Electronic Stories are Influencing Your Children

“Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1 NIV).

The apostle James’s warning carries at least one obvious implication: teachers influence their listeners. This is especially true if the listeners are children, who of all humans are most malleable, most easily shaped (for good or evil) and whose potential still lies mostly before them.

In fact, Jesus himself has a warning for message abuse directed toward children: “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:6 NIV).

All that to raise a question: Who is influencing our children? Who are their teachers? Whose stories are they hearing?

electronic stories are influencing our childrenIn an earlier day, teachers were respected community leaders. They used stories (as Jesus did) to transmit beliefs, to teach virtues, to build character. Stories are effective platforms to propagate truth. And lies.

To a great extent, our childrens’ story tellers today are entertainers, celebrities. For that matter, anyone with a video camera and an internet connection. Their ubiquitous messages via electronic screens wash over our society with words and images to lure and deceive.

Dr. David Walsh spells out some of the issues in the video below.

  • 68% of kids in the US have a TV in their bedroom (including 25% of kids under two).
  • The typical school-age child spends 44 hours every week in front of a screen (up from 28 hours just 15 years ago).
  • “Whoever tells the stories defines the culture.”
  • “The power of story hasn’t changed. What’s changed is who the story tellers are.”

– Gary Brumbelow

 

See these posts on related topics:

Enslaved to Our Screens

Stories and Sermons: Two Genres, One Powerful Effect

Les Miserables: The Power of a Story to Give Hope

  
Posted in Culture, Language | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The Unique Role of the Local Church in Developing a Flourishing Community, 4 of 4

Dwight VogtWe are happy to post, in four installments, a paper by our Disciple Nations Alliance colleague, Dwight Vogt, on a subject of vital concern to our readers. Go here to read Dwight’s excellent paper in its entirety.

 

The Unique Role of the Local Church in Developing a Flourishing Community

This paper is addressed to those who have a heart to bring hope and healing to broken communities and believe that the local church has an important role to play in this endeavor. It is particularly aimed at those who work cross-culturally to alleviate chronic poverty and bring development change to communities.

This paper is written to encourage us to take a step back and ask, “What is the unique strength and role of the local church in helping its community to develop and flourish?” And also, “How can we best equip and support the local church in fulfilling its strategic role?”

[Continued from parts 1, 2 and 3.]

 

  1. Initiate

It is important that the church participate in development efforts initiated by community leaders or others, but there is something particularly energizing and impactful when followers of Christ initiate actions on their own with their own resources to help their neighbors and community develop and flourish.

For one Christian husband and wife in northern Uganda, this meant committing on their own to pay the school fees for the daughter of a nearby widow so she could go to school and develop her mind and gifts.

No change occurs without someone initiating or taking action. But to initiate means to take a risk—it takes courage. This is why God told Joshua several times to be strong and courageous as he led the people of Israel into the promised land. This command applies to all those who follow Christ. God calls the church and its members to initiate acts of love and activities that will help develop their community. This does not mean the pastor or a church member needs to be the community leader. Often, you can initiate by being the first to support a good idea and the first to offer to carry it out.

However, not everything is done through a community effort. One of the best-known stories Jesus ever told was that of the Good Samaritan. It is the story of a man who sees the need of another and acts on it. As followers of Christ and members of the local church, we are called as individuals and collectively to initiate a response with our own time and resources to help others overcome difficulties and develop.

How can the outside visiting church team, Christian development organization or wholistic mission help a local church to initiate? Too often this partnership is characterized by the outside group doing something for the local church or having the local church participate in and support efforts designed or developed by the outsider. Careful thought needs to be given as to how to help the local church take the risk to obey God’s call and initiate a response of their own design, with their own resources, on their own time, and in their own way to help others and promote development in their own community.[1]

Recently, I visited some churches and communities in Africa where no development agency or mission was involved. The only outside influence was several months of training for some of the local churches in the four areas mentioned above, delivered by trainers who lived in the area themselves. Church members told me about their activities in the community. One church had launched a new savings and credit scheme. Another member started a small business. A group of women rented land and collectively farmed it to provide a widow’s fund. Another church built a home for a widow and started a new poultry project.

On their own initiative, they had envisioned these activities, planned and organized them, found the technical resources, and identified and applied the expertise. Not surprisingly, they were doing all these activities with no outside financial resources.

They clearly had a new vision for their role in the development of the community. They were participating in its development by promoting truth and new ideas that fostered development, taking risks, and initiating with their own resources and time.

Interestingly, the result they talked most about was a new sense of unity as churches and members of the community worked together and shared in the training.

These were all things they could have done five years ago. Why not then? Why now? From what they shared it was because they had a new understanding of God’s purposes for the life of their community and their own lives. They also had a new understanding of their role as a church. These new understandings made the difference. To use a previous term, they had new metaphysical capital on which to build and act.

Will this new way of thinking and living last? Is such change sustainable? In the case of the Watoto Church of Kampala, Uganda, it has lasted. The nature and function of this church is still impacted by training received 12 years ago. The result then was a changed paradigm—and changed paradigms last as they are a change in worldview and all the implications that flow from it.

What are we to do?

If this is the unique role of the local church in helping its community to develop and flourish, then what are we to do to help them? How can we best equip and support the local church in fulfilling each of these four critical roles?

What are we doing to help the local church and its members to:

  • Carry vision? To understand and bring God’s vision for development to the community and its people; to discern what it means for God’s kingdom to come, his will to be done, in their personal lives and in their community; to see their community through God’s lenses and purposes; to be the stewards of God’s vision for the thriving and flourishing of their community? How are we helping the church members know and carry this vision through their personal lives and daily work into every sphere of community life?
  • Promote truth and confront lies? To see and understand the underlying worldview-level truth that creates the conditions for flourishing lives and communities and to counter the underlying worldview-level deceptions that lead to brokenness, suffering, and all forms of poverty. How are we helping the church members promote truth and confront lies?
  • Participate with others? To be the first to join and support the good ideas and good work initiated by others that contribute to the development of the community and its people. How are we helping the church members participate with others in the development of their community?
  • Initiate? To see an unmet need or opportunity and initiate a response with their own resources, in their own way, on their own time-frame that will help others flourish as God intends and bring positive change to their community. How are we helping the church members initiate in this way?

May God help us in these amazing and challenging times to continue to think critically about how we can best serve him for the benefit of those he loves.

 

  • Dwight Vogt

 

Dwight Vogt serves as the vice president of international programs. Before coming to the DNA, he worked for 27 years at Food for the Hungry, including field-based leadership roles in Bangladesh, Peru, Thailand and Guatemala. Dwight is the author of Footings for Children: Imparting a Biblical Worldview So They Can Thrive. He earned his master’s degree in intercultural studies and missiology from Biola University. He has three adult children and lives with his wife, Deborah, in Phoenix, Arizona.

Part 1 of the series.

Part 2 of the series.

Part 3 of the series.

 

 

  
Posted in Church, Development, Poverty, Wholism | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Is Ferguson Really Only About Different Perspectives?

Ferguson,_Day_4,_Photo_26

“Ferguson, Day 4, Photo 26″ by Loavesofbread – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Ferguson, Missouri is a reminder that ideas have consequences. In America, the rejection of God has led to the abandonment of truth. If we live in an un-created, purposeless universe, there can be no ultimate truth, only different perspectives. This may sound philosophical, but the implications are very real. This false and destructive idea has taken root in our culture and it is bearing real-world fruit.

Dennis Prager helps us understand what is happening in Ferguson in light of this cultural lie in his recent editorial, We Have a Moral Divide, Not a Racial One.

The left is philosophically deconstructionist. Shakespeare doesn’t say what he wrote, Shakespeare says what the reader perceives. The notion of “original intent” as applied to the Constitution is, to the left, farcical. We cannot know the original intent. It’s all a matter of individual perception — or, more precisely, the perception of different socioeconomic classes, different genders and different races.

And, of course, for the left there is no moral truth. Morality is entirely subjective. “Good” and “evil” are individual or societal preferences. No more, no less.

Like truth, morality is just a perception, one determined by an individual’s race, gender, and/or class. That is why, for the left, no man can judge any abortion, no matter how late in pregnancy and no matter the reason — because men do not possess a uterus.

So who are you, white man, to condemn black protests? You have your perceptions and they have theirs. What you have to do is what the Los Angeles Times did during the 1992 Los Angeles riots, during which 53 people died as a result of black rioting — including 41 by shooting, four in fires, three by beating and two in stabbings. The Times titled its special section each day of the riots “Understanding the Riots.”

So, if there are riots following the Ferguson’s Grand Jury decision, we’ll know how to behave: no judgment, just understanding. After all, there is no truth; there are only perceptions. 

 – Scott Allen

Related posts:

The SEDUCTION of Relativism: Why the DNA Affirms Truth and Not Merely Belief

The POWER OF TRUTH in a World of Illusion

A Secularist Inquisition: Houston and Freedom of Religion

  
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The Unique Role of the Local Church in Developing a Flourishing Community, 3 of 4

Dwight VogtWe are happy to post, in four installments, a paper by our Disciple Nations Alliance colleague, Dwight Vogt, on a subject of vital concern to our readers. Go here to read Dwight’s excellent paper in its entirety.

 

The Unique Role of the Local Church in Developing a Flourishing Community

This paper is addressed to those who have a heart to bring hope and healing to broken communities and believe that the local church has an important role to play in this endeavor. It is particularly aimed at those who work cross-culturally to alleviate chronic poverty and bring development change to communities.

This paper is written to encourage us to take a step back and ask, “What is the unique strength and role of the local church in helping its community to develop and flourish?” And also, “How can we best equip and support the local church in fulfilling its strategic role?”

[Continued from parts 1 and 2.]

 

  1. Promote Truth (reverse lies)

Chris Ampadu of Ghana does training with churches across West Africa. He says that the one thing that most hinders development progress in West Africa is fatalism. Because of this, he focuses a key part of his training on helping the church promote truth that will overcome and reverse the lie of fatalism.

Darrow Miller says that if a community and its culture are being shaped by a mental stronghold rather than by Christ and the biblical worldview that comports with reality, we do well to help the local church break this stronghold in their own minds and in the mind of the community.

While other groups and agencies may bring greater knowledge and more expertise in, say, nutrition, or business development, etc., it is the pastor and members of the local church who can best be aware of the underlying ideas (the worldview level assumptions) at work in their community. Those that are true, that comport fully with reality and lead to flourishing as God designed—these, the church is to promote. For example, the idea that God gave us the responsibility to rule over all the earth (all aspects of life). Those ideas that are not true—that are distortions of the truth—are false worldviews that Satan uses to enslave and impoverish individuals and communities. These, the church is to recognize and counter.

Here, we are again speaking of creating the conditions for development—the metaphysical capital, the basic ideas about life on which people build their lives and community.

Every culture is embedded with lies. For example, consider the idea that “we are subject to the gods.” This is the belief that the earth god or mountain god controls everything. Under this belief, the people must appease this god, often and at great cost and sacrifice, including not adapting innovations or new technology that may offend this god.

Another example is the idea that “we are destined to poverty. We are born poor and will die poor. No effort on our part can change our future, so why try?” This makes any change for the better look completely out of reach.

A third example is “we have no resources and cannot do anything by ourselves. We need outsiders to help us.” People who believe this lie are not able to see the many resources God has given them, including their own creativity, resourcefulness, time and energy. Yet, when mobilized, each of these gifts can help them make significant differences in their own lives and communities.

An idea that continues to grow in the West is that all of life is material and natural. There is no actual spiritual realm, no God, no Creator. There is no immaterial soul. Our sense of being, our minds and personalities, are all products of our physical brains and environment. The essence of life is matter. This idea undermines the truth in many ways, especially the truth that all persons are made in the image of God—which is ultimately the basis for universal human dignity, the equal worth and sacredness of every person, and fundamental human rights.

These are just a few examples.

Worldview level truth is fundamental to the sustained and healthy development of an individual, a community, and a nation. It creates the necessary conditions for development. Yet, it is often unseen, overlooked, or dismissed by those who are actively working to address poverty and help a community develop and thrive.

The local church and its members need to grow and excel in knowing and sharing truth at the level of worldview—the level of core ideas about nature, about people, about work, about the spiritual realm. In doing so they will foster development and counter the lies that lead to underdevelopment. Jesus said the truth will set us free (John 8:31-32). This includes setting communities and families free from poverty.

The local church and its members are uniquely qualified for this role because they live in the community and have the Spirit of Christ within them to enable them to clearly see and understand the underlying truth and deceptions that shape their community and society. They can promote what is true and counter what is deception.

They also understand that truth and knowledge are not enough, but that there is a need for a change in the heart or human spirit which comes through the Gospel of Christ.

The visiting church team or outside Christian mission or agency that wants to strengthen the local church in its role in the development of the community can do so by helping the church discern and promote truth and also counter destructive lies at this fundamental or worldview level.

  1. Participate

God’s clear call to the local church is to love and bless others, starting with their neighbors and community. Jesus set the example by serving others. For the local church this means it will not only carry vision and promote worldview level truth for the development of its community—it will also actively participate in this development. Members will not just participate when they are leading but will join and support the good work initiated by others. If the community leaders call for a clean-up day, the church is the first to show up, knowing that God has called them to have dominion over trash in their community and to love and serve their neighbor. If an outside agency offers nutrition training, the church members join in, knowing that God has called them to care for their children and steward their health.

If the visiting church team or outside Christian mission or agency wants to strengthen the local church in its role of helping the community flourish, it can encourage the church to participate in the good work being done by others. An outside group can also model this by participating in and supporting the work of others.

– Dwight Vogt

… to be continued

Dwight Vogt serves as the vice president of international programs. Before coming to the DNA, he worked for 27 years at Food for the Hungry, including field-based leadership roles in Bangladesh, Peru, Thailand and Guatemala. Dwight is the author of Footings for Children: Imparting a Biblical Worldview So They Can Thrive. He earned his master’s degree in intercultural studies and missiology from Biola University. He has three adult children and lives with his wife, Deborah, in Phoenix, Arizona.

Part 1 of the series.

Part 2 of the series.

  
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The Unique Role of the Local Church in Developing a Flourishing Community, 2 of 4

Dwight VogtWe are happy to post, in four installments, a paper by our Disciple Nations Alliance colleague, Dwight Vogt, on a subject of vital concern to our readers. Go here to read Dwight’s excellent paper in its entirety.

 

The Unique Role of the Local Church in Developing a Flourishing Community

This paper is addressed to those who have a heart to bring hope and healing to broken communities and believe that the local church has an important role to play in this endeavor. It is particularly aimed at those who work cross-culturally to alleviate chronic poverty and bring development change to communities.

This paper is written to encourage us to take a step back and ask, “What is the unique strength and role of the local church in helping its community to develop and flourish?” And also, “How can we best equip and support the local church in fulfilling its strategic role?”

[Continued from part 1.]

 

  1. Carry Vision

When we think about a local church having a role in the development of its community we typically think in terms of it doing activities. Should it start a day-care program, fill potholes in the road, run an addiction recovery program, or launch a feeding ministry? Next we think about where to obtain the necessary resources for such, especially if the church is poor.

However, there is another critical aspect of development in which the church has an especially unique role to play. This is creating the conditions or climate that will enable the community and its people to thrive and flourish.

The reality is that God loves every community and member. God desires that each develops and flourishes as he intended. As the architect, engineer, giver and sustainer of all aspects of life, God knows exactly how a particular community and its people can best thrive and flourish. It is the local church—the local members of the body of Christ—that are best able to see and understand this reality. Through God’s Spirit, they can have the mind of Christ. They can know God’s vision and see his good purposes for their community and neighbors. At the Disciple Nations Alliance (DNA) we refer to this vision as having a kingdom worldview or biblical worldview.

In the field of international development people speak of having five necessary types of capital for development: Financial capital, natural capital or natural resources, productive capital such as tools and equipment, human capital or people with knowledge, skills, energy, and physical and mental health; and social capital. Social capital refers to the level of trust and good will between people that enables them to cooperate, help one another and engage in efforts that are mutually beneficial and do not just lead to individual gain–particularly individual gain at the expense of another. All of these types of capital are important. However, Darrow Miller in his books LifeWork and Discipling the Nations gives another form of capital that is critical for a community to develop as God intends. This is the “metaphysical capital” of underlying ideas or worldview assumptions. This capital ultimately underpins all of the other forms of capital. It is a society’s assumptions about the spiritual world, the nature of man, the nature of the physical world, good and evil, and the purpose and direction of life.

A healthy worldview—one based on biblical truth (or reality as it really is)—produces productive consequences. It creates the conditions for development. Whereas an unhealthy worldview—one based on a faulty understanding of life—produces destructive consequences and more problems.

In a spirit of humility and not triumphalism, it is the role of the body of Christ in a community to know and bring this vision—this understanding of reality and God’s vision to a community.

This is a unique strength and thus a critical and strategic role for the church.

The church is to carry a vision that champions development at three levels:

  • The individual level—an understanding of each person as an image-bearer of God and yet also broken and in need of restoration, and all the implications of these truths. A vision for persons doing what is right and good, working together, living by the golden rule, developing their minds and abilities and using these to better their lives and communities, etc.[1]
  • The physical level—an understanding of the first commandment given by God to all mankind in Genesis 1 and 2. This is the creation mandate or development commandment, the command to develop and flourish, to rule over all the earth—all aspects of life.[2] It is a vision to overcome the physical challenges of life, to improve, fix, organize, solve, and produce. A vision that ranges from providing food for children to improving healthcare, from making useful products to building roads. A vision to create beauty in all areas of life.
  • The institutional level–a vision for fair and just laws and their enforcement, for well-functioning families, schools, businesses, and government. A vision to create a culture marked by goodness and justice where all persons can develop and contribute.

It is the local body of Christ—be they farmers, business persons, school teachers, day-laborers, pastors, or leaders in the community—that can best see their community through God’s lenses and purposes. They can understand that none of God’s commands are arbitrary but rather are rooted in his wisdom and desire that people flourish spiritually, physically, mentally, and socially. They can best see what it means for God’s kingdom to come, his will to be done, in their own lives and in their community. They are the trustees and stewards of God’s vision for the well-being of their community.

How does the local church carry this vision to their community? Through the lives and vocations of its members who know and experience it in their own lives. The school teacher carries it into the school and the classroom. The farmer carries it to his work in the field and into his conversations with other farmers. The mother carries it into her home and into the market. The artist carries it into the art gallery, the engineer to the drafting table, the architect to his drawing, the policeman to his patrol, and the pastor to his pulpit.

Part of a local church “carrying the vision” is recognizing that it is not to be an isolated or internally focused group of people. It is understanding, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The church is only the church when it exists for others.” This understanding, as Pastor Gary Skinner of Watoto Church in Kampala, Uganda said, “The problems of the city are the problems of the church.”

Therefore, the task of the visiting church team or outside Christian mission or agency in helping the local church carry out its unique role in the development of the community is to help this church and its members to first understand and then carry God’s intentions—his vision—into the community through their daily lives and vocations.

– Dwight Vogt

… to be continued

[1] The list here could go on and on as God’s design for goodness, for thriving and flourishing touches every domain of human existence. As Abraham Kuyper said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”

[2] “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over (all the earth)” [Genesis 1:28 (26) ESV]  “He put him (Adam) there (in the garden) to work its ground and to take care of it.” [Genesis 2:15 (NIRV)]

Dwight Vogt serves as the vice president of international programs. Before coming to the DNA, he worked for 27 years at Food for the Hungry, including field-based leadership roles in Bangladesh, Peru, Thailand and Guatemala. Dwight is the author of Footings for Children: Imparting a Biblical Worldview So They Can Thrive. He earned his master’s degree in intercultural studies and missiology from Biola University. He has three adult children and lives with his wife, Deborah, in Phoenix, Arizona.

Part One of the series.

Related posts:

  
Posted in Church, Development, Poverty, Wholism | 1 Comment

The Unique Role of the Local Church in Developing a Flourishing Community, 1 of 4

Dwight VogtWe are happy to post, in four installments, a paper by our Disciple Nations Alliance colleague, Dwight Vogt, on a subject of vital concern to our readers. Go here to read Dwight’s excellent paper in its entirety.

 

The Unique Role of the Local Church in Developing a Flourishing Community

This paper is addressed to those who have a heart to bring hope and healing to broken communities and believe that the local church has an important role to play in this endeavor. It is particularly aimed at those who work cross-culturally to alleviate chronic poverty and bring development change to communities.

This paper is written to encourage us to take a step back and ask, “What is the unique strength and role of the local church in helping its community to develop and flourish?” And also, “How can we best equip and support the local church in fulfilling its strategic role?”

I recently saw a group of adults at the airport wearing matching t-shirts and carrying passports. I surmised they were from a local church and were going to another country to serve for a week or two in some community. Churches around the world are increasingly involved in cross-cultural ministry in partnership with a local church abroad.

In addition to these church-to-church initiatives we see international Christian relief and development organizations working to help the poor. Some are small and relatively new. Others are large and well-established and see themselves as functioning within the professional norms and practices of the international development community. Some cover a wide range of development sectors, including health care, education and agriculture. Others specialize in a particular area such as clean water or micro-finance. Whether small and new or large and well-established, most of these Christian agencies would say that they endeavor to partner with the local church whenever possible.

There are also growing numbers of mission organizations who identify their work as wholistic ministry. They engage in evangelism, church planting and discipleship and also endeavor to address the physical and development needs of the community.[1] Again, they emphasize doing this in partnership with the local church.

Finally, there is the Christian individual working with a secular development organization or  government agency. She also has a heart to see the local church carry out its role in the development of the community and desires to support the church toward this end.

All of these examples have two common denominators: Their involvement in addressing the poverty and development needs in the community, and their belief that this should be done in partnership with the local church.

If we are a member of one of the aforementioned groups, as I have been for over 30 years, we obviously believe that there is a role for the global church in addressing the poverty and development needs of a community or we would not be engaged in this way. Our desire to partner with the local church makes it clear that we believe it, too, has a critical role to play. So what is this role and how do we best support the local church in this?

We understand the role of the local church in worship, the study of the word, evangelism and discipleship. But what is its role in addressing the poverty and development needs of its community? What is its role in helping its neighbors and community to thrive and flourish as God intends?

I would like to suggest that there are four ways the local church is able to facilitate this change in the community:

  1. Carry Vision
  2. Promote Truth (reverse lies)
  3. Participate
  4. Initiate

… to be continued

– Dwight Vogt

[1] Albeit, the definition of wholistic ministry for many persons is much broader and deeper than this.

Dwight Vogt serves as the vice president of international programs. Before coming to the DNA, he worked for 27 years at Food for the Hungry, including field-based leadership roles in Bangladesh, Peru, Thailand and Guatemala. Dwight is the author of Footings for Children: Imparting a Biblical Worldview So They Can Thrive. He earned his master’s degree in intercultural studies and missiology from Biola University. He has three adult children and lives with his wife, Deborah, in Phoenix, Arizona.

Related posts:

 

  
Posted in Church, Development, Mission, Poverty | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

The Church and Development in Paraguay’s “Green Hell”

How can a people prosper in the midst of hardship and poverty? To a large degree, the answer has to do with the connection between the church and development. If we understand the power of God’s intentions we will not be surprised that the church and development go hand in hand.

The story of the Mennonite colonies that settled in the “Green Hell” of Paraguay’s Gran Chaco is an illustration of how God can work through a people to heal the land and help build a nation. In his book, Like a Mustard Seed, Mennonite author Edgar Stoesz tells just such a fascinating story. Stoesz answers the question “How did they prosper?” by examining nine principles that created the success of these colonies. The first principle is the preeminence of the church in the development process.

The Disciple Nations Alliance promotes Seven Foundational Truths. Four of these truths relate to the local church:

  • His key agent in this task [of discipling nations] is the local church (Ephesians 3:9-11)
  • The ministry of the church must be wholistic (Colossians 1:19-20)
  • The ministry of the church must be incarnational (John 17:15-19)
  • The local church must operate intentionally from the biblical worldview (Colossians 1:15-18)

church2.jpgEvery healthy society has two primary institutions: the family and the church. And the health of each is important for the health of a society. The DNA’s conviction is that the local church is God’s primary instrument for social transformation. The church and development go hand in hand.

Edgar Stoesz agrees. In Like a Mustard Seed Stoesz states that the Mennonite colonies that transformed the wilderness into a garden were usually sponsored or founded by a church. The earlier settlers in the Chaco suffered hardship from lack of food, limited water, and poor shelter. They often lived in tents, suffering extreme heat, drought, and major diseases. In the early decades of the settlements, hundreds of these pioneers died from disease and starvation. The hardships to tame this land were immense. It was the church and the Mennonites’ faith in God and his call upon their lives to settle this land which enabled the colonies to persist through the hardships.

Stoesz lists seven reasons[1] the church was so critical in the transformation of the land:

  1. The church is a unifying force that contributes to group solidarity.
  2. The church lays an ethical foundation for the larger community by teaching biblical values such as honesty, hard work, and above all, love of neighbor.
  3. The church serves as the conscience of the colony and helps bring balance to the materialistic and secular tendencies inherent in all human institutions.
  4. The church teaches and practices mutual aid, whereby the strong help the weak, making it possible for all to survive.
  5. The church serves as a social coordinator where friends meet each other.
  6. The church brings a transcendental dimension to the harsh realities of pioneer living and invokes a divine blessing on the effort.

Each of these helps to create a community of people who have the ability to live beyond their circumstances, a people with a vision for the kingdom of God that can call them forward even in the most dire circumstances.

No wonder the church and development go together.

  • Darrow Miller

[1] Stoesz, Edgar; Like a Mustard Seed: Mennonites in Paraguay; 2008; Herald Press, Scottdale, Pa. pg. 121.

 

This post is second in a series of ten on the transformation of the Gran Chaco in Paraguay.

First in the series: A Wasteland Transformed to a Garden 

Related posts:

13 Differences In Serving With a Kingdom Perspective

Toowoomba: Churches Together Transforming a City

Haiti and Israel: A Study in Contrasts

  
Posted in Church, Development, Economic Development | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

A Wasteland Transformed to a Garden

People often ask us, “Can you really disciple a nation? Is it really true that nations can be transformed, desolate lands can become gardens?”

Our answer is a resounding “Yes!” But there’s a vital piece that must be in place, a key, if you will: God is the primary worker and he acts in response to the obedience of his people. 2 Chronicles 7:14 places the emphasis where it belongs: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” It is God that heals the land and builds nations. But his work is in response to the faithful obedience of his children.

We have sought to chronicle how God has used individuals and groups to transform the land and their nation in a relatively short period of time. We have posted some of these examples on the Disciple Nations Alliance website:

Gran Chaco transformedNow we want to draw attention to a remote part of Paraguay, the Gran Chaco, known as “The Green Hell” because of its inhospitable nature. In the 1920’s a group of impoverished refugees settled here and, in less than 100 years, transformed a wasteland into a garden. We began to tell this story in an earlier post. Now, in a new series of blog posts we want to tell the story of how God used a group of poor refugees, with virtually no natural resources to create a flourishing land that supplies food and commodities not only to their nation of Paraguay, but also exports the same to Europe.

The Gran Chaco spans 400,000 square miles in four South American nations—Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Brazil. The Chaco is the largest dry forest in South America. Its hot and semi-arid lowland, intermixed with marshland, is sparsely populated. This inhospitable area has the descriptive title of “The Green Hell.”

Before the Mennonites arrived the Chaco was an uninhabited wasteland. The soil was infertile and the water had a high saline content. European settlers to Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Argentina found the land unwelcoming. They chose not to settle there. About 500 indigenous people eked out an existence that could be more accurately described as near starvation.

In 1536, Menno Simons, an Anabaptist reformer, founded the Mennonite Church. The rallying cry of the Mennonites was, “ For true evangelical faith … cannot lie dormant; but manifests itself in all righteousness and works of love; it … clothes the naked; feeds the hungry; consoles the afflicted; shelters the miserable; aids and consoles all the oppressed; returns good for evil; serves those that injure it; prays for those that persecute it.”

The Mennonites were often mistreated. Their persecutions drove them from Germany and Holland to immigrate to Russia, Canada, and the United States. During subsequent persecutions, wave upon wave of Mennonites moved to the barren lands of the Paraguayan Chaco. The first wave arrived from Canada in 1927. The second wave traveled from the Soviet Union in 1930, fleeing the Bolshevik Revolution.  A third wave from Russia arrived in 1947, following the displacement of World War II.  In 1948 more Canadian Mennonites immigrated.  Finally in the 1960’s small numbers of Mennonites moved from Mexico and Switzerland.

land transformed by five mennonite communitiesThey founded five colonies in the heart of the vast Chaco: Menno, Fernheim, Neuland, Friesland, and Volendam. See the graphic.

After eighty years of Mennonite faith and labor the Chaco had been transformed. That’s the report from researcher, and food & resource economist Kate Pankowska. In June 2014, Ms. Pankowska wrote an article, “Paraguayan Chaco- The Story of Thorn Forest or Cattle Ranchers?” She describes how the Mennonites transformed a desert into a garden.

In March 2012, I visited Paraguayan Chaco and had a chance to see it all with my own eyes. I managed to talk to some Mennonites living there and to see what they had built over these last eighty years since they started to settle in the region. Frankly, I was quite impressed by how they had organized their lives in the middle of nowhere with a desert-like climate (it was above 40 degrees Celsius at that time, so I know how the “green hell” can be). During my stay in the area of Filadelfia I visited a dairy farm with state of the art equipment for milk storage. Children were running barefoot around a well maintained farm house that had a very ordered and clean front and backyard. I talked to a dairy farmer, who owned the farm. With pride he told me about his cooperation with dairy scientists from Quebec to improve genetic material of his Holstein cows.

In the city, in Filadelfia I saw many things, including a Mennonite-run hospital that was just about to gain a new wing for an intensive care unit, the booming service industry in the city, Mennonite-run museums, impressive schools, restaurants, and clean streets, a rare find for Paraguay. I went through an impressive milk processing facility in Loma Plata, visited a highly mechanized processing factory of maní, and drunk [sic] water from the reverse osmosis system installed by the Mennonite cooperative in Filadelfia. As I found out later, it was all maintained internally by Mennonites, without any help from the Paraguayan government. The local people that I talked to told me the following: “the government comes here only to collect taxes and doesn’t do anything else”.

Pankowska  shares her concern that not everything the Mennonites are doing is good. (Go here to read more.)

How did the descendants of German and Dutch followers of Menno Simons  transform the Green Hell into a garden?

Edgar Stoesz’ book Like a Mustard Seed tells the story of the Mennonites’ effort to heal the land. Stoesz identifies nine principles that, when applied, transformed the wasteland into a garden that exports food and products throughout Paraguay and as far as Europe.

We will explore Stoesz’s nine principles:

  • The Church – providing the spiritual foundation for the society
  • Community – cooperatives provided the economic engines for the flourishing
  • Road – connected the colonies to the larger world
  • Banking – leveraging the hard work of the people
  • Scientific Agriculture – appling science to food production
  • The dignity of women – it would not have happened without women
  • Health – addressing the practical need to stay alive
  • Education – preparing the next generation for life and work
  • Connection to a capital city

We will endeavor to follow Stoesz’s book in order to highlight another model for how God can work through a faithful people to transform the land, to make it flourish, to reach its full potential. If you work among the poor, or come from a poor community and want to see your community transformed, come and explore with us the Mennonite model to see what you might appropriate for your situation.

  • Darrow Miller

This post is first in a series on the transformation of the Gran Chaco in Paraguay.

Related posts:

Husband and Husbandry: Preserving and Protecting

Why Cities Should Reflect the New Jerusalem

Great Commission Utilitarianism

  
Posted in Cultural Mandate, Development, Economic Development, Resources | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

“Disabled”: An Unhelpful Misnomer for Imago Dei Humans

I recently received a letter from a friend in Brazil who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis.

I have a M.S diagnosis for almost 16 years, I´m in contact with many people with all kind of disabilities.

Jesus healed many people but now how the society accepts them knowing that some are seen like a burden, a poor person who received a curse and many other things.

Sorry to ask you this but I can´t find someone who can give me the beginning of an answer. You are a person with an opened mind who help others to think. We have to see the world as God see so I have one question: How the Lord see disabled people?

Thanks for your time to read this, hoping to receive the beginning of reflections.

I do not have the complete answer this question deserves, but as my friend suggested, I may have the “beginning of an answer.”

How does God see disabled people?

As she mentioned, some cultures see a person who is disabled as a curse put on the family and community by the gods or fates. In her beloved homeland some cultures kill disabled children in order to remove the curse.

In our utilitarian West, people who are born disabled or become disabled are considered not “normal.” And our modern culture’s pursuit of the perfect seeks to eliminate the imperfect.

But the Judeo-Christian worldview has a high view of all human beings. God sees each person as a unique individual made imago Dei (in God’s image). Be they old or young … African, Asian, Brazilian, French or English … healthy or “disabled,” their individual situation does not change their actual nature as the very image of God. God makes each human being an image of himself. His intention is that each person be in relationship with Him. He wants them to flourish and to glorify Him through their life.

I remember bowling with a group of young missionary trainees. While at the bowling alley, a group of friends came in, some of whom were disabled. One was a young quadriplegic. His friends had made a stand for him to support the bowling ball in front of his face, so he could use a stick in his mouth to push the ball down the ramp to roll down the alley and strike the pins. One of the missionaries in training was from Thailand. Surprised at what she was seeing, she commented that in America, people treat “handicapped people as if they were human!” This young lady professed Christ, but her mindset had not yet recovered from the lies of her native Thai culture. People who were handicapped were less than human.

Perhaps “disabled” is not the correct term.

Perhaps “disabled” is not the correct term. Perhaps “differently-abled” or “uniquely-abled” would be more accurate. One of North American’s national heroines, whose life has been an inspiration to millions, was the blind and deaf Helen Keller. Obviously she had limitations; she could not see or hear and for years was trapped in the darkness of her mind. Yet at the same time Ms. Keller was incredibly gifted. When she learned to communicate she became an articulate, visionary, and life-inspiring woman.

disabled Temple Grandin has unique abilities

“TempleGrandin” by Jonathunder – Own work. Licensed under GNU Free Documentation License 1.2 via Wikimedia Commons

Another differently-abled woman is Temple Grandin. Born with severe autism, Ms. Grandin was written off by society. But she was uniquely-abled with rare abilities. Because of her autism, these unique gifts were drawn out of her life. She earned a PhD in Animal Husbandry and has redefined the cattle industry in the United States.

Joni Eareckson Tada disabled yet powerful life and ministryAnother example is Joni Eareckson Tada. At 17, Ms. Tada dived into a pond, struck the bottom and broke her neck. She has been a quadriplegic ever since. In the despondency and depression that followed, she could have given up hope. But instead, she allowed the God who created her to reveal her ability to come forth and bless generations of people like herself who are differently-abled. Joni became the founder and leader of an international non-profit organization, a writer, public speaker and gifted painter.

How do we view “disabled” people? Do we discriminate because they are different from us, or do we see and celebrate their uniqueness? Do we recognize the inherent worth in each individual and celebrate their different abilities? Do we create a space in our relationships and communities to support their flourishing?

The Paralympic Movement is an example of an organization that supports the lives of people who are uniquely abled.

How diminished the world would be without the lives of Hellen Keller, Temple Grandin, and Joni Erickson. The differently-abled have a great contribution to make to our lives.

– Darrow Miller

Related posts:

Is it Immoral to Have Children?

 On My Birth There Was No Singing: Gendercide in India

  
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Conceived in Rape and Worthy of Life: The Rebecca Kiessling Story

“I’m pro-life except in cases of rape.”

Who hasn’t heard that sentiment? You may have expressed it yourself. Here’s another story that powerfully contradicts the idea that abortion should be tolerated in cases of rape.

A few weeks ago we told the story of Valerie Gatto, who was conceived in rape and has grown to become a compassionate, talented, and beautiful young woman recently crowned Miss Pennsylvania 2014.

Should Valerie have been aborted? Would that have been better?

A child conceived in rape does not deserve to live?

How about a restatement for clarity? Instead of “I’m pro-life except in cases of rape” try this: “A child conceived in rape does not deserve to live.” There’s no substantive difference between the two, and the second clears much of the fog.

Nazi Germany used the term lebensunwertes leben (“life unworthy of life”) as a designation for people the Third Reich deemed had no right to live. By this concept Hitler justified the death camps where 11 million people, including 6 million Jews, were murdered. Their lives were judged not worthy. We look back at that and say, “Never Again!” Our words are empty.

Today in the United States and other Western countries we use lebensunwertes leben as the standard for children who are mentally or physically handicapped, for the elderly who are no longer “productive members of society,” or the Valerie Gattos who were conceived in rape.

Rebecca Kiessling conceived in rape

Recently we learned of another woman whose story parallels that of Ms. Gatto. I speak of Rebecca Kiessling. She has defiantly stood against the culture of death that assumes that a child conceived in rape is a life unworthy of life.

Rebecca was conceived when her mother was raped at knife point. She survived the pro-abortion culture. Today Ms. Kiessling is a family law attorney, blogger, and pro-life speaker. She actively speaks out against the rape exception in Obama care (as well as other legislation, including some “pro-life” measures that grant a rape exception).

For obvious reasons, Ms. Kiessling staunchly opposes the rape exception that directly impugns her life and the lives of 32,000 babies conceived from rape every year.

“It’s very frustrating to just be summarily dismissed like this,” she writes. “[This] is my life that you’re talking about.”

At her blog Kiessling writes personally and passionately about her fight to save the lives of children conceived in rape. In her DVD, What Rape Exceptions Really Mean, Rebecca says,

Have you ever considered how really insulting it is to say to someone, “I think your mother should have been able to abort you.”? It’s like saying, “If I had my way, you’d be dead right now.” And that is the reality with which I live every time someone says they are pro-choice or pro-life “except in cases of rape” because I absolutely would have been aborted if it had been legal in Michigan when I was an unborn child, and I can tell you that it hurts. But I know that most people don’t put a face to this issue — for them abortion is just a concept — with a quick cliché, they sweep it under the rug and forget about it. I do hope that, as a child conceived in rape, I can help to put a face, a voice, and a story to this issue.

In reply, some have said to me, “So does that mean you’re pro-rape?” Though ludicrous, I’ll address it because I understand that they aren’t thinking things through. There is a huge moral difference because I did exist, and my life would have been ended because I would have been killed by a brutal abortion. You can only be killed and your life can only be devalued once you exist. Being thankful that my life was protected in no way makes me pro-rape.

Thank you to my 100% pro-life heroes!

Go here for more on this story. See more at Rebecca Kiessling’s website.

If you are inclined to support a rape-exclusion clause to pro-life legislation, please think about Rebecca Kiessling and Valerie Gatto and what they are telling us about the thousands of children conceived in rape every year.

– Darrow Miller

Related posts:

Elizabeth Joice: The Mother Who Gave Her Life For Her Baby

Rape, Abortion, and the Miss USA Contest

Abortion Doesn’t Contribute to Women’s Health

  
Posted in Ethics, Morality, Women | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment