Posts tagged with: empowerment

globe-hands-missionsMore and more, Western churches are opening their eyes to the risks and temptations inherent in so-called “short-term missions,” whether manifested in our basic vocabulary, paternalistic attitudes, or reactionary service.

As films like Poverty, Inc. and the PovertyCure series demonstrate, our cultural priorities and preferred solutions often distract us from the true identities and creative capacities of our neighbors. Paired with a passion to “do good,” and standing atop an abundance of resources, it’s easy to forget and neglect the importance of real relationship, holistic service, and long-term discipleship.

For missionary Nik Ripken, those missing pieces were made clear through a range of interviews with persecuted Christians in over 45 countries, whose opinions about what makes a “good” Western missionary challenged his own approach and priorities.

In a stirring set of reflections, Ripken describes this shift in his thinking. Serving in an unnamed Islamic country, Ripken was interviewing a group of persecuted Christians about their trials and struggles with their families, communities, and government. They were remarkably open and vulnerable in their answers until he changed the topic to Western missionaries.

“What do we do well?” he asked. “What things do we not do well? What should we start doing? What should we stop doing? What should we pick up? What should we lay down? What makes a good missionary?” (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Thursday, February 18, 2016
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True justice begins with seeing and believing in the dignity of every human person. It begins with recognizing God’s image in each of our neighbors, and it proceeds with service that corresponds with that transcendent truth. When distortions manifest, the destruction varies. But it always begins with a failure to rightly relate to this simple reality.

Thus, transformation often begins with a basic shift in our perceptions about others; how we see transforms how we serve. It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that this can begin with something as simple as a haircut.

Last Christmas, Ogden Rescue Mission offered an interesting holiday gift to the homeless community, welcoming local hair stylists from the surrounding area to donate their gifts by offering free haircuts.

It was a simple gesture, and it’s one that doesn’t fill a belly or meet what we might call an “immediate need.” A haircut is, in so many ways, “superficial.” Yet the response from these recipients demonstrates the importance of remembering our divine personhood, and how easy it can be to forget.

“It makes me feel like I’m respectable again,” says one man. “I look like, you know, an average person.” (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Thursday, February 11, 2016
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beautiful-tree-private-schools-poorOne of the popular targets of foreign aid is education, and understandably so. Yet as with most solutions sprouting from Western planners and do-gooders, the reality on the ground is a bit different than we typically imagine. Likewise, the solutions are often closer than we’re led to believe.

In his book, The Beautiful Tree, James Tooley chronicles his own investigative journey throughout the developing world, seeking to uncover the local realities of educational opportunity. Originally commissioned by the World Bank to investigate private schools in a dozen developing countries, Tooley began with the assumption that such schools were designed for and confined to the middle classes and elite.

What he found, however, was a situation far more rich and varied.

Beginning in the city of Hyderabad, India, Tooley’s targets initially appeared as expected: private schools designed for the prosperous and privileged. One day, however, on a holiday off from his usual research, he ventured into the city’s slums, spontaneously stumbling on a private school created by and for the local community. He soon met the school’s headmaster, who explained the widespread dissatisfaction with public schooling, from over-crowded classrooms to chronically absent teachers to the severe lack of accountability or parental control. (more…)

detroit-neighborhood“The Bible has a rich desert theology…He will cause rivers to flow, even in desert conditions.” –Christopher Brooks

Pastor Christopher Brooks and Evangel Ministries have demonstrated a unique model of urban ministry in Detroit, focusing not just on meeting immediate needs through traditional channels, but on fostering a vision of long-term, whole-life discipleship.

In a talk for the Oikonomia Network, Brooks offers invaluable perspective from his years of ministry, concluding that the gospel has the power to bring economic flourishing to impoverished communities. Poor communities are very similar to deserts, Brooks explains, where people feel trapped by the elements and desperate from the thirst. “These feelings of fear and vulnerability, and feeling overwhelmed, is exactly what the poor feel on a daily basis,” he says.

The good news is that Christ brings life and liberty to all people and in all places. “We preach a gospel that tells people they don’t have to relocate in order to experience the blessing and flourishing that comes from being in Christ,” Brooks says. “In other words, you shouldn’t have to change zip codes for the gospel to work for you.”

Thus, Brooks and his church have sought not only to meet temporal needs, but to help communities see the gifts and resources they already have, harnessing and connecting them accordingly. This isn’t to say that it’s as easy as strolling into these communities and peeling open a Bible. It begins and continues with close and attentive relationships. (more…)

night-sky-lanterns-all-is-giftThe Acton Institute’s latest film series is having a profound influence on churches and communities of all kinds. Hearts are being stirred and inspired, minds are connecting mission with culture, and as a result, the church is unlocking a bigger-picture vision of God’s plan for creation.

Over at the Letters to the Exiles blog, Evan Koons is compiling letters and testimonials from viewers of the series, sharing how For the Life of the World is transforming their lives and communities.

In the latest letter, we hear the story of Judilynn Niedercorn, a self-described “crazy middle-aged woman from D.C.,” who recently felt the call to leave her 30-year consulting career and relocate to rural New York.

Why? She knew she wanted to “be in the world” and she knew she wanted to change culture, but she wasn’t sure about God’s precise plan. “I thought it was to go to school and learn to be a social worker,” she writes. “But nope…it is to bring peace and prosperity to rural Appalachian NY!” (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Wednesday, September 2, 2015
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creativity-capitalism-money-crashCapitalism is routinely castigated as an enemy of the arts, with much of the finger-pointing bent toward monsters of profit and efficiency. Other critiques take aim at more systemic features, fearing that the type of industrialization that markets sometimes tend toward will inevitably detach artists from healthy social contexts, sucking dry any potential for flourishing as a result.

But what if the opposite is true? I offer the argument over at The Federalist.

Free economies introduce their own unique challenges for artists and consumers alike. We are justified in cringing at the array of bottom-dollar record-company execs and merchandising-obsessed Hollywood crackpots (though I will always prefer their ilk to your run-of-the-mill Commissar of the Arts). But the increases in economic empowerment that have led to these many marketing machines have also led to plenty of artistic empowerment in turn.

In an article for New York Times Magazine, Steven Johnson reinforces this very point, observing that the many apocalyptic prophecies about arts in the digital age have not quite manifested. “In the digital economy, it was supposed to be impossible to make money by making art,” he writes. “Instead, creative careers are thriving — but in complicated and unexpected ways.” (more…)

When we hear about church “outreach ministries,” we often think of food pantries, homeless shelters, and community events. But while these can be powerful channels for service, many churches are beginning to look for new ways to empower individuals more holistically.

For some, this means abandoning traditional charity altogether, focusing their ministry more directly around recognizing the gifts and strengths of others. For others, like Evangel Ministries in Detroit, it involves a mix of many things, but with a particular emphasis on the power of entrepreneurship to transform lives and communities.

Hear their story here, in a video produced by Made to Flourish:

For Evangel, it’s not just about meeting immediate needs through traditional channels, but about teaching work skills and financial literacy, teaching congregants on the details of permitting, and even in some cases providing investment capital for particular businesses. (more…)