This blog was originally posted in August 2015. Entry one of a six-part series.
“Imagine for a moment how you would feel if you were in their shoes…”
It was a phrase I heard many times as a kid. I remember vividly the birthday party that really helped me grasp this concept.
As a child, I used to spend many weekends and big chunks of my summer vacations at my grandparents’ house in a tiny village in Central Europe. One of their neighbors had a child like I’d never seen before. He couldn’t walk, he always sat in a stroller even though he was around my age, and his limbs looked kind of twisted. We rarely ever saw this family leave their house and there was always an air of secrecy surrounding them. My cousin and I used to peek through the fence to get a glimpse of the little boy soaking up some sun in the yard, mumbling to himself. The father was an alcoholic, and somehow everyone seemed to know the reason. Once they had a second child, the mother would bring her out to play with the other kids, but the boy was always left behind the fence. I remember feeling sad for him and wishing he could come out to join us.
I don’t remember seeing many special needs people in my environment growing up, and it is similar in India. The same sense of shame and secrecy seems to permeate people with disability here today. Society still has a long way to go to accept differently abled people as valuable human beings. According to many people’s opinions and beliefs, disability could be a curse on the family for something they have done or a result of karma, showing that the individual did something punishable in their previous life. This way of thinking leads people to blame the parents and the child, instead of offering help and support.
A small woman in her 50s, Atosi seems like she’s always been a firecracker. She has passionate opinions, a strong sense of determination, and warm, bright, expressive eyes. As I listen to her story, I imagine her as a little baby in a distant town of India, the youngest among four siblings, a daughter not planned. Her mother, one of the only working women in town, went back to her teaching job when Atosi was only 3 months old—a rare phenomenon. A helper, who was taking care of her during the day, kept stealing the milk set aside for little Atosi. The ache of unsatisfied appetite made her develop a habit of thumb sucking for years to come; a habit that brought her much shame and negative attention from her family and others around.
As a little girl, Atosi hated that her mother worked and often compared her with “normal” mothers who stayed at home to take care of their children. She was dead-set on getting married, becoming a housewife and mother, and never working outside the home. She dreamed of a quiet, simple life. But God, having a good sense of humor, made it so that Atosi’s older sisters were not married yet by the time she finished school. Since it would have been culturally inappropriate for her to get married before them, she had to get a job. Her plans for life were not working out as she had imagined.
Recently, we had friends visiting our place and we had good conversations about ministry and life in general. Somehow the topic of loving your neighbor came up, and one of them said that this is one principle he struggles putting into practice the most. I appreciate that he admitted it publicly and, even though I teach this idea everywhere, I have to say that this is also my struggle.
We define ‘our neighbor’ in different ways, but in general, we agree that they are people we encounter everyday, acquaintances and strangers. Interestingly, in the ‘Sermons on the Mount’ Jesus raised this truth to the next level. He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’” (Matthew 5:43).
Of all the different issues we could talk about as we focus on women this month, the one that keeps coming to my mind is the way we women think of ourselves and view other women. The abuse, oppression, objectification and devaluation of women is a priority topic here in India, and most of the time we think about how society in general or specifically men relate to women this way, which, of course, is extremely important. But as I was listening to stories upon stories from the Ending Gendercide team members, the idea that women work against each other kept jumping out at me.
Why is that? Why do we keep undermining each other? Why do we want others to suffer what we have suffered? Why do the different choices or success of other women make us feel threatened and less? Why do women tend to tear each other down instead of building each other up?
As we travel around sharing about the amazing way God transformed hundreds of communities out of poverty, the response is most often, “How can my church/ministry/program see transformation like that?” We regularly lead TCT orientations in Asia and Africa to answer that question. But those of you in the U.S. have been left wondering. We’re excited to let you know that this year at the International Wholistic Missions Conference (IWMC) we will run a track that covers exactly that—a slightly shortened version of the orientation that we run in other nations.
While the Truth Centered Transformation (TCT) program is primarily designed for rural churches in the majority world, the transformational principles that undergird the program are universal. Those principles, what we call the Framework for Transformation, can apply to any program anywhere. Our track at the IWMC will focus on some of the elements of this framework, as well as giving practical “how to” information for getting started with TCT in the majority world.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. (Psalm 23:1)
When we hear of God as our Shepherd, the very common passage, Psalm 23:1, comes to mind. It is so common…we hear this verse or the reference of it in our homes and at Sunday School, and we see the imagery of it depicted in different forms. Regardless of it being a very common verse, I urge you to ponder and take a deeper look at God our Shepherd—Jehovah Rohi.
David wrote Psalm 23 based on his reflections and experiences as a shepherd. He realized that was exactly the relationship God had with him. The Amplified version reads, ‘The LORD is my Shepherd [to feed, to guide and to shield me], I shall not want.’ (Psalm 23:1).
Just a couple of days ago I had the honor of sitting down with some brothers from South Sudan while they shared about their nation. One of the stories that still haunts me is of how soldiers are renting out their weapons from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. so that people can go looting. The soldiers haven’t been paid for five to six months and are literally starving, so the offer of a month’s salary just for renting out their weapon is hard to resist. Even if money makes it into the system it is taken by corrupt generals and officers, thus making the soldiers even angrier and more likely to make poor decisions. It’s a tragic scenario that leaves me asking myself what hope there is for the world. I think many of us are feeling that way right now.
Last week we held the TCT East Africa Forum. We had 32 participants from seven countries. I shared about how against all odds, God turned up through the TCT program and communities moved out of poverty. On paper there was no hope. The work was illegal (the government didn’t allow church training). I wasn’t exactly what the church was looking for—young, white and female. Everyone said it was foolish and wouldn’t work. In fact even I didn’t believe it would. But it did. Because of God.
Last week, Anna blogged about the complexity of generational poverty and the need for prayer. The truth is, we see Him answer these prayers every day. We are so excited about what God is doing amongst those who are experiencing poverty—bringing transformation in their thinking and causing them to flourish. We just finished up our first ever TCT East Africa Forum, with 31 pastors and denominational leaders. So I’m sure that, in the coming year, we’ll be sharing lots of stories of God’s power and faithfulness from that group of dynamic men of God!
Here are a couple of “Praise God” stories from TCT-partner churches in Uganda…
Poverty is complex. How we address poverty is tricky. To wildly over-simplify things, we can think of poverty in two categories:
- generational poverty—poverty that you see around much of the majority world; poverty that you are born into and never seem to get out of, and
- situational poverty—poverty that comes from an outside event, like a natural disaster or a health crisis.
The causes of each are different and so, naturally, the solutions are different. For now we will just look at the first—generational poverty.
Imagine a poor rural village in the majority world. What do you think are the best ways to help them? For years I would have said give resources and train them in the basic life skills that they are missing. Today I would argue that one of the most important things that we can do to address poverty is pray. Why? Well there are a few reasons.