Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Why Not Just Send Money?

I was not big fan of mission trips. I saw many of them as “mission tourism,” designed more for the purpose of giving North Americans an exotic experience that had the additional benefit of pumping up their sense of Christian commitment.  I encouraged my church members to send money to support missionaries who lived on the field or to fund projects in faraway places. 

In the summer of 1998 I went to lunch at a fellow pastor’s house in Ohio, where I met Ketly and Vital Pierre, International Ministries-ABC/USA missionaries to Nicaragua.  I watched a video about their ministry and was captured by a sudden sense of calling.  I thought to myself:  My church needs to go on a mission trip; this would be a small thing for us to do.  I shared this with my mission committee.  (Actually I said that I was going on a mission trip; if anyone from the church wanted to go with me, they were welcome to do so.)  The following Spring twenty-three of us went to Mexicali to work with Tim and Patty Long at the Dios con Nostros Seminario.  We were all changed by the experience.  Four years after the trip, Debbie and I, along with our two sons, were on our way to Europe to begin service as International Ministries-ABC/USA missionaries. One of the teenagers from the Mexicali trip went on to serve overseas with Campus Crusade for two years after college.  The effects of that trip continued to ripple through the lives of those who went. 

During the trip, I was struck by how glad the Mexican pastors and students seemed to be that we had come.  Simply sending money would not have been the same for them.   I had not expected that.

Fast forward 9 years:  Debbie and I are now in Italy working with Nigerian and Ghanaian immigrants and are receiving mission groups wanting to participate in our ministry.  The first group that came to Italy was from my first church in Philadelphia.  Again, I am wondering:  Is this a good use of their resources and our time?  Many of our congregations and the people in them were in need of many things.  The Italian Baptists, themselves, had profound financial needs.  I struggled with the cost of fifteen North Americans coming to Italy for 10 days to work with people and churches who could not afford some of the most basic things of life.

I was amazed at the effect this mission team had on our people and their churches.  The congregations were delighted to think that people would travel to Italy to work with them.  They were mightily encouraged and received a tremendous blessing from these temporary visitors.  Each time a group came, the effect was the same.  The teams preached, sponsored conferences, and counseled with individuals; but the most important ministry they practiced was the gift of their presence.  The North Americans who participated in those trips were changed, I am sure; but the people they met in Italy and the churches in which they worshiped were changed as well, of this I am sure.  I no longer questioned the value of mission trips.

8 in 10 Nicaraguans lack access to clean water
Fast forward again to April 2015:   New York Baptists will go to Nicaragua to work with a rural village, setting up biosand water filters.  These filters have been incredibly effective in saving the lives of babies and children and improving the overall health of communities.  Eight out of ten Nicaraguans lack access to clean water. This raises the infant mortality rate and damages the health of everyone, particularly in a country where five out of ten people lack access to health care.  Our trip will be led by Dr. Roberto Martinez, a Nicaraguan physician who works with the AMOS Ministry (A Ministry of Sharing) founded by Drs. Laura and David Parajon, International Ministries-ABC/USA missionaries in Nicaragua.  Dr. Martinez is currently working on a Masters in Public Health in Syracuse. 

How can you participate?  
  • One, you can pray about going on the trip.  The trip in April 2015 will be the first of a three-year partnership with the Parajons’ ministry.  If not next year, perhaps you could go on one of the following two trips.  
  • Two, you can make a contribution to offset the $6000 of material costs involved in setting up these filters; this will reduce the per-person cost for those who do go.  Or, you could provide sponsorship assistance to someone who is able to go on the trip.  
  • Three, you can approach someone you know who might be interested in going and invite them to consider participating.  
  • Four, you can pray for the safety and health of those who will be going.  You can pray that transformative relationships will be established between us and our brothers and sisters in Nicaragua.  You can pray for Drs. Laura and David Paragon and Dr. Martinez as they minister through the AMOS ministry.

You can find more information on the ABC/NYS website at http://www.abc-nys.org/programs/missions/nicaragua.   Dr. Martinez and I are glad to come to your church or Association or any other gathering to share about this opportunity to grow in our faith and serve our Lord.  You can call me at (315)469-4236 (ext. 14) or email me at jkelsey@abc-nys.org.

If you would like to make a financial contribution to the trip, please send it to the Region office or give online and clearly mark your contribution “Waters of Blessing Trip.”

Jim Kelsey
Executive Minister, American Baptist Churches of New York State

We are agents of change in our communities.  If we have hope we can save some lives.  If we have no hope, we will fall frustrated.  We choose the walk of hope.
-Juan de Dios Blanden

Health Promoter

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Baying at the Moon

A fellow pastor told my wife about a cartoon from The New Yorker.  I can’t reproduce the cartoon here because that would cost money, but you can find it here.  A pack of wolves is standing on a cliff baying at the moon.  One wolf says:  “My question is:  Are we making an impact?”  I suspect this question hung behind John the Baptist’s question to Jesus in Matthew 11.  John is languishing in prison because he had spoken truth to power; John told Herod that he should not “have” his brother’s wife.  It appears John thought that Jesus was bringing the final chapter of the Kingdom of God on his coattails; this was going to be the end of the powers and principalities that Paul later will write about.  Now John sits in a jail cell.  Herod still dines lavishly in his palace, and Jesus does not appear to have Caesar, Herod, or even the Sadducees on the ropes.  Small farmers still lose their land under crushing debt. The Romans still tax the life out of the peasantry.  Cynical and self-serving religious leaders still manipulate the faithful for power and gain.   Perhaps John is asking himself:  Have I just been baying at the moon?  He has paid a great price for his faithfulness, and perhaps he senses that he soon will pay with his very head.  That kind of thing can make one weigh the benefit and costs of a chosen course of action.
John sends his disciples to Jesus to find out if he was mistaken; the disciples give voice to John’s doubts. They ask:  “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus does not answer their question directly, rather he replies: 
Go back and tell John what you hear and see:  The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf they hear, the dead are raised, and the Good News is preached to the poor.
If you know your Hebrew Bible, that means “no, you need not look for someone else.”  The coming of the Kingdom looks different than what John expected.  He cannot see the deep undercurrents moving across the land as Jesus teaches and heals. He cannot know of the passion and the resurrection to come.   He has no way of imagining that Pentecost celebration in Jerusalem.  I suspect, however, that he is satisfied when his disciples bring back their report.  I suspect he dies in peace, knowing that he was not just baying at the moon when he announced:
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."  This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.' "
John was making an impact.

Sometimes we wonder whether we are making an impact or are simply baying at the moon.  Periodically people would come by my church in Philadelphia with all sorts of problems, some of them generations in the making.  Often folks seemed to believe that their problems could be solved with $50 cash; I knew they could not.  A situation that took 20 years or more to develop could not be solved in an afternoon.  Sometimes I felt as if I were just baying at the moon, leaving my community untouched, unchanged, unredeemed.

One day a young man knocked on the thick wooden door of the church.  The thud echoed through the empty halls.  I answered that thud as I always did.  The young man at the door extended to me his hand; it was red and swollen—deeply infected.  He was in obvious pain.  I offered to take him to the emergency room.  He refused, saying he had no money to pay.  I assured him that they had to see him whether he could pay or not; it was the law.  He replied that they would send him bill after bill after bill, and he would never be able to pay it.  It was 4:30 on a Friday afternoon.  I began looking for a clinic who would see him for free.  I found one 12 blocks away.  They closed at 5:00, and he had to be through their door before they closed.  We raced to the clinic, and I pulled up on the sidewalk to deposit him at the door.  It was 4:55.  He went inside, and I never saw him again.  Not long after that I moved to Ohio.

Four years later I was back at the church, and a woman there came up to me and said that some guy was by the other day looking for me.  He asked about that bald white guy who used to be the pastor.  She told him I had moved away.  He replied: 

Well if you ever see him tell him this.  I came here one day with a messed up hand.  He helped me find a doctor—took me there himself.  Tell him that I’m off drugs; my mother is off drugs too.  I’m married, got two sons; and I’m a deacon in a church now.  I got right with God, and God got my life right.
Like John, we have no idea what God is doing through us and around us and, sometimes, in spite of us.  We cannot know the things we set in motion through acts of faithfulness.  We are not just baying at the moon, whether we ever know it or not.  So keep howling and trust the rest to God.

Jim Kelsey
Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of New York State