Reflections of Radical Love

Cover of "Radical: Taking Back Your Faith...This past fall, I helped lead a young adult group at my church as we read Radical by David Platt. As its subtitle suggests, the book challenges its readers to take back their faith from the “American Dream” and pursue radical obedience to the Gospel and Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations. What would it look like if we stepped out of our comfort zone, our cushiony American lives, and into a context unlike our own in order to make the grace and glory of God known to the world?

The last chapter of the book is The Radical Experiment: “a year-long commitment to five specific challenges: to pray for the entire world, to read through the entire Word, to commit our lives to multiplying community, to sacrifice our money for a specific purpose, and to give our time in another context.” As I read through the explanation of this experiment, it all seemed relatively easy to accomplish – except for the last one. Surely I can pray, read my Bible, be a part of my church, and donate money. But spending time in another context? Where would I find the time? And the money? How do I find the opportunity to do that?

A few weeks later, I received an email from my boss. Our company was thinking of sponsoring a four-day mission trip to Guatemala, and the company would be covering the expenses. The trip would begin on a Saturday, so I would only miss two days of work. All my questions were answered.

Radical really helped shape my perspective on the trip as I prepared to go to Guatemala. As others wondered why we couldn’t just send money instead of going, I thought about all the people there who appreciate the financial support but desire our time and love. It reminded me of a single mom who is grateful for the child support but would rather have her child’s father be a part of his son’s or daughter’s life. As others researched the statistics on crime and violence in Guatemala, I was reminded that death is the worst thing that could happen. If I happened to die in Guatemala, at least I will then be rewarded with eternity in heaven. I had no fear or hesitations about going.

The purpose of our trip was to see what is being accomplished by Gifts of Love International, a charitable organization our company has supported for many years with donations and silent auction fundraisers. We would have the opportunity to visit a few churches as well as an orphanage that Gifts of Love built. Other than that, we didn’t know what else to expect.

Last Saturday, I departed for Guatemala with two other people from my office. Don, the founder of Gifts of Love International, would meet us in Guatemala while his wife, Barb, would join us in Houston for the last leg of our trip. As we touched down in Guatemala City, I was struck by the apparent poverty. I’m used to airports being surrounded by metropolitan areas, not far from sports arenas and famous landmarks. I looked at the sheet metal housing and rusted out hangars and thought, “Is this as good as it gets?” For the most part, yes.

The heat and humidity was overwhelming. So were the sights and sounds. “Sensory overload,” my coworker said, as we made our way through the airport and the crowds of people asking us en español if we needed help with our bags – in exchange for tips, of course. Outside, there were even more people – especially children – selling stickers and other small items to the tourists who are likely to give a dollar (which is about 6% of the average daily wage in Guatemala).

Daniel, the director of the orphanage, drove us from the airport to the hotel where we would be staying. On the way to the hotel, he told us about the kids at the orphanage and their tragic circumstances. Some had been abandoned by their parents. The government had taken others away from their parents because of neglect or abuse. Some had even been sold into prostitution by their own parents or relatives, and sadly that wasn’t uncommon. You know what’s even worse? The oldest child at the orphanage is only 12 years old.

The good news is that the orphanage is doing wonderful things to care for the children. When we and others support Gifts of Love International, the orphanage has the funds to provide food, housing, schooling, medical care, and much needed psychological care. When we arrived at the hotel, Daniel expressed how appreciative he was of our support, which allows him and the rest of the staff to care for the children at the orphanage.

Our first day consisted mostly of travel, but when we got to Guatemala, our agenda was already pretty full. Our whole group met in the hotel to discuss what the next few days would hold, and after dinner, we went to one of the churches that Gifts of Love supports. This church was in “Los Lobos” or “The Wolves,” one of the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods in Guatemala City. Despite being a dangerous area where gangs and violence were common, I didn’t feel unsafe. Don said he wouldn’t have gone to Los Lobos if he weren’t certain that God was with us.

What was interesting about this particular church was that the congregation members were all indigenous Mayan people. They considered having American visitors a rare and special privilege, so they treated us like guests of honor. It was so humbling to join this church for worship. I’m used to going to church on a Sunday morning without any concern, but this congregation worshiped God with such passion despite the constant danger they face, including the death threats the pastor and his family receive on a regular basis.

541377_773719453404_1896125975_nThe next morning, we attended a church in Palín, Escuintla. The children of the orphanage joined us there, and they were so eager to see their Abuelito Don y Abuelita Barb (Grandpa Don and Grandma Barb). The kids were so friendly and introduced themselves to us with such joy and excitement. Despite us being complete strangers to them, they literally embraced us with so much love.

The music in this service was much more familiar than it was in the Mayan service. Of course all the songs were in Spanish, but I actually knew the first song – “Eres Todopoderoso” (thanks, Messiah College chapel ministry)! I learned (and grew to love) some new songs. I was thankful that they were able to project the lyrics so that I could mentally translate the words and gain an understanding of what we were singing. Whenever I am in a non-English language context, I am so appreciative of the work of Bible translation, because I finally understand how important it is to be able to connect to the Word and to God in a language that speaks to your heart.

After the church service, my coworkers distributed candy to all the kids. The money given to the orphanage for food is not allowed to be used for candy, cakes, or other junk food – only necessities. It was a welcome treat for the kids, and the way their eyes lit up and their smiles grew showed us how much they appreciated the gift. We then went to the pastor’s house for lunch with his family and with Daniel and his wife Raquel. We were so thankful for their hospitality and the opportunity to hear more about Guatemala and the work God is doing there.

We went from the pastor’s house to the orphanage, where we met the kids, the staff, and the animals. They have a horse and two dogs to help with the kids’ emotional therapy, and they have plans to get more animals. The 26 acres of property, with its barn and ongoing construction, reflect the faithful expectation of growth and expansion that Don and Barb have for the orphanage.

I actually stayed at the orphanage Sunday night while the rest of my group returned to the hotel. Since I don’t speak much Spanish, I couldn’t really talk with any of the kids and most of the adults. Instead of attempting to carry a conversation, I sat on the couch and played with a little girl’s hair as she fell asleep on my lap. I still love when my mom plays with my hair when we sit on the couch together, so I wanted to pass along that comforting feeling to these kids. Daniel speaks the best English, so he told me stories about the kids’ histories and the work they do at the orphanage while I held sleeping babies.

I stayed with the four oldest girls, who were so excited to have me share their room. They even mopped the floor when they found out I would be staying there, because they wanted the room to smell nice for me. As we sat on our beds, they tried so hard to ask me questions and talk to me. We were all a little frustrated that we couldn’t understand each other, but some of the girls were very patient with me and tried various ways to communicate successfully. Eventually we were able to understand each other a little bit before they had to go to bed. I learned that Jessica was working on a sewing project, Dulce was 12 years old, and that they had school the next morning.

Half of the kids went to school the next morning. While the rest of the children waited for their breakfast, I went to the mill where one of the staff members brings the corn to prepare for tortillas. When we got there, a little girl had just finished milling her corn. I didn’t realize until we were leaving that she had come alone and that she was hauling her load of corn back home on her bicycle. Even the orphanage was relatively fortunate to be able to drive to the mill.

563617_773753669834_155506175_nBefore we left the orphanage, each child received a pillow/stuffed animal that we brought for them. As each child’s name was called for them to come and receive their gift, all the other kids cheered. There was so much joy in that room. We were able to tell the kids – through a translator – how much we loved them and how much they had blessed us despite our intentions to bless them. Those children will be the longest lasting memories of our time in Guatemala.

The rest of our brief time in Guatemala was spent visiting the leadership institute that Gifts of Love International built to raise young men to be leaders in the church. Eventually there will also be a leadership institute for young women. We also had the opportunity to visit Antiqua, an old city that had once been the capital of Guatemala and the center of Catholicism in Latin America.

While we were in Antiqua, we learned about the bombings at the Boston Marathon. We were sitting next to a Boston woman whose niece crossed the finish line one minute before the bombs went off. Her daughter is a student at Boston University and decided to study that day instead of go to the marathon. I also learned that her daughter’s dorm is the same one that I called home for two summers. We found it slightly ironic that the bombings happened in the U.S. while we were in a country people thought was too dangerous for us to visit.

We left Guatemala early Tuesday morning, just a few days after arriving. At the airport, we met an American woman who had been in Guatemala for a medical missions trip through Joyce Meyer ministries. We talked with her about why we had come to Guatemala and about her trip. When we talked about what was going on back home in the States and the timing of being out of the country, she summed it up perfectly: the safest place to be is in the will of God.

This trip will not be easily forgotten. At least I pray that God will not let me forget the things I have seen and learned while in Guatemala. I pray that my experiences over those four short days have forever changed who I am and how I serve God and all His children.

Click here to see more photos from Guatemala. Video to come!

Missing from the Media, Part 2: Christians, or Why It’s Okay to Like Us

In my last post, I wrote about the lack of good kids in today’s mainstream media, and just overnight, I have gotten great feedback from other good kids. They agree that TV characters aren’t as responsible or well-balanced as they used to be (oh, ’90s family programming, we miss you!), and we’d like to see characters whose behaviors and life choices resemble our own.

Personally, I have chosen to be a good kid because of my Christian faith. Like most (if not all) of the people who connected with my last post, I try to abstain from certain activities, behaviors, and attitudes in order to live a life that is pleasing to God. The Bible tells us, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). I try to glorify God by reflecting his goodness and holiness in my actions and decisions.

As I wrote yesterday’s post and thought about my reasons for being a good kid, I realized that the media also lacks positive or realistic portrayals of Christians. Whether it’s a fictional character or particular Christian individuals or groups in news coverage, Christians in media rarely provide a positive representation of Jesus-followers. If people are basing their opinions of Christians and Christianity on the media, it’s no wonder why people hate Christians.

Marguerite Perrin, known as “the God Warrior” from Trading Spouses

When people hear the word “Christian,” they might think of the Westboro Baptist Church, who tote “God Hates [fill in the blank]” signs and use tragedy as an opportunity to condemn homosexuality, Judaism, Italy, or Barack Obama. They might think of Harold Camping, who predicts the world will end on May 21, 1988 September 7, 1994 May 21, 2011 October 21, 2011. They might think of Glee‘s Quinn Fabray, the deviously vindictive head cheerleader who balanced teen pregnancy with her responsibilities as president of the Celibacy Club. Or they might think of the sheltered and naive Rod and Todd Flanders from The Simpsons. Christians in media are seen as judgmental hypocrites or just plain crazy and stupid.

Mother Teresa

But what are Christians really like? According to the old song, “they will know we are Christians by our love.” We are not out to hate the world but to love it. Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). Not only does God love all people, He has commanded Christians to do the same. So when the media shows people who claim to love Jesus but hate everyone else, that’s not an accurate representation of what faith in Jesus is supposed to look like.

In the area of morality, media struggles to find a balance in its characterization of Christians. Fictional Christian characters are either naive or hypocritical. On one end of the spectrum, they are goody two-shoes who have been sheltered from a world of sin. On the other end, they disapprove of others’ actions while they are up to their eyeballs in identical immorality behind a facade of innocence. Most people are somewhere in the middle. We are not perfect, nor do we pretend to be.

If I could create a Christian character, it would be someone known for loving other people – all people. Someone who wouldn’t claim to be perfect but would still strive for moral integrity. Someone who stands by his or her convictions, whether it’s a matter of religious doctrine or moral standards, and respectfully disagrees with those who believe differently. Someone who is compassionate, generous, and kind. Perhaps someone who is passionate about social justice and doing something to change the world.

Apparently, Glee creator Ryan Murphy had plans in 2010 to create a Christian character for the second season. He told TV Guide, “We’ve taken a couple jabs at the right wing this year, so what I want to do with this character is have someone who Christian kids and parents can recognize and say, ‘Oh, look—I’m represented there, too!’ If we’re trying to form a world of inclusiveness, we’ve got to include that point of view as well.” Obviously, that plan didn’t come to fruition as fans prepare for the premier of the show’s third season, but Murphy hasn’t completely canned the idea. Winner of The Glee Project, Samuel Larsen, says that Murphy is considering casting him as an indie rocker that you wouldn’t expect to be a Christian but is.

If Christian characters on TV, like the one that Ryan Murphy might create for Glee, were more like the Christians I know (or what I believe a Christian to be), then people would realize it’s okay to like Christians. And if all Christians were more like the Jesus we claim to follow, then people would realize it’s okay to like Jesus, too.

Biblical Manhood & Womanhood: A List of Unanswered Questions

These are questions I have compiled from my own thoughts and reflections as well as those of my friends. Feel free to comment with any answers or additional questions you might have.

What is the difference between being unique individuals and disobeying God’s intentions for gender? How do we tell the difference?

Is it wrong or even sinful for a woman to hold a position of leadership when there are men capable of filling the role?

Does the Holy Spirit distinguish between male and female when giving spiritual gifts?

If it is possible for a woman to receive the gift of teaching, is she limited to non-pastoral settings with only children and other women?

Does God ever call women to be pastors?

According to complementarianism, are we incomplete without a counterpart of the opposite gender?

Does the partner provide strength for our weakness or encourage the development of strength within ourselves?

Are we to actively seek a spouse with complementary strengths and weaknesses?

Does complementarianism account for individuals, regardless of gender, with complementary qualities?

How are we to find beauty in submission when it is expected? How do we experience joy in giving when it is asked of us?

How relevant are cultural expectations for masculinity and femininity?

What should parents be teaching their children about what it means to be a boy or girl?

Is it a Christian parent’s duty to “correct” daughters who are tomboys or sons who are effeminate?

What are the implications of Genesis 3:16? (To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”)

Recap and Reflection: Biblical Manhood & Womanhood Talk – Part 2

Last week, a group of men and women from my church came together to continue our discussion of biblical manhood and womanhood, this time focusing on women. The group included both men and women, though we hope to have more men in attendance at the next discussion (August 16).

We began with a review of our previous discussion, which focused on biblical manhood and mature masculinity. According to the definition we have been studying of mature masculinity, one aspect of masculinity is taking initiative. Those in the discussion group agreed that today’s men have been doing a poor job of that. After all, out of all the men in the church (or just the church’s young adult group), only two came to the discussion. Women, therefore, need to invite initiative. The definition of womanhood we’ve been studying includes nurturing as a major aspect of a woman’s responsibilities. By inviting initiative, we nurture and encourage men in their responsibilities – we strengthen strength. That was one point we kept returning to during the discussion: it is the woman’s responsibility to nurture the men in her life.

As we began to discuss womanhood in more detail, we were reminded to listen to “The Genesis of Gender,” a message by Mary Kassian. We turned to the book of Genesis and the creation of Adam and Eve to gain a bit of understanding about men and women. Adam, made of dirt, was created somewhere out in the world and then was brought into the Garden of Eden. When a suitable helper was not found in any of the other creatures God had made, Eve was created from a rib pulled out of Adam’s side. Eve – woman – was created as a helper. This is not a helper as in, “Woman, make me a sandwich.” Rather, woman was created to help man glorify God.

Looking at the creation of Eve, we noted the parallels with the creation of the Church. Adam, with his side a bloody mess, gave of himself – his rib – for the creation of Eve. Jesus Christ, a crucified and pierced bloody mess, gave his whole self in sacrifice for the sins of the world, and out of his sacrifice was born the Church. We use this image as a gauge for our relationships. How healthy is a relationship? Well, how much does it look like the Gospel?

We also noted that women were created always with someone to relate to. We talked about how women are greatly affected by the loss of a relationship, because from the beginning, women were relational beings. Likewise, a man is greatly affected when he loses his job, because from the beginning, men were created for work. Similarly, women tend to focus on conversation when they are together, whereas men tend to focus on activity. Of course, this does not apply to all men or all women.

During our discussion, we also talked about qualities that characterize immature and mature femininity. Under immature femininity are qualities like slavish, flirtatious, moody, catty, manipulative, and complaining. Under mature femininity are qualities like compassionate, empathetic, gentle, hospitable, supportive, perceptive, and quiet. We spent a good deal of time talking about “quiet.” One of the men questioned why “quiet” would be on the list of qualities for mature femininity. He can think of women whose outspokenness allows them to be supportive or demonstrate wisdom. To him, quietness in some women might actually keep those women from living out the other qualities of mature femininity. We decided that maybe “calm” or “quiet in spirit” was a better term, though I wonder if that was the true intention of the men who compiled the list (John Piper and Wayne Grudem, authors of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood).

Again, I left the discussion with more questions. This time, I wonder about personality and uniqueness. According to complementarianism, gender roles were created by God but corrupted by the fall. Men and women were created with specific design and unique gifts. For example, women are uniquely gifted to make a home in the sense of providing a welcome and hospitality. It is my understanding of the discussion that the corruption of our gender roles is what causes someone to deviate from God’s design and gifting of the separate genders, and we are to strive to fix this brokenness. Someone in the discussion also added that personality is shaped by the world and not given by God. I found this comment particularly interesting and thought-provoking. If personality is not God-given, what has God given us – other than our physical bodies – to distinguish one individual from another? And if someone who does not reflect the God-designed roles and gifts is just broken, is there any difference between being unique and being disobedient against God?

Obviously, I have more questions now than before, and I don’t think I have gathered any answers yet. I think I will create a separate post for the questions I have and the questions that have been raised by friends throughout this discussion. As always, I welcome your feedback.

A Personal Exploration of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

The young adult group at my church recently began a three-part discussion series on biblical manhood and womanhood. Using John Piper and Wayne Grudem’s book, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, as a kind of framework, we started to explore what the Bible says about the relationships men and women have with each other and what those relationships should look like according to Scripture. There are three traditional views in the Church of male/female relationships and roles. The hierarchical view says men are of more value than women, and men are called to leadership. The complementarian view says men and women are equal in value, but they are different in their roles. The egalitarian view also says men and women are equal in value, but they are identical in calling. Each view uses Bible verses and particular interpretations of Scripture to support their beliefs, and you may see all three views represented in the congregations of some churches.

Prior to the first discussion, I thought about each view and what I believe to be true. As we prepare for our second discussion, I am still attempting to process my thoughts on the issue and haven’t reached any solid conclusions. I feel like time to think about this matter has produced no answers – only more questions. Below are my thoughts and the sense I am trying to make of them. I welcome your opinions on the subject, whether about my perspective or your own beliefs, and any answers you may have for my questions.

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Complementarianism is based on the belief that men and women were created to complete each other. The strengths of men fill the voids left by the weaknesses of women, and vice versa. Because of the strengths generally seen in men, they are suited for some roles better than women. Likewise, women do some things better than men because of the strengths they generally have. One of man’s strengths is that of leadership; in complementary fashion, woman is called to submission in a way that honors and affirms man’s leadership. In Piper and Grudem’s definition of “mature masculinity,” they state that men are called to be the heads of their households as breadwinners, protectors, and the primary disciplinarians of their children, among other responsibilities. They define “mature femininity” as the “freeing disposition to affirm, receive, and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships.”

Exegetically (that is, according to the critical interpretation and explanation of the Bible), I think a complementarian view is most accurate. I feel like I am supposed to hold a complementarian view, but I struggle with it in practical application. Piper and Grudem write that when one examines the issue of biblical manhood and womanhood, we ask, “Does the Bible really teach this view?” However, we may also ask, “Is the vision beautiful and satisfying and fulfilling? Can I live with it?” Can I be obedient with delight? It is because of this second question that I do not believe I can call myself 100% complementarian. I do not think I can whole-heartedly – and joyfully – adhere to the beliefs of the complementarian view.

If I marry one day, I would like a household characterized by a complementary relationship in which my husband takes initiative to be a leader of the family. However, I struggle to desire the same submission in other contexts. I have been a leader since childhood. During group assignments, I would step up and take charge of the project. Teachers appointed me to leadership positions. In college, I was hired to lead on campus as a Residential Assistant. Even now, I am helping to lead this discussion series on manhood and womanhood. As someone who is used to leading, I find the expectation to submit and be led a little challenging.

I am also left wondering how complementarian belief views the appropriateness of female leadership in various contexts, especially in the secular workforce. Piper and Grudem say that “a situation in which a female boss has a male secretary […] will put more strain on the humanity of both parties…” So is it wrong for a woman to be in a position of leadership when there are men capable of filling the role? For example, is it wrong – perhaps even sinful? – for a corporation to be run by a female CEO instead of an equally qualified male?

In the Church, many denominations believe that only men should be elders and clergy, and women should not be pastors. Having been raised in the United Methodist Church, where I was taught and led by both male and female pastors and spiritual leaders, I find this particularly difficult to accept, in spite of Paul’s message to both Timothy and the Corinthians about women not teaching but learning in quietness and submission (1 Timothy 2:11-15; 1 Corinthians 14:34-36). I think of Paul’s word in 1 Corinthians 12, verses 4 – 11:

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

Does the Spirit distinguish between male and female when giving spiritual gifts? If it is possible for a woman to receive the gift of teaching, is that woman limited to teaching in non-pastoral settings with only children or other women? I struggle with this somewhat defining aspect of complementarianism, women in spiritual leadership, having been led by female pastors and knowing women who are currently in or pursuing pastoral positions at their churches. Each of those women feels called by God to such roles. Are they wrong? Does God ever call women to be pastors? I just find it difficult to believe that someone who seems to have been equipped to lead others spiritually is not allowed to do so because she has also been equipped to carry a child. I have been told that having a woman lead a church as pastor threatens and undermines the masculinity of the church’s men, who ought to accept the responsibility and burden of leadership. But I ask this: is it not the same Spirit that reveals Truth to both men and women? Why are men specially called to share that truth with congregations when women are not?

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I used to think I was a complementarian with egalitarian “leanings,” but now I wonder if it is the opposite. I agree with both views that men and women are equal in value. I believe that men and women do complement each other. The strengths of men and women balance the weaknesses of the other. In relationship, the strength of a man is tempered with the gentleness of a woman. I also agree that certain tasks or roles may be fulfilled more successfully by one gender or the other based on qualities they generally have.

However, I hesitate to speak in generalities. As someone who defies multiple stereotypes, and as someone who has lived and worked with social minority groups (e.g. male ballet dancers at a summer dance program, international students in college, etc.), I have learned to be mindful of the individual – the exceptions to the rule. I am reminded that we have also been gifted and designed differently from one another as individuals. Though gentleness is a characteristic generally seen in women, a man can be gentle. Though strength is a characteristic generally seen in men, a woman can be strong. A role may be filled more successfully by women in general, but a capable man can also find success in the same role – and vice versa. Because of individual differences, I don’t think our callings are limited by gender but by the unique qualities and gifts we have each been given by God.

These are the beliefs I have determined I can live with, but it is right? Now I must begin the process of reconciling what is biblically true with I can obey without grudge until I reach something that is both right and good.