Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Asia - Refugess- and lessons for the church

This piece comes from a team presently serving in Cambodia/Vietnam, of which one of our church members is a part. It’s an assessment of the weakness of North American churches, and I’m interested in your comments – the team leader writes:

The short-term team of nine arrived intact from Seattle, and the next day we found ourselves being led by Dr. Kek Galabru of Licadho (A Human Rights Organization) out to a relocation camp called “Andong Village” which was a few kilometers beyond the airport. A year and half before, almost 8000 homeless people from all over Cambodia were living in simple structures on a few acres along the riverside in Phnom Penh until one day the government swept them all up, bulldozed their thatch and plastic homes, and shipped them to the outskirts of Phnom Penh (beautification of the riverside for tourism purposes). Relief Organizations provided plastic tarps, wood, and basic staples. UNICEF provided some clean water. Today, the clean water is gone and the people are drinking pond water. The Relief organizations have come and gone. Finding work 15 kilometers away in the city is prohibitive. We walked circumspectly down the trail into the tree-less village, avoiding cow paddies, human waste, and half burned garbage. As the heat cranked up, so did the various smells that accompanied so many people living on about three acres of land. IDPs, they call them: Internally Displaced People. Refugees and aliens in their own country, not knowing if this make-shift camp will be their permanent home or if there will be a better place in the future. They are looking for a better place. The government keeps making promises of a better place.

Chapter eleven of Hebrews is often said to contain the “Heroes of the Faith.” If you take a close look at them, they were all quite messed up in one sense or another, and one might wonder in what way should we make them role models? Gideon’s cowardice, Abraham’s lying, Noah’s drunkenness, Samson’s appetite for forbidden women, Jephthah’s illegitimacy, Moses’ lack of God confidence, Rahab’s career, David’s lust, lies, and murder, etc— these were some raw characters. But heroes they were, in that according to Hebrews 11:13; “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. They admitted they were aliens and strangers on the earth, longing for a better country—a heavenly one.”

What was it about these swarthy characters’ faith that caused the writer of Hebrew to overlook their sin and character faults in order that they might be classified as heroes?

Might it be that they took extreme risks with their own lives for their faith? That they under went some serious suffering for their faith? Or was it that they their identity wasn’t shaped by a culture gone awry. They knew who they were; resident aliens on a life-long journey with a mind-set that kept them unsettled, restless, and looking not to settle down into this life, but looking beyond it to something better. They had no idea where they were going but they were trusting God to get them there. Their journey was full of pitfalls and setbacks, and was also marked by sacrifice, risk, and looking past their intrinsic need for comfort and security.

Like foreigners looking quite out of place, male, female, old, young, short, tall, thin, stout, and some balding, we walked down the first alley of the shanty town basted in sun screen and bug repellant, wearing caps or bush hats. We were met by young mothers with babies. Some of the mothers had that thousand-yard stare look to them, and most could no longer provide breast milk for their nursing children. One young mother’s feet were crippled by polio, and another young mother had a heart defect and had trouble breathing. Their small babies were suffering from malnutrition, dehydration, and diarrhea. Many were widows or women are had been divorced. The mothers begged for milk and medicine. Dr. Galabru, a Cambodian woman in her sixties was on her cell phone constantly trying to get clean water and some milk delivered. The Cambodian doctor she brought along was busy the whole time. That day I held my share of tiny babies, but I couldn’t help wondering, what will I catch, Lice, Tuberculosis? None of these babies wore diapers, either. I was taking a risk but ashamed for thinking about myself in the midst of their suffering. What is real faith without risk? I think of again of Hebrews 11, then John the Baptist, Jesus, the Apostles, the Disciples and the early church up until the time of Constantine.

Some may wonder why the church in the Northern Hemisphere is declining while great growth is being experienced in South America, Africa, and parts of Asia. Could one of the reasons for this decline be that risk is no longer associated with our faith, and that personal piety has replaced mission?

Personal piety instead of mission – what do you think? Is that why the North American Church is weak? Are there other reasons? Why is the church in the developing world growing so rapidly while the church in the developed world is largely declining and languishing? What lessons are we to learn from this reality?


At 12/2/07 13:18, Anonymous Anonymous said...

that day i purchased a pack of cigarettes from the local "pub" which was a couple of chairs and a stereo under a shelter made of old rice sacks stitched together. he also offered me iced tea made from pond water that had who knows what perisites and worms in it. i drank some tea and smoked and just sat with this man and his kids joined us. i was able later to do the same at a number of the local "businesses" set up in this shanty towne. being with these people was one of the hilites of the trip! not much was spoken we just sat together and enjoyed the moment.

At 14/2/07 20:33, Anonymous Anonymous said...

for fotos of this evacuation see:


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