Anti-Abortion or Pro-Lives? A Call to Redemptive Engagement with the Abortion Crisis

Anti-Abortion or Pro-Lives? A Call to Redemptive Engagement with the Abortion Crisis

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Charis Kauffman, along with her husband Kenneth and and their 2-year-old daughter, lives in Brooklyn, NY. As a family they are discovering that their passions are bigger than their energy. If the Kauffman family is not at home when you stop by for a visit, you can likely find them in one of the many coffee shops throughout NYC, sipping on a mug of craft coffee.

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The recent passing of the Reproductive Health Act by the New York State Legislature has served as a chilling wake up call to many Christians. The passing of this Act removed a long-standing ban on abortion after twenty-four weeks, effectively making it possible for a full-term abortion of any child if sanctioned by a healthcare professional. New York joined eight other states that provide no legal protection for infants inside the womb. However, the public reaction and emotion surrounding this bill have seemed to be stronger than when previous states enacted similar laws. The political climate may be partly to blame for this response, but two other factors contributed to this as well. One, the Act was signed into law by a governor who is affiliated with the Catholic Church. Two, the passing of the bill was celebrated by lighting up famous sites in NYC with pink.

My heart is heavy. I have wept over this tragic decision here in my state. I ache deeply over the evils of abortion and the millions of human lives this horror has claimed. I hurt for the thousands of women who are merely seen and used as pawns for political power on all sides of the issue. I grieve for how little value we, as a nation, are putting on human lives. And, quite frankly, I am troubled by the responses of many conservative Christians to this issue. In writing this article, my desire is to confront some common misconceptions and counter-productive attitudes surrounding the abortion issue while casting a vision for a more redemptive response.

As Christians, we believe that humans are the pinnacle of God’s creation, made in His own image. This is a dignity that we must value, defend, and promote for all humans, born or unborn. All humans are created for purpose, for relationship with Jesus, to be known and loved by God. We must be pro-life!

Too often, followers of Jesus equate pro-life with only being anti-abortion. I too was guilty of this. It was while volunteering at a holistic pregnancy crisis center as an older teenager that my eyes were opened to the complexities surrounding the abortion issue. As I heard women’s stories, saw their pain, and prayed with them, I came to understand that I had to embrace much more than an anti-abortion stance before I could claim to be pro-life. I realized the Christian’s duty surrounding this issue is not cookie-cutter clean; it necessarily is messy because it is inherently broken. Pro-life means being pro-baby, pro-mom, and pro-dad. It means holding up a standard of morality while being willing to wade into the messiness, joining Jesus in His pursuit of cosmic redemption. Prettily packaged answers of abstinence, adoption, and the need for new laws are not enough. There is a place for Band-Aids (thank God they exist), but our primary focus should be on limiting the wounds.

Confronting Common Misconceptions and Poor Responses

We often need to clean up our own core assumptions and reshape our own mindsets before we can begin to engage in healthy, redemptive ways with contemporary issues. The abortion crisis is no exception. Here are some troubling mindsets and responses that I (and others who gave input for this article) have heard or noticed among conservative Christian circles.

#1. The Baby is Unwanted / The Mother is Selfish

While this may occasionally be true for abortion cases, it is often not the case. Many women who feel like they must choose abortion come from horrible situations. As a mother, I would shudder to have my child grow up in the generational clutches of brokenness and evil that many women are caught in. These women often feel the same way . They have no desire for their child experience the horrors with which they live. Many are caught without finances, resources, and limited opportunities and they see no way out. There is often incredible shame alongside pregnancy and these mothers have no desire for their child to have to carry the shame of how it was conceived and the situation it was born into. When this is all you know and the only “hope” you have for your child, it doesn’t take much to convince yourself, or to be convinced that abortion is the loving option.

Friends, please be careful of assuming or using language that implies that an aborted baby is an unwanted baby. This mindset and these accusations only serve to create a culture of judgment and shame that will drive women away when they most need our love and support.

#2. The Mother Needs to Get Her Life Together and Stop Sleeping Around with Men

As was mentioned above, many women who choose abortion are living in hopeless situations without anybody in their life to give them love and support. Many times sex is the only path for them to feel at all wanted or loved. Or sex may be “forced” on them as a way of staying in a relationship and having housing and a place to belong. Carrying a baby full-term often means losing a job, embracing shame, losing a boyfriend/husband, and possibly homelessness.

It is much easier for us to judge and give advice than to engage in the mess with love and support. If we want to save children, though, we must be willing to love and support mothers. I cringed recently when I heard the testimony of a mother who chose an abortion after being shamed by her pastor but felt loved and understood by the people at the abortion center. This was the reason she was willing to choose their advice. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated scenario.

#3. Adoption is the Abortion Alternative

Please, don’t get me wrong! I am all for adoption. I have close friends and relatives who have adopted. I wish more people would choose to adopt. I think adoption is heroic.

But…adoption is not the cure-all, or even the best solution for the abortion crisis. As mentioned above, a woman who chooses to carry her child full-term and adopt, is still often likely to lose her job, face rejection, and stay caught in the same terrible lifestyle. So often the cry of “just give me the baby” is coming from an attitude that forgets or disdains the mother and the father of the child. Adoption is beautiful and good but it is a reflection of brokenness. It is only an option because of sin in this world. While it may be a beautiful answer with beautiful stories, I fear that sometimes we see adoption as the only alternative to offer because it is the cleaner alternative to the messiness of caring and supporting the mother, the father, and the child. Adoption is a Band-Aid and I’m grateful for it. But friends, please don’t promote it as the primary alternative/cure or use it as a way of helping from a sanitary distance.

Pursuing Redemptive Responses

So, what is the cure? Ultimately, the cure is for Jesus to return, fully eradicate evil, and bring to completion His desire for a pure, redeemed world. Until then, the whole cosmos continues to groan in brokenness, longing for redemption (See Romans 8). Jesus does not stand at a distance simply observing this groan until the time of consummation; He is active! Our Savior went into the heart of brokenness, getting bloodied and enduring the worst torment imaginable in order to provide a path of redemption. He emerged victorious and stands as a gigantic figure of hope for a broken, sinful world. But He still wears a bloody robe and is on a redemptive campaign (Revelation 19). He calls us to join Him, the bloodied King, on this redemptive quest into the middle of this groaning, cosmic mess.

Can we as people of Jesus be His light, His hope, His hands and feet in practical ways? Messy ways? Painful ways? Jesus-like ways? There are so many practical methods to engage with and support redemptive ministry. Here are some suggestions.

Photo by Charis Kauffman

Engage In Redemptive Relationships

If we are going to help change the narrative of abortion, we must begin with local relationships. Advocating for new laws, sharing opinions on social media, and writing blog posts (like this one) have their place, but these are not the primary way to make a difference.

The narrative really begins to change:

  • When a mother in crisis is loved, supported, and shown a new path. When she finds a real friend that she can rely on and gives her hope.
  • When fathers and men in broken situations are pursued and befriended. When we help them learn the value of love and, through loving them, they learn how to love their wives/girlfriends, and their children.
  • When we engage with broken families, inviting them into our homes and adopting them into our families, providing new circles of friends.
  • When we learn to listen to an individual before we judge their situation or motives.
  • When we adopt children and do foster care, changing the narrative for the next generation. When we are willing to pursue the messy situations like adoption or foster care of babies with medical conditions, helping to show the medical world and the parents that there is a way to love and care for these children.
  • When we stop shaming unplanned pregnancies, inside and outside our churches, and instead celebrate the gift of life. Yes, sin must be addressed, but nobody involved should have to carry that burden of shame. God is a God of redemption.

We, the people of Jesus, should be able to show much better love than the worker at an abortion center. People in crisis go to and trust people that understand and love them. The onus to put abortion centers out of business does not have to rest on politicians; it is our task! Let’s be willing to get messy, risk pain, and follow our redemptive Lord into redemptive relationships.

Provide Redemptive Opportunities

Alongside redemptive relationships should be a pursuit of providing redemptive opportunities, giving a tangible path to a new life.

Here are some ideas:

  • Provide good job opportunities for single mothers and low-income families. We have many incredible, untapped opportunities in our businesses to change the abortion narrative. Be willing to embrace the mess and risk of hiring ladies in crisis and fathers of unplanned pregnancies. Too often we have embraced the lie that they just need to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, not recognizing the incredible ways that they are limited through lack of connections and opportunities.
  • Provide safe houses for women in crisis with opportunities for education and learning new skills. There are some incredible ministries that are doing this and we could learn from them.
  • Provide care centers for women that offer holistic, free, and judgment-free care as an alternative to abortion clinics that often offer other free services for women.
  • Provide childcare for single mothers so that they can hold jobs and not be faced with homelessness or forced into abusive situations to provide food and shelter for them and their children.
  • Provide inner-city schools and after school programs to help change the story for the next generation.

Support Redemptive Ministries

I am so encouraged by the hundreds of individuals and ministries who are involved in holistic, redemptive causes. These are grueling, messy pursuits and these people need our support, both physically and emotionally.

  • Support your local PCC (Pregnancy Crisis Center). Be willing to volunteer and get involved in caring for women in crisis. Many times these centers are struggling for financial means to stay afloat and need our financial assistance.
  • Support families in foster care and those who are adopting. These are draining ministries both financially and emotionally.
  • Support the families who receive a grave medical diagnosis for their unborn child. Families facing this are often given the option of abortion by medical professionals as way to spare their child from suffering. These people need our support and help to face the life-altering changes that often comes with these diagnoses. I asked a friend with a medically fragile child for suggestions on how people can help in these situations. Here are some of her ideas:
    • Money Gifts
    • Simple encouragement
    • People to help with household chores during long hospital stays
    • Inviting them to birthdays, after church meals, and special events. Even if they can’t make it due to medical reasons it means the world to be remembered.
    • Having one or two people to learn the special needs of the child and provide babysitting for date nights, assistance with doctor appointments, etc…
  • Give people involved in abortion ministry or women’s ministry a platform to share about their work and opportunities to educate others for this ministry. Spend time with them in their work, learning from them.
  • Support inner-city schools and children’s ministries.
  • Support organizations that are involved in holistically confronting the abortion crisis and caring for women or families in crisis. Here is a list of some organizations doing this well:
    • The Archibald Project
    • Save the Storks
    • The Esther House
    • The Morning Center
    • Show Hope (providing adoption aid, post adoption support, and care centers)

Friends, the abortion crisis should be a call-to-action for us. This call-to-action is much more than simply taking an anti-abortion stance or raising our voices in protest from a distance; it means being pro-life for all. What our country really needs is a massive human wave of Jesus followers going straight into the mess of broken relationships and evil that has caused this abortion crisis. We follow a Savior who offers redemption and hope to the broken and the evil. Let’s wade in with Him. There is hope!

The Powerful Witness of Same-Sex Attracted Christians

The Powerful Witness of Same-Sex Attracted Christians

Testimony

Emily Hallock is a blogger and mother of three who lives at Beech Grove, a Bruderhof community in Kent, England. This article originally appeared on Bruderhof.com and in the Autumn 2018 issue of Plough Quarterly.

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When I was thirteen years old, my dad died from AIDS as a result of a same-sex relationship outside of his marriage. So when as a follower of Jesus, I get called a bigot, it hurts me deeply. I loved my dad; most of my happiest childhood memories were shared with him. We danced to Carly Simon. We baked Black Forest Cherry Cake. We sat together in our rocking chairs on warm North Carolina nights, marveling at God’s universe.

But most of all I loved him because, more than any other person in my life, he pointed me to Jesus. When I was nine, he gave me the Bible I still use today. He wanted me to know how important it was to follow Jesus, come what may. He suffered intensely from AIDS, but he told me that he suffered more from his betrayal of Christ. He knew he had sinned, and was deeply sorry. I witnessed his repentance and his childlike joy when he knew he was forgiven. It remains the single most important example for my own life.

With my parents on my second birthday (Photo Credits: Emily Hallock)

When I found out about my dad’s same-sex attraction, I was shocked, not because of any scrupulous moral principles I had, but because of how he had struggled alone for so many years. He came from a Southern Baptist military family, and he’d had a difficult relationship with his own father, who had been a Green Beret. He wasn’t macho or on the football team like his older brother; he was just different.

In those years, same-sex attraction was taboo, and my dad could not share his feelings at home or at church. At the same time, he felt called by Jesus and wanted to dedicate his life to Jesus as a pastor. But what pastor was allowed to be same-sex attracted in the 1970s? So he did the “right thing,” got married, had two children, and became a pastor of a Quaker church.

But he couldn’t shake his same-sex attraction. He knew God’s commands; he knew there would be no blessing on a parallel gay lifestyle, but he was unable to share his burden or ask for help. Eventually, all alone, he gave in to temptation.

The churches failed my dad then, and they are failing people like him now, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve found Ed Shaw’s book The Plausibility Problem a great help in this regard. Shaw, a celibate, same-sex attracted pastor, challenges churches on their lack of support for same-sex attracted Christians. All of us, he says, are subject to temptations, and all of us need help to overcome them. All Christians need the support of a church family to follow Jesus, but because many churches either refuse to discuss same-sex attraction for fear of being labelled homophobic, or encourage same-sex attracted people to live a gay lifestyle in the same spirit of compromise, most same-sex attracted Christians don’t get the support they need.

Rather than helping him, Shaw says, churches make his life difficult by being unclear, even hypocritical, about a sin like divorce and remarriage, and by not clarifying the sacrifices required for true discipleship. He writes of what he calls “kitchen floor moments,” when he feels acutely the sacrifices of the stand he is taking. “What will help me get up off the kitchen floor is seeing other Christians sacrifice short-term happiness out of obedience to God’s Word. I’m most encouraged to obey what God says about sex by the costly obedience I see other Christians make. A good friend has been willing to sacrifice his professional reputation to take a stand for truth. Another friend persevered in a marriage nearly everyone else would have walked away from – because he knows God hates divorce. All of them are the sort of people who have most made me feel the possibility of the life that I’m living, and I praise God for them.” Such shared sacrifices are crucial to reinforcing the idea that the church is a place of welcome to same-sex attracted disciples.

The church loses its voice and authority when it holds same-sex attracted people to a higher standard than others; fidelity to the Gospel includes us all. We cannot ignore adultery or limply justify divorce and remarriage and cohabitation while condemning homosexuality; the Bible contains strong moral judgments on all of them. No one of us chooses our demons; they choose us, and in that sense, the church has to accept those individuals who seem to have fixed, unremitting same-sex attraction, and help them with hope and truth.

My dad died still looking for a supportive church family – a church that did not condemn, a church focused on trying to live out the Sermon on the Mount with love and care for all seven days a week. Thankfully, Shaw found a church family to fill the lonely hours when he, like other singles, found himself missing a spouse and children of his own to come home to. And I found a church family, too, when I joined the Bruderhof. Here, with my husband, Dan, and our three children, we can help each other put God’s will before our own will; our faithfulness to Jesus before our pursuit of happiness. Within my own church community, I’ve seen gay congregants find peace and answers in either singleness or God-ordained marriage within the fellowship. If my dad had found such support, things could have turned out very differently.

It’s not just Ed Shaw and my dad; there are others who’ve made this sacrifice, too. Sam Allberry (Is God Anti-Gay?) and Wesley Hill (Washed and Waiting) are exclusively same-sex attracted Christians for whom celibacy is the only option to stay faithful to God’s commands. Rosaria Butterfield (The Secret Thoughts of An Unlikely Convert), on the other hand, was able to renounce her lesbian lifestyle to marry and adopt children in the church. All of them, out of love to Jesus, put God first and had the courage to publish their stories.

People with same-sex attraction who want to follow Jesus may be among the most important witnesses of our time. They are taking a brave, uncompromising stand for the gospel that requires great personal sacrifice. They are asking the church to stand together with them. The church needs to be there for people like my dad, and for each one of us. We are all sinners, whether we are heterosexual or same-sex attracted. We cannot single out specific sins or certain individuals for condemnation, because the truth for everyone is that when we put Jesus before our self-interests, all can be redeemed.

The apostle Paul speaks of this crucial unity, praying for the day when “we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:14–16). If one group of believers turns judgmentally on another group, the ship of the church will founder in the storm. But when sinners – no matter what their sin – unite in their need of grace and repentance, the church will only be strengthened.

Following a Homeless Lord

Following a Homeless Lord

Anabaptist Perspectives, Guest Blogger

Dwight Gingrich is a former pastor and high school teacher who currently lives in Atlanta, Ga with his wife and three daughters where they are helping to establish a church plant. Dwight says that he is passionate about “exegesis and ecclesiology–that is, faithful interpretation of the Bible and good theological understandings and practices regarding the Church of Jesus Christ.” You can read more of Dwight’s writings and Scripture studies here.

(Thank you to Daughters of Promise magazine for granting us permission to reprint this article from their Winter 2017 issue.)

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Since 1973, the year before I was born, the average living space per person in newly built United States homes has nearly doubled from 551 to 1,058 square feet.1 My adult experience distantly follows this same trend. As a single during college, I had personal space of maybe 375 square feet in the basement of my landlord’s home. Now (eighteen years, four dwellings, and four additional family members later) I am a first-time home owner of a house in Atlanta, Georgia, with 2,200 square feet plus an unfinished basement.

“But the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58).

Speaking of somewhere to lay your head, my bed size since moving to the U.S. in 2003 has also grown—from a single bed in the Bronx, to a full-sized sofa bed (newly-weds!), to several more full-sized beds, to, now, a luxurious queen-sized bed.

“But the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

Rich Mullins sang it well:

There were places You visited frequently
Took off Your shoes and scratched Your feet
‘Cause You knew that the whole world belonged to the meek
But You did not have a home…
Birds have nests, foxes have dens
But the hope of the whole world rests
On the shoulders of a homeless man. 2

What does it mean, in our McMansion world, to be followers of a homeless Lord?

We must begin by taking Jesus’ call to homelessness seriously. “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go,” an overconfident scribe assured Jesus (Matt. 8:19). Jesus’ response was a harsh reality check: Foxes have holes, and birds have roosts, but the One we profess to follow had no place to rest. Perhaps significantly, Luke says this conversation happened “along the road” (9:57). Matthew says it happened right before Jesus’ disciples “followed him” into a boat, where the travel-weary Jesus slept, tossed by a great storm (8:23-24).

Jesus, who lived during childhood with His parents in “their own town” of Nazareth (Luke 2:39), spent His adult ministry years as a travelling rabbi, never long in one place, always following His Father’s call. In Luke’s account, it was “after this” teaching about homelessness that Jesus sent out the seventy-two, instructing them to rely on others who would open their houses (Luke 10:1, 5-8). Anyone who wanted to follow Jesus had to travel with Him, leaving nets and tables and homes behind. Anyone who wants to follow Him today must likewise be willing to abandon home without hesitation.

Many of the first Christians voluntarily sold their houses, giving to those in need (Acts 4:34-35). More were driven from home against their will by persecution (Acts 8:1). Obedience to the two great commandments and the Great Commission will lead many Christians to pluck up roots and move where the Spirit blows. Do not imagine a homeless Messiah will never ask His followers to be homeless. Do not imagine you will know the joy of following if you cling tenaciously to your present—or your dream—square footage of personal living space. (And do not imagine, I suggest from experience, that the hassles of home ownership can compete with the joys of following Jesus.)

And yet, receive Jesus’ statement about homelessness as a proverb, not a law. Receive it as a candle exposing the loyalties of your heart, not a cookie-cutter to enforce conformity. No spiritual law lets you mechanically measure the discipleship of anyone, yourself included, simply by calculating the square footage of a house, large or small.

Like the wisdom literature of the Old Testament and the rabbis of His day, Jesus used stark images, black-and-white contrasts, and hyperbole. When He told us to gouge out our eye if it causes us to stumble (Matt. 5:29), His exaggerated demand was a command commonly used by teachers of His day. Jesus aimed to expose hearts and stir minds, inviting listeners to solve moral riddles by a heart renovation of repentance. Applying Jesus’ teaching requires an exegesis of not only His words, but also our lives and cultures, so we can rightly apply the right words for the right circumstances.

Jesus said you cannot be His disciple unless you “hate” your own family (Luke 14:26), yet one of His last acts was to ensure His mother had a “son” to care for her (John 19:26-27). He said you should “give to everyone who begs from you” (Luke 6:30), yet He rebuked the crowd who wanted to crown Him king so they could always eat His miraculous provision of food (John 6:15, 26-27). And Jesus’ call to homelessness came, according to Matthew, right after He had been hosted in “Peter’s house” (8:14-17)!

This leads to my final point: if you have a home, use it as a place to host Jesus and those He loves. Peter, who had reportedly “left everything” to follow Jesus (Mark 10:28), had not, apparently, actually sold his house. Some scholars speculate it became a base for Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, being perhaps the “home” that Jesus is said to have had in Capernaum (Mark 1:29-34; 2:1, 15; 3:20; etc.). Something similar happened with the rich tax collector Levi. “Leaving everything, he rose and followed” Jesus. After that statement, the next sentence may surprise us: “And Levi made [Jesus] a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them” (Luke 5:28-29). Notice the pattern: following Jesus does not always mean selling one’s house, but it does mean devoting our resources entirely and lavishly to His service.

Here is the call to one of the most difficult and underrated of Christian virtues: hospitality. Hospitality was so central to the early church that if you would have asked anyone for directions to the local church, they would have pointed you to someone’s home. Hosting God’s household is a wonderful reversal of God’s charge against Israel: “My house… lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house” (Hag. 1:9). Jesus said that when we serve those who belong to Him, we serve Jesus Himself (Matt. 10:40-42; 18:5). What an opportunity!

As we can, our hospitality should extend beyond the family of God to people such as international students and the homeless living in our own neighborhoods—both adventures that we have tasted here in Atlanta. Despite our ballooning houses, over 500,000 homeless live in the U.S., nearly a third of those without shelter.3 As Shane Claiborne likes to ask, “How can we worship a homeless man on Sunday and ignore one on Monday?”4 Practically speaking, such hospitality will indeed mean we lose personal space, whether through selling or sharing.

This, then, is what it means to follow our homeless Lord. If the Son of Man, the One Who fully shares the glory and kingdom of the Ancient of Days (Dan. 7:13-14), willingly left home to serve His Father, how can we do less? If He wants to renovate the loyalties of our heart, who are we to cling to our square footage of home? And if the Son of Man needs somewhere to lay His head, how can we resist the honor of hosting Him?

 

 

 

Why My Friend Died: Remembering John Chau

Why My Friend Died: Remembering John Chau

Testimony

           On November 17th, 26-year-old John Allen Chau counted the cost and launched out to share the Gospel with one of the most isolated tribal people groups in the world—the Sentinelese people of North Sentinel Island in the Indian Ocean. Almost nothing is known about these ancient people who have had little to no contact with the outside world. Sadly, John Chau was killed while attempting to share the Gospel with the Sentinelese as they showered arrows towards him upon his approach to the island. Some say he was an adventure blogger who took a foolish risk for the sake of a thrill, some say he was crazy, others say he should have left the Sentinelese alone; but John Chau, now a martyr for the Lord, knew with all his heart what the world will never understand—that no risk is too great for the Gospel, and the saving power of Jesus is for everyone. May Tertullian’s statement prove true both for the life and death of John Chau, as well as the furthering of the Gospel among the Sentinelese people: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

           (Thank you to All-Nations Bible Translation for allowing us to share the following from their blog, and All Nations for their photo of John Chau.)

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Why My Friend Died

I met John Allen Chau at the Canadian Summer Institute of Linguistics in 2017. My first impression of him was of a quiet determination and a ready warm smile that lit up his whole face. There was an air of confidence about him that pervaded the atmosphere around him. Was it his faith? Was it his years of mountaineering and extensive emergency medical training? Probably all of this factored in, he was just the kind of person who inspires your confidence and trust from first encounter.

I believe it was one night in the computer lab that he shared with me his burden for reaching the people of Sentinel Island. I was impressed immediately that this was something no one but God alone could relieve him of or take from him.

He had already heard all the arguments of why this was a fool’s errand and would jeopardize any mission associated with it, let alone the life of the individuals involved. He kept his vision, it was a sacred trust for him that no amount of reasoning would wrest from his grasp.

I tried to get together with him the last time in April this year. Circumstances and travel interfered, we never got together.

I think we were drawn together through mutual understanding of what it is to experience God’s call, a call that is clear to the one called but often inexplicable and unreasonable to others. I cautioned him, not to dissuade in any way, but that he walk quietly and humbly before God in answering this call.

It was sad to hear of the presumed outcome of his visit to Sentinel Island, but to me it was no surprise. I fully expected that he would follow through no matter what obstacles were in his way, or succumb in the process. Giving up wasn’t an option for John. I will always admire him and remember him for his singular dedication to God and getting His message of salvation through Jesus Christ to the Sentinelese people.

May his sacrifice awake curiosity and wonderment in the hearts of the islanders and may it inspire us to pray for and work toward reaching the last groups who have not heard of our Savior—until either all have heard or God relieves us of the burden as he did for John.

-Ben S., member in training with All-Nations Bible Translation

Selling Dad’s Farm

Selling Dad’s Farm

Anabaptist Perspectives

The following is taken from an interview with Melvin Lehman conducted by Reagan Schrock. Melvin lives with his family in Guys Mills, Pennsylvania, where he served as a teacher at Faith Builders Educational Program for many years. Melvin is passionate about teaching the Bible to the next generation and enjoys tending their small family farm.

***

Mennonite culture has traditionally promoted work that is centered around agriculture and working with one’s hands. But in the last decades, a shift has begun towards fewer people working the land. Instead, Mennonite breadwinners have moved toward more “conventional” forms of income. As one who grew up on a dairy farm, I have been a part of this transition. I have also observed that those who still farm have changed too. Farming is done differently now than it was when I was young, and I think that is more significant than some realize.

I grew up attending Strasburg Mennonite Church in Chambersburg Pa. At least 70 percent of the families there were either directly involved in agriculture or at least connected to it-such as working in a feed mill. Today, in the same congregation, there are less than 20 percent who farm. This vocational tendency is quite prevalent east of the Appalachians. Many of the Western churches still have significant numbers involved in agriculture, but even there, the changing scene is evident.

The results of this shift are not all negative. The changes are significant, but intelligent people pay attention to what’s happening and pay attention to their core values, understandings, and so on. It is important for all of us to grapple with the significance of these changes.

So how will this affect our culture? This occupational shift is a part of the reason for the fragmentation in our circles. The shift is certainly not the only reason for the fragmentation, but it is a contributor. The generation of the early 20th century farmed together more than what my parents did. Labor intensive work such as threshing grain called for 4-6 families to pool their resources to keep up with the work. The agricultural community set the agenda for the church community.  Schedules were created to accommodate the farmer. The upshot is that farming together created community out of necessity. As the movements away from the farm happened, that natural integration of church community began to come apart at the seams. Few have been paying attention.

There are some good aspects to the migration from farm to something else. Although moving away from the agricultural lifestyle has contributed some to acculturation, depending on your perspective, the acculturation may be helpful. A few examples might be- turning from the German language to the English language and the development of businesses that resulted in rubbing shoulders with neighbors in the workplace. In short, it forced us into contact with the broader society and reduced isolation from our non-Mennonite neighbors. This contact has helped to correct the tunnel vision that is so common when we are too introverted.

One of the most significant down sides to the move away from the farm is that of less dad-presence. It doesn’t matter how you cut it, farming created great opportunity for lots of dad-presence. On the family farm where I grew up, I experienced 24/7 dad-presence for the most part. Dad put on his bib overalls and we worked together all day on the farm. By way of contrast, my father-in-law was a trucker. To this day, he says that the worst thing about his job was being away from home too much of the time. There was a price he paid for that absence of dad-presence. I do not think everyone needs to go back to the farm to have healthy dad-presence. But I do think it is important for us to be thoughtful and intentional about creating a culture where Dad is “at home” in his own household.

To explore this a bit farther, consider how farming itself has changed in the past 40 years. Few in my family still farm. My one nephew who does dairy farming hires Mexicans to do his milking; not all the time, but sometimes. My dad would never have done that. Ours was a family dairy farm and we did all the work. A benefit was that I received an education from my dad—a political and theological orientation so to speak, while milking in a stable. Not a milking parlor, mind you, but stanchions and cows facing away from the walkway while we did the menial tasks of milking. That was every morning and evening, seven days a week. We wouldn’t think of having somebody else milk the cows. My dad and I, along with my brothers had an hour and a half to two hours every morning and every evening, milking cows and talking about life and the neighbors. (Of course there were plenty of times that the mood dictated silence.) My nephew will be missing that. I do not criticize him for hiring help, but those are some of the changes in farming methods that he and others are facing. To reiterate, it’s not just the movement from farm to city that is changing the cultural landscape. It’s the changes within farming itself that I think affect us more than we might realize.

Looking towards the future, I have four question that I suggest we think about. One: What must we do to create community solidarity? Two: How can we maintain and improve a strong work ethic that we gained on the farm?  Three: How can we increase dad-presence when our culture pushes us away from such? Four: How can we stay connected to the good earth in good ways as we move away from the farm?

How should we approach the future in light of these questions? Well, first we should consider how we might develop models and strategies for sustainable small-scale farming. I think we’ve given up on “farming” too quickly. Again, don’t misunderstand me to say that I think we should all get back on the farm. My point is that we have obviously experienced some real value from farming. Why just give up because it seems not to pay enough in dollar value or in free time? Why not explore small-scale strategies and make farming more accessible to more people?

What are some possibilities for small-scale farming? I have grass-fed beef. Why am I doing that? One reason is that it fits with today’s cultural atmosphere of eating healthy. Raising grass-fed beef is also inexpensive. When I say it’s inexpensive, I mean that you can raise an animal with far less cash investment if you’re feeding only grass and hay. The equation changes if you want to fatten them fast by feeding corn or some other high protein grain. This is what I mean by developing models and strategies for sustainable small-scale farming. I am a teacher, but I do small- scale farming with relatively inexpensive equipment on the side. Here in Northwest Pa, one can create a supplementary income by tapping trees and making maple syrup. My vision would call for some thinking and doing outside of the box. It seems to me that at times Mennonites are too quick to buy into modern farming methods—more fertilizers, more pesticides, etc.—in spite of mounting evidence that such approaches may be problematic. Should we not be leaders in the field for alternative means to make the land productive? Buying into modern farming methods leads to big business models. The result is that farming becomes less and less accessible to the average person. It is true that there are many people in the world to feed. This seems to argue for bigger and better. But I wonder if we would not be able to achieve a more sustainable productivity from the land over the long haul by keeping the farm small enough to be family owned and family run. I have a vision for this, but we will have to do some innovative work to make it happen.

One way would be by encouraging small businesses. Our people have naturally moved that direction. When I was around 12 years old I remember my dad telling me and my brothers, “Boys, you can’t all farm.” which I also took to imply, “at least not on the scale I am farming.” He continued, “Some of you are going to have to do something else.” He thought I should be a mechanic, which was my occupation as a young adult. We need to encourage small businesses that will give us a chance to capture the core values that are present in farming. Those values could possibly be garnered and passed on to the next generation in small businesses. I think we are more vulnerable in the professional world. Certainly some have pursued the professions and done quite well. Whatever, our vocational choice, I think a key question is the dad-presence question. Will it increase or decrease?

Another possibility is to take agriculture and business to the city. This is kind of cutting edge, but I know of some who are doing this. One man I know of has a special interest in aquaponics and hopes to “farm” in the city sometime. That fascinates me! Why not take farming to the city? Why not find ways of producing food right in town? There are limits, of course, but why not explore the limits? This is something that we should pursue. The younger generation has an interest in city life, but they will have to think carefully about the gains and the losses. There are always pros and cons. My suggestion here is perhaps there is something to be gained by carrying some of our cultural instincts in respect to farming right into the city.

Thinking beyond the farm now, what do we need to do? We need to integrate professionals into community culture. The transition is that of moving from farm, to trades, to business, to semi-professional, and professional. So what about the professionals? What I hear from them (doctors, nurses, and so on) is that, particularly in the typical Mennonite community,  they feel like they’re at sea. I think more effort needs to be made to integrate the professional into the core activities of the community. We need thoughtfulness and hard work in this area.

To summarize, I would say that we need to identify core values and promote them through multiple avenues, in our effort to carry them forward generationally. An example would be our sturdy work ethic. A strong work ethic is natural to the farm. Not all vocations point as strongly toward that same sense of grit and determination. For the dad who is a professional nurse, he comes home and his evenings are free. (I know he wouldn’t think so.) It appears that he has more leisure time. More leisure time means more “fun” options to pursue. Increase leisure time and the culture will change. Hopefully, the change will be positive. Often it is not.   My generation has seen this firsthand. For example, if a game of softball or volleyball were planned on a Wednesday or Thursday evening when I was a child, my dad would have responded, “You’re going to do what? There’s hay to unload! What do you mean you’re playing volleyball this evening?” Many do not have those kinds of restraints on their time in today’s world. That means it will be harder to maintain the sturdy work ethic that was naturally a part of the farm. This is just one example of a core value that we should preserve and protect. I have confidence that with prayerfulness and persistence, the next generation will rise to this task.

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Guest Blog: Schools as a Common Good

Guest Blog: Schools as a Common Good

Guest Blogger

Delmar Oberholtzer and Ryan Yoder are board members of Anascholastic Institute . An organization which is dedicated to furthering education and scholarly thought within Anabaptist communities. Delmar is a high school teacher who loves school so much he never left. He has taught in both public and private schools across Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania.  Ryan is a missionary under DestiNations International and lives with his wife and two children in Spain. He has studied Arabic institutionally, Spanish independently, and is currently taking online classes with Liberty University.

***

The United States Census Bureau recently released the data it collected on public schools for the 2016 year, including the amount of money spent. The data indicates that the public school systems are spending an average of $11,762 per student in their care.5 Private schools generally operate on a smaller budget, but their per pupil expenditures still run into the thousands of dollars.

These types of numbers naturally lead to some common questions. How do we justify such expenses? Are our schools worth the significant amount of money we spend on them? What good is a school, really?

The most common answers to these questions often focus on the good a school provides for an individual student. A school teaches students how to work with people, build social skills, and helps them make friends. A school teaches skills that make students valuable workers, ensuring that each individual will be able to find a job or career. In Christian schools, a school also teaches a student about the truths of the Christian faith and encourages them to make that faith an integral part of their lives and worldview. These are all good answers, but they don’t complete the picture of a school’s value. A Christian school also provides benefits to its community, a value though often overlooked and hard to quantify, is real nonetheless.

A Tie that Binds

The first way in which a school serves the good of its community is through the social ties it creates and supports. A school is never sustained by the efforts of a single individual, it is always the result of a group of people who come together with a shared purpose. Those people include the staff, students, parents, churches, business partners, school board, alumni, financial supporters, and others that have an interest in the success of the school. As the school brings these people together it provides a common experience and a shared value that deepens the connectedness of the community. A school that actively engages its stakeholders can be a true asset by reinforcing a genuine sense of mutual care and camaraderie. In a society where people are becoming more socially isolated than ever before, any implement which brings people together in this way is of great value.

This is especially true for private Christian schools. Because there is no reliance on federal or state funding, all the support is generated by the local church or churches and the community that surrounds them. Likewise, almost all major decisions are made by local leaders and representatives. The church community collectively owns the school and is brought closer together through that shared ownership. While a church is more than just a social grouping, it is indubitably stronger when its members can come together in the type of fellowship and commonality that the support of a Christian school can provide.

A Source of Potential

Another way in which a school serves its community is through the preparation of “servants to the public” from one generation to the next. In a secular setting, this translates into the production of people who serve as anything from paramedics to sanitation workers. Schools make sure that there will always be people who are trained to keep their community safe and functioning.

A church is like a secular community in that it also needs a collection of people who support it through their service. Individual churches are structured in different ways, but they all need people who are willing to serve by preaching, singing, discipleship, performing administrative tasks, handling finances, teaching, and taking care of church property. Even a church that has all of these responsibilities covered should be preparing for the day when the tasks need to be passed on to a new generation.

A school provides the church with a place to identify and prepare individuals who possess the gifts for those positions of service. It is common for schools to encourage the development of gifts such as speech, creativity, and written expression, then display them before the community in the form of special programs or performances. These activities keep the community informed of the potential that exists among its young people and helps them identify those who might best serve the community in a variety of ways.

A Bastion of Values

Finally, and possibly most important, a school provides the church with a point of reference for, and transmission of, shared values and culture. Because a school is generally under the power of the local community as mentioned above, it becomes a reflection of the community’s values and beliefs. Making decisions about the school can force a church to truly evaluate what it believes and how it should be practiced and communicated. Whatever is truly believed by the church will find its way into the school, either in daily operations or in the content that is taught. A school with a healthy relationship with a church community can become an expression of the church, a public example of how its faith can be lived out and practiced.

Not only does the school reflect the church community’s values, it transmits them to the students under its care. The school sets an example and encourages patterns of behavior that have the potential to last a lifetime.  In one sense, a school can serve as a conduit from the church to the students that attend the school, teaching the basic tenets of faith as well as how to apply the Christian faith to daily life and action.

A school that serves a distinct culture will pass on cultural practices and traditions as well as the truths and beliefs of the church. There have always been Anabaptist groups who place a great deal of value in their distinct heritage, whether it has been expressed through clothing, language, holidays, foods, or music. For those who value their cultural background, a school can support efforts to pass on that identity to their children. In these ways the school becomes a tool for the preservation of the beliefs and culture of a church community and promotes its continuation from generation to generation.

What Good is a School?

In an age where schools broadcast their test scores, brag about their graduate employment rates, and celebrate their most successful students, it is important to not lose sight of the larger value of a school. The work it does on behalf of each student in its care is of utmost importance, but a good school can and should be honored for the significant good it can do for the community it serves. So what good is a school? It seems safe to say that the benefit of Christian schools, while significant to each student, also extends to the church, community, and ultimately to the Kingdom of God. 

 

 

 

Why Graduate From Four Colleges

Why Graduate From Four Colleges

Anabaptist Perspectives

The following is taken from an interview with Kyle Stoltzfus conducted by Reagan Schrock. Kyle is on staff at Faith Builders Educational Program, a conservative Anabaptist school whose mission is to prepare young people to serve their churches and communities through teaching and ministry. Kyle manages the communications department while pursuing a graduate degree in church history and theology. He lives with his family in Guys Mills, Pennsylvania.

***

When I think about being a student of four different colleges, I sometimes feel this wave of shame. There are stereotypes which imply that people who keep going to college will become perpetual students who are of no earthly good after a while. As much as I’d like to say that I had big ideals about having a college education and of hoping to end up here at Faith Builders on staff, that’s just not the reality.

So why would somebody attend four colleges? For me—it was because I couldn’t build mini barns. Coming out of high school and trying to enter the workforce, I had some ideas about where I wanted to be headed, but they were vague and poorly defined. I was a decent student and knew something about computers, but I had very few manual skills.

I think a lot of people coming out of high school go for blue collar jobs that are immediately available to them; a low-level job where you apply and get the position. My application went to a business called Yoder Barns. I applied, got the job, and became a laborer. I guess some people can learn carpentry faster because they are more skilled or have background in it. However, I soon realized that I’m actually rather bad at building mini barns. I would arrive early and faithfully to work every day, but I would look at the time clock, time card in hand, and be absolutely miserable. I knew I would punch in, go out on the floor, and hate every moment of the day. I had a gnawing ache of sadness and depression. The ache goaded me to do something different. I needed a springboard and that’s what pushed me toward college.

My first experience came through Penn College where I earned an Associate’s Degree in computer science. They offer “degrees that work”. They are a skill focused school and offer technical degrees. After earning my degree, I began to see other possibilities besides just manual trade skills. Going to school allowed me to apply for a job that I otherwise wouldn’t have even considered because it would have been out of my league. I got the job, moved two hours away from my home area, and began to apply the skills I had gained.

Skills developed in college are not designed to cover everything. But they gave me the confidence I needed to settle into a new job. After starting that job I met my wife, Marlene, who was teaching school. Although we were making pretty good money, working long hours, and enjoying the meaningful work our skills-focused jobs gave to us, we still felt unfulfilled. What was the significance of our work? We were beginning to feel kind of burned out around the margins. My wife and I knew how to work, but how should we work with meaning? How could we learn to serve people that we care about and contribute something into their lives? These considerations brought us to Faith Builders. They had a faithful view of life, more than just a view of meeting the bottom dollar or getting to the American dream. I studied at Faith Builders for two years, and was then asked to come on staff.

The two-year degree at Penn College gave me technical skills and an occupation. Faith Builders helped me to find meaning in the work and answered the question of how I could participate more fully in God’s Kingdom with my work. The third part of my education, a bachelor’s degree from Liberty University online, paved the way for graduate school. This was the progression in my life which has prepared and provided for meaningful work and service.

When asked if I would recommend these steps for others, or if college should be pursued at all, one could consider the question, “Should I continue to grow, develop, and change?” The answer is yes, absolutely. Everybody needs to do that or else life will quickly become stale and stagnant. Regardless of the type of field a person is interested in getting into−whether it is carpentry, the manual trades, etc.−you are going to need to grow, change, and find sources of input to make that happen.

Would I recommend that someone go to four colleges or go to college at all? No, for two reasons. First, the skills which people bring to life around them are different. Some people are more suited to do manual labor and that is necessary and good. Second, anyone who goes to college in an attempt to elevate themselves above the common laborer probably has a defective view of schooling. There are many different types of intelligences. Some kinds of intelligence, such as being a farmer, are more applied. That doesn’t make the work less intelligent; it’s just a different kind. People who go to college may be more gifted in abstraction and being able to spin yarns and theory. Their education isn’t really complete until they develop something of a very gentle contempt, perhaps, for those abstract abilities as they recognize the limitations. A farmer needs a diversity of skills. He needs to care for cows, take care of his plants, be a diesel mechanic, and a bookkeeper. He needs all of these various skills, and it takes a certain kind of person to do that well. That person may not be well suited for academics, but the academic person, if you put him in that same situation, would probably fumble.

Superficially, one incentive to attending college is that having a degree will allow for a higher pay scale−if you can find a job after graduating. We might also think that a college experience can help us find what is authentic about ourselves. But you’re probably going to be disappointed if you look at going to school or landing the perfect job as “finding that core identity”. There’s just more to it than that.

These are relatively superficial reasons to attend college. So we must get down to the questions of real value. Do I want to do this job because I want to grow in my capacities? Why do I want to enlarge my abilities as a person?

Going to college not only helps us to gain particular working skills, but also provides a different way of looking at the world. You come out on the other end of college training and see new possibilities in the world that you didn’t see before. The possibility may be as simple as saying, “Oh, you’re having trouble with making sense of your finances. I have tools and training that can help you sort that out.” You are seeing possibilities on the other side of those muddled up finances. It begins to change how you see the world. When things break, you see the possibility of a system that works again, such as the possibility of health in patients who are really sick. The possibilities begin to bring equipped people’s imaginations alive. With a college education, they now have skills which make a possibility of something previously out of reach.

This is all good motivation for going to college, but, for the Christian, we can go even deeper than that. The statesman Abraham Kuyper is quoted as saying, “There is not one square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’”1 This call of Christ extends into that space of imagination where we begin to see possibilities in the world, as well as into the disciplines a person gains from college. It begins to change and inform how they see the possibilities.

There is talk in today’s world about the sacred and the secular. The majority of trades that people learn in college—whether nursing, mathematics, or technical skills—are all chunked off in the realm of the secular. What this really mean, though, is that these trades haven’t been influenced yet by the Christian imagination. In reality, they have already been claimed. This is what Kuyper was referencing when he spoke of Jesus laying claim to everything. “Mine!” The task of the Christian, then, is to see those possibilities as the raw material they really are. Seeing them through the lens of their education, claim them for Christ, and then rehabilitate or reform them. What is a Christian way of doing nursing? What is a Christian way of doing computer science? What is a Christian way of doing agriculture? There are incredible opportunities out there for this kind of reform because all of these kinds of work have been set apart as secular, when really it needs to be reclaimed for Christ. College allows you to have access to both worlds, spiritual and secular, and to begin to redeem and reclaim them together for Christ.

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Samantha Trenkamp–My Journey to the Mennonites

Samantha Trenkamp–My Journey to the Mennonites

Anabaptist Perspectives, Testimony

The following is taken from an interview with Samantha Trenkamp conducted by Valonna Miller. After being raised Catholic, Samantha later encountered the Anabaptists and joined a Mennonite church. Samantha is part of the production team with Anabaptist Perspectives and also works in publications for other non-profit missions organizations. Her blog can be found here.

***


Valonna: Tell us a little of your life before joining the Mennonite church.

Samantha: My extended family identifies as Catholic on both sides, though nominally so. My dad attended a Catholic high school. My immediate family was nominal as well, but we wanted something more. We visited many different churches during my growing up years. We were never felt settled in the Catholic worldview, but we didn’t know anything else.
             I attended public school until 4th grade, at which point my mom and dad decided to begin homeschooling me and my siblings. It was difficult to leave behind our friends and enter a new way of life, as well as a whole new type of culture as the typical homesteader-homeschoolers. Another factor in my growing up years was that, young as I was, I was seriously on my way to becoming a professional dancer. I was helping to teach younger classes, performed with the Knoxville Ballet twice, studied briefly under a German choreographer, and had a trip scheduled to go to New York for further study. My instructor had great faith in me. But a series of events out of our control effectively derailed those ambitions, and I ended up not taking dance classes at all. Looking back, I’m certain that was a God-directed shift in my life for which I am thankful.

Valonna: Tell us about the transition from Catholic to conservative Mennonite. Was that challenging? How did you find information on the Mennonites? How did you find our churches?

Samantha: After we started homeschooling we began regularly attending a local Catholic church with another homeschool family. I was not baptized as an infant and so I received baptism through this church when I was 11, along with my other siblings. We did not understand why we were being baptized; it was just part of what you did, a part of the process of being in the Catholic church. I remember feeling less than satisfied over this time. I often found myself as the youngest in the crowd of young people and had few friends I could call my own. I felt alone and wanted the reality of people and relationship. I appreciated the traditions and rituals of Mass, but never felt connected to the Lord or to the people. God was never presented to me as Someone with whom I could have a relationship, so I viewed Him as a God who did things for me if I did all the right things by Catholic standards (reciting the Rosary, confession to the priest, partaking of the Eucharist, etc.). God was distant. I was never really told why we did things or what anything meant. After a time, our elderly priest became ill and was replaced by a younger priest, whom we did not feel we could support, so we started looking for another church.
          I was 12 to13 years old when we began attending a charismatic, non-denominational fellowship via another homeschool family. We liked it there because there were quite a few young people. A few weeks after we began attending, the youth were going on a retreat. Since we were unable to afford it at that time, the church paid the way for my sister and I so we could join them. It was during the retreat that I encountered Christ and took hold of His salvation for me personally. Because there was a great deal of emotionalism and expectations within that kind of geared up atmosphere, I wasn’t sure if it was a real salvation experience and chose not to receive believer’s baptism with my sister upon returning home. Looking back now, I know that is where Jesus first found me. Unfortunately we did not receive much follow-up in terms of discipleship. After attending the charismatic church for about six months, various issues began to arise internally. Ultimately we decided it was time to move on to another church, as did some other families.
            Over the next few years my mom began seriously researching the web and various books about denominations. She was open to just about any kind of Christian faith at that point. Surely there were people sincerely following Jesus and Scripture somewhere! Eventually she came across the Anabaptists. These people intrigued her and somehow she made contact with a Mennonite pastor in Indiana who sent us information on the faith and practice of the Mennonites. We began studying the Scriptures and Anabaptist faith and practices, but it would be a little while before we would actually meet anyone of Anabaptist faith.
          During that time we began adjusting our lifestyle according to what we found in Scripture. We experimented with practicing the woman’s head covering and wearing skirts. I remember the day my mom told us that she would like to start wearing the head covering regularly. I don’t understand it even now, but I went to my room, pulled out the only kerchief I owned, and put it on. Skirts though were a different issue. Having always been a prideful tomboy, wearing skirts was kind of hard for me. I remember standing in my closet with a garbage bag intended for the thrift store and struggling with having to give up my favorite pair of hunter’s camo cargo pants. Socially, that was harder for me to adjust to than wearing the covering. Anyone can wear a basic kerchief and not be too noticeable, but, as a woman, wearing a skirt gives you a whole new identity in society. When people see a woman who embraces her femininity, they look at and treat her differently. This was a good thing, but an adjustment all the same.
           Later on, when I was about 16, by a wild “coincidence”, we happened to be taking a new route home one day and were shocked to see a little Anabaptist church tucked back in the hills! We had been living in the Sevierville/Knoxville, TN area practically all of my life and here was a little church in the middle of nowhere right when we were becoming interested in that very thing! We called the pastor (Joe Rudolph), began attending the somewhat new church plant, and the rest is history. Our family had to move a couple of times after that for jobs between Kentucky and Tennessee, so the few churches we found during those years were discovered by randomly crossing paths with other Anabaptists, or by local people pointing us in the direction of other “head covering people” who were homechurching. Now it’s more than ten years later. I began attending Wellspring Mennonite Church almost 8 years ago, finally received a believer’s baptism when I was 21, and positively love being a part of this group of believers who love Jesus and His Kingdom.

Valonna: What were some of the contributing factors that convinced you to join the Anabaptists?

Samantha: There were two big reasons why I joyfully chose to identify with the Anabaptist faith and people:
1.   They were serious about being devoted to God and His Word. I had never really met people who lived out Scripture like they did. Not to say that they always did this perfectly, but if Jesus commanded it, they adjusted their lives accordingly so as to be faithful to Him. They were all in and all eyes on Jesus. During our attendance at the charismatic church, the 2002 “Spiderman” film had come out and the youth pastor showed it during a youth lock-in. Even as a young girl I wondered why in the world this kind of thing was being shown in a church! By living counter-culturally, the Anabaptists proved to me their sincerity and devotion to the Lord above all else. Generally speaking, in my experience with the various Christian denominations and people I came into contact with, the teachings of Jesus did not appear to have impact on how Christians lived their daily lives. They worshipped on Sunday and lived like anyone else the rest of the time. The Anabaptist people were radical, seriously committed, and I loved it.
2.   The other factor was community! Coming into that first Anabaptist church, they took us right into their homes and lives and hearts. They loved us and made us feel like we belonged. They were like one big family with everyone there for everyone else. I had never had that kind of connection or relationships with a church before. This continues to be one of the greatest blessings about being a part of the Anabaptists. In a world where everyone is fighting for the top, the Anabaptists take us back to the early church where we lay down our lives for one another.

 

Valonna: Is there anything else you would like to add before we close?


Samantha: Yes. Because of the path I chose in following Jesus and identifying with the Mennonite church, relationships with extended family became increasingly strained. Others who have come into the Mennonite church have experienced similar tensions. The Anabaptist worldview and lifestyle of faith rubs harshly against the grain of our flesh and it can be difficult for others to understand and accept. In spite of that, Jesus’ promise has proven true that, if we forsake all for His sake, including family, He will restore a hundred fold. I like to think of my faith family as my other “Blood” family, because the Blood of Jesus over His people is eternally binding.
When I take time to look back over my life, I often think of the hymn that says “The half has never been told”. So this is just a part of my testimony and journey with the Lord. God is faithful; all we need to do is trust and follow Him. Everything He does is good.

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Mennonites and Social Media

Mennonites and Social Media

Anabaptist Perspectives

The following is taken from an interview with Matthew Landis conducted by Reagan Schrock. Matthew serves on the leadership in his local church in Ephrata, Pennsylvania. He is founder and owner of Landis Technologies, a technology company providing custom software and support to various industries. He is deeply interested in the effects of technology and how Anabaptists can respond in a reasonable, Christ-like way.

***

Social media (and technology in general) is a big question among Anabaptists. When computers first came out, they were not used to interact with others in natural and social ways. They were very technical, and people did not think of them as a tool to connect with one another. Now things have changed, and computers have gotten much easier to use. Older media, like TV and radio, were used to broadcast messages to many people at once. Social media, on the other hand, involves individuals interacting on a social level. Another interesting aspect of social media is that it is made up of user created content. Rather than a TV station creating broad content, individual users are creating and sharing with each other, and then interacting around their own content. TV and radio limits the user to information intake only, while social media allows for personal interaction as well as immediate feedback on those interactions.

Social media is also more decentralized than TV or radio. The individual sitting in his living room can amplify his voice, for good or bad. When two people are talking together in person they are communicating directly with each other without any type of interface. With social media, there’s an application (such as a web app or a phone app) that’s mediating or brokering our communication, which then has the ability to shape what we say. For example, Facebook has a “like” button, but it does not have a “dislike” button.

Neil Postman studied media and said, “…technological changes in our modes of communication are even more ideology-laden than changes in our modes of transportation”1. Interestingly enough, I think Anabaptists have been rather sensitive to this. As a matter of fact, one statement from the South Atlantic Mennonite Conference says this, “…one of the most significant areas of technology is in communications technology.”2 This is technology many conservative Anabaptists are concerned about. Neither medical nor transportation technology are major points of concern. They recognize the power of communication and information technology to shape and change the people and culture.

The ability to amplify a message is one of the ways that social media can be beneficial. Posting a positive message that reaches all around the world is a huge opportunity. On the other hand, many people take the same opportunity to distribute negative or harmful messages.

One important thing to remember when considering involvement in social media is to act on social media like you act in person. Providing of course that you’re acting right in person. Be consistent between who you are in person and who you are on social media. If you don’t talk about yourself all the time in person, don’t do it on social media. Kevin Kelly wrote a book entitled “What Technology Wants”, and Facebook certainly wants something. It takes intentionality to be aware of the direction social media pressures are pushing you and to fight against them.

In the past, Mennonites either didn’t become involved with or stepped back from those mediums of technology in which the user couldn’t participate. However, Mennonites did get involved in the forms of technology which allowed them to create content. With that history, it seems Mennonites will tend towards social media in the future. Some Mennonite groups might not use Facebook, but they will still use email socially. I think that people will use technology socially, in the sense of interacting with others, as well as being able to participate in creating content.

Typically, new ideas generate questions. I was not alive when Mennonite churches started to do street meetings, but I imagine that kind of outreach was somewhat controversial in the beginning. When we make a shift in how we do evangelism (which doesn’t happen overnight), we need to find the proper way to go about it. Street meetings began because that was where the people were located. There are lots of people in cities and on the streets; that is where you can actually engage with them.

I’m not saying everyone needs to approach it in this manner, but perhaps a way to think about social media would be to ask “Where are people today?” You can drive down Main Street and see them sitting on a bench looking at their phones. We know that people are on social media. If we want to reach the world with the Gospel, social media may be a very open avenue to meet people where they are.
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Guest Blog: The Geography of Loneliness

Guest Blog: The Geography of Loneliness

Guest Blogger

Henry Moody lives at the Danthonia Bruderhof in the wide-open, sun-soaked spaces of the Northern Tablelands region of NSW, Australia where he is a school teacher. He is married to Dori and they have four children. On her mother’s side, Dori has her roots in the Hutterite Anabaptist heritage and blogs at www.Bruderhof.com.

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Across the sparrows and slates of the rooftops of London, the Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral heard the great bells naming him where he lay in pain and doubt, wrestling with his God. High over the town, the swinging mouth and heavy iron tongue of the Death Knell measured out his days as the dread voice spoke relentlessly into his soul. It reached out like the finger of the Almighty, plucking him from the world of men, a summons to abandon all comfort and joy, take up his sins and stand alone before the Judge.

The funeral bells rang out often over London in 1623 as the Great Plague ran amok through the town. Consequently, when the terrible fevers struck, and the discolored lesions bloomed on his skin, John Donne despaired. The literary genius, ladies’ man, and writer of risqué verse turned ordained minister lay nailed to a bed of pain, suffering, he suspected, the torments of the damned in the hands of a jealous God. And so, when the voices of the bells came in at the open window, they could only be calling him.

Shortly afterwards, however, a tragic procession passed by on the street below, and his mistake became clear: the tolling of the bell was for another man. In time his illness, most likely typhus and not the plague, passed and Donne lived. Yet the moment left him deeply changed. What of the dead manso utterly alone, cut off forever from the affairs of the living, from the small joys and sorrows of the day and those deep ties of warmth and fellowship that run through all mankind? Unable for a time to read or talk, Donne let his pen speak for him in some of the most powerful words ever uttered in the English language. “No man,” he wrote, “is an Iland, intire of itselfe…”1 

“Ah, look at all the lonely people. Where do they all come from?” wondered the Beatles in 1966. Good question. These days we no longer fear the Black Death. Another pestilence, a quiet and desperate sense of alienation, has infected our relationships. Troubling reports of an escalating “loneliness epidemic” have initiated a widespread public conversation. As researchers compile a mountain of evidence, a few disquieting statistics suffice to ink in the shadowy outlines of a silent, invisible scourge: 15-30% of the general U.S. population (including 40% of Americans over 45) experience chronic loneliness.2 Surveys show that over 9 million people in the U.K. “often or always” feel lonely. Worse still, a heartbreaking 200,000 elderly Britons cannot report a single conversation with their family or a friend in over a month.3 Things are so bad the government recently appointed a cabinet level “minister for loneliness” to focus on the issue.4   

Loneliness is the great leveler, breaching even the most exclusive echelons of power, rank, and privilege through the fatal flaw of our common humanity. Everyone, at some time, has looked up and encountered its silent stare. Its pain belongs to the human race: the sorrow of the grief-stricken at the graveside left to carry on alone, the ceaseless heartache of the abandoned and betrayed, the bewildered hurt of the elderly shelved in the flickering light of the talk shows, the thousand tiny wounds of the ignored and overlooked, the midnight place of the suicide whose silent scream of pain gives up God’s breath of life into the void.  

“There are no words to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally,”5 wrote G.K. Chesterton, stabbing his broad finger directly down on the sore spot. At its root, the opposite of alienation is far more than mere hilarity, merrymaking, and high times. Misery may lurk at the very center of the crowd, surrounded by the din and blare that keep the black dog at bay. Who can understand the human heart? The waters of the soul run deep. We are born with a yearning for a kindred spirit—someone to confide in and reveal the depths and measureless currents of our inmost longing. Even the Messiah, united with his brothers as with his Father, must have hungered for this special closeness with the apostle John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”6

The American poet Emily Dickinson writes of selecting her soul’s society from an “ample nation” with the delight of a child agonizing over a box of chocolates. Left outside are emperors kneeling on the mat and chariots idling at the gate—all the pomp and circumstance of high society the world has to offer leave her unmoved as stone frozen in the plumbing. Both genius and recluse, Dickinson knew all about isolation. What nameless anguish lay at the root of her self-imposed exile remains a mystery—she simply referred to it as “terror.” At times her pint-sized poems bleed loneliness and hurt onto the page. And so, perhaps taught by the familiar ache of its absence, she knew the value of a kindred spirit best:

There is a solitude of space
A solitude of sea
A solitude of death, but these
Society shall be
Compared with that profounder site
That polar privacy
A soul admitted to itself —
Finite Infinity. 7

The empty, dusty, echoing years between the stars, the blue eternity of the deep beyond the final headland, the valley of shadows that all must walk alone–these are the very crossroads of all human love, fellowship, and warmth beside that other place. Here the soul, this slight breath of God’s infinite Spirit which blows where it will, is turned inward to feed on itself, imprisoned and locked in the eternal ice of never ending winter.

Many well intended solutions attempt to cure such human tragedy with the equivalent of get-well cards, smiley stickers, warm fuzzy robots featuring outsized sympathetic eyes to comfort the elderly, bear-hugging armchairs, restaurants that provide life-sized plush toys to sit opposite solitary diners, even phone holding Ramen bowls that provide consolation with a cheery, nature-themed anti-loneliness app as you cry into your noodles. Obviously, any attempts to heal deep wounds at the surface level are bound for failure. But the Good Lord, as we know, loves to set things upside down and back to front.

Chesterton once defined love as the “loneliness of God”8–a loneliness which became a love so great that it took from the Creator of the worlds his only son and nailed him to a cross as the Redeemer and brother of all mankind. Perhaps the current epidemic is a manifestation of a sort of Narnian winter that has come over society—a distance and chilliness that sets in when love, as prophesied, cools and ebbs away. In some strange and simple way, love will solve everything, turning our loneliness into the loneliness of God, not the human despair that drives us deeper into wintry isolation, but in the direction of a fellow man.

For winter implies spring already on its way. It arrives with the first robin splashing down in the snow like the grace of God. A few days of sunshine soften and melt an entire winter’s load of ice. The first drip begins the break-up. There is a tilting of all things, and the earth turns its face towards the sun.

Like the prophet Jonah—alone in the deep, seaweed in his hair, barred in forever at the roots of the mountains—John Donne knew what it meant to be brought up from the pit. His powerful Meditation XVII holds up a mirror to God’s breathtaking love and makes it his own, a love so great that every border between men ceases to exist:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself;
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main;
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind;
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.1

If we share in every man’s death, we also share in his rebirth. The funeral knell gives way to the jubilant bells of Easter morning pealing the Resurrection in unearthly adoration. In his time, Christ, the lonely God, will find each one of his lonely people and every tear will be dried.

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