Posts tagged with: ministry

Subway at True Bethel Baptist Church

I have previously expressed my appreciation for the popular TV show, Undercover Boss, in which business leaders from large corporations spend several days working alongside lower-level employees.

In an episode on Subway, Don Fertman, the restaurant chain’s Chief Development Officer, goes undercover at several locations across the United States. Most of the episode includes your typical Undercover Boss fare — a bumbling executive, dedicated workers, teer-jerker employee recognitions — but I was struck by a particular branch that Fertman visits along the way.

Located in the heart of Buffalo, New York, the restaurant is located in the same building as True Bethel Baptist Church, and further, is owned and operated as a franchise by the church itself. The reason? To provide employment and job training to the surrounding neighborhood. (more…)

SpiritualDangerGreerPeterPeter Greer has spent his life doing good, from serving refugees in the Congo to leading HOPE International, a Christian-based network of microfinance institutions operating in 16 countries around the world. Yet as he argues in his latest book, The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good, “service and charity have a dark side.”

As a study from Fuller Seminary concluded, only one out of three biblical leaders finished well, despite the good they accomplished during their lifetimes. How can Christians avoid the spiritual dangers that persist in pursuing the good of our neighbors?

Greer’s book offers plenty of answers, and in an interview with On Call in Culture, he was kind enough to offer a glimpse.

As a young man, you noticed a certain brokenness in the aid industry—manipulation, phoniness, failure to uphold the dignity the human person. Yet you began to recognize these same traits within your own heart. Why does the position of the heart matter? Why isn’t it good enough to get busy?

In 2002, a volcano erupted in Congo. I went to help. Up high on a platform, I handed out blankets to refugees. And a photographer was snapping photos. But I wasn’t thinking about the refugees. My thought was: I can’t wait until people back home see these photos of me.

That moment helped me see how it’s possible to appear to be serving God but actually be making our service all about us. Unless we rediscover why we serve, our service can become a way to promote our image, heightening vanity and pride. (more…)

fast-food-worker1Most of us have spent at least a little time working in jobs we weren’t thrilled about. For me, it peaked with McDonald’s (no offense, Ronald).

For Trevin Wax, it was Cracker Barrel:

I never wanted to work at Cracker Barrel. I had business experience as an office manager, plus five years of international missions experience tucked under my belt.

But none of that mattered when the most pressing question was, How will you provide for your wife and son this week? Like many before and after me, I did whatever was necessary.

In the past, I’ve referred to such work as “needs-based” — an adjective that would seem highly redundant to most of our ancestors, not to mention plenty of today’s poor. Our now-widespread discussions and contemplations about vocation and personal calling are somewhat new, and we should be careful to recognize why exactly we have the reactions we do about working at reliable, air-conditioned joints like Cracker Barrel.

Each new wave of economic progress and individual empowerment has brought more opportunity to look upward and onward, beyond meeting our own needs and toward something bigger and brighter and so on. This is a marvelous thing, but with such opportunity and privilege also comes a temptation to look inward when it’s convenient — to rejoice in ourselves when we succeed and get grumpy when we wind up sniffing grease at Cracker Barrel.

Wax, however, looks back on his experience as much more than a pay-the-bills moment. Rather, the 18 months he spent at Cracker Barrel serves as “a reminder of the Lord’s faithfulness to us during a difficult, sometimes frustrating, season of life.” Pointing out that “there are hidden blessings in unwelcome work,” Wax proceeds to offer four reminders for those who find themselves in work situations that don’t seem to fit the mission. (more…)

The ongoing debate about food trucks here in Grand Rapids took a step forward this week, as this past Tuesday the city commission “voted unanimously to amend its zoning ordinance so that food trucks can operate on private property for extended periods of time.”

As I argued late last year, “There’s perhaps no more basic way to serve another person than to provide them with food,” and food trucks are something that ought to be welcomed rather than disdained in the context of a vibrant and variegated urban social space.

Rick DeVos, the founder of Grand Rapids-based ArtPrize, framed the issue quite well:

It’s called free enterprise and we should be embracing it no matter who is on the receiving end of its disruption…. The more we build the experience of downtown Grand Rapids as a great place to spend time, the more everyone doing business in downtown Grand Rapids will benefit.

Let’s get out of the way…and celebrate greater food choice in Grand Rapids.

While things have taken a step forward in Grand Rapids, the fight for food trucks and free enterprise continues throughout the country, and bears watching. The interaction between regulations and the non-profit sector is of particular interest, as both charitable ministry efforts as well as the formation of non-profit advocacy groups have been impacted by governmental policies.

In the forthcoming Fall 2011 issue of Religion & Liberty, we interviewed Dolphus Weary. His life experience and ministry work offers a unique perspective on the issue of poverty and economic development. His story and witness is powerful. Some of the upcoming interview is previewed below.

Dolphus Weary grew up in segregated Mississippi and then moved to California to attend school in 1967. He is one of the first black graduates of Los Angeles Baptist College. He returned to Mississippi to lead Mendenhall Ministries, a Christ centered community outreach organization to at-risk individuals that takes a holistic approach to solving problems of poverty. Currently Dolphus Weary is president of R.E.A.L. Christian Foundation in Richland, Miss., which strives to empower and develop rural ministries to improve the lives of Mississippians. Among his numerous degrees, Dolphus Weary also received a Doctor of Ministry (D.Min) from Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Miss. He is a nationally sought out speaker and writer and serves on numerous boards across the state and country. Weary recently spoke with managing editor Ray Nothstine.

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The title of your book is, I Ain’t Coming Back. What story does that title tell?

It tells a story of a young man who grew up in rural Mississippi. I grew up in a family of eight children. My father deserted the family when I was four years old and we lived in a three-room house, not three bedrooms, but a three-room house. All nine of us packed in there. We had holes throughout the house so I understand poverty.

As I grew up, I understood the difference between the white community and the black community. The school bus I rode, you could hear it coming down the road from miles away because it was so dilapidated. The new school bus passed my house. So, being poor and seeing racism and separation between the black community and the while community, I saw that the best thing I could do one day was to leave Mississippi.

I got a basketball scholarship to go to a Christian college in California, and when I got ready to leave Mississippi, I said, ‘Lord, I’m leaving Mississippi and I ain’t never coming back.’

I think that the other part of that is God put me in situations in California where I discovered that racism was not just unique to Mississippi or the South. Racism was found in other places as well, and I had to conclude that racism was not where you came from, but it’s an issue of the heart, and began to deal with that on an all white college campus in California. Then God began to point me back toward Mississippi, so I returned in the summers of 1968, ’69, and in 70. I traveled with a Christian basketball team and toured the Orient. We were playing basketball and sharing our faith at halftime, and there the coach challenged me about full time Christian service as a missionary in Taiwan or the Philippines.

That is when I began to think about am ‘I going into a mission field or am I running away from a mission field?’ And it became clear to me that I was running away from Mississippi as a mission field. After graduating from college and seminary, my wife and I moved back to Mendenhall, Mississippi and we started asking a question. The question we asked ‘is our Christian faith strong enough to impact the needs of a poor community, or is the best thing we can do is tell poor people to give your life to Jesus and one day you’re going to go to heaven and it’s going to be better?’

We began to internalize that to say that Jesus is concerned about you right now. We ended up developing a Christian health clinic and elementary school, a thrift store, a farm, a law office, a housing ministry, to try to take this precious gospel and make it into reality for poor people. Telling them that God loves you, he wants you to go to heaven, but God loves you right now and He wants you to live a decent life on this earth. What the Lord did was bring me back to be a part of the solution and not just to talk about the problem or simply walk away from it.

You also declare that meeting the social needs of people is the duty of the body of Christ. Many now feel that is a concept that is primarily the duty of government. Why is it important that the church lead on poverty issues?

For a long time the evangelical Church in America had this mission of just getting people saved. In Acts, we see the Church caring for people as well as feeding and clothing them. We have gotten away from that. We feel good about going to Africa and Asia. We feel good about flying 50 people across country, paying X number of dollars to fly 50 people to stay a week somewhere. Rather than taking that money and empowering the people in the local community, some want to just take a group and fly somewhere while ignoring their own backyard. We need to rethink mission. Over the last 30 years, we have been preaching a message that says let’s go to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, as we move to the remotest parts of the world. The Church, the body of Christ, needs to have a holistic view of reaching people, not just preparing them to go to heaven, but preparing people to deal with some of the social needs as well. I think that the Church has the greatest opportunity to hold individuals accountable and to move people along towards growth rather than along a line of dependency. We are really empowered to do that best in community at the local level.

What do you like most about Mississippi and why are you proud to call it home?

Mississippi is one of the best-kept secrets. The cost of living is still reasonable here. Mississippi is on its way up. It was just 40 years ago or so where Mississippi said we do not want industry, we do not want businesses. About 30 years ago, there was a major marketing push in business magazines saying, “Rethink Mississippi.”

In other words, Mississippi is a place for tremendous opportunity. I love the fact that we are changing. I love the fact that we are moving in a wonderful and fantastic direction. I have traveled all over the country, all around the world and I still believe that Mississippi is a good place. I am proud to call it home. Mississippi is still a place of courtesy. I believe with all my heart that there are many great people in this state.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
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From the vision of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 to Augustine’s City of God, the civitas is an enormously pervasive and rich biblical and theological theme. On the contemporary scene there area number of indications that evangelicals are looking more deeply and critically at engagement with the “city” as a social, political, ethical, and theological reality. This is part of the explicit vision of The King’s College in New York City, for instance, where Acton research fellow Anthony Bradley is currently a visiting professor of theology. At Houston Baptist University, the publication aptly named The City, “featuring leading voices in Christian academia and elsewhere on the critical issues of the times.”

North of the border, the Canadian think-tank Cardus has long examined the issues surrounding Christian cultural engagement, particularly within the dynamic matrix of what we call “cities.” Recently Cardus published critical perspectives from Darryl Hart and Nelson Kloosterman, “The Gospel and the City: What’s a Believer To Do?”

For a number of years now the Acton Institute has produced specialized conferences focused on the more specialized call to move “Toward a Free and Virtuous City.” The most recent installment of the “City FAVS” took place last month in Weehawken, New Jersey, and featured Dr. Bradley, Rudy Carrasco, Acton president Rev. Robert A. Sirico, and Michael Lee of Georgetown University.

As the Lord said to Jonah of that ancient capital, “But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”

We welcome a new contributor to the Acton Commentary crew: Dr. Dwight R. Lee, the William J. O’Neil Endowed Chair in Global Markets and Freedom at Southern Methodist University. In this week’s commentary, Lee discusses how the social objectives of clergy and economists are remarkably similar, even though their “windows on the world” suggest different approaches to achieving the shared aim of building a better, more humane society. This week’s commentary is adapted from an article to be published in the Journal of Markets & Morality (Vol. 12, No. 2; Fall 2009). Excerpt:

My hope is that members of the clergy, in their desire to achieve a better world, will begin to see economists as allies instead of adversaries. This hope may be dismissed as preposterous by some since, as an economist, I argue that market incentives are the most effective way of achieving many of the social outcomes most of the clergy favor. But those most opposed to market incentives for achieving desirable objectives have the most to gain by taking a look through the economic window. Much of the skepticism, indeed hostility, towards markets is based on distorted and mistaken views of how markets operate and what they accomplish.

Religious differences notwithstanding, most people respect the clergy for their noble objectives and effort to achieve those objectives by encouraging and celebrating “the better angels of our nature” mentioned in Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address. Most approve of the clergy’s concern with encouraging behavior such as sharing with, and serving the interests of, others; helping the poor; sacrificing for the good of the wider community; acting as good stewards of the earth’s resources; being concerned with protecting the environment; and generally living a life that promotes social cooperation and harmony.

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Blog author: rnothstine
Friday, September 11, 2009
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chaplain-faith “But here in the crowd of teenagers and twenty-somethings, the thought of death was about to become a constant companion.” These words end the first chapter of Roger Benimoff’s new book Faith Under Fire: An Army Chaplain’s Memoir.

Benimoff with the help of Eve Conant crafts a harrowing narrative of his second and final tour as an Army Chaplain in Tal Afar, Iraq in 2005. It is a tour that results in him almost abandoning his faith, threatens his marriage, and will cause him to go from an assignment where his duties were ministering and counseling at Walter Reed, to a broken individual who would join the ranks of the patients at the very same hospital. Benimoff begins to lose almost all the will to even cope with the simplest of tasks and routines as chronic post – traumatic stress disorder debilitates him (PTSD). While in Iraq, the soldiers he shepherds constantly face death and intense fighting that will finally unnerve the author when he returns to safety in the states. Benimoff himself describes what the soldiers faced:

These guys trained together, joked around together, slept in the same room. In time, and for a time, they knew their buddies better than they knew their families. I know from my thousand or so counselings with soldiers over the past two years that losing a buddy is not the same as losing a friend. It’s like being a big brother and not grabbing your little brother’s hand fast enough before he slips off a bridge. He looks up at you in wonder and disbelief as he falls to his death. Soldiers are supposed to protect each other. When they fail, the guilt can be debilitating.

This account is an interesting look at the life of soldiers as they struggle with the problems of deployment, war zones, fatalities, as well as the trials of a military chaplain. In fact, much of the strength of this account is that we get a look at the war on the ground in Iraq from a highly trained minister, counselor, and theologian.

While chaplains are non-combatants and do not carry a weapon, Benimoff is a chaplain who comes under sniper fire and has several close encounters with death. Benimoff of course is not overly concerned about his own safety and does whatever it takes to be close to his flock. Early in his deployment he is called to a scene of unimaginable carnage, as an Army Stryker vehicle is blown apart by an improvised explosion device. Almost all in the vehicle were lost. So much of the narrative of his time in Iraq is heartbreaking, and the author does an excellent job of articulating his goals to minister to those in need in a time of chaos. He also has a skill for articulating and trying to understand God’s purpose.

The second part of Benimoff’s account focuses on his own downward spiral as PTSD begins to encompass him. It is a disorder he has been masterfully trained to detect, but is not empowered to stop. Benimoff begins to break down in large crowds and displays various degrees of erratic and aggressive behavior. Eventually Benimoff checks into a PTSD clinic, spending his days and nights there for a protracted time. During his time of trial he says, “I was not talking to God because I had nothing good to say. I still believe in God, but not necessarily a compassionate one and perhaps not one to whom I should be devoting my life.” He would go on to further denounce the God he had known calling “religion a crutch for the weak” and followers of God “weak minded.” His own wife writes in her journal:

When he began to bring home ceramics on his weekend visits it hit me that he was in a mental facility. On TV you always see people who are going through various types of rehabilitation painting or doing art of some sort, and when I pictured my husband doing this, I began to see the extent of his brokenness. I feel shocked and have much grief over my husband being in a psych ward. I never imagined we would end up in a place like this, and I wonder if he will ever get better. I wonder why God has allowed this.

This is a very moving book and it deals wonderfully and honestly with theodicy. It’s also an inside account to the sacrifices and rehabilitation made by many in the United States Armed Forces, some who face serious physical and emotional wounds for the rest of their life. Even when Benimoff doesn’t have the answer to certain questions he doesn’t pretend that he does. The road back to faith in Christ for Benimoff is also very moving. He finally came to a point where he was so broken and destroyed he realized, “I needed God’s grace more than I needed answers. It’s a lesson from Sunday school, the most basic of all, but one I had lost completely since returning from Iraq.” The Apostle Paul himself pleaded to God for relief from the thorn in his flesh in 2 Corinthians 12, and Paul wrote these words in the 9th verse: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

This month’s Christianity Today features a cover package devoted to the challenge faced by non-profit ministries amidst the recent economic downturn. The lengthy analysis defies any easy or simplistic summary of the state of Christian charity. There are examples of ministries that are scaling back as well as those who are enjoying donations at increased levels.

Compassion International and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship are cited as those bucking the conventional logic that giving to charities decreases during a recession. “So far, many parachurch ministries are not facing the same income declines as other organizations. In fact, some are forging ahead with bold initiatives that seemingly defy the dour economic tone,” writes John W. Kennedy.

At the same time, Prison Fellowship laid of 40 staffers in January as part of a 12% budget reduction. And in a more recent move, International Aid, based in Spring Lake, Michigan, announced the resignation of Myles Fish as president and CEO. Following a sharp decline in donations, the agreement for Fish to resign is part of a larger restructuring plan to deal with decreased income.

Fish reported that revenue fell by about $600,000 in December of 2008. “People are perhaps more focused on the needs of the local agencies than the international ones,” he said.

So while the results reported by CT might well give us a less pessimistic perspective on the landscape of Christian giving, it also seems true that the economic downturn is changing not only spending habits but also giving patterns. Charities with more marginal loyalties are more likely to suffer than those with a “family-like link,” and there also appears to be a correlative move toward local rather than international needs.

This may not be all bad. I’m not in principle against voluntary wealth transfers between citizens in richer and poorer nations, and I support the work of groups like Compassion International and Five Talents. But the ability for givers to be significantly involved in keeping tabs on the oversight and administration of an agency is usually reduced as the focus moves away from local involvement.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, February 16, 2007
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Today’s Detroit News ran a brief letter to the editor in response to my Jan. 23 op-ed, “Don’t prevent religion from helping to reform prisoners.” (Joe Knippenberg engaged a previous response on his blog here).

David Dery of Central Lake writes, “Jordan Ballor’s article encouraging religious groups in prisons is fine, as far as he goes…. The problem comes when the state attaches some benefit to attending these programs without providing a non-religious alternative.”

In response I’ll simply make a few observations and raise a few questions. I agree that the state “attaching some benefit” to a program like IFI is potentially problematic, although the nature of the benefit would probably need to be more clearly defined (are we talking material benefits? social?). What if this benefit is not attached by the state but inheres to the nature of the program itself (i.e. spiritual)?

I also think there is not only a question of a religious vs. non-religious/secular alternative to be considered, but Christian vs. other religions (Islam, paganism, Buddhism, et al.) That is, if the government allows a Christian program into prisons, must it also provide a non-Christian religious alternative? What if there are no groups who are doing religious reform work in prisons from these groups?

Here’s a tentative alternative proposition: if the state allows a Christian group to do reform work in the prison, it must allow (not necessarily provide itself) other groups, whether religious or secular, to do reform work under the same conditions and standards as the Christian group. But the state need not necessarily seek out or artificially create Buddhist, pagan, Islamic, or secularist groups to do the reform work.

The fact that Christian groups are perhaps the most active in this area says something about the nature of the Christian faith and its expression.

IFI’s appeal of the decision in Iowa began this week. Joe Knippenberg gives some good introductory links and IFI’s ruling page gives information on how to listen to the oral arguments.