A few weeks back I posted my personal statement for my application to Palmer Theological Seminary, where I’ll be starting in the fall. Well, I’ve also applied for the International Development program at Eastern University. Eastern and Palmer offer a dual-degree ( M.Div + MA) that can be completed in four years, so I may end up going the dual-degree route. One of the essays for the Intl Dev application asked you to write about the evolution of your interest in the least advantaged of the developing world and how your Christian faith had shaped your objectives in serving the least advantaged…here’s what I wrote:
In Philippians 1:8 the apostle Paul describes our God as One who is faithful to bring to completion the work that He begins in us. On a mission trip to Honduras during high school the Lord began a work in me that has resulted in a desire to serve the least advantaged in our world. Since my time in Honduras, the Spirit has continued to work in me to mature this interest. He has given me new eyes to see His Kingdom breaking in to our broken world. He has set me on a new path that leads into the heart of this brokenness and, through the cross of Jesus Christ, brings new creation.
My interest in the least advantaged in the developing world began during my sophomore year of high school while on a mission trip to Honduras with a group from my local church. We spent a week serving through manual labor, medical clinics, and children’s ministries. Over the next four years, I returned to Honduras four more times on weeklong missions. This series of trips introduced me to the least advantaged in the developing world. It was a brief introduction, but it was enough to kindle an interest that would soon lead me to serve with a ministry called Servants in Faith and Technology (SIFAT) in a rural Bolivian town. After my sophomore year of college, I spent seven weeks during the summer in Ixiamas, Bolivia as an intern with SIFAT. I lived in a boarding home with approximately fifty school-aged children. While living with the children in Ixiamas, I came to a more intimate understanding of how the least advantaged live and the challenges they face. Unlike in Honduras, I had the time to grow real friendships with the children and adults that we shared life with on a daily basis.
After returning from Bolivia, my interest in the least advantaged of the developing world continued to grow. I became more aware of global issues that were affecting the lives of billions in the developing world, especially in Africa. I was introduced to organizations like Invisible Children and began supporting their work for children in Uganda. In the summer of 2007, I had the opportunity to serve on a three week mission to Monrovia, Liberia, with a group from the Auburn Wesley Foundation. We partnered with the United Methodist Church in Liberia to break ground on a home for the elderly. In Liberia, I witnessed the power of partnering with people in the developing world as dozens of Liberian volunteers sacrificed two weeks of their time to join with our group in building a home for others. Some of the friendships I made with the Liberians we worked with over those three weeks are still very strong today.
During my trips to Honduras, Bolivia, and Liberia, I was able to witness firsthand the lives of the least advantaged in the developing world. These opportunities created an inner desire to know more about what was causing the conditions that led to so much pain and hardship in their lives. In my fourth year at Auburn University, I was very excited to spend an afternoon at the Bread for the World headquarters to learn more about the causes of hunger in our world. In my final year at Auburn, I led a four week Bible study on the intersection of faith and economics. In our study, we examined the international coffee trade and learned more about the struggles faced by small coffee farmers around the world. We also went to Scripture to uncover God’s call for justice in our world. During this time, I also became a supporter of micro-finance institutions working in the developing world. Through organizations like Opportunity International, I was able to connect with the least advantaged in a personal way and contribute directly to their projects. Since my graduation from Auburn University in 2009, I have learned more about economic inequality in our world and how my Christian faith challenges me to seek a world shaped by the justice and righteousness of God.
The idea that this world should be a place that reflects the reign of God has needed time to develop. Growing up in the Church, my view of the world has been influenced by my Christian faith for as long as I can remember. However, it was not until after my experience serving with SIFAT in Bolivia that I began to see the Kingdom of God that was breaking into the world as a result of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This concept of the Kingdom as a visible and historical reality began to change my focus from a distant future with Christ in the perfection of heaven to a focus on how my life, and the life of the Church, might reflect the reign of God today in a broken world. All of a sudden, the words of Christ in Matthew 6:10, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” were filled with new meaning as I realized that His Kingdom was indeed here, but not yet fully here.
Several authors contributed to my new understanding of the Kingdom. First among them is Shane Claiborne in his first book The Irresistible Revolution. This book helped me see what Kingdom life could look like today in an urban context. Walter Rauschenbusch in Christianity and the Social Crisis has helped me hear the call of a Gospel that leads the Church back into the world in order to transform it. In Action and Waiting, Christoph Blumhardt encouraged me to surrender to the victorious power of the Spirit and be a worker in the world for those things I had received in my heart through grace – peace, truth, justice, and wholeness. Through His Word and the words of these and many other authors, the Lord has called me to join in His mission in the world today. It is a mission that seeks first His Kingdom and His righteousness and results in a new community of people whose love is visible, contagious, and transforming. It is a community submitted to Jesus Christ as both Savior and Lord who join and sing with the hymn writer Maltbie Babcock the resounding theme that “this is my Father’s world: the battle is not done: Jesus who died shall be satisfied, and earth and Heav’n be one.”
As I contemplate how this view of the world affects my personal life, the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 point me towards a future serving with the least advantaged. I struggle to comprehend his statement in verse 28, that “God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.” Henri Nouwen’s interpretation of these words in an article entitled “Prayer and the Jealous God” unsettle me – “God has chosen to be revealed in a crucified humanity.” I struggle because when I compare my own life with the lives of many in the world, especially the least advantaged, I am faced with the fact that I am not, in a physical sense, low and despised. In a spiritual sense, I am completely broken and poor in my sin apart from Christ, but I believe Paul is speaking about more than just our spiritual condition. While poverty should not be romanticized, God has chosen to reveal His power and wisdom most clearly in the poor and suffering in this world. The way of Christ will always lead to the cross. This wisdom of the cross compels me to pursue a life of downward motion in opposition to a world that pressures me to always move upwards.
As one who is not low and despised in this world, I am tempted to believe that I can provide for myself and rely on my own power and wisdom. This denial of my dependence on God and others reveals the extent of my own spiritual poverty. I struggle to choose this downward way of Christ on my own, but I am encouraged by Nouwen’s words in another article entitled “Reborn from Above.” He asks, “Can we do something to be reborn from above, or is it all so dependent on the initiative of God’s Spirit that we have no choice but to wait until it happens to us?” His answer points to my need for the poor, for
the Spirit living in [my] poverty will speak to the Spirit among the poor…And out of this, a new spiritual community will be molded, not something spectacular, imposing, or world-convincing, but, on the contrary, something small, hidden, and very humble, scarcely noticed by our fast moving world…It is the work of the Holy Spirit…It is the greatest gift a human being can receive; a gift to be gently held, carefully protected, and patiently led to full maturity.
While the downward path of Jesus will lead to the cross, it does not end there. In the midst of suffering and death, there is resurrection and new creation through the power of the Spirit. As I look to a future in serving the least advantaged, it is this new creation life in community that I seek. While I know the downward way will be marked by pain and hardship, both in my own life and in the lives of those whom I serve, I have hope because God has not only chosen those who walk this path – He has walked it too.
As I consider this desire the Lord has placed in me to serve the least advantaged, I am thankful He is faithful. I am thankful He is patient and abounding in steadfast love and mercy. I am thankful He does not leave or forsake me. I thankful it is His Spirit, and only His Spirit, that can build His Kingdom here on earth and it is not my responsibility to bring life from death. In conclusion, I simply pray to become as a little child who is able to receive His Kingdom and enter into it.