Going Upstream

Written for Micah Global’s Prayer Ignite …

Brazilian Catholic Archbishop, Hélder Pessoa Câmara, is noted for saying, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.

I have found this to be true. We can be seen as generous, kind and charitable when providing relief assistance in crisis work. But, if we speak about justice and how systems may oppress and keep people poor, it can be met with anger, defensiveness and sometimes even vitriol. I have heard people say, “Don’t bring politics into this.” Or, “Let us stick to the biblical issues.” The truth is … these are biblical issues – from start to finish of the Bible.

Followers of Jesus are called throughout scripture to love and serve those suffering with mercy and kindness. This is unquestionable. But too often the church stops there. We are also called to break down structures and systems that oppress – which is harder work and much less popular. It reminds me of the well-used story told in development circles of the village who kept rescuing babies out the river and finally someone asked, “Why don’t we go up the river and ask why they keep falling into the water in the first place?”

Isaiah 58 shows me that we are called to both – to the rescue and relief, which will always be there because we live in a fallen world, and the transformation of cultures, systems and structures that cause suffering, disenfranchisement and oppression ‘upstream’. Isaiah speaks to us of loosing the chains of injustice, untying the cords of the yoke to set the oppressed free, sharing food with the hungry, sheltering the wanderer, clothing for the naked, and to not to turn away from our fellow humans. This speaks to me of the wholeness of true transformation for which we work and pray. Providing relief for suffering people and working to change the systems ‘upstream’ that keep people vulnerable.

The hard work of bringing systemic change that literally unties the yoke of oppression takes time, commitment and courage; it may not feel as good or be as quickly obvious as the speed with which charitable relief take place, and yet it is our mandate as the Church to lead by example and show a different way.

True shalom, the peace for which we pray and work and trust, requires humility, lament and commitment to justice. Let us pray during this month that God will show us more of his heart for just systems and institutions, and that we will listen and hear the cries of those being oppressed and persecuted and exploited. Let us read the bible with people who we do not normally read it with to expand our view of scripture and God’s heart. Let us stand on the side of the marginalised and oppressed, whether we are those impacted by an injustice or not. Let us continue to swim upstream against the current of popular culture and the accepted systems so that we can show another way. Let us commit to do the hard work of going further up the river to see what systems need to be renewed, replaced and redeemed. Let us pray that God gives us new imagination and dreams for more of God’s kingdom come on earth.

Let us pray …

Linda Martindale
Micah Global

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Caring for creation

The earth is so beautiful! For a time in my life, I used BBC’s Planet Earth as part of my quiet time with God – I was so blown away by the magnificence of creation, from the underground crystal caves that are indescribably beautiful in Mexico, to the massive expanse of red sand dunes of Namibia.

Earlier on in my Christian faith journey I left my natural inclination towards caring for creation and conservation of nature at the proverbial door, as it felt like evangelism and a focus on human suffering was of greater importance. Over the years I have learned more about a biblical understanding of integral mission and see that you don’t have to make a choice between the two. It is not a toss-up between ‘care about people’ and ‘care about the earth’. I have learned that they impact on one another in significant ways and caring for one is good for the other, and vice versa.

We have been given the mandate to care for this planet we call home. Throughout the Bible we are reminded that this is God’s creation and it is good! Psalms 24:1 tells us that “The earth is God’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.” Some see the stewardship call from God in Genesis as an excuse to abuse the earth, but caring for this planet we have been given to live on and seeing the worth of all of creation, is good for us all and brings God glory. Revelation 11:18 reminds us that those who destroy the earth, will not go unpunished. And there is a lot more Biblical evidence that points to the truth that the planet is ours to steward well, not to abuse and plunder.

It is also a fact that it is the most vulnerable who feel the greatest impact of climate change. Martin Kapenda, from Micah Zambia, said in this clip recently, “Let us unite together to fight the forces of climate change and put up solutions that will work well for the people living in poverty, especially those mostly affected by climate change. It affects the poor most, and the poor are the ones who pollute the least, and that is the injustice of climate change. So, let us work together to change this scenario.”

Caring for creation is part of our mandate as Jesus followers on earth. Don’t be discouraged by those who have not understood this. Keep praying and acting and setting an example. Make ongoing changes in your life that will impact on the size of your environmental footprint. Challenge your political leaders to take this seriously. Pray for the Church to be an example by stewarding creation in ways that bring life and well-being to all living creatures. Pray for wisdom to raise children who see this as a part of our Christian discipleship. And pray that we leave a good legacy and life-giving earth for those children to steward in the future.

Let us pray … renew our hearts, God, and renew our world.

Linda Martindale
Micah Global

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Why Micah Global and the Consultation?

Roshan Mendis, Chief Executive Officer, LEADS (Lanka Evangelical Alliance Development Service), a National NGO in Sri Lanka. He also served as Micah Asia chair and on the Micah International Board

Micah 6:8 – What does the Lord require from us? To do justice, love mercy and to walk humbly with God.

My life’s passion from when I first felt called by God to serve has been to those under served, vulnerable and on the fringes of society. So, rather than continuing in the line of family business, I chose rural missions. With no formal awareness or training it was simply an underlying drive that I perceived as the emphasis of Biblical mission. It formed the basis of my thinking as I researched my post-graduate studies. However, it was not until that first meeting in Oxford way back in 2001 when I had the opportunity of being part of the beginnings of Micah that I felt a keen resonance and connection as I was able to hear the articulation of Integral Mission. From that point on I knew this was what I believed and sought to fulfil in my service.

From that first opportunity to participate at a Micah consultation up till today, I have found every single Micah gathering a great opportunity for learning. This happens both in shared contexts as a community of practice and as direct capacity strengthening; a valuable means of developing both my theological understanding and practical skills for the humanitarian work I engage in. Since then, I have participated in Micah Global Consultations and numerous Micah Conversations, which has helped me deepen my understanding of Integral Mission and grapple with what it means in different national contexts, as well as provided me with humanitarian skill development, organisational development, best practices and governance, to name a few. The uniqueness about the knowledge I received by being involved in the Micah Global network was not limited to learnings, but also strengthened my personal call as a Christian called to engage in the marketplace with distinctiveness and a prophetic voice.

The gatherings have provided me the amazing privilege of befriending, networked and getting acquainted with a diverse array of Christians from across the globe, that live and work among the multitude of issues that are present in the world and in their nations, the wars, the corruption, the exploitation, the injustices, the poverty, the lack of resources, environmental degradation, climate change, and disease. I have been encouraged to fellowship with a community of practice, with Micah, that does not simply throw up their arms in helplessness and hide behind a spirituality that removes itself from the realities around them, but actually engages with the injustice and issues as a Biblical and Kingdom mandate. Micah has also modelled a framework of partnership, that challenges established donor/implementer models, and is one I promote in whatever context partnership is discussed. The platform that Micah created for contributing our perspectives, bringing to the table our concerns and even fashioning practice and systems like, reporting templates, gender, governance etc., has been unique in its scope.

As an individual from the global south, Micah was one forum where I experienced an honest openness to hear from and be guided by the priorities of these nations. My engagement and involvement with Micah has provided me with many opportunities and has supported our efforts to speak out against injustice, defend the cause of the poor, hold accountable those in power and empower people to speak for themselves. I believe that mediating on behalf of those unable to voice their concerns should be the DNA running in our veins. Just as the Spirit groans for us and our needs – do we groan for those downtrodden, the despised, the marginalised, the vulnerable, those abused and discarded? Indeed, if the Spirit of the Lord is in my soul – I should not only be dancing as David danced but groaning as well!

As one whose life and ministry has been blessed by the ministry of Micah I would like to invite you to come and be challenged by participating in the Global Consultation in September 2018. The theme of the Consultation – Integral Mission and Resilient Communities, is apt given the current global scenario. Resilience and Justice, Resilience and Compassion, Resilience and Disasters and Resilience and Partnership will be discussed in groups through the plenary sessions. The inter-active sessions will also help you to sharpen your thinking and advocacy as part of our prophetic role.

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Integral Mission and Resilience Part Two

David Boan

In this, the second of three articles on resilience, we ask if there is evidence for a connection between integral mission and resilience. As before, we focus on evidence from peer reviewed literature.

In the first post we asked “what is resilience?”. We presented research showing that the concept of resilience is growing beyond disaster and trauma research; that the concept is broadening and includes a variety of personal and community traits and resources, including faith. Given this evidence, does it follow that integral mission advances resilience? To answer this question, we will summarize the elements of integral mission. We then present a sample of research that suggests the elements of integral mission are also found in resilient communities.

What are the actions that are associated with Integral Mission? If we look to the Cape Town Commitment CTC) we will find the following (selected excerpts in italics):

We urge Church leaders and pastors to equip all believers with the courage and the tools to relate the truth with prophetic relevance to everyday public conversation, and so to engage every aspect of the culture we live in.

Believers are to be equipped to engage in society and culture, to be active participants in community life (public conversation) and engage the culture.

We encourage Christ-followers to be actively engaged in these spheres (government, business and academia), both in public service or private enterprise, in order to shape societal values and influence public debate.

Believers not only engage in discussion, they shape the public debate.

Corruption is condemned in the Bible. It undermines economic development, distorts fair decision-making and destroys social cohesion. No nation is free of corruption. We invite Christians in the workplace, especially young entrepreneurs, to think creatively about how they can best stand against this scourge.

This is a call for exercising prophetic voice. To speak prophetically is to speak out publicly on God’s behalf when the community, government or organisation is violating God’s plan. Here, it is specifically a call to confront corruption.

We urge church pastors and leaders to teach biblical truth on ethnic diversity. We must positively affirm the ethnic identity of all church members.

Here the Commitment calls for welcoming diversity and speaking out against racism and other forms of oppression and prejudice.

For the sake of the gospel, we lament, and call for repentance where Christians have participated in ethnic violence, injustice or oppression.

Continuing the theme of diversity, the CTC recognises Christians have also participated in racism and calls for repentance and correction.

Expose, resist, and take action against all abuse of children, including violence, exploitation, slavery, trafficking, prostitution, gender and ethnic discrimination, commercial targeting, and willful neglect.

Our final example is related to violence against children in all its forms. These are not the sum of the CTCs, but they are examples of specific actions that are part of Integral Mission, actions that include confronting violence, child abuse, and corruption, as well as valuing ethnic diversity and becoming active participation in the public sphere. We can now ask if there is evidence of a connection between these actions and resilience.

Starting with the example of engaging in the public sphere, we do not attempt to engage in the practical or philosophical questions of what the church should do, but only focus on the narrow question of effect. That is, what is the effect when a church engages in the community and is that effect consistent with the aims of integral mission.

Our first example comes from Pieterse who looked at ten church community projects in South Africa. Using in-depth interviews, he asked how these projects impacted the well being of the poor. He noted numerous benefits, from economic support to health to well-being, but central to them all was the sense among the recipients that these were provisions from God, which led to a sense of spiritual well-being. Pieterse summarises his findings from his interviews as:

The category of spiritual well-being of the poor now forms the central concept in this conceptual framework of the effects of congregational projects on the well-being of the poor. All the other categories [of church service] are related to this central concept … God’s love in action in the experience of well-being of the poor (emphasis added). (p.7)

Churches create social capital by bringing together people who share a common faith and values and building relationships among them. In the process, the people are informed about the content of their faith identity and how that identity relates to the larger world. This results in equipping people to become active in their communities and reach out beyond the walls of their church. Engaging with people across social boundaries and barriers is a key element of resilience.

There are studies looking at the impact of lowering boundaries between people, such as the integration of minorities and immigrants into society, and the resilience of the community. Lester and Ngyuen asked if US communities that assist immigrants to integrate across all sectors of the community (as opposed to relegating them to ethnic enclaves) fare better compared to those that do not. In this study, resilience was measured as changes in unemployment and income over a ten-year period that included the great recession. Employment diversity was used as a proxy for community support for immigrants and refugees. After studying twenty matched communities, they found evidence that communities that more broadly integrated immigrants across the economy fared better during the great recession than communities where immigrants were more compartmentalised. They see the difference as rooted in reducing social and economic barriers to the inclusion of immigrants and minorities, which leads to occupational diversity.

The connection between poverty and resilience is well established, but what about the ability of churches to reduce the number of people in poverty? As you may expect, this is not a simple yes or no question. Eliminating poverty is more than providing resources. It requires a more complex attention to policy, economic factors, and a host of factors that create opportunity for the poor. Kretzschmar provides an informative analysis from comparing the experience in Chile with that in South Africa. In Chile the Catholic Church was consistent in its support of the poor and standing against the corruption and flawed polices of the government, all of which is seen as an important factor in the reduction of poverty and economic disparity in Chile. In contrast, the role of the church in South Africa was more mixed, in some cases complicit with the apartheid government. Likewise, progress on poverty and disparity was mixed. Kretzschmar concludes …

“In the future, the impact of the church on the government’s policies and practices with respect to poverty alleviation will depend on its credibility within civil society. Such credibility will derive from the church’s own intellectual and practical involvement in social protection and poverty reduction, and its freedom from the materialism of our time.”

Finally, can the church reduce violence against children? The current campaign to end violence against children rests in part on an assumption that engaging faith communities is necessary for success. But is there evidence to support this assumption? This is another complex issue. Child abuse is often associated with certain church groups. For example, churches and individuals that see God as punitive and condemning are more likely to engage in abusive practices toward children. What these churches and communities with high rates of child abuse have in common is social isolation. When churches engage with their communities, including working with agencies such as social services, they become factors in the reduction of child maltreatment. We argue that community engagement is fundamental to integral mission, and that such engagement has broad community impact, including reduction of violence.

Obviously, these are not conclusive reviews of the evidence, but the evidence shown does suggest a pattern. We conclude that our sampling of evidence provides support that at least some of the elements of Integral Mission, as described in the Cape Town Commitment, are shown to be related to community resilience. It should also be obvious to the reader that not all faith groups embrace these actions. In fact, there are unfortunate examples of faith groups contributing to ethnic violence, corruption, and division within their communities. Thus, we cannot say that these actions occur automatically among people of faith. Hence, the call for trained leaders who properly teach and equip believers.

Since this is not a comprehensive review of the evidence, the reader should view this as a starting point for conversation and not a definitive answer to the question of integral mission and resilience.

This leads us to the third and final question for our discussion: Is there anything unique about the church’s contribution to resilience? Or, put another way, does the church, as the church (and not as an NGO), live in a way that results in greater resilience in the community?

David Boan
14th March 2018

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