and stepping out in faith toward Jesus. Well, to go a little further, I think we humans are good at perceiving what we should do—moving toward Jesus, but then justifying a reason as to why we just can’t do that.

    This past week, Josh talked about our potential to create dependency accidentally when we give to those in need. Admittedly, that is a tough thought to chew on. If you’re anything like me, you may think, “Well then what can I Do? Maybe it would be better if I just didn’t give anything at all?” It is hard to avoid that feeling after hearing that giving may not be as helpful as we think. However, I know Josh, and I doubt that he would tell anyone not to give at all. So what can we give? How should we give it?

    At Impact and Global, we think that maybe instead of giving charity, we could focus on giving tools. Now before you think I’m completely dismissing the practice of charity, hear me out. Charity has a place certainly is helpful to an extent. It would be difficult to argue that the gracious giving by many in the West has not in some way alleviated some poverty or aided a person in need. However, as Josh explained, it can be difficult to decipher when this giving starts to create accidental dependency. So, perhaps giving tools provides a helpful alternative. What do we mean by tools? Take a look:

Business Training: Would if we could help community leaders develop the business acumen that empowers their communities and families? When community leaders learn how to better develop their businesses, they learn self-sustainability, and the partnership between the West and rest of the world begins to look more equal.

This is only one simple tool that could help to enact tiny bits of change in regions all around the world. But this is the idea that we want people to start talking about. Giving is not a bad thing, quite the contrary. But would if we need to rethink what  we are giving?

 

Good Grief! I meant to help!

Accidental Dependence.

If we are familiar with these two words sitting side-by-side, we can often get that ‘oh no’ feeling in our stomachs. Why?

Well, probably because it means that we have found ourselves in a bit of a quandary. We have inadvertently created a situation that we didn’t even mean for or see coming – hence the ‘accidental’ part. The dependency idea we might be a bit more familiar with. Webster calls dependency “the state of needing something or someone.”

Great. But what does that have to do with impact49?

In last week’s blog, Xander explained the idea of ‘self-sustainability.’ (A mouthful, I know.) The essence of this long, hyphenated word is the ability to take care of one’s own needs.  Or, to not be dependent upon another.

However, in our Western culture, due to our big-heartedness and philanthropic bend, we have created what we call accidental dependence all over the world. What?? How could philanthropy and big-heartedness (two great things) create a problem? Well, it starts with our need to find a quick and easy solution to a much bigger problem. I’ll give you an example.

I passed a young man on the streets of India a few months ago who stopped me and asked for some money. We talked for a bit, and he reassured me that he was going to buy a mango across the street for lunch. And he did. But, what if in our conversation I would have offered to send the young man $5 a week from my bank account in the US? I mean, I can spare $5 a week. With the promise to give him $5 a week, I let him know that I’ll do it for as long as I can, but not to count on it always being there in the future.

So, 3 years goes by, and every week my $5 shows up for him. It comes like clock-work and it is always the same amount. The young man doesn’t mean to count on it, but it is ALWAYS there right on-time. Due to this, the young man improves his living situation a bit; moving from a shared room for $3 a month to a room by himself for $10 per month. It is great! His life is improving!

Then, one day, I lose my job here in the US. I can barely make ends-meet, and I hate to do it, but I have to stop sending the $5 a month to the young man because I don’t have it to give. Suddenly there is a problem. The young man can’t pay his $10 a month rent. He can no longer take public transportation. He doesn’t even have money for food just to sustain life. He’s not only back to where he was, but someone else has moved into the shared living quarters, and he has to somehow figure out how to simply make enough money to get by again.

This…is accidental dependence. I saw a need, and I met it. I had the disposable income, and I gave it. I was moved with compassion to do something, and I did it. But, what in the end did I really DO. What in the end did I really GIVE? Was I helping to move him forward, or did I actually create a situation that now has to be resolved?

That is a question we all need to wrestle with.

What do you mean “Self-Sustainable”?

     A few weeks ago, we attempted to wrestle with the idea of embracing the new/different. We used the story of Peter walking on the Galilean waves toward Jesus as a metaphor to help us understand the way today’s Christ follower could help to bring about the Kingdom of God—even when it requires a lot of us. In fact, isn’t the fundamental characteristic of being a Christ follower that we are “all in”. Christ does indeed require a lot of us—what’s more, He demands ALL of us. This has some massive implications for how we think about the church’s (in this case I am referring to the universal church: the entire body of believers worldwide) mission to point the world to Christ, while simultaneously helping to bring His Kingdom to earth. Naturally, we have to constantly ask ourselves “In what direction is God leading us? “What is the best way we can both point people to Jesus and approximate God’s Kingdom on earth?” In doing this, we remain in-tune to God’s spiritual frequency, able to to follow Him wherever He beckons us.

    As we have mentioned before, we (Impact and Global) feel that God is leading us in a certain direction in regard to doing missions. In the next few weeks, we will outline some of the key functions of the Impact and Global model. For now, I want to focus on one of the distinguishing factors that makes us excited about what where God is taking world missions in the 21 Century.

    One of the unique parts about the Global Disciples’ (and Impact49) model is that it is self-sustainable. What does this mean? To explore this, let’s check out what it doesn’t mean:

1) It doesn’t mean giving out “handouts”. Global Disciples and Impact49 are not focused on solely giving to people who are in economic need. We don’t just want to send our people to a region that is in need both physically and spiritually, let them drop off resources and Bibles, and then hop back on a plane to the US. Although handouts are helpful and certainly have a place in providing aid and assistance to those in need, we want are interested in something totally different.

2) It doesn’t mean that the developing world should be waiting on the West, as it were. We don’t see the West as intrinsically more powerful or “better” than the developing world. That is why we want to cultivate and empower those in the developing world to build their communities both in a physical and economical sense, but also in a spiritual one. We want to see the relationship between the West and the developing world as a coplanar relationship—one is not better than the other;  it is all God’s beloved creation.

Self-sustainability DOES mean that by giving native leaders the necessary training and resources to lead their communities and churches, western believers can play a role in bringing the Gospel to every corner of the globe. It DOES mean that church leaders in these places have the capacity and spiritual gifting to lead and multiply groups of believers. Lastly, it DOES mean that we are still called to bring the Gospel to every corner of the earth; but maybe how we do this looks different. Self-sustainability operates under the belief that indigenous leaders (people native to a particular region who have potential to lead their community) can multiply believers and help to spread  the Gospel—they just need some of the resources that we westerners have in abundance (training tools, money, business knowledge). By training and equipping these leaders to build faith-based communities in their particular region of the world, we are fulfilling Christ’s call to make disciples—we are “getting out of the boat”.

 

The depth of the Unknown

To piggyback on what Josh wrote a few weeks ago, I think the idea of “getting out of your boat” to fully experience the power of Christ requires us to challenge ourselves and lend ourselves to imaginative and courageous endeavors. We need to make sure we are asking God, “Hey, what can we do to most glorify your name?” Peter got this. That is why he got out of the boat; he knew that heading toward Jesus was his best bet.

I think that  we all have our boats. For me, complacency, more than anything else, holds me back from following Peter’s example. Its like “I don’t want to get out of the boat  because I don’t have to. I give a little here, I am usually nice to my neighbors and I get to church at least twice a month. I feel good enough about myself, why risk anything that may cause me to be uncomfortable or vulnerable?” Often, I have to remind myself that Jesus’ calling to usher in His Kingdom does not leave room for comfort and risk-avoidance behavior.  On the contrary, if we want to see the Kingdom of God spread, then we HAVE to take some risks. That is when God shows up BIG TIME. Think about Peter on the water. Think of everything he misses if he stays huddled up against the starboard side of that boat in the Sea of Galilee.

I spent some time recently with some friends on a lake house in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. One of my favorite memories from the trip is a short kayak ride we all took across the lake one morning. I am by no means an expert kayaker, in fact I have only done it once or twice in my life. I tend to swerve left and right without really ever making any forward progress, and with each paddle motion I dump large amounts of water into my kayak (or into the lap of the person sitting behind me). Sometimes I can’t concentrate because part of me feels paralyzed by the fact that I don’t know anything about the water beneath me. For all intents and purposes, the lake holding my friend and I up in our little kayak is an undiscovered world.

As I think about that lake—of which I know nothing about—I really sympathize with what Josh said at the end of his post. He writes that getting out of the boat could be a really great decision, “Why? Because we’re moving in the direction of Christ.” This brings the Christ follower peace in the midst of an undiscovered or unknown situation. As long as we are headed due north toward our Savior, He will not fail us. He will guide and lead us toward the very thing that will bring Him the most Glory. As I consider our conversations on this blog in the last month, I am reminded that a constant attentiveness to where God is leading us is crucial to the Christian life. At Global and Impact, we think that God is leading us to a very specific way of bringing his Kingdom to every corner of the map—training indigenous group leaders to be ambassadors for Christ. In the next few weeks, we will look at the Global Disciples model for missions and why it may even require some of us to get out of the boat and embrace the new/different.

Reasons I sometime fail to share my faith…

John Piper writes that we should be conduits of God’s grace, not cul-de-sacs. The idea here is that the Gospel we have received via God’s entering our story through Jesus Christ should be shared with those around us. This can be tough for many reasons. Three of them come to my mind initially and I would like to share them with you.

1) Jesus has gone out of style—he isn’t “in vogue”, so to speak. Let’s face it, social perceptions can dictate much of what we do and say; and when it comes to sharing our faith, the way people think about us can often times influence our decision to speak up. I don’t like when people don’t like me. And in a society that values tolerance and relativism, any mention of Jesus or his teaching may render us intolerant or narrow minded.

2) The idea of sharing our faith has become cliche. Those of us who have grown up in the church know the routine. The imperative to share the Gospel with friend, family, neighbor, and enemy is something the church pounds into our minds ceaselessly—so much so, perhaps, that we begin to tire of the same “old” message.

3) Our understanding of what exactly is the Christian mission in this earthly life may be slightly off the mark. Piper’s calling to be conduits instead of cul-de-sacs is particularly powerful here. Sometimes we can fall into thinking that the grace we have received is solely for our benefit, our happiness, and our prosperity. We accept and acknowledge the life-transforming grace we have received through God’s love, but often times the story of grace ends there, short of reaching another human soul.

These three reasons for why it is tough to share our faith reflect individual failings as well as societal pressures to “fit in”. Yet when we stop our busy lives and meditate on the central message of the Gospel, it becomes increasingly difficult to hide the undeniable joy that flows from the human soul when Christ becomes its treasure. Often times, I lose track of my treasure amid the cacophony of sounds and voices encountered in everyday life. I need to be reminded of the death-defeating, life-giving, soul-transforming love and character of the Godhead. In reference to sharing this joy with others, I once heard the concept of sharing our faith in these terms:

‘If I asked you to describe your father’s face to me, you could write your thoughts down on paper. You could present an argument, propositionally, for what your father’s face looks like—writing each facet of his face down on paper. Yet, you could never exhaust everything there is to know about your father’s face. For me to know exactly what your father looks like, I would have to look at his face myself. It is the same with God. For people to know who He is and what He is like, they will have to spend some face time with God, getting to know and understand Him.’

If our joy-filled lives can point people to the face of God (our treasure), then maybe faith sharing would become a little less of a chore and more of a natural overflow of the Spirit of God working in our lives.

Would I actually tell someone about Christ?

This is the start of a discussion that we’ll have on the blog this week.

Honesty, is not always the easiest policy to follow when you put things out on the internet. Why? Well, there is a vulnerability that comes with it. It’s a bit like cracking open your journal and allowing people to see the real and raw side of life. The question becomes – how strongly do we feel about the subject matter we are talking about? It is a bit easier to talk honestly about something that we feel strongly about, or something that is a deeply held conviction or belief.

So, why is it that we are so timid with our faith? Remember, honesty is the policy here today. You’ll probably read this from the comfort of your own home, or office, or maybe tucked in the corner of a little café. If any of these are true, or any other place you might be located, you are safe to answer this question in your own mind. Your thoughts are safe as you mull this over.

Be honest with yourself though. Why is it so hard to openly share our faith with the people we encounter in our lives – the guy you see every day at work, your neighbor across the hedges, the girl who sits in front of you in math, the person who just passed you in the café? What if they don’t know the ridiculous love that Christ has for them? What if they are struggling with something that no one knows about and all they need is the love of Christ to be demonstrated to them?

I’ll be honest here. I think I miss these opportunities all the time. But why? Am I afraid of their perception of me? Do I think that they’ll think that I’m a religious nut? Do I not love them enough to care about how they’re doing? Or, maybe I feel ill equipped as far as what to say or how to respond? Whatever it is, at least I can be honest enough with myself to recognize my short-comings.

But it can’t end there. To recognize something that isn’t quite right in our lives, and simply move on, is like recognizing an injustice but being to cowardly to do anything about it. I mean, didn’t Jesus tell us in the Great Commission to “go and make disciples of all nations…”? Jesus said this to his disciples, but that is for you and me today. We’re part of that plan! But, how serious do we take that command? Or, the question that we talked about at the beginning, how strongly do I feel about the subject matter we are talking about? Well, when I think of it that way, things change. I do feel strongly about the freedom that someone can experience in Christ! I do feel strongly about loving your neighbor as yourself! I think I would want someone to tell me about this Jesus guy if I didn’t know him.

So, today, may we be bold and show the love of Christ to those around us. May we speak the words that are sometimes hard to say, knowing that it’s God at work in us. Christ chose to use us as his “body” here on earth to continue building his Kingdom. That should be an honor…not an obligation that we do begrudgingly. Now, let’s go make it a great day!