A few weeks ago I found myself in a school in Rubavu, a district of Rwanda, right on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. I was there because of a letter.
I received it from a group of parents who represented schools in the area. It was signed by 74 of them though it had been written by a parent of this school, GS Muhato. It’s a public school in one of the poorest parts of Rwanda, an area that among other issues, is struggling with sky high school dropout rates, high levels of gender-based violence and incidences of human trafficking. The school has over 1,300 students and is trying hard to provide an education with a lack of resources, in a system that to say the least, isn’t as functional as it should be.
But why had I received the letter?
Nearly two years ago the Wellspring Foundation, who I have the privilege to lead, had started working in the school to help them develop what we call a vibrant school community, one where no child is left behind in the quest for a quality education. As part of our work, we know we have to work with parents and engage them in their children’s schooling. Yet, in a place where there is a daily struggle to survive, this isn’t easy to do. Continue reading
I used to think that as the world evolved and humans began to look at the destruction we have caused one another over the centuries, we would begin to come into line with Martin Luther King’s famous saying “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I still believe that. But it doesn’t take a seasoned look at the world today, to see that that arc is a lot longer than I at first believed.
My newsfeed is filled with images and stories of depravity and soulless cruelty from across the world. A father and child dead in a river after trying to find a better life in the USA. Children in cages being told to drink from toilets in Texas. Ships full of migrants not being allowed to dock in European ports. Ebola ridden bodies being thrown into clinics in the DRC. “Send her back” being chanted at political rallies
The Problem of Dehumanization
And of course, these are just the stories that make the news. It seems injustice and cruelty towards our fellow humans is more or less endemic to our modern society. Continue reading
The world as we knew it ended at 7.32 AM December 10th 2018. That was when we got the phone call every parent dreads. Our wonderful and deeply loved son Chris had died suddenly from what we later found out was a pulmonary embolism, the result of a work place injury he had sustained just over a week before.
We had been called by his wife Karla about 45 minutes before and had jumped in the car scrambling as fast as we could to drive the hour and fifteen minutes to their home. Instead, the call came as we were stuck in a traffic jam, trying to get to him in time. I will never forget the howl of despair that escaped me as Helen wept beside me, or the desperate sadness of calling his sister Sarah to tell her. Or lying next to him on the floor an hour later, trying to summon the words to say goodbye. Knowing he had already gone. That everything was broken.
In the aftermath, trying to breathe, trying to stand, trying to comprehend, I found myself asking questions of God, asking him how this could happen, what could we have done differently, how could we carry on without Chris’s laughter and infectious joy in our lives? I wanted to find solace, to feel God wrap me in his arms like a father would for any deeply hurt child.
But all I heard was silence. Continue reading
Like many others, I watched the events that unfolded in Parkland Florida with heartache and horror. 17 young lives snatched away in a few tragic moments to yet more gun violence. Sadly, I also watched it with despair, knowing that this has happened so many times before and will likely happen many times again.
And then Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg and their friends emerged from the carnage and found their voices. Voices that have rung true and strong. Voices that shout ,“Never Again”. Voices of youth who refuse to be silenced in the US and around the world.
I was moved to tears by the six minutes of silence that Emma shared as she spoke at the Washington March For Our Lives.[i] Six minutes that showed the short amount of time that allowed the horror to unfold. But six minutes that also showed the passion of a new generation.
Many of us have been expecting that passion to erupt for a while. We felt there might be some trigger that would explode the pent-up desire that this generation has to change the world, to be voices of reason in an insane culture and to say enough is enough. Gun violence was that trigger but that voice is emerging in so many other spheres as well. Environmental activism, the #metoo campaign, standing with Aboriginal brothers and sisters and so much more besides. It seems that it’s time for the youth to lead and for those of us who care and see the writing on the wall, to cheer them on.
As we come into 2018, I’m thinking of three things.
- What are my New Year’s resolutions?
- How can I avoid the endless sense of crisis and darkness I see every time I look at the news or open Twitter?
- How can I be a tiny part of making the world a better place?
Well in order:
- I don’t have any, they don’t work. I break them all by January the 3rd anyway, so what’s the point?
- It’s all around me and its almost impossible to avoid. I don’t have to dwell on it though or believe that it defines my existence. I just have to find a way to be part of turning the tide.
Which brings me to number three: How can I be a tiny part of making the world a better place?
Am I alone in wondering what it means to be an evangelical who stands for justice in today’s culture?
It’s been obvious for a long time that the centre of gravity in much of evangelical Christianity has shifted far to the right and has strayed a long way from the original intent of what the word evangelical meant. Those of us who believe in a truly biblically-based Gospel that is good news for everyone including the poor, used to use the word evangelical to describe ourselves with a sense of honour. So much wonderful justice-based work around the world has flowed from the compassionate heart of evangelicals who have talked about the true Jesus and then lived it out, sometimes at the cost of their own lives. Faith in action has fed the hungry, comforted the afflicted, protected the vulnerable, and spoken words of truth and eternal life that have been imbued with power because of the actions and lifestyle that back them up. Yet in recent years and particularly in the last few months, that word has been so devalued and distorted that it has come to represent something entirely different from its original meaning.
Like many others, I have been appalled at how the word evangelical has been misused by those who equate the profoundly beautiful truths Jesus embodied with a far right political philosophy that seems to endorse the pursuit of money, power and racial division. In its latest deeply distressing iteration, this has extended to the minimalizing of sexual harassment and violent behaviour towards women and even children. Some days it seems that the good news of Jesus Christ has been supplanted by a divisive and dangerous agenda as espoused by those who have the biggest mouths and most clogged filters. Now it has gone beyond the tipping point. In light of the fact that so many so-called evangelical leaders have chosen to stand with racist, misogynist, arrogant liars as the men [and it is almost always men] they choose to lead their country, it’s clear that we have moved into deeply dangerous territory. Continue reading
Like so many of you, I was horrified to see the events in Charlottesville that culminated in the deaths of three people, including Heather Heyer, who died protesting the alt-right rallies. She was murdered by a Nazi. That’s right, a Nazi. In 2017.
We have to take time to consider how this atrocious act was allowed to happen, and I need to look no further than my Facebook feed to see the roots. There were many posts from others disturbed at what they saw about the need to fight racism, often accompanied by pictures of white supremacists carrying torches to a gathering reminiscent of Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies. Others commented that the opposition protesters at Charlottesville were paid and that liberals were to blame for the violence.
This past week, the Canadian government published its long awaited International Assistance Policy. As the leader of an organization that has good links with Global Affairs Canada, the department responsible for funding and carrying this policy out, I and many colleagues were curious to know what it would contain. What would the Canadian posture be towards the poor and marginalized around the world? How would it seek to bring help and promote good development? How would we care for those in desperate situations who need assistance?
The answer? We would have a ‘feminist lens.’ Continue reading
I’ve just returned from a trip to Rwanda, where I met with the staff of Wellspring, the organization I am privileged to lead. Our work is in education in East Africa, mostly in Rwanda, a place I have visited many times. Yet for some reason, this trip hit me harder than ever and I think I came deeper into contact with God’s heart for the poor there than on any of my previous visits.
We’ve been working mostly in the region of the capital Kigali, where we’ve taken one of the school districts as a model to help show what education can look like. It’s been a wonderful, rich time and we’ve seen schools be transformed as we’ve worked with leaders, teachers, parents and students to prefer worth and dignity on them, as well as to be part of transforming the education system at both a grassroots and national level. I think I’d gotten a bit used to seeing improvements at the level I have over the last five years. But on this trip, I visited the district of Rubavu, way out to the west of Rwanda, right on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. And what I learned shocked me.
As I write these words I have just heard that a truck has careered through a crowded Christmas market in Berlin. The US electoral college is about to pass the majority to elect a President that many feel is not representative of the will of the people or qualified, due to his complicated history with morality and truth, and who has put climate change deniers and conspiracy theorists at the center of his government. The shells are falling on Aleppo where thousands of civilians are huddled in the wreckage of a once vibrant city. The Russian Ambassador to Turkey has been shot dead. And in one night alone in the last week, 9 people died on the streets of Vancouver from overdosing on fentanyl.
And we call this the season of good cheer?
Can’t we just press the reset button to Make. This. Stop?