Tag Archives: missions

Is there a connection between ‘innocence’ and ‘privilege’? 

I came across this excellent piece by Shannon Gaggero about her realization that her (white, middle-class) kids experience innocence differently than children in other households may.

Put simply, maintaining children’s “innocence” is an opportunity available only to parents who are already working from a position of privilege within mainstream society, usually through a combination of sufficient financial/socio-economic standing, social “capital,” and racial identity.

Preserving my children’s innocence is an act of preserving white supremacy – A Striving Parent

Shannon describes children’s books, resources, and talking points she uses with her very young kids to help them see injustice and respond to that in appropriate ways.

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Several years ago, my colleague Jack and I were asked by some VBS organizers at our church to teach the “missionary story” to a group of preschool children. [If you know anything about me, you should be chuckling right now…. the last time I worked with preschoolers, I was a high schooler helping out in my small church’s VBS and wondering what I’d done to make the universe assign me such tiny humans whom I didn’t understand at all. (My lifelong habit has been to work with post-pubescent beings.)] Jack doesn’t have kids of his own yet but he’s got a pile of nieces and nephews and seems to be better at translating toddler behavior into something understandable.

Anyway, the missionary story – for those of you who might not have been raised in VBS culture –  is that moment when a VBS worker attempts to compress a complex, nuanced story of someone’s cross-cultural ministry experiences usually in a colonial or post-colonial society into a 5 to 10 minute Golden Book of missionary fervor.

[That comes across as too harsh; I loved hearing missionary stories as a kid because they were human and interesting and a little more connected to what I could envision as day to day life than Bible stories. I’m a little worried that most of the adults in the churches I’ve gone to aren’t aware of the imperialist baggage of white missionary activity among populations in Africa, India, or Asia and how that probably hindered their work for the sake of the Gospel. But that’s a topic for a different day.]

Jack and I had been asked to share a missionary story with pre-K kids for the sake of cross-cultural education. A mission we could get behind for sure. So one of us dug out of our closet a CEF story book about Mary Slessor, the legendary Scotswoman who labored in West Africa for decades and adopted many children who would have otherwise been murdered due to the local custom of treating twins as demon-possessed.

Slessor’s story in the CEF book opens with her childhood, making mention of her upbringing in poverty with a drunken and abusive father. Jack was telling the story on this first day, softening the language into something more palatable for 4 and 5 year old ears: “Her father was a very bad man. He was mean to Mary and to Mary’s mom.”

I’ve told this story myself to groups of kids at Good News Clubs (another high school / college era activity) from a variety of backgrounds. At the time, it wouldn’t have occurred to me that some of the kids listening might know far too much about domestic violence. At least I grasped the poverty angle.

But as an adult with several years of teaching experience, I knew this was a touchy moment in the story. I also knew that it might be hard to explain to 21st century white middle-class parents why their little kids were coming home talking about domestic violence. I figured the innocence of church kids would preserve us. Most people raised in similar circles (Christian, conservative, white) don’t clue in to social justice issues until they’re far older.

I’d forgotten about the kid in the room from CHC.  CHC is a local charity, one of the very best I’ve ever known, operating group homes for foster children in our area. Despite nearly shutting down when South Carolina went through a phase of refusing to place kids in group homes in a burst of idealism that hardly matched the dire need for foster care in our state, CHC weathered the storm and – as you might expect – is running at capacity. Their kids attend church with the resident houseparents, and in this case, VBS.

I’ve forgotten his name, this beautiful little boy with curly hair and a toothless smile. He was impish – small for his age, a wicked grin, always into everything, fighting every boundary. I didn’t know his story, but every instinct told me he could be a handful.

Yes. “Handful.”That’s how we describe the children who howl or bite or rage against the dysfunction and/or drug abuse and/or sexual assault and/or generational poverty and neglect which ground up their families and spit them out into a state system that tries to provide a pale resemblance of family life and normalcy. 

This boy, I’ll call him “Mark,” was listening to Jack tell Mary Slessor’s story today. And he knew. He understood. His 4-year-old body knew what it meant in real terms when Jack said, “Mary’s father was a bad man, a mean man.” So he contributed. This was a story he could grasp. “My mommy is bad. She hit my sister on the leg.”

Later, “My mommy tried to hurt me with a knife.”

I wrote about this at the time, but I bring it up again because 7 years later, I still can’t get that moment out of my mind. I was horrified to confront in that moment a glimpse of what this child had already experienced, a sin-drenched violation of maternal instinct. And I was equally terrified that the other kids would realize what he was saying and start asking questions. And that we would soon be in the middle of a preschooler crisis and then a horde of angry parents would appear at our door with pitchforks.

That, my friends, is probably as close as I can get you to a teacher’s inner monologue. Every lesson, if you’re doing it right, teeters on the edge of incredible discovery and deep learning, but that always comes at the risk of stabbing straight into one of the questions we adults cannot answer, like why mothers of 4 year olds would try to stab them. Or why the richest nation on earth has such a drug problem. Or why South Carolina can’t seem to do anything about the generational poverty that chews up its citizens. And if your lesson crosses over into those churning waters where the real learning happens, your animal brain begins to tingle with fearful anticipation of the phone calls you’re going to get from parents or school board members when they realize your discussion of Dickens robbed children of their innocence.

Friends, I ask this in all sincerity:

How can parents know whether preserving the purity and innocence of their children – whether toddler or teen – is wisdom or idolatry?  

I’ve seen this many times in my work with teens and young adults: healing the wounds of dysfunction and pain requires interaction with healthy, functional peers and adults. So if all the healthy, functional families cocoon themselves, who’s left to walk alongside the wounded?

What can this look like, if it’s done well? Is a school community capable of this? Is it a church responsibility? Can a family accomplish this kind of ‘education’ on its own, apart from church or school?

Urgent need – help if you can

I just heard about an amazing effort to prevent infanticide among Amazonian tribes in Brazil, and an immediate opportunity to help them out by donating clothes, diapers, and other supplies THIS WEEK to a mission team traveling from Erskine College. I told the team leader I’d try to get the word out in the Upstate to those who might be inclined to help.

Who I’m talking about

The Brazilian government until recently turned a blind eye to the continuing practice of some remote tribes to kill newly-born babies with apparent birth defects or multiple births. These children would be buried alive in order to “remove the curse” from the family & the village.

A missionary couple who had been on the field for over 20 years and already working in the area stepped into the gap recently to provide a home for these children. Over the past couple years they’ve raised the funds to buy a house and staff it with caring personnel to take in the many children who need to be rescued. As you can imagine, it’s a huge task.

Ministry:  Father’s Heart, run by Barry & Vanita Hall, in association with Global Outreach Mission.

Ministry Facebook page 

Ministry brochure (PDF) 

How I heard about this

David Earle, one of my awesome co-workers at Erskine College
David Earle, one of my awesome co-workers at Erskine College

I work with David Earle, Vice President for Advancement at Erskine College. David has a deep heart for missions and organized a mission trip for Erskine students this summer to the Amazon basin. Their primary task is to provide support for a medical missions group traveling the Amazon by boat.

But when David came across the Father’s Heart ministry in April and described their incredible ministry to his team, the students immediately asked to give up their sight-seeing days in order to spend time with the Halls and the children they’ve rescued.

What I’m asking for

David’s team can all travel with an extra suitcase packed full of supplies for the Halls’ ministry.   They would like to bring a variety of items for children of all ages, including cloth diapers, clothing (for all sizes & ages), personal care supplies, sanitizer, school supplies…..

Suggested donations (PDF) -click to view/download/print

If you want to check out the team’s fundraising page (though the goal data hasn’t been updated), go here

Deadline for sending items with the team:

The team leaves on Friday, May 24th.  

How to help

  • If you want to bring items listed on the PDF to my house in Anderson for the team to take to Brazil next week, I’ll deliver them to David & the team on your behalf.
    I’ll take my last load to Erskine on Thursday morning, May 23.

  • If you want to speak with David Earle in person to get more information or organize a separate donation, you can reach him via phone at Erskine College or email.

Again, the team leaves on Friday … I’m just here to rally folks to help them pack their suitcases full of great materials to support this amazing children’s ministry.

Every little bit can help.

 

Thanks for listening. Feel free to share this message to any who would want to help.

 

Microcosmic Generosity

Striking:

The smallest parable of humankindness (or Divine-kindness), the gift, tumbles us into humility as easily as a wrestler throws an unsuspecting opponent onto the map.

Henry Nouwen in his book Creative Ministry counsels ministers to take a break sometimes from the role of gift-giver (time, attention, instruction, aid) so the recipients themselves can taste the sweet joy of giving. “It is more blessed to give than receive” — once we learn that lesson, we must then learn to wean ourselves from the desire to be needed, to be thesole  recipient of the joy of giving.

I find God’s provision, while sweet, also to be humiliating. Nothing hammers home my inadequacy like being given that which I could not produce for myself (or in myself).

Case in point:  The upper school’s Dominican Republic trip looms large on the horizon. Jack & I have been busy with preparations for weeks now, swimming through a sea of housing, financial, medical, and travel details. School trips are a delightful burden, but the weight is real. Without foresight, wisdom, and a good deal of planning, the trip would lose its efficiency as a fantastic learning experience for the 11 students and become instead a trial.

For weeks now I’ve been concerned that we have been unable to obtain donations of the necessary antibiotics and other meds that Dr D. will need for his clinic work in Santiago. The rest of us will spend the bulk of our time ministering in other ways, but Tim needs those meds to do his work – probably the most important ‘real’ help we’re bringing to the church in that city.  But money is tight; businesses have less money to donate; new laws make it harder for people to donate medicines; we lacked the needed personal contacts to get the meds.

Friday night, someone called me to say they had spoken with a business associate and decided to split the cost of a large supply of the needed medicines for the trip.

This person simply did it — with one stroke, they removed our last, large barrier to effective work it the DR next week…. the hurdle I had no way to clear. And they have been generous to the trip in other ways.

I blushed on my end of the phone. I don’t know how much the drugs cost, but I figure they weren’t cheap. Sure, professionals can take a tax write-off for stuff like this, but the reality hit home:  God’s work is always acommunal effort.  The Body as a whole is charged with healing the sick, wrapping the wounds, pulling people toward reconciliation, showing compassion.

Gifts are microcosmic. They mutely witness to the foundational and humbling truth of the Gospel that “all things come from Thee, and from Thine own supply have we given Thee” (1 Chronicles 29:14).  Glory to His name.

Everything is HIS, whether ‘the holding on or the letting go’ (“Come What May“).

[PS. If you want to read about the actual trip, see my Xanga posts.]

Some of the medical supplies donated by our team and others for the medical ministries out of the Reformed Baptist church in Santiago, DR
Some of the medical supplies donated by our team and others for the medical ministries out of the Reformed Baptist church in Santiago, DR