Great Love

A wise woman (Mother Teresa, that is), once said, “we can do no great things, only small things with great love”. I love this saying, and it so aptly fits my last days of my internship. This whole summer has been an experience of great love.

My last week at ONE was one of reflection, gratitude, and hard work. Gearing up for our final intern event, which was held Thursday night at a restaurant on Capitol Hill, was full of last minute runs to the Hill to deliver invitations, gathering materials and merchandise for the event, and meetings to finalize event plans. The goal of the event was to gain potential new campus leaders for ONE. It was a huge success, with 120 new members signed up and around 20 potential campus leaders. This event showed me the sheer power in numbers that ONE is capable of mobilizing. But most of all, as I was packing up the signs and pamphlets, I felt so fortunate to be a part of something so much greater than myself.

When I met with my pastors last Sunday, I couldn’t have been more grateful for the time I have spent at ONE thanks to the Project on Lived Theology. They were exciting and thrilled to hear all that I have been doing this summer and how I could bring my experiences and ideas to help the youth program at my church. “Wow!” I thought to myself, “could I really make that much of a difference?” Well, the answer is yes. An African proverb that is a common saying around the ONE offices (and if you follow @ONECampaign on twitter, you will find this is a common tweet!) is, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try spending the night in a closed room with a mosquito”. To look at this idea in a Christian perspective, one needs only to look at the story found in the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus turns five loaves of bread and two fish into many loaves and fish. Rich Stearns points out that the principle in this story is that “God never asks us to give what we do not have…But he cannot use what we will not give” (253).

So, can I make a difference? Yes, but I must be willing and I must also realize the very fact that I can give and that what I can give is valuable. I have loved my experience at ONE and I am passionate about everything that ONE stands for. What can I give? I can show this passion and this experience to young people, boys and girls, who attend my church. I can show them that living their theology can involve a variety of things. Perhaps one of them becomes a ONE member, and when they go to college, they become a campus leader and advocate for the world’s poorest people. Or perhaps, one of them volunteers at a local soup kitchen. Or maybe, one of them begins to pray every night for those less fortunate. I truly don’t know how to say it any other way, but I can make a difference because God loves me and since He loves me, I have an obligation to do something, anything, so that, as Rich Stearns says, I can “be used by God in a powerful and amazing way” (253).

Rich Stearns begins his book, The Hole in Our Gospel, with a quotation from Saint Teresa of Avila. When I first read the book early this summer, I skimmed over the quotation and continued reading, without a second thought. Just yesterday when I opened up the book that had been sitting on my bookshelf since June, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the page that held this quotation:

Christ has no body on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which
Christ’s compassion for the world is to look out;
yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good;
and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now.

This is the gap that I have finally bridged this summer. I have found how deep my faith has taken me and how much farther I still have to go. I can make a difference, even if I am just one person. With great love, I can do anything. With Christ within me, I am obligated and bound to continue to “go about doing good”, for there is no better way to live my theology than by accepting God’s only begotten son into my whole being and living my life through His love.

Finding Peace Among Chaos

One might assume that because I was in rural Nicaragua last week I may have been unaware of all the political chaos going on in Washington, but let me tell you—I got a bigger dose of world politics there than I ever have before. Though I may not have had internet or television for most of the trip, I most certainly got wind of events through word of mouth and local newspapers. It was actually fascinating to see American events from a Nicaraguan perspective and also to learn about Nicaraguan politics simultaneously. You see, despite the huge dissimilarities between the two countries, the Nicaraguans that I talked to can still heavily identify with many elements of American politics. Two major parallels that I picked up on were the following: 1) both countries have presidential elections coming up and 2) both countries have pressing, long term problems. For Nicaragua, it is the extreme poverty and lack of economic growth especially in the autonomous regions, while for the United States our major problem is the massive debt looming over our heads. But both instances, these are long-term problems that call for long-term solutions and leaders that think beyond their next election.

In his book, When Helping Hurts, Brian Fikkert focuses heavily on the importance of long-term over short-term approaches in alleviating enduring problems. He says that there are three forms of aid: Relief, Rehabilitation, and Development (107). Relief is immediate short-term aid that serves to lessen suffering in an urgent situation such as a natural disaster. Rehabilitation serves to “restore people and their communities to the positive elements of their precrisis condition” (108). Finally, Development is the long-term, ongoing change that ultimately transforms individuals and communities for the better.  One of the major problems that Nicaraguans talk about is that oftentimes their political leaders will give them temporary relief or rehabilitation (mostly just to get votes) but what they really need is development. They recognize that their own people become dependent upon these quick fixes and will stop exerting energy to find more enduring solutions. One simply cannot fix long-term problems with short-term solutions. Development is a slow process though and it can take generations to transform a community as impoverished and underdeveloped as Nueva Vida, Nicaragua. The effects of development tactics may not be seen for years to come, which can be discouraging for Nicaraguans and Americans alike. Development work also requires a huge amount of time and sacrifice. It’s often easy to get discouraged when things don’t go according to plan.  Let me tell you, most things do not go according to the plan. Even this literacy program has had a slower start than anticipated due to its developmental nature. There have been a lot of “bumps in the road” so to say, but at the end of the day we know that it is worth it.

Something that I have realized though is that these concepts aren’t solely for the NGO, the Peace Corps member, or the political functionary. The model of Relief, Rehabilitation and Development and the value of long-term endurance can also be applied on an individual, microcosmic level. In fact, I can see a lot of this in my own personal experience as a Christian. When I first accepted Christ, it was like Jesus offered me that initial step: Relief. With His grace and forgiveness He set me free from the “natural disaster” of my life and offered hope. Then, He helped Rehabilitate me through His healing and restoration of my relationship with God. These two moves prepared me for the long term growth—Development—that would mark my journey as a Christian. For me, my faith is not just a short, one time decision but a lifelong journey. It is a process of growth and personal transformation that takes patience, sacrifice, and trust. It isn’t always easy or painless, but its worth it.

Likewise, I think that the citizens of Nicaragua and America currently witnessing all of this political turmoil can agree that though it’s going to be a tough journey from here to turn around both countries, it is worth it in the long-run. Though things may seem dark at times, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  The people of Nicaragua I have met this summer certainly believe this and continue to blow me away with their perseverance, patience and hope.

From the Inside Out

I have a habit of always meeting interesting people in airports. I don’t consider myself a particularly outgoing person, but for some reason I always end up sitting by the most fascinating people and having long, intense conversations with them. I told you about Ena, whom I met in June on my flight to Nicaragua. Well, this week it was Rodrigo and Javier. Rodrigo is Nicaraguan but he has lived in several other Latin American countries and therefore offers a uniquely comparative view of these countries and their political systems and forms of poverty. Javier used to be an ambassador for Nicaragua and has lived in many places including New York City and London, so he too affords a diverse and well-rounded perspective. Both men were very educated and spoke English and Spanish extremely well.  They also weren’t shy to speak about their country and the problems they saw politically, economically and socially. I decided at one point in each conversation to inquire about what they thought their home country, Nicaragua, needed most right now. Without being prompted first or told about the literacy program, both answered that they believed Nicaragua needed education. They mentioned other things like infrastructure, investment, and microfinance—but the core foundation was the same: education. I was shocked that two men in two different conversations came to the same conclusion about their country. I was also extremely pleased; it felt good to know that I was doing something that was both important and essential.

Yet there is more to it. As I have mentioned before from my readings, education is not solely learning to read and write but an act of empowerment, a shift in worldviews. Rodrigo, Javier, and later a woman named Mary, all echoed these sentiments in my conversations with them. They thought that Nicaragua needed education not only for external reasons (such as for people to acquire better jobs and develop the economy) but for internal reasons too! They recognized that the people of Nicaragua needed a shift in their worldview. A mentality of dependence and helplessness needed to be replaced with a mentality of ingenuity and ambition, infused with values of hard work, love and responsibility. I got so excited! What I had been reading and doing aligned with the perspectives of many Nicaraguans themselves.

A lot of aid work seeks to change the system or the environment, but neglects the individual. Mary, a teacher in Puerto Cabezas, has taught all throughout Nicaragua and Guatemala. She has witnessed firsthand the change that education has brought about in people, both in those whom she has taught and in herself. It is her strong belief that education is most effective at producing lasting transformation when it is paired with the gospel and the values that it teaches. In her experience, simply including secular discussions in the curriculum about “moral” or “right” actions did not usually change a person in the long run, it was generally short lived. Mary recounts that she herself became a different person after a friend shared the gospel with her, noticing that she starting thinking in a less selfish, more trans-generational manner. In light of these encounters, Mary fully believes that it is only when someone starts a relationship with Jesus Christ that the change becomes a fully penetrating, enduring phenomenon. My own conviction is that this is true because of this simple biblical fact: God is the ultimate transformer. His Word is convicting and His grace compelling. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “we are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord…” The phrase “are being” implies that this change is also an ongoing process, it is not a one time deal. Just as the developmental aid work that I am doing in Nicaragua is a slow progression that takes time and effort, personal growth requires patience, sacrifice, and trust in God. But like Javier and Rodrigo pointed out, if we want to see our world environment change, we must first start with ourselves as individuals.

A Unity of Love

This week I have been preparing for my upcoming meeting with my pastors, the Reverends Cristina Paglinauan and Caroline Stewart. I’ve gotten some materials together to present to them and I have also spoken with Adam Phillips, my supervisor, about the direction in which I should go during the meeting. I foresee that it will involve me “pitching” how the Church of the Redeemer, an Episcopal church, can get involved with ONE. Before I begin this meeting, I think I need to ask myself where I stand as an Episcopalian and how my particular religion plays a role in political engagement.

I will start by examining an essay found in Sandra Joireman’s book Church, State, and Citizen: Christian Approaches to Political Engagement, entitled “The Anglican Tradition: Building the State, Critiquing the State”. A few points mentioned in this piece highlight the comprehensiveness of Anglicanism, its “ability to hold a variety of practices in tension and in unity” (102). This comprehensiveness is largely due to the fact that it is difficult “to identify common theological positions that unite all Anglicans” (101). Without widespread agreement on certain positions, Anglicans have been unable to unite as strongly, say, as Catholics have, for social justice purposes. I realize that this is a generalized statement, but I think it is worthwhile to consider. The author of the essay, Leah Seppanen Anderson, goes so far as to say “Anglicanism has often been a force for conservatism, an acceptance and even promotion of the political status quo” (105). Initially, I took this sentence pretty hard. But, then I took a step back and asked myself, very honestly, “Catherine, has your religion ever challenged you to reject the status quo and engage in political activism for the sake of social justice?” My answer: Not until I started my work at ONE through the Project on Lived Theology.

At this moment in my life, I have never been more aware of how my religion can directly affect the role I play in making the world a better place. I am not trying to downplay how important religion has been in my life. I wouldn’t be where I am today without it. I just don’t think I ever knew how being an Episcopalian would correlate to being a citizen. Church is what I did on Sundays, reciting the Nicene Creed, and following worship through the guidance of the Book of Common Prayer. When I volunteered for two summers at a learning camp for underprivileged children, I didn’t think I was “doing church”. I know now that I was. I also realize now that the feeling I get when I volunteer or help others is not a feeling of self satisfaction or self pride, but rather God’s love. There is no other feeling like it in the world. It is the love of a parent, a mother or father’s love for a child. It is unconditional and eternal. Above all, Jesus commanded, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” and “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”. I think many Anglicans can forget the presence of God’s love in society. We can get caught up in day to day business and not even focus on God until Sunday church. What if we realized God’s love every second of every day?

This type of love is groundbreaking. It has the potential to unite Anglicans. It just needs to be harnessed.

I was in a meeting earlier this week in which one of the members of ONE’s government relations team came to talk about how to engage Republican candidates on ONE’s issues. He pointed out the way to really reach Republicans on matters such as poverty and disease. His tips were to appeal to their morality, to mention that something almost everyone can agree on is that no one wants a child to die because of lack access to water, sanitation, or food. This is not a partisan issue. It is a moral issue. For Anglicans, this could mean appealing to the universal agreement about God’s love. Can Anglicans not all agree that “God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son”?   The question then arises:  how should Anglicans put this love into practice? Spreading the word is the easiest answer. Faith congregations hold so much potential in mobilization. There is so much more to be done and so much more love to be shared. This is the message that I want to send when I meet with my pastors on Sunday: if we can all agree on the value of God’s love, how can we truly unite to help the “least of these”?

Silent Evangelism

I don’t exactly know why, but throughout this internship I keep coming back to the idea of evangelism. Though I have not been involved in any explicitly evangelical events nor read any books centered upon that idea this summer, the topic continues to resurface nonetheless. It manifests itself randomly in conversations, when browsing the web and in my daily internship experience. As I continue to subtly encounter it, I find my own paradigms and assumptions changing as I observe a novel phenomenon: silent evangelism.

Up until this summer, I had a very limited view of evangelism. If you had asked me what evangelism looked like I probably would have stood there racking my brain for minute and then rattled off something about handing out tracts, inviting people to Church, preaching the gospel to strangers on the street and telling stories of missionaries who converted whole tribes in Africa. Essentially, evangelism implied verbally telling another person a scripted version of the gospel (and ultimately converting them to Christianity).

If you asked me now what I think evangelism looks like I would paint a very different picture for you. Frankly, it would be a much quieter one. It involves mostly actions, you see. It looks like the students in Nueva Vida, Nicaragua who are striving to educate their community. It looks like CFC holding a pool party for children of local prison inmates. It looks like church members packing 500 backpacks full of school supplies for kids of soldiers and disadvantaged schools. It looks like LLC volunteers befriending immigrants and refugees in times of need. It looks like families packing 290,520 meals for Stop Hunger Now on a single Sunday morning in June.

I am not claiming that my initial perceptions were flawed or that street evangelism is wrong. I am just observing that evangelism can still take place without uttering a single word or handing out a gospel tract. It is like the quote by Saint Francis of Assisi that says “preach the gospel at all times, when necessary use words.” Usually the word “preach” indicates verbal communication, but in this quote Saint Francis clearly implies that words are not always needed. If anything, they should follow actions not precede them. Most everyone has heard the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Well, I am going to revise that to say, “an action is worth a thousand words.” This is especially applicable when it comes to international aid and cross-cultural interaction. Two people may not share the same language, but they can still communicate nonverbally through actions.

However, I also do not mean to discount the power of words. As I talked about in prior posts, stories and literature can be potent agents of transformation. In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell explains how an idea, trend or social behavior can “spread like a virus” and cause a widespread “epidemic” simply through word of mouth. Words can be strong, no doubt. However, when it comes to evangelism, sometimes the most effective and influential method by which to spread “epidemics” of love and compassion is through our actions. In all of the examples I listed above people were loving and being loved, regardless of any subsequent conversion experience or immediate verbal acceptance of the gospel.

This week, in an attempt to further define evangelism, I turned to Internet dictionary resources. However, my efforts proved to be futile. No two definitions looked alike. Wikipedia even had an official dispute occurring over its page titled “evangelism.” A small notification in the heading advised me to visit the “talk page” where people of different backgrounds debated about the meaning of evangelism. Clearly, people had very different experiences and opinions on the matter. Individual denominations within the Christian faith even disagree about evangelism. It is my personal belief however, that despite all of these theological and ideological differences, the underlying motivation should remain the same. Evangelism, however it is done, should be done in the name of love. For the gospel is a message of love, and it is because of love that we even have this good news to share (John 3:16). In the end, love is a message that can be sent through both words and deeds.