Where would I be, if there weren’t some adults who invested their heart into my personal development? They cared for me, saw my potential and encouraged me to grow as I was trying to figure out what this life is about. Life is a gift and we are all meant to explore the beauty of it. Each one of us is alive for a reason. As I am still on my journey of exploring and designing life following the footsteps of Jesus, I realized how important it is to have people in my life who supported and challenged me on this road.
So here I am in Vancouver starting my job as the Elevation Program Manager at Greater Vancouver Youth Unlimited. I am excited to be part of this organization, working with youth in a cross-cultural context. In my personal development cross-cultural experiences have been very influential. Growing up in a big family in Germany who always had an open house for people from all over the world, I became curious about different cultures. It was my dream to live in a different country making my own experiences one day. It was after Highschool when I packed my bags and volunteered with the Mennonite Central Committee in Vancouver for a year in 2011.
It was the beginning of a story that now is continuing. It was in Vancouver that I discovered my interest in pursuing ministry.
The International Day of Peace gives us here at JustUs the opportunity to reflect on why we exist. JustUs was born out of the desire to equip people to respond to God’s invitation to join Him in His reconciling work – His shalom-making and peace-building work.
Peace-building is hard work. It requires knowledge, humility, perseverance, wisdom, grace, diligence, and energy. There are always going to be distractions and disruptions along the way and sometimes it takes great discernment to know how to proceed. The past few weeks have been a time where great discernment is necessary.
On September 4, 2018, a Statement on the Gospel and Social Justice was released by a group of thirteen initial signers. The signatories claim that the “social justice” movement presents “dangerous and false teachings that threaten the gospel, misrepresent Scripture, and lead people away from the grace of God in Jesus Christ.”
The social justice world is full of people who react. We react to people who are hungry. We react to people who are marginalized. We react to pipelines, and privilege, and racism, and leaders who say things we disagree with. We react to situations where we see that something is broken and we know things could be different, more whole and healthy.
But, what if we aren’t called to react?
Stick with me here. I’m not saying that we should cast the powerful call of Jesus aside, but what if reacting to the need is not what Jesus is calling us to do? What if he instead is calling us to respond to him.
The difference between reacting to a need and responding to the person of Jesus may be slight in appearance, but I think it is a powerful and important difference, especially if we are committed to transformation – both in ourselves and in the world.
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.
In the constant mess of American politics today, there is one attitude that saddens me particularly deeply every time it surfaces. This is the truly reprehensible attitude toward non-white countries in the developing world that is openly displayed by the US president and mirrored by so many others.
Now, I have disagreed fiercely with these same people over their handling of many other topics – women, health care, business ethics, police brutality, mass shootings, media, immigration…the list goes on. But the inherently racist and unjust comments disparaging developing countries really hit a nerve for me. In part, this is because I have the great privilege of working in the country of Rwanda,
and now that I know and love so many incredible Rwandans and the beautiful country they call home, I am highly upset at the idea that anyone would look down on them. It may also be that I am unfortunately quite used to blatant misogyny, vocal disdain for the welfare state, NRA crusaders, and more, but I’m not as used to people openly trashing developing countries and the people who live in them. It seemed to me that we were progressing, albeit slowly, toward tolerance and global citizenship – but now that the current US president is championing bigotry, many others who feel the same way seem empowered to be more vocal about it. It feels like we’re moving backward.
The questions I’ve been asking lately are: how can we even recognize the need for justice unless we pay attention enough to really listen? Are we truly hearing the heart-song of those around us? Do we really see poverty for what it is?
Recently I led a vision trip to Rwanda and, as per usual, participants were eager to bring busloads of soccer balls, one thousand pencils, and used clothing to help the poor in this starving African country. We are so quick to band-aid the pain we see, not so much to seek solutions but to ease our own consciences. “We have so much and they have so little!” is a common phrase I hear when we consider those who are economically disadvantaged – until we begin to really see and hear their stories.
While in Rwanda, our team had the privilege of visiting the Azizi Life Village where we spent the day engaging with a collective of artisan women. These women have joined forces and are using their skills to earn an income and support one another in their community.
I woke up in the middle of the night the other night – something that’s not unusual for me, particularly when my body is still trying to adjust its clock from a trip overseas. After not being able to get back to sleep for a few minutes my typical course of action is to reach for a book, so that’s what I did. I’m in the middle of reading a wonderful book called, “The Hate U Give,” which tells a story of racism in the US through the eyes of a 16-year-old girl after injustice touches her life in a tragic way. The book has me thinking a lot about systemic racism in the United States, particularly in the law enforcement and justice systems, but also in the smaller, everyday places, like within and between neighbourhoods and friends.
Almost two years ago now, Kara Cheng wrote a timely blog post that captured the heart of JustUs, and the heart of God, when it comes to how we react to the events that take place in this world, and how we feel about the people we share it with. Unfortunately, her sentiments are just as relevant today as they were then. While the tragedies that plague our world have changed slightly in those two years, the fear in our hearts and our reactions caused by it have not, so we’re pulling this one from the archives to remind us of God’s heart for every single person on this planet, and how we, as His followers, should love them.
Every morning when I wake up the first thing I do is check my phone. Nearly every morning my screen is flooded with BBC News alerts informing me of two things 1) an act of terror that has occurred and 2) Donald Trump. What a way to wake up…
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?
- Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.
- Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.
This hymn by Charles Wesley expresses the hopeful longing of the Advent and Christmas seasons. We know that Christ was born, lived, died and was resurrected. We know that Immanuel, ‘God with us’, is with us – goes before us, and is at our side, even now. Yet still we long for the day when God’s kingdom is fully realized. Our hearts are touched by the poverty and injustices we see in the world and cry, “thy gracious kingdom bring!” – the day when all things will be reconciled, made new. In a world that often seems full of pain and darkness, the hope and the longing sit, almost paradoxically, side by side with the joy of this time of celebration.