Newbigin on the Open Secret of Gospel Stewardship

One of the most common metaphors used in the New Testament to describe the relation of the church to the gospel is that of stewardship. The church, and especially those called to any kind of leadership in the church, are servants entrusted with that which is not their property but is the property of their Lord. That which is entrusted is something of infinite worth as compared with the low estate of the servants in whose hands it is placed. They are but mud pots; but that which is entrusted to them is the supreme treasure (II Cor. 4:7). The treasure is nothing less than “the mysteries of God” (I Cor. 4:1), “the mystery of the gospel” (Eph. 6:19), “the mystery which was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed and… made known to all nations… to bring about the obedience of faith” (Rom. 16:25-26). It is “the mystery of his will… to unite all things in him” (Eph. 1:9-10). It is the open secret of God’s purpose, through Christ, to bring all things to their true end in the glory of the triune God. It is open in that it is announced in the gospel that is preached to all the nations; it is a secret in that it is manifest only to the eyes of faith. It is entrusted to those whom God has given the gift of faith by which the weakness and foolishness of the cross is known as the power and wisdom of God. It is entrusted to them not for themselves but for all the nations. It is Christ in them, the hope of glory.

Lesslie Newbigin. The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission (Kindle Locations 2551-2560). Kindle Edition.

MAGNIFICAT

Mary said,

“With all my heart I glorify the Lord! 

In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.

He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.

Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name.

He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God.

He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.

He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed.

He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”

magnificat

Praxis: Friendship in Prophetic Action for Shalom

As I reflect on the meaning of praxis in relation to development within my current context, a very special friend comes to mind: Mr. JB. I met JB ten years ago as I served with Alabama Rural Ministry (ARM) for a summer leading home repair mission teams. My encounter with JB is likely the single-most influential factor in my decision to return to ARM in 2014 to join the full-time staff. In this context of ministry with ARM, my understanding of praxis – generically defined as “a unity of theory and practice” (Ledwith, 2009, p. xiv) – has been shaped by the stories of families in rural Alabama who strive to live lives of dignity and purpose in spite of their poverty housing conditions. These stories reveal how Alabama fails to be a “sweet home” for so many of its residents. Unlike my privileged experience as a middle-class, Euro-American, raced as white, able-bodied male, the experiences of families I have come to know through ARM are marked by various struggles with systemic injustice and marginalization due to race, class, gender, and (dis)ability. My friendship with JB was my informal introduction into this new, bewildering reality of poverty in my own backyard. As I try to be friends with JB, I am led into situations that call for a special kind of action – prophetic action – inspired by the Spirit of Jesus who still anoints God’s children to “preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, [and] to liberate the oppressed” (Lk. 4:18b, Common English Bible). This prophetic action is founded on the hope of “the day of the Lord’s favor” (Lk. 4:19), which is a day of joy, peace, holistic and dynamic flourishing, and perfect community with God, neighbor, self, and all creation – a day of shalom. These three themes – friendship, prophetic action, and shalom ­– inform the praxis I am seeking to embody. After reviewing common definitions of praxis, this essay will briefly explore an understanding of praxis as friendship in prophetic action for shalom.

In most cases, praxis refers to a synthesis of thinking and doing, acting and reflecting. The term arose as a response to modern, Western culture which is rooted in “a dualistic post-Kantian epistemology which presumed a fundamental dichotomy between… thought and action” (Markey, 1995, p. 193). However, praxis can also take on broader, less specific meanings. Markey (1995) finds at least three fundamental understandings of praxis in common usage.  Following Aristotle, praxis can be synonymous with practice or any kind of “direct activity.” Second, following Kant, praxis becomes “any ethically relevant human behavior” (Markey, 1995, p. 180-1). These two understandings remain ambiguous since neither explains the purpose or goal of praxis. However, the third way of understanding praxis as identified by Markey’s (1995) analysis is more explicit about its purpose. Following Marx, praxis is seen as “human creative activity” that transforms history and people, as social praxis that shapes culture, and as revolutionary praxis which “works to subvert, counter, and overturn the existing social praxis” (Markey, 1995, p. 181).  This particular understanding of praxis is the most applicable to the aims of development, which seeks the transformation of individuals and socio-economic processes including subversion of the status quo in contexts of systemic injustice and oppression.

My friendship with JB and reveals the need for the kind of revolutionary praxis that Marx suggests. Even though he and I grew up in the same county in rural Alabama, our life experiences could not be more different and more unequal. JB is an African-American man, raced as black, twice my age, who is unemployed, and lives alone in a severely dilapidated mobile home where he gets by on a very low income from government assistance. JB has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, has struggled with alcoholism, and has not been able to keep healthy relationships with his family or his surrounding community. JB’s home is very close to the town where I grew up in a very comfortable home, received a decent education, and was given all the love, support, and opportunity I needed to thrive. If not for my service with ARM’s home repair ministry, I would not have crossed JB’s path because social life in Sumter County is still sharply divided by race. My church, my school, my neighbors, and my friends were virtually all white in a town where African-Americans made up nearly 75% of the population. This oppressive reality of social division and inequality stands in opposition to the will of God who desires an abundant life of justice, love, and community for all people in all places, Sumter County included. A truly Christian praxis, which will be even more radical than Marx’s understanding of revolutionary praxis, is desperately needed to create a space for God’s healing and redemption to unfold in Sumter County and other rural communities across the state. This Christian praxis will be characterized by friendship in prophetic action for shalom.

Through my experiences with JB and many others I have come to know in rural Alabama, I have been convinced that Christian praxis must begin in friendship because praxis is, first and foremost, an embodied response to the God who is Love. As Gustavo Gutierrez (1988) makes clear, “if there is no friendship with [the poor] and no sharing of the life of the poor, then there is no authentic commitment to [the praxis of] liberation, because love exists only among equals” (p. xxxi). Beginning with friendships makes space for people to learn to give and receive from one another, to trust one another, to care for one another, and to share their stories from the heart. This foundation of love, trust, equality, and mutuality are essential to Christian praxis. What’s more, in order for these praxeological friendships to be truly Christocentric, they should be shaped by God’s option for the poor “not because Christ is with the marginalized but, rather, Christ is the marginalized” (De La Torre, 2004, p. 57). For me, this means trying to be friends with someone like JB who reveals Christ to me in uniquely powerful ways. I have come to learn that “Jesus doesn’t have any good news for those [like me] who serve the poor,” because “God is not manifest in our ability to heal, but in our need to be healed” (Oliver, 2009). Those who pursue friendships of solidarity with the poor as part of their praxis must be involved in the transformation they seek to see in others and their communities, and be ready to be transformed themselves. As Ledwith (2009) notes, praxis is not an individualized experience because “in praxis, my journey comes together with others in the quest for critical consciousness: making sense of the world in order to transform it as a collective experience” (p. 41).

Christian praxis begins in deeply personal friendships, but it must move on to prophetic action. As stated previously, praxis is understood generically as a unity or synthesis of theory and practice. This dynamic is usually described as the action-reflection cycle. For Freire (2000), the two are inseparable such that “true reflection… leads to action… [and] that action will constitute an authentic praxis only if its consequences become the object of critical reflection” (p. 66). However, this is not a linear, step-by-step process. Instead, according to Freire (2000), “action and reflection occur simultaneously” (p. 128). This cycle is articulated well within Brueggemann’s (2001) concept of prophetic ministry which seeks to “to nuture, nourish, and evoke [an alternative] consciousness and perception” that simultaneously “serves to criticize in dismantling the dominant consciousness… [while,] on the other hand, [serving] to energize persons and communities by its promise of another time and situation toward which the community of faith may move” (p. 3).

Christian praxis is prophetic to the extent that it employs a critical analysis of power, ideology, and hegemony. This reflective analysis will reveal how power “is located within a multidimensional system of oppressions in which we are all simultaneously oppressors and oppressed” (Ledwith, 2009, p. 143). In response to these death-dealing systems of oppression, prophetic Christian praxis will invite a “public sharing of pain,” which “seeks to penetrate the numbness in order to face the body of death in which we are caught” (Brueggemann, 2001, p. 117). This lamentation goes deeper than political protest, and allows the voices of those who suffer most to be heard the loudest.

At the same time, prophetic Christian praxis will bring people together to work for concrete changes in their lives and communities. This will mean interacting with and possibly challenging “the political and social structures that normalize injustices” (De La Torre, 2004, p. 47). However, this political action, founded as it is in friendships, will begin locally and, over time, extend to develop “a [global] reach that aims to transform the structures of oppression that diminish local lives” (Ledwith, 2009, p. 3). This transformative action will look different in every context, but will, in every context, consist of “offering an alternative perception of reality and in letting people see their own history in the light of God’s freedom and his will for justice” (Brueggemann, 2001, p. 116). Christian praxis as prophetic action must build upon its personal relationships to inspire movements for structural change that can adequately criticize the status quo while energizing diverse groups to pursue in unity a renewed common good where “justice [rolls] down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).

Finally, Christian praxis that begins in friendship and leads to prophetic action will be inspired by a vision of shalom. Or, as Gutierrez (1998) says it, praxis is “the activity of “peacemakers” – that is, those who are forging shalom” (p. xxx). This Hebrew concept found in the writings of the prophets is usually translated as “peace,” but its original meaning is much richer. According to Myers (2011), shalom summarizes God’s “kingdom vision for the better human future”, and describes a community of “just, peaceful, harmonious, and enjoyable relationships with each other, ourselves, our environment, and God” (Kindle loc. 3778). All Christian praxis must be evaluated in the light of this holistic, comprehensive vision of redemption.

However, the light of shalom shines into the present from the future that God and God alone is working out. Shalom is the hope of those who pursue Christian praxis – not their reality – and “hope must be an inherent part of our present commitment in history” (Gutierrez, 1988, p. 11). The pursuit of Christian praxis will face challenges, setbacks, and obstacles at every turn. The structures of social injustice it seeks to transform are deeply embedded, and change will sometimes be slow. And, hardest of all, Christian praxis “will always be practiced through our own conflicted selves,” which are just as caught up in systems of oppression as those oppressed (Brueggemann, 2001, p. 118). Ultimately, our praxis towards shalom can only be a participation in God’s much bigger praxis towards shalom. Praxis, therefore, is a gift received by grace through faith. For now, this gift of shalom is only seen in part – “a reflection as in a mirror” – but on the coming day of the Lord “we shall see [it] face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12).

What does this understanding of Christian praxis as friendship in prophetic action for shalom mean in my context of ministry among children and families in rural Alabama? First, it means making friendship with those I serve not only a personal priority, but a matter of organizational culture and ethos. It can be easy to see ARM as just another “social service agency” where people with “needs” go to get their needs met and where people who like to “meet needs” go to volunteer. In pursuit of Christian praxis, ARM will need to be transformed from a social service agency to a social capital enterprise where friends – not “needs” – are met. Second, it will require creating a space for with whom we serve to voice their grief and struggles. Both myself and ARM’s volunteers need to hear and come to know the depth of suffering that is endured by families in rural Alabama who live without adequate housing. Third, Christian praxis will require an expanded advocacy role, especially on the state level, which engages and challenges Alabama’s political structure. ARM is already involved in this work in very small, indirect ways, but a deeper commitment must be made. This commitment to political change must be informed by and even led by those families with whom we serve. Finally, the gift of shalom as our hope reminds us to rest, enjoy, and celebrate God’s faithfulness together. Along with all the “doing” of ministry, there must be time simply for “being” together in God’s presence. ARM already tries to incorporate rest and times of fellowship between families and volunteers into its ministry design, but this practice must continue to grow even more widespread. As I recall my friend JB in light of this essay, I wonder: how can I be his true friend? How can I listen, amplify, and share in his pain? What are the socio-economic powers at work in his life and community? Who can come together to challenge these powers? What does shalom look like for JB?

Bibliography

  • Brueggemann, W. (2001). The Prophetic Imagination, 2nd edition. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
  • De La Torre, M. (2004). Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
  • Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 30th anniversary edition. New York: Continuum.
  • Gutierrez, G. (1988). A Theology of Liberation, 15th anniversary edition. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
  • Ledwith, M. (2011). Community Development: A Critical Approach, 2nd edition. Birmingham, United Kingdom: Venture Press.
  • Markey, J. (1995). “Praxis in Liberation Theology: Some Clarifications,” Missiology: An International Review XXIII (2).
  • Myers, B. (2011). Walking with the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development [Kindle version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com
  • Oliver, C. (2009). “Why I Stopped Serving the Poor” (unpublished essay).

The Vineyard Church and Human Trafficking: Reflections on Charismatic-Evangelical Political Engagement

The Vineyard Church, a young Christian denomination at the forefront of the “third wave” of charismatic renewal which swept through American evangelical churches in the early 1970s, has become the tradition with which I am most at home. This reflection will explore the Vineyard Church’s political engagement with human trafficking. In addition, I will personally reflect on the nature of this engagement, and will offer a brief comparative look at the Anglican Church’s political engagement with human trafficking.

Three of the Vineyard Church’s five core values reveal their expectation for socio-political transformation as a result of their discipleship. These values – the theology and practice of the kingdom of God, reconciling community, and compassionate ministry – compel Vineyard churches to be engaged with socio-political processes (Vineyard USA, n.d.-c). The Vineyard’s primary expression of this engagement is the Vineyard Justice Network (VJN), which trains “the people in our churches to think and respond strategically to the interconnectivity of human trafficking, poverty, and the environment” (Vineyard Justice Network, n.d.-b). Since VJN began as the Vineyard Anti-Slavery Team, “freeing slaves” from human trafficking is one of its main concerns.

VJN encourages Vineyard churches to pray for victims and survivors of human trafficking, identify and support those at risk of being trafficked in their communities, and care for survivors. Specifically, VJN “lifts up prevention work as the key way Vineyard churches can fight modern-day slavery” (VJN, n.d.-a). To this end, they provide an impressive array of online resources to individuals, which empower them to engage in hands-on ministry with organizations working in their communities (Vineyard USA, n.d.-b).  These “action steps” include organizing “Stop Modern Slavery” among community and church members, as well as advocating for change by calling or writing elected officials (Vineyard USA, n.d.-b). In addition to these individual resources, prayer guides, Bible studies, educational toolkits for awareness building, and information articles are provided for Vineyard church groups (Vineyard USA, n.d.-a). While the VJN does not organize any direct socio-political action related to human trafficking, it hopes to inform a grassroots movement within Vineyard churches which can engage local communities, as well as local, state, and national governments, in order to prevent the spread of human trafficking and care for survivors.

This kind of de-politicized, grassroots approach to the engagement of human trafficking locates the Vineyard Church within the evangelical tradition of church and state relations. As Shah (2009) highlights, “evangelicals believe that… change comes not through top-down, state-centered legal and policy schemes but through the bottom-up transformation and mobilization of individuals” (p. 137). The state’s primary task for evangelicals is “to defend the innocent and vulnerable,” which aligns well with the Vineyard’s emphasis on supporting, empowering, and caring for survivors and those at risk of human trafficking (Shah, 2009, p. 137). In addition, the Vineyard’s charismatic roots also influence its socio-political engagement. As Swindle (2009) explains, the Pentecostal church once emphasized a holistic, communal understanding of holiness that was “dissatisfied with surrounding injustices and committed to an alternative vision of the world and society” (p. 154). This Pentecostal vision of holiness as “new creation” inspires and animates the Vineyard’s theology and practice of the Kingdom of God, which compels them to be engaged with their communities in very practical, hands-on ways.

I deeply appreciate how the Vineyard’s unique blend of charismatic evangelicalism leads to a person-centered approach to issues such as human trafficking. For Vineyard churches, the reality of human trafficking is not an abstract issue; it is people with faces and stories. This personal approach is oriented towards the development of mutual relationships of love, solidarity, and compassion, which are the necessary starting point of any truly Christian socio-political engagement. However, they cannot be the destination. The love shared between a Vineyard church and survivors of human trafficking must become the driving force behind a larger, broader campaign for justice in which human traffickers are stopped and the risk factors for human trafficking victims are mitigated. With their deep distrust of government, evangelical churches are typically hesitant to move beyond one-on-one relationships into the realm of public policy change. As the Vineyard grows in its response to human trafficking, I pray it will not make this mistake.

To do so, Vineyard churches would be wise to look to the example of their Anglican brothers and sisters. As Anderson (2009) notes, the Anglican tradition “acknowledges [the state] as a partner worthy of cooperation” (p. 110). The Anglican tradition expects the church to be politically active (Anderson, 2009, p. 104). This Anglican approach comes to light when comparing the Episcopal Church of the USA’s advocacy website on human trafficking with that of VJN. While the Episcopal Church offers many of the same kinds of resources to empower individuals, groups, and local churches to respond, it also reports how Episcopal advocates supported the passage of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, which became US law in 2015 (The Episcopal Church, n.d.). Going even further, the Anglican Communion has joined forces with an international coalition of interfaith leaders in order to secure commitments to stopping human trafficking around the globe (The Archbishop of Canterbury, 2014). These national and international efforts reveal the scope that is required for the Vineyard’s socio-political engagement to seek faithfully the justice of God’s kingdom.

Bibliography

Anderson, Leah Seppanen (2009). The Anglican Tradition: Building the State, Critiquing the State. In Sandra F. Joireman (Ed.), Church, State, and Citizen: Christian Approaches to Political Engagement (93-114). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Archbishop of Canterbury. (2014). Archbishop Justin and Pope Francis back Anglican-Catholic anti-slavery and human trafficking initiative. Retrieved from http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/5262/archbishop-justin-and-pope-francis-back-anglican-catholic-anti-slavery-and-human-trafficking-initiat.

Episcopal Church, The. (n.d.). Human Trafficking Resources. Retrieved from http://advocacy.episcopalchurch.org/humantrafficking.

Shah, Timothy Samuel (2009). For the Sake of Conscience: Some Evangelical Views of the State. In Sandra F. Joireman (Ed.) , Church, State, and Citizen: Christian Approaches to Political Engagement (115-144). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Swindle, Stephen M. (2009). Pentecostalism: Holy Spirit Empowerment and Politics. In Sandra F. Joireman (Ed.) , Church, State, and Citizen: Christian Approaches to Political Engagement (145-164). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Vineyard Justice Network. (n.d.-a). Freeing Slaves. Retrieved from http://vineyardjusticenetwork.org/freeing-slaves/.

Vineyard Justice Network. (n.d.-b). Who is VJN? Retrieved from http://vineyardjusticenetwork.org/who-is-vjn/.

Vineyard USA. (n.d.-a). Action Steps for Groups. Retrieved from http://www.vineyardusa.org/site/content/action-steps-groups.

Vineyard USA. (n.d.-b). Action Steps for Individuals. Retrieved from http://www.vineyardusa.org/site/content/action-steps-individuals.

Vineyard USA. (n.d.-c). Core Values and Beliefs. Retrieved from http://www.vineyardresources.com/CoreValuesAndBeliefs.pdf.

The Tension of Advocacy

The work of advocacy is fraught with tensions; concerns are voiced, issues are debated, and tough decisions must be made. “Tension” is the word that best describes my own feelings towards advocacy. On the one hand, I know that the political transformation Christian advocates seek is necessary for the more just, shalom oriented world that God is bringing to life. On the other hand, the primary means by which I see advocacy practiced in popular American culture hardly seem to align with this end. The kind of advocacy with which I am most familiar is practiced online using clicks, “likes,” “shares,” and emails – all of which can be done from the comfort and security of one’s home with little to no personal cost or investment. Cheap advocacy abounds and justice is never cheap. Any Christian sense of justice is ordered by love; particularly the self-emptying love of Christ who comes close to the pain and suffering of injustice in order to bear it with us. While I know there must be those who practice a very costly form of advocacy, I have yet to hear their stories. I hope this class will present an opportunity for me to discover, explore and develop a more robust, risky, and compassionate practice of advocacy that is aligned with the justice-love of God’s coming reign.

This cheap-costly advocacy tension I feel relates to the tension between doing and being. Too often, it seems advocacy only calls us to do certain actions – petitions, protests, speeches, and more – without calling us to be anything in particular. I do not mean to say that all “doing” of advocacy is cheap because too many people who have protested, marched, and made their voices heard have paid for these actions with their lives. Still, most practice of advocacy is not life threatening and can be performed regardless of who you are – your being. However, any Christian sense of advocacy must call us to be a certain kind of advocate who has a personal stake in the matter being advocated. A book I read a few years ago by an environmental activist and advocate opened my eyes to this tension. One day while rallying against a coal power plant, she wondered how she and all the other protestors would survive if the rally were actually successful. Could she live her life without coal power? This question was the catalyst to a major life-change in which she and her family moved to a farm and began living the change she was formerly advocating. Instead of just doing advocacy, she became an advocate by re-orienting her way of life towards a future without coal power. Her doing of advocacy was inseparable from her being an advocate. This kind of advocacy, which is costly, full of integrity, and oriented towards a new future, is what I hope to learn more about.

I sense these tensions in the Bible as well. When I think of advocacy, I immediately think of Moses, the original prophet, speaking God’s truth to the world’s power. He boldly proclaimed the God-given freedom of the enslaved Israelite people to pharaoh, and God eventually set the people free from their slavery. But were they actually free? They were freed from slavery, but not even forty years of wandering in the wilderness and centuries of other fiery prophets could secure Israel’s freedom for God’s justice and righteousness. The doing of advocacy was successful, but the being which that advocacy was seeking was never truly embodied.

Jesus shows us this tension very clearly as he stands accused before Pilate. The gospel of John records a dramatic dialogue between Jesus and Pilate just before Jesus is crucified. When asked by Pilate if he was a king, Jesus says that he is, but then states that his kingdom is not of this world. “If it were,” Jesus said, “my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders” (John 18:36, New International Version). Jesus had certain political means available to him, but he refused to use them because doing those things did not align with the kind of person he is and the kind of people he was trying to shape. The work of advocacy is inherently political and several means are available for achieving political goals. For Christian advocates, the witness of Jesus asks us to align our advocacy efforts with the reign of God and, remembering Jesus’ command in Acts 1:8, to become a people whose being is a witness to the world God is bringing to life.

I did not feel that either the Monsma or the Beckmann texts adequately addressed these tensions. While Monsma did successfully highlight and discuss in-depth the tensions inherent to several very relevant political issues, the premise of the book seemed to be that a sufficient amount of thought, intellect, and reason is all that’s needed to be an advocate for God’s kingdom. All the topics Monsma discussed, especially on creation, justice, and solidarity, and all the questions he raised are necessary and good, but advocacy must be more than an intellectual exercise. The Beckmann text was very inspiring and hopeful. Being an Alabama native and resident, I was touched by the story of the women from Birmingham who advocated on behalf of the jubilee debt cancellation campaign in the late 1990s. However, Beckmann failed to offer the vision for a new way of being – a way of life within a community in which everyone has enough to eat. The strategies he offered for doing advocacy on behalf of the hungry were useful, but strategies are not enough.

Even with these tensions, I recognize that advocacy is essential to my work with Alabama Rural Ministry. Our vision is to end substandard housing in rural Alabama. However, we currently operate in only 3 of Alabama’s 66 counties. If we are serious about our vision, we must be ready to advocate on local, state, and national levels for the kinds of structural changes that could benefit all of Alabama’s rural residents, especially those beyond our reach. Unfortunately, our organization has struggled to devote the time and resources necessary for effective advocacy. However, we do belong to a statewide advocacy organization called Alabama Arise, which speaks up on behalf of low-income families across the state.

Moodie on the Structure of Inequality in Short Term Missions

People, at least Northerners on mission or service trips arriving at far-flung destinations, desire connection. They want to do more than send money or write letters… They want to see, to feel, to experience. They want to act on their concern, their caring. They want to help, but, as McAlister describes, they also want very much to feel. Their desire is precisely to overcome difference and distance. What they want might be described as a yearning for authenticity. But what would reaching those desires actually mean? What would knowing the other consist of? This desire is predicated on the existence of difference. On an us and them, or self and other, binary. To overcome this distance is to obliterate desire, to rub out the reason for taking the trips. In mission and service trips particularly, yearning is inevitably structured on inequality. The hope to fulfill this desire to feel and know exists in direct tension with the need for the distance… These are mostly good things, at least they seem to me to be, even if they do not fix the larger, long-term problems. But as they inevitably reproduce inequality, do they block bigger changes? I do not know. The thing is, the “encounter” demands that the gap between north and south never be filled. The gap is necessary.

Ellen Moodie, “Inequality and Intimacy between Sister Communities in El Salvador and the United States,” Missiology 41 (2), 2013: 146-162.


I don’t call you servants any longer, because servants don’t know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because everything I heard from my Father I have made known to you.

John 15:15