Graduates

Meet the first graduates of Bright Hope English School. They were each accepted into a Christian upper level high school (thanks to folks from our church who are supporting their continued education). Some of them did not even begin school until they were 12 years old! They are now 16 years old and embarking on a new adventure. They will still live at Bright Hope English School and will assist in leading the younger girls there. But each of their lives are taking a new and exciting educational turn.

IMG_3894I had a chance to sit with them and talk about their school. They are so excited. They shared with me about favorite classes and favorite teachers. None of them have attended a coed school before (Bright Hope exclusively serves minority girls). Pretty said, “Pastor, there are more boys than girls at our school. And the boys are very nice to us.” Yeah, about that. Boys are evil, girls — pure evil.

Seriously though, I suspect everyone at their new school notices them when they get off the bus. They are amazing young women. I have known them all for a number of years now. I cannot emphasize enough the change that is occurring in their lives and in the lives of their families. First and foremost, they know Jesus. Their lives are living testimonies to His goodness. Secondly, they have the sweetest spirits and demeanors. When you are with them you can tell that they have been with Jesus (Acts 4:13). Thirdly, they are hard working. It was not easy for them to be accepted at the school and they are well aware that they represent all the girls at Bright Hope. Finally, they are showing their communities that minority status in India does not relegate them to hopeless futures. All things are possible with God!

IMG_4263Pretty and Pinky want to be school teachers. Moina and Shanta want to be medical doctors. Shanti wants to be a research scientist. All of them are dreaming dreams that would not have been possible were it not for the foundation laid down by our sister Premila years ago. There is truly a “bright hope” emerging in a place where minority girls are destined for near-slavery. What a privilege it is for us to be a part of God’s work in the lives of these children. Praise Him! If you’d like to support them, you can do so here.

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Taken

As I travel to impoverished places in this world I am frequently reminded that man’s inhumanity to man knows no bounds. This is especially true in Nepal, a country where a legacy caste system relegates some people to less-than-human status. Upper caste people do not seem outraged when their “lessers” are exploited or victimized. Hinduism can be very desensitizing since such unfortunate circumstances can be regarded as just rewards for the sins of a previous life.

KidneyOn my Jet Airways flight from Delhi to Bagdogra I flipped through the inflight magazine. The cover story was Unkindest Cut. It told the story of poor villagers in the mountains of Nepal whose kidneys were being taken to meet the demand for transplants in India. According to the World Health Organization an estimated 10,000 black market operations involving trafficked organs now take place annually. It is a matter of supply and demand.

In one village, Hokse, the majority of the adults (380) have been donors. In some cases the villagers were cheated — promised a job that required a medical exam only to wake up and find a kidney had been taken. In other cases they were offered money ($112 USD) with the promise that the kidney would grow back. It is a lucrative deal for the kidney merchants. Transplants in India cost around $28,000 USD. But for the donor, the victim, it is nothing short of exploitation as their bodies are mutilated and their parts are trafficked.

Both Nepal and India have enacted laws outlawing the practice, but the practice continues unabated because the victims are desperate, illiterate and poor. They are unlikely to bring charges even if they know how. The money, as small as it is, provides some momentary relief to their very difficult lives. When life seems hopeless and people begin to believe that their circumstances are the just desserts of something they have done in unknown past, small monetary relief offers a glimmer of hope — as fleeting as it is. Laws that are written to protect them are apparently having little effect.

IMG_4049In only a few days I knew I was going to hike into those very hills to visit a small church. I wondered if any of the villagers there had kidneys taken. I thought about the difference I had seen in the lives of Christians in this country. Their circumstances are the same, but they live with a contentment that defies human understanding. They know they are significant in the eyes of God. They know that their sins, which they are aware of in this life, are forgiven. They know God provides. They have hope in Jesus. They are not easily victimized.

While Christian represents only 2% of Nepal’s population, its rapid growth is perceived as a threat that undermines the values of the culture. Christianity spreads unconditional love and forgiveness for sins. It encourages education and opportunity. When those of the lower castes convert, the upper Brahman caste lose complete control over them.

While Nepal became a secular nation in 2005, it has not really culturally transitioned from being a Hindu nation and there is social and political pressure to maintain the status quo. There are laws being considered now that will make it a crime to convert to Christianity (punishable by 5 years in prison). Pray that they will not enact laws that will hinder the very hope they need. Jesus frees the spirit. He restores dignity. He gives hope. The people of Nepal need Jesus.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Boats

Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:23-24)

BoatsThe Boat of Purity and Ease, made of marble, sits at the north end Kunming Lake at Beijing’s Summer Palace. Legend has it that it represents Wei Zheng’s saying that “the waters that float the boat can also swallow it,” implying that the people can support the emperor but can also topple him. Leaders who ignore this reality engender mistrust and foment unrest. Peggy Noonan’s article, “Trump and the Rise of the Unprotected,” is an echo of that ancient wisdom.

In her article, Noonan talks about the growing divisions in America differently than I have heard until now. She says it is not Democrat versus Republican, but the protected versus the unprotected. She says that this is why the rise of Trump and Sanders is happening. It is a reaction to an elite political class in our nation (who she calls the protected). They are insulated from the effects of their own policies. They increase the reach of government — intrusively with controls rather than supportively with improvements. Their kids go to private schools. They live in privileged communities. As government workers, they are essentially our employees. But have they taken their roles to serve us seriously? Their fortune grows while the nation suffers. They share a different world than the rank and file of this nation (who Noonan calls the unprotected) and they are increasingly isolated from it.

That is why they and their wealthy friends in media and entertainment do not understand what the common people, the unprotected, of this nation do understand — that we owe them no loyalty. They have enjoyed a blessed lifestyle that fattens their calves without doing anything about the economy that is impacting a majority of this country’s citizens. They sow division in this country along their own prescribed lines. But the unprotected are beginning to see through it. Despite their manipulations, we do not live in a country divided primarily by race or class, but by an economy of the privileged and the not-so-privileged. You would not know that by the tin ear of the policy makers, but rather by the prevailing common sense of a people who have to absorb the impact of their neglect.

In the biblical quote above, Amos warned the entitled rulers of his day that they cannot continue to manipulate the majority of people in the nation while enriching themselves. Justice for a few is no justice at all. God Himself will deal with such unrighteousness. “Let justice roll down like waters,” filling the plain with good fruit… lifting all boats.

We have come a long way from the words of John F. Kennedy in 1963 that “a rising tide lifts all boats” (meaning that improvements in the country’s economy benefit everyone). But the notion is not “trickle-down economics.” Kennedy believed that government economic policy should focus on creating a macroeconomic environment wherein the most people could benefit from policies that produced growth. Our national boat is sinking! We see very little attention being paid by their fellow media elite to the economic plans of the candidates, but people instinctively know who is and who is not going to change the status quo that the political class is compelled to maintain for its own advantage.

The protected are convinced that they need to shore up the world they have created for themselves. Power and influence have served them well. They don’t want anyone to rock the boat. But as a nation rejects their rule, they are the ones who will miss the boat. And this boat we are in together is up for some serious rocking.

I grew up in a different era. Some things that we had regarded as common sense have been turned upside-down. The world is changing. This nation is changing. Young people have a different outlook — a different ethos. Folks my age can neither criticize it nor lament it… it just is. This generation is coming up under very different circumstances and is adapting to different realities. Common sense to them is not the same as it is to us. But in this one case we are in the same boat. We share the same economy that is impacted by the leaders we elect. I encourage this upcoming generation to pay very careful attention to the economic policies of the candidates. Some are going to maintain the status quo. They’ll tweak it a bit, but it will not change much. Some will change it significantly — sea changes if they can. The long-term effects will be felt by the very generation that is most likely to decide this next election. To them I say, “Do your homework. Choose wisely. Grab an oar and let’s point this boat to shore.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Inevitable

Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. (Psalm 146:3-4)

Friend: Did you watch the (Republican) debates?

Me: No

Friend: They were awesome!

Me: They are playing to the base, so I imagine it was a lot of fun.

Friend: Jesus loves us all. As a person who loves Jesus, I enjoyed the lack of dissing on their Democratic opponents.

Me: But they went after each other pretty hard.

Friend: I only watched the end

Me: I read the transcripts and didn’t think they were all that respectful of one another. Frankly, I think it is better to read their economic proposals, which tell a lot more about the candidates than the debates.

Friend: The thing that is most important to me is… do they know Jesus and listen to His voice.

InevitibleI appreciate my friend’s hope for a candidate who will have a strong moral compass — one founded on his/her life in Jesus. But I don’t expect our presidential candidates to be Christian — not in the hopeful way that my friend does. I am skeptical about the candidates. Though most of them (and most of our recent presidents) have claimed Christianity, very few have acted consistent with Jesus when in office. So when the time comes I will vote for the person who I think will most effectively lead, keep us safe and restore our economy.

I am old enough to have been through many election cycles. There was a time when I held to fairly naive views of what an election promised. I was hopeful. I was thrilled when my candidates won, but then I was disappointed when their leadership betrayed the things they said were important to them (and me). And when those who I did not vote for won, I was disappointed (but not surprised) when they did exactly what I did not want them to do. So I have become increasingly cynical and I don’t really like to be that way.

Power and wealth are irresistible magnets to men and women who aspire to wield them. Those who are in the highest levels of government in America are powerful, indeed. Even the people who orbit about them get very rich and powerful. In an essentially moral environment, conscience could provide a safeguard against misuses of power. But in an amoral environment like we have today — one defined by the survival of the fittest — the ends justify the means (which is a philosophy completely inimical to liberty). As Lord Acton said in his letter to Archbishop Mandell Creighton (Apr. 5, 1887),

Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you add the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. That is the point at which . . . the end learns to justify the means.”

Because there is so much money involved in politics, the stakes are high. And when power and wealth are so clearly attainable, corruption is inevitable.

I have come to believe that the rest of us are “votes for sale.” We are polled ad nauseumand our behavior at the voting poll is fairly predictable.   In a national election there are a relatively small number of precincts that can swing the vote. Highly-paid experts conspire to win them. Voter fraud adds even more corruption. Do we each really get an equal vote or can our votes be disenfranchised? Once the two parties have chosen their candidates, is the result inevitable? Am I pessimistic… realistic… or both?

So what do men and women who love Jesus do in an election year? What do we want the candidates to do? Maybe we can start by recognizing that we are not voting for a Savior. We already have one. And yes it is good to vote! It is a privilege to do so, to be informed and to vote thoughtfully. But whoever wins this election will be a flawed human being. Whether or not they carry our political banner, their sin-nature is a given — it is inevitable— as is the inevitability of a certain amount of evil in places of power and wealth.

But there is another inevitability. God is on the throne. And He can change the heart of a leader in response to the prayers of His people…

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will. (Proverbs 21:1)

And Christians are instructed what to do regardless of who leads in our government…

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

I can advocate for those in power by asking my Father in Heaven to intervene. I wonder how many Christians have earnestly prayed for our current president — for salvation, wisdom, justice and good judgment? Or have we complained and grumbled about him? My own words here convict me! God’s will is not an unknown to me. Prayer for our leaders is a Christian responsibility. It can begin in earnest even during the candidate selection process. For the people of God, prayer for our leaders should be inevitable.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Women

Behold, children are a gift from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127:3-5)

How amazing it is to hold your own newborn child. This little miracle of life enters the world small, vulnerable and completely dependent. I was entranced each time one of our children were born. They won my heart immediately and permanently. And from that first breath onward God begins to unfold life to the fullest. Truly, boys and girls are a gift from the Lord.

WomenBut it is not a surprise to anyone that in many countries around the world girls are not valued the same as boys. Take China for instance, where until recently it was against the law to have more than one child. The preference for sons has had a disturbing impact on the country’s population. Thankfully, the one child policy was recently revoked. But for several decades the ratio of men to women has been skewed. In China today there are 120 boys born for every 100 girls. There will not be enough brides for one fifth of the boys being born today when they are ready to marry.

In many parts of the world it is normal for a pregnant woman to be blessed by others with a prayer for a boy. A boy has better earning power over his lifetime. A boy carries the family name forward. So cultural pressure on families for having boys in many of these nations is overwhelming. In both China and India ultrasound was used to determine the sex of the unborn child. If it was a girl, it was often aborted. China finally made it illegal to use technology to determine the sex of the child before birth. However, the practice continues in India and in other parts of the world.

In India, poor families will make a decision to send their sons to school while their daughters remains uneducated. She will begin a life of labor as early as the age of 10 (which is why my church invests in a school there to educate poor minority girls Bright Hope English School). And in many Muslim countries women are treated as second-class citizens. Simply put, a majority of women enter this world without even a notion to dream of a different future.

The empowerment of women in the West has brought amazing vitality to our nations. Educated and capable women make contributions at every level of our society. But culture shifts are hard. It was hard in the west. A century ago in America it required a long struggle before the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified (on August 18, 1920). When they first tried to pass it they had plenty of advocates in the Republican and Progressive parties. But the Democratic Party and the President were powerful adversaries against women. Both used their power to defeat it when it was first presented in 1915. Beth Behn[1] writes about how it was finally passed in the House with President Wilson’s support…

“The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA)… was decisive in Wilson’s conversion to the cause of the federal amendment because its approach mirrored his own conservative vision of the appropriate method of reform: win a broad consensus, develop a legitimate rationale, and make the issue politically valuable.”

Cultural challenges existed in America. Reasoned arguments were offered on both sides. There were Christians who argued for and against the amendment on biblical grounds. One of the biggest contributors to a change in the heart of America was the impact of women on the World War. There was a broad recognition of sacrifices made by women and of their role in winning the war. As Behn says, they won broad consensus, developed a legitimate rationale, and made the issue politically valuable. NAWSA persisted. Justice is not always as immediate as its advocates want. But in America, a nation where equality is one of the highest ideals, justice is inevitable.

In The Crucified God Confronts Gendercide Dr. Paul Metzger says,

“The Lutheran Bonhoeffer… argued that Jesus is the man for others and the church is the community for others. Special consideration is given to those others who suffer genocide like the Jews or gendercide like so many women and girls across the globe. May we, the church, not stand aloof as we hear the cry of the victims of violence and sexual abuse (domestic abuse included). If we do, we fail to listen to Jesus’ call. Rather, may we enter their nightmare with the hope-filled advocacy grounded in faith in the all-powerful, gracious and costly love of the crucified and risen Jesus. Our Jesus is their victor.”

As long as there are women in this world who remain marginalized we have a responsibility to actively pursue and value them. We may be hindered by culture, law and opposition, but we need to be persistent. It is the Christlike thing to do.

We are standing on the shoulders of giants. Those who have gone before us have sought and won justice. They changed the argument, won broad consensus and affected laws. Can we do any less with the freedoms and blessings bestowed upon us in Christ?

 

 

[1] Behn, Beth, “Woodrow Wilson’s conversion experience: The president and the federal woman suffrage amendment.” (PhD dissertation, U. of Massachusetts-Amherst, 2012)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Unwanted

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.(Amos 5:24 ESV)

Amos longed to see righteousness prevail in a society that objectified and dehumanized the poor in their midst. He could not believe that those in power would continue to take advantage of those without it. Amos wanted a just world — one where God’s goodness prevailed — and it was untenable to him that God’s own people would be reluctant to bring it about. How is it that we see this repeated again and again, generation after generation, for thousands of years?

Institute students enjoying water

Institute students enjoying water

In Honiara, Solomon Islands, there are scores of unwanted street kids who grow up fending for themselves in one of the poorest nations in the world. They were abandoned. They have neither education nor resources. They do what they can to survive….

  • pick-pocketing
  • child labor (industry, logging camps, mining camps)
  • scavenging
  • prostitution
  • live-in slaves for housekeeping and babysitting.

Their situation is not unique. All over the world there are street children who are abandoned while very young and who have to survive on very mean streets. Society has no use for them and they are treated poorly. They have no defenders. They grow up to become young men and women who perpetuate the same situation on another generation.

IMG_2291Titus Luther came to the Solomon Islands from Papua New Guinea. He had been the Foursquare National Director of Youth there. He opened a community center to serve meals to the street kids. He offered them chances to learn to read. He shared the life of Jesus in word and deed. He found among these young men and women that there were some with pastors’ hearts. So he built an Institute outside of town and began to teach them . When they are ready they are sent to one of the 300+ occupied Solomon Islands to bring the good news of Jesus.

Titus invited me to Solomon Islands to assist him in a water distribution project (see Water). His vision was for abundant fresh water to be available to all of the students on all corners of the Institute campus (they had neither water nor electricity). I met amazing, talented young men and women who have been transformed by Jesus at the school. No matter how marginalized they had felt, no matter how valueless they had seen themselves, and no matter how hopeless their situation seemed, there was a God in Heaven who knew them. God wants the unwanted! So while society neglects “the unwanted,” by the touch of Jesus these have become “the sent.”

O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.

…For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. (Psalm 139:1-6, 13-16)

These men and women were never out of God’s sight, but He had been out of theirs. So He sent an invitation. He always sends an invitation. He condescends to use us to deliver it. These marginalized men and women saw a loving God and said yes. They were actually never unwanted. God wanted them to come home to Him, to be loved, to become King’s kids.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Trusted

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.(1Peter 3:14-16)

TrustedHow do I share Jesus in a secularized society? At this point in history America is a post-Christian nation. While there are certain legacy morality and ethical after-effects, we have seen a fundamental shift. Some would even say that Christianity is viewed with hostility by secular America (though in general I don’t believe it has gone that far). Christianity enjoyed favored status in America for many years. Our laws reflect the privilege given to the church. But our nation has become secularized and pluralistic. No longer does Christianity represent the dominant culture of America.

Sadly, the church did not offer a distinct alternative to the world in America. On the contrary, it got in bed with Western culture. It is hard to separate the democratic republic America from the American church.  Both embrace the same consumerism. The church no longer stands in contrast to society, but has became complicit. The cynicism of our next generation is understandable.

We live in times that mirror Rome in many ways. All roads that propose to lead to God are acceptable (except, increasingly, Christianity, which makes exclusive claims). So what do we do? How do we find a voice in these days? For one, it is imperative that the people of Jesus engender trust in the communities in which we live and work. That should not even have to be said – the very mark of the life of Jesus compels us as such. But we are human and broken and our brokenness shows itself to the world around us when we fail to be the people of Jesus. We still have to learn what it means to be shining lights in this culture. We have to walk in the selfless love that Jesus said would pour out of His Spirit-led people.

Our lives should look different. Something radical has taken place. God says of us that we are more than conquerors through Christ (Rom 8:37). He calls us ambassadors of reconciliation (2Cor 5:18ff). Paul tells us, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20).” The power of the Holy Spirit in me is supposed to be evidenced by the change in me. I have a compelling testimony of what Jesus has done in my life. As the Apostle Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom 1:16).” We live with contentment in all of our circumstances, even the difficult ones, because “the just shall live by faith (Hab 2:4).” So when we encounter the world, no matter where, we are compelled to share Jesus.

I recently read a post wherein the Christian leader advised caution when a Christian chaplain or pastor or trusted friend is given the honor of caring for someone of another faith tradition who is approaching death. He said we should be “very much on guard against manipulating conversations given that we have a captive audience.” The post encourages caregivers to be sensitive to the beliefs of the person approaching death. I agree. Showing respect and listening gives the caregiver credibility. The sensitive care and love shown to the dying patient opens doors of understanding.

That said, I am somewhat troubled by this notion of being “on guard” since this an end-of-life issue. As a person of conviction I do not regard sharing truth as a form of manipulation. In fact, the trusted place I hold gives me the freedom and responsibility to do so. I am certainly not going to hold back the essential truth while someone’s life is slipping away. I will show sensitivity, but there is urgency as well. This is how we give a thirsty soul a cup of cold water in the name of Jesus.

“And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42)

Loving people without an end game or an agenda builds trust. Being trusted gives me room to love in the name of Jesus and to share openly about the hope I have within. No, I am not ashamed of the Gospel.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment