Wednesday, April 14, 2004

"Jesus said, 'I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them." (John 13:15, 17)

The dirty hands of partnership

The sun was beating down in rural India - perhaps 110 degrees. But the joyful occasion was a service of blessing before construction started on a bio-gas digester, a simple 14-foot wide brick sphere buried into the ground that would turn human waste into clean methane gas. The gas would provide free energy to cook daily meals for an entire children's school of the Rural Presbyterian Church of India, a PCUSA partner church.

Sixty school children ringed the heaping pile of red bricks from which the digester would be built. Three of us PCUSA representatives looked on, as did pastors of the RPC and a crew of hired day-workers. With the prayers said, the bricks needed to be moved. The workers launched into their job, quickly working up a sweat in the heat. It was as it always had been in India: The privileged watching the menial laborers do their work.

But breaking form, the top leader of the RPC, an honored dignatory at the service, stepped over to the pile of bricks and hefted two of them to his own chest, carrying them to the new pile. The laborers were alone in their work no longer! Within moments, all of us - schoolchildren, pastors, leaders, laborers - had bricks in hand, joined in common task together. The pile was swiftly moved.

To be effective workers, partners with fellow believers around the world in spreading the gospel, we all benefit by asking the Lord of the Workers to create in us hearts willing to serve as Jesus did, who served us even to the point of dying on the cross.

-- Dave Hackett


This article was first written for the PCUSA Worldwide Ministry Division's "Presbyterians Do Mission In Partnership Lenten Devotional," April 2002

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

"Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ…All must test their own work…for all must carry their own loads." (Gal 6:2,4,5, NRSV)

Sharing burdens instead of disabling with dependencies

Which is it? Do we bear each other's burdens, or must everyone carry their own load? How can we be a partner and not instantly offer to bear the load jointly? Paul's admonitions dig deep into the multi-layered sod of partnership. Both burden bearing and refraining from load sharing build up Christ's Kingdom.

During a visit to rural India with a PCUSA partner, the Rural Presbyterian Church (RPC), I learned about the RPC's outstanding work of expanding the Church among the Dalit, or "oppressed" outcastes of India’s Hindu influences.

One day in a broad, caked-mud village center, two Americans and I drew a large crowd. Sensing their friendliness, we began an impromptu Q&A session. We asked the villagers, "What do you need? What would improve your lives?" We thought the seemingly innocuous questions would give us some helpful information, and true to form, they showered us with answers.

Later, a leader of the RPC took us to task for asking those questions. "Don't you know that asking people what they need is the single quickest way to make them dependent on you, rather than helping them gain ground on their own? If they answer you sincerely, they may easily think you have the resources to give them what they listed off to you! And when you fail to deliver, then you have to overcome even more barriers to truly helping them rise from their condition."

Discovering the difference between helpful burden sharing and disabling load bearing is essential for the sake of the growth of God's Kingdom. We need to train our eyes to discern needs around us and in the world, and how to address them in partnership with our international friends so that we avoid creating unrealistic expectations or chart their course toward dependencies.

-- Dave Hackett

Friday, April 09, 2004

"I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35)

A dying congregation's last, truest gift

Coming to the end of Holy Week, reflecting on the cross, I'm more aware than usual of the reality of death and the yearning of creation to be set free from its bondage to decay. Sadly, death is inevitable. But I'm also aware of - and moved by - faithfulness in the face of death.

Two years ago this week Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship received a simple note from a Presbyterian church closing its doors that Easter Sunday. The session of this 20 member church had enclosed a $3,000 check for PFF. The note said, "This check is being sent to you from your friends at Springfield Presbyterian Church, Jackson Center, Pennsylvania. Due to a decline in membership our church will be celebrating its final service on Easter Sunday, March 31, 2002. Your organization was recommended to us to receive this gift and you may designate it for any mission projects within your organization." It was signed, "Sincerely, Springfield Presbyterian Church."

This is an incredible gift. Two years later, I am still in awe of it. How many $3,000 gifts can a 20-member church about to close have within it?

With its last organizational breath, this faithful church did what it could to pass along the gift of the church to those cultures that don't yet have a living church within them. It is doing what Jesus did - setting his face toward Jerusalem to be obedient even when he knew going that way included his death. "When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51).

There is much that is holy about this kind of offering, a church's final offering before closing its collective eyes. It finished well! It gave what is perhaps its best gift: Faithfully passing along the torch of the gospel. What I picture in my mind is that church gathering again in glory in its resurrected state, when it can see how it helped spread the gospel around the world.

This church loved "the Church," and not just its own church. In its dying, it lived into the new commandment.

Thank you, Lord, for a death died worthily - your own, which gave us salvation, and Springfield Presbyterian Church's, which gives commendable witness to you!

-- Dave Hackett

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

"As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace." (Eph 6:12)

Getting beyond the language - and imagery - of the oppressor

Good mission workers don't use the language of the oppressor when trying to share God's good news. It's one of those underdiscussed lessons good missionaries know about in order to connect well with those they're trying to reach.

Our PC(USA) frontier mission efforts which we commend to you for your support utilize this insight while working to give birth to indigenous Christian movements in unreached cultures.

Many cultures have a common "trade" language used throughout a region. It's used widely... but then, ah, there's the tribal language specific to the people group. We call it their heart language. It's the language even multilingual people dream in, cry out with, use when caught by surprise, and speak in the shielded security of families and lovers.

How many mission efforts enter a region and interact using a secondary, non-intimate language? - or worse, using the language of the group's oppressor?

Across the globe indigenous cultures have been trampled upon by invaders and conquerers who have sought to displace the tribal languages with their own. In Japanese-occupied Korea, for instance, the Japanese forbade speaking in Korean, assigned everyone a replacement Japanese name, and otherwise sought to eradicate Korean culture and form and displace it with their own. It didn't work. In fact, Presbyterian missionaries honoring Korean culture in the face of this onslaught were so highly regarded by Koreans that it helped propel forward their widespread adoption of Presbyterianism among Koreans. "Those Presbyterians," they said, "stand on the side of Koreans." Today, there are several times as many Korean Presbyterians as American Presbyterians!

This week the Associated Press unwittingly described this phenomena. The article, "Talk Latvian in Latvia? Russian speakers balk" missed the real story by looking at the wrong side of Latvia's resistance to continuing to use Russian. The real story is how remarkably the Latvians are reasserting their indigenous language and culture in the face of past Russian domination. A new independent Latvian law decrees that most teaching must soon be done in Latvian.

"The Russian language dominated many areas of life in Latvia during decades of Soviet rule from Moscow," the article says, "and the newly independent nation made Latvian the sole official language partly as a countermeasure. Some Russian-speaking students perceive the new law as retribution for past Russian domination."

It's not retribution so much as finally shedding a false language foisted on the Latvian culture.

So which missionary, do you imagine, will connect better with a Latvian: One who comes in speaking Russian, or one who speaks Latvian? One rides the coattails of the oppressor, and reaps an oppressor's welcome. The other signals a bond with the peoples' heart language. We vote for the latter. And so, it turns out, do those on the receiving end of Christian witness around the world.

Jesus knew this, too. In Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he intentionally made an entrance as a king, complete with hosanna's and praise and palm-throwing so enthusiastic the Pharisees pleaded with him to stop the embarassingly royal display. Royal, yes, but with a huge difference. Roman royalty would have ridden in on a warhorse or gleaming chariot. Jesus enters on a donkey. He didn't adopt the oppressor's imagery and form. He comes on his own terms and even centuries later we feel he chooses to relate to us. (My gratitude to Rev. Sandra Hackett for pointing this out in her Palm Sunday sermon at Inglewood Presbyterian Church, Bothell, WA.)

The donkey or the warhorse: Which will you ride as you enter other cultures to stand as a witness to Christ?

The heart or the hardened shell: Which would you rather address with the good news, Christ is risen indeed!"?

-- Dave