A faithful Words’nTone reader has made us aware of the need for helping our Haitian friends, brothers and sisters, and neighbors. She has provided a link to a page on the Christian & Missionary Alliance website where we can read about the need and how we can help. I encourage the Words’nTone faithful to take the time to click over to the site and help with what you can.
The Alliance Responds to Haitian Disaster
CAMA is gearing up to assist survivors of the 7.0 earthquake that destroyed Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, on January 12. According to a CNN report, the death toll may top 100,000. The hospitals are gone, and medical supplies are desperately needed. About 3 million people—one-third of Haiti’s population—were impacted by the quake.
In partnership with sister organizations already on the ground, CAMA will provide immediate assistance—including clean water, emergency shelter, medical aid, and other necessities—as well as long-term help in rebuilding efforts, integrating Jesus’ message of redemption with practical acts of compassion.
A compassionate response during a disaster tangibly expresses Christ’s love and opens doors for other ministries, says Phil Skellie, CAMA’s president. [CAMA is Compassion and Mercy Associates, a ministry arm of the Christian & Missionary Alliance.]
Read and give...
A former pastor was preaching on Jonah and uttered an unusual take on the story. He referred to Jonah hiding in the hills rather than “hitting the streets.” The cliché phrase, “Hitting the streets,” was uttered and I asked myself, “Why is the church, especially the evangelical church community, reluctant to ‘hit the streets’?” I had my answer, at least partially from the very text pastor was referring to. The text in the Jonah story that scares the living day-lights out of good clean, God-fearing, Bible-believing people of faith is, “Then the people of Nineveh believed in God” (Jonah 3:5). The dirty-rotten, no-good, Israelite-hating, immoral, corrupted, but now repentant Ninevites became believers. How dare they! Listen to Jonah himself. We should be extremely surprised that God allowed this to be placed in His sacred text—how honest can we be, even showing one of God’s prophets and holy men struggling with God’s grace and despairing that His mercy was being extended to the unclean, those nasty, dirty, unbelieving goiim. Listen to the writer’s confession and Jonah’s attitude:
“But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry. He prayed to the LORD and said, ‘Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life’” (Jonah 4:1-3).
Jonah would rather die than see the Ninevites repent and God shed his mercy on them. He’d rather see God fulfill His wrathful promises on these people than see them believe in God and become part of the family.
We’re moved by compassion to give for relief-work halfway-round the world—maybe. Pictures and political rhetoric move us to collect goods and send funds to the relief efforts in far away places, to famine stricken parts of the world—anywhere but next store or in nearby urban or rural areas that smack of being impoverished. We move very few fingers to relieve poverty, feed hungry children, help the undesirable to find work within the very communities that touch ours right here, right now, every day, twelve months a year. We are just not moved by the unchurched nearby, especially the poor and the urban. Hitting the streets, moving our church activity center away from our comfort zones and refocusing on the territories currently owned by the enemy, the places where the unchurched, non-believers live, work, and play would make us very uncomfortable, even maybe wishing we were dead.
I know I harp on this a lot. I am not sorry for this, but it is what I think about: What is the Church’s role in reducing poverty? At work I helped to develop our tag line which goes on emails, memos, letters, and most every other document of any correspondence:
Making a case for change…engaging the community to end poverty.
My work life, and really much of my outside of work life, revolves around this in some way. However, I am pulled toward my faith in regards to reducing (or ending) poverty. I have no profound thoughts on this. Nothing to add to what more articulate and creative Christian thinkers have already said. But, nonetheless I believe poverty is a Church issue. But our narrow view of salvation, that is, God’s redemptive act in Christ is narrowed down to the individual without regard to wider socioeconomic structures and habits, is a barrier to dealing with poverty. Additionally, among evangelicals, especially suburban conservative evangelical, there is a reluctance to intentionally get involved with the poor and the attending social structures associated with the poor. And in this heated political season, I have even heard more on the subject of the “rights” of the wealthy and rich from my fellow faith community. Please don’t misunderstand me—I don’t believe it is prudent to advocate taking more money from the rich and wealthy to just to transfer to the poor (in various ways). The existence of poverty is not a problem of wealth distribution. But with that said, I have never heard in the Scriptures where God, even remotely, suggests he is concerned about the “cries of the rich.” But we read over and over about His concern for the “cries of the poor.”
“You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless” (Exodus 22:21-24).
“Beware that there is no base thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,’ and your eye is hostile toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing; then he may cry to the LORD against you, and it will be a sin in you” (Deut 15:9).
“You shall give him his wages on his day before the sun sets, for he is poor and sets his heart on it; so that he will not cry against you to the LORD and it become sin in you” (Deut 24:15).
“So that they caused the cry of the poor to come to Him, and that He might hear the cry of the afflicted” (Job 34:28).
“He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor; will also cry himself and not be answered” (Proverbs 21:13).
Again I ask, how are we Christians, the Christian community to address the issues of poverty and how are we to related to and care for the poor. According to some of the passages that above, our own prayers will be affected as a result of the cries of the poor. How does the community of faith “make a case for change” and thus “engage the community to end poverty”?
I am just finishing up a PowerPoint slide presentation that I will bring on the road. On Monday morning, after this weekend, I will be visiting my high school alma mater, Dublin School, in Dublin New Hampshire. I have been invited to share with my former high school’s student body one of my passions: the issue of poverty in America. A few months back I had written one of the administrative staff—email really—about author they should invite up to the school to speak. The staff noticed my signature tag lines:
Making a case for change
Engaging the community to end poverty
She like the idea of the author, but was interested in checking out the tag lines, what they mean, and what I do. So back and forth a little—we talked through emails, settling on February 18th to join the student body for an assembly and share about poverty and what I do for a living.
I find this very existing. The students are from all over America, with numerous students from outside the United States. I will present our argument for change, and ask, “Is it acceptable for people to live in poverty?” This is not just about wealth distribution, or populist campaign rhetoric, or rich verses poor—it is about lives, real people and children who are affected by the issues and conditions of poverty. I have argued here and elsewhere that it is to everyone’s advantage and benefit to lift people out of poverty. Monday morning I hope to make some impact on the lives of high school students.
I remember hearing over and over when I was younger, mostly by leaders and those looking for excuses, that change for change sake is not good. Then while teaching at Prairie Bible College (probably sometime in 1992 or ’93) I heard Leith Anderson say that change is good, even if it’s just for change sake. At that point in my life I began to agree. Just like a garden that isn’t turned every once and a while, the nutrients doesn’t get stirred up and in, and oxygen doesn’t get shifted around (poor illustration, but you know what I mean). But in the end, really there is no such thing as change for change sake—the dynamics of going through the motions always produces something; it has some affect on the status quo. Something changes. But I’d also agree that knowing what kind of outcomes one wants to produce is a good thing to have prior to making changes (in anything).
Over the last year or so I have heard the phrase, “Making a Case for Change.” And now, through a strategic planning exercise that our agency has undertaken, we are, ourselves, making a case for change, specifically in “ending poverty” in our area. Big goal? Absolutely! Each year for the last ten years I have put together for a number of agencies where I worked, a community need assessment, which translated into a community action plan, which had one year goals with outcomes. This “Making a Case for Change” strategic planning process turns this discipline into a 3 and 10 year strategic plan with outcomes. The process is simple: 1) look at the data—the demographics, the longitudinal studies, crime, graduation rates, unemployment, employment skill requirements for jobs in the area; 2) develop a case for change from the data; 2) craft a vision—what do you want your community and agency to look like?; 3) develop a method and strategy to bring in stakeholders—staff, the community, clients (some rather call them customers, participants, students, even citizens), municipal leaders, business leaders, other human services providers, etc.; 4) develop goals and outcomes; and of course, implement the change and leadership development process and a means to measure the outcomes.
I have always advocated that churches also should develop community needs assessments and input the findings into a church action plan. Churches should be on the front lines when it comes to making a case for change. But I fear the change we desire is number growth (head counting), a bigger church budget, a bigger church building…the list goes on. Let’s not fool ourselves, for no one else is being fooled. The church of all social entities was to exist for others. Granted a component of church life was the nurture and development of Christians, but the command to “Go into all the world and make disciples” implies that the church community was also to be a disciple-making entity with the goal of going out into the world. I am learning everyday of churches and church communities that are moving or have moved into this new (really old) direction. My interests is in how the church—i.e., a church—can be a people who make a case for change and develop leaders (i.e., disciples) who have a vision to make that change, especially as it relates to the church’s association and role in social action toward the poor. The church should be asking itself, “How do we make a case for change in ending poverty [in our community] and how do we engage the community in ending poverty?”