Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Temptation of Plenty

Noah heading back to Calvin.
I have booked my ticket to return to Kenya next week Wednesday, September 11, which means that I have secured enough pledges to cover my support.  Thanks to all of you who graciously and generously have committed yourself to this work by supporting it financially! 

There is no doubt that this will be one of the more challenging departures.  Leaving Hannah and Noah for nine months will be tough; and leaving Michael, and a relatively new relationship, will be difficult, to say the least.  Hopefully Hannah and Noah will be able to come to Kenya for a visit over Christmas and stay for interim, taking a class at the Africa Theological Seminary.  And hopefully, Michael will be able to visit Kenya once during these nine months as well. 
Michael and I enjoying Niagara Falls.

The good news is that throughout the summer the work that I am doing continues to take shape and receive affirmation.  As I have recounted previously, my shift from doing business development with non-profits or NGOs to working with and through churches, was prompted by this key phrase from Ed Silvoso, an author of many Marketplace Ministry books, who said, "Be careful that you don't fatten people's bellies on their way to hell."  This phrase, of course, refers to the idea that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  So as we are in the business of poverty alleviation - or the positive phrase of that is wealth creation - how are we protecting people's faith and discipling them to stay faithful to the call of God? 

Dr. Robert Coles calls this the "temptation of plenty."  In fact, he refers to the temptation of plenty as the most dangerous temptation all.  In the book by Philip Yancy called Soul Survivor (I referenced this book when I first read it in the summer of 2011 - you can read that posting here - it's a great book), Yancy spends a chapter on Dr. Robert Coles writings and specifically this issue.  Coles concluded that being privileged tends to stifle compassion, curtail community and feed ambition.  Yancy writes,
Reviewing the rich and poor people he had come to know, Coles was struck with the ironies.  It was true the poor were cursed...yet in a strange but undeniable way, the poor were also blessed, for whatever reason, with qualities such as courage and love and a willing dependence on God.  The irony:  good humanists work all their lives to improve the condition of the disadvantaged, but for what?  To raise them to the level of the upper classes so that they too can experience boredom, alienation and decadence? 
By the time the last of [his]...volumes were published, Coles had arrived not in a new place, but in a very old place.  He had traveled thousands of miles, recorded miles of tape, and written a million words, all of which pointed right back to the Sermon on the Mount.  He had discovered that the poor are mysteriously blessed and that the rich live in peril.  He had learned that what matters most comes not from without - the circumstances of life - but from within, inside the heart of an individual man or woman or child.  He had begun his research with a head full of phrases such as "guilt complex," "character disorders," "response to stimuli."  He had emerged with old-fashioned words like conscience and sin and free will. 
What was he to make of it all?  He dare not glorify poverty, for his field research had taught him the folly of that romanticism.  Nor dare he glorify wealth, which he now saw as a distraction or actual impediment to what matters most.
This quote reminds of God's will for our lives, my calling to encourage the Church, and the calling of the Church worldwide to equip, disciple, and encourage ALL believers in their dependence on God.  I am excited about the work that is ahead of me.  I am looking forward to joining God in the work that He has already begun in Churches and through the Marketplace.

So this is a bittersweet time - a time of saying goodbyes and a time of starting an exciting work.  I leave you with a video that Michael took of my father (who is in a nursing home with Alzheimers) and my mother singing, Great is Thy Faithfulness, when we visited them this summer.  My Dad didn't recognize me but he still does remember a few hymns.  This video is a good reminder to me of the faithfulness of God in all things, as well as a beautiful testimony yet of my father's recognition of the faithfulness of my mom to him through 56 years of marriage.