Living the Christian Life
Texas Baptist Hunger Offering helps rescue young women from slavery
Moldova is the poorest country in Europe. In the last ten years, more than 100,000 people have been victims of human trafficking, and more than 30,000 girls and women have disappeared without a trace. Lack of a future has brought a “new national idea” among youth – to leave the country at any price.
Because of this horrific fact, Beginning of Life (BoL), a Christ-centered residential rehabilitation ministry in Chisinau, Moldova, began raising awareness about the problem through press conferences and TV programs. BoL Safe House was born to provide housing, food, medical/psychological assistance, education and society re-integration for young women who are victims of violence and trafficking.
The Texas Baptist Hunger Offering, in partnership with Global Women, an ecumenical missions movement to empower women to fulfill her unique purpose, is providing funds in 2012 for food, clothing, shelter, education, counseling and supervision for young women at the Safe House. The ultimate goal is to transition these women (and their children) from sexual slavery, abuse and/or neglect and abandonment to self-sufficiency, through intellectual, emotional, physical, spiritual and social support from trained social workers and assistants at Beginning of Life.
During their time at the center, the ladies are assessed for job skills and connected with trade schools for training. After they are trained, the center helps with their job search, allowing them to live at the center at least one month after beginning employment. Re-integration into society is an important priority, along with long-term follow-up.
At the center, there are opportunities for the young women to attend Bible classes and worship in various churches, most of which choosing Evangelical ones. The women have seen the love of Christ shown to them and openly speak about how hopeless their future would be without Beginning of Life.
Environmental Stewardship and Church Energy Policy
Our state’s demand for energy is expected to rise, and rise faster than the nation as a whole, over the coming years. Given our state’s ongoing need for greater and greater energy resources, clean energy sources such as wind, solar and biomass can help us meet our future energy needs. But whether we are quick or slow to diversify with clean energy options, the cost of energy will continue to rise.
The Christian Life Commission has been paying extra attention to the rising energy costs for churches. El Paso churches faced a recent very steep spike in energy costs; the cost increase that was planned hit churches disproportionately to the rise other businesses and residential rates. Churches organized to work with the local energy provider and city officials to compromise and put a ceiling on the rate increase. Austin Energy is currently going through the rate increase process, where many houses of worship could see their bills increase in excess of 80%. If your utility provider is going through a rate case, please let the Christian Life Commission know. We can be of assistance in determining what the effect will be on your church’s electric bill and how to try to mitigate against egregious increases.
Many private sector businesses are preparing for these cost increases by making their facilities more energy efficient in part financed by tax rebates and tax offsets. Public sector buildings, like schools and courthouses, have the opportunity to take advantage of similar energy efficiency measures with funds set aside by the State of Texas. Churches and other nonprofits cannot take advantage of tax incentives, nor are they eligible for public facility funding. This means that churches have been facing the same inevitable energy cost increases but without any help or subsidy to offset initial costs.
A greater and greater portion of a church budget is consumed by rising energy costs. Every dollar spent on the increase in a church’s electricity bill is a dollar that could be spent on ministries. By saving energy we save water, reduce pollution including mercury, protect public health, act as good stewards, and we can spend tithes and offerings on ministry rather than electric bills.
One step closer to recovery
I recently had the experience of testifying in court. It’s quite an experience to stand before a judge lift your hand and promise to tell the truth in a court of law. The words are powerful and can effect the outcome of a case, a life and a family.
Truth is also an important concept in recovery. Unless a person can truly be honest about the reality of their life and choices then true recovery is not possible. Actually telling the truth can be very painful as one admits to short comings, poor choices and sinful deeds. Yet in the pain honesty, forgiveness and restoration can be found.
Step 5 in AA says, “We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” As a therapist, I’ve worked with hundreds of people on this step and have gotten to be a part of the awesome transition from guilt to grace. For as a person is able to fully see the truth about their life and choices, repent, and experience forgiveness then one is free to walk with Christ in His grace.
Part of the struggle of Step 5 is to admit that wrong is wrong. The step is a time to agree with God about the exact nature of the wrong and the fact that the sinful part of ourself is focused on covering up the problem. Part of the freedom that comes in step 5 is admitting what we know deep down inside to be the truth.
One of the most difficult parts of step 5 is overcoming denial. It’s tough because by definition a person has trouble understanding that they are in fact lying to themselves. It’s a person of courage who can honestly ask God to reveal to them the truth. Yet by God’s nature, He already knows the truth and loves us unconditionally. So a part of the step is to trust that even in the ugly, shameful and sometimes heart breaking truth God is big enough, loving enough and faithful enough to always forgive when we are truly repentant.
The Bible says in John 8:32, “For you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” In the process of the telling of the truth, there is an internal peace that was lost years ago that is now found. The truth does lead each of us one step closer to recovery and to a life of freedom in His Grace.
Listen to the Children: Conversations With Immigrant Families
Immigration is a complex and divisive social issue in the U.S. Much is debated and argued about undocumented workers and “DREAMers,” that is, the young undocumented high school graduates who are unable to study, work or enroll in the armed forces. It is not often, though, that we hear anything about how the experience of our immigrant population affects their children.
Dr. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier has recently published a book on this issue that is a highly recommended read. A concise book, just 69 pages, Listen to the Children is written for a broad audience and peppered with real-life stories involving children, which firmly anchor her findings in reality. Her book may very well become the primer for immigrant family counseling.
The first part of the book is aimed for immigrant parents, providing them with practical advice about communicating to their children their intention to migrate to a new land, choosing the right caregiver while they are away, reuniting with them in the U.S. and adjusting to a new life in a foreign land.
Through interviews, Dr. Conde-Frazier writes about the experience of undocumented immigrants from the perspective of their children, shedding light upon their psychological and emotional condition. She brings to the table issues that the Body of Christ should be aware of in order to provide support and help to these children and their families as they go through the difficulties of being undocumented immigrants or children of undocumented immigrants.
Teachers, clergy, and social workers can greatly benefit from Dr. Conde-Frazier’s insights and wealth of information. Here are a few noteworthy facts contained in her book:
- There are an estimated 16.5 million children of immigrant parents in our country.
- There are 3 million children who are born U.S. citizens, but whose parents are undocumented immigrants.
- There are an estimated 2 million children who are themselves undocumented immigrants. They came with their parents to the U.S. when they were babies. They grew up in the U.S. and went to school here. This is the only country they know.
- The average income of almost half of all immigrant households is 200 percent below poverty level. This is the case in only 34 percent for U.S.-born households.
- The poverty that immigrants experience is not alleviated by public assistance of any kind. They are not eligible for Medicaid, Temporary Public Assistance (TANF) and food stamps.
- In 1982 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that children in grades K-12 are guaranteed their right to an education regardless of the legal status of their parents. Therefore, no school in the U.S. should require legal documentation from parents before allowing their children to register for classes.
People of faith have not completely ignored the plight of immigrant children. In fact, according to a study conducted by the National Council of La Raza, cited by Dr. Conde-Frazier, churches are often among the first organizations to respond to the immediate needs of immigrant families affected by raids. This shows that, to a degree, Christians are paying attention and respond quickly to families that have experienced separation from one or both parents due to an immigration raid. Dr. Conde-Frazier offers much wisdom and guidance for churches and individuals who are close to these kinds of needs.
Dr. Conde-Frazier ends the book by reminding us “immigrants find themselves in a situation where they need to choose between doing what’s necessary for their families to survive and following laws that deny them the right to survive.” Moreover, “they persevere despite the limitations of their context, and push back against language and laws that deem them as non-persons or persons unworthy of equal status. They create strategies of survival, insisting that their ‘human rights’ and the injustices existing in the two countries gives them a right to disrupt the orderly classifications produced by the state. They push us all toward a status of dignity and justice.”
We must side with those whose dignity and justice is put in doubt by any person or political system and echo the heart of our Lord Jesus Christ, who once said “if any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones…it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.” Listen to the Children challenges us to do everything we can in the power of the Holy Spirit to care for our immigrants and alleviate the suffering of the most innocent and vulnerable ones among them: the children.
Jesus really likes children.
He didn’t ask for childcare when he had a speaking engagement.
He loved their enthusiasm. He impressed upon those he taught how important they were.
So important, that throughout scripture, in Deuteronomy, Proverbs, Mark, the Acts, the message is clear…teach the children God’s truth.
Isaiah prophesied of Jesus, “…with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.” (Is. 11:6) This truth reveals Jesus’ desire for our children to understand their role in caring for others.
Come to the Table, Children’s Hunger Awareness Curriculum, a collaboration between the Christian Life Commission and Dallas Baptist University Masters Education Department, will help you do just that.
Written for preschoolers (age 3-K), younger children (grades 1-4), and preteens (grades 5-6), it is now available for free download. Each age-graded section offers five sessions which include Bible stories, mission stories based on Hunger Offering projects, related activities for the classroom, and activities for the family at home.
Use this curriculum in Vacation Bible School, Sunday School, missions organizations, and/or children’s camps and retreats. Exploring the biblical texts and hearing how Texas Baptists are alleviating hunger and poverty at home and abroad will help the children envision a world without hunger and their part in transforming that image into reality.
Scripture says, “Teach the children.” If we don’t teach them, who will?
…doers of the Word by: Jeremy Everett
I have enjoyed opportunities to be a witness to incarnational agents who seek food security for the hungry over the past two years of working with the Texas Hunger Initiative. These agents for justice manifest Christ’s presence among us and can be found in all sectors of society. They are people in organizing communities like Carol Rigby-Hiebert and Mary Herbert in San Angelo. They are pastors like Dan Trevino in San Antonio. They are policy advocates like JC Dwyer with the Texas Food Bank Network. They work in government like Bill Ludwig and Leslie Lankster at USDA.
MAX FINBERG – Recently, I had an opportunity to interview an incarnational agent, Max Finberg. Max has spent his adult life advocating for the hungry in Washington, D.C., in the non-profit sector until recently being appointed in May 2009, by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to direct USDA’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Housed in the Office of the Secretary, the Center’s mission is to build partnerships between USDA and faith-based and neighborhood organizations to better serve individuals, families and communities. Max is a gifted collaborator, inspiring communicator, and a patient listener. Here is an excerpt from our recent interview:
Jeremy: What is the scope of hunger in the U.S. in 2011?
Max: Almost 1 in 6 Americans struggle to put food on the table. That means 50 million brothers and sisters, 17 million of them children, do not have enough access to food to survive and thrive.
Jeremy: Why do we have so much hunger in such a wealthy nation?
Max: We have not decided that hunger is something we want to end. We have the ability. There is plenty of food, we have a strong social safety net, and there are many people of faith and goodwill that provide access to emergency food. However, we have not made the decision to plug the gaps for people to have access to food all the time. It will require the public and the private sectors working together to become food secure.
Jeremy: Why as a person of faith is ending hunger a priority to you?
Max: Because Matthew 25: 31-46 says, “I was hungry and you gave me some food, I was thirsty you gave me something to drink…and the righteous will answer, ‘When was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?’…Then the king will answer, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Faith is my motivating factor in trying to end hunger since Scripture is full of references to helping the poor and hungry. We cannot get around it.
Jeremy: Why do you feel called to public service?
Max: I grew up with a strong sense of call to working in public service that was modeled for me by my father and my community in the Catskill Mountains of New York. I have been honored to join the Obama administration to answer the call to feed hungry people, and I have been inspired by Secretary Vilsack’s similar sense of call.
Jeremy: How do you see Texans answering the call to ensure food security in our state?
Max: Well, first of all, I commend the Texas Hunger Initiative, Texas Baptists, Texas Impact, the Texas Food Bank Network, and all of your partners including Health and Human Services, Department of State Health Services, and the Texas Department of Agriculture for already demonstrating results. It is fabulous to see a collaborative effort yield Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program resources to an additional 700,000 people in your state over one year! That is a boost for everyone! It put an estimated billion dollars in food insecure families’ hands to purchase healthy food in grocery stores and farmers markets across the state that helped create jobs during our recession. It is great to see leadership form Commissioner Staples and Commissioner Suehs, to see the public and private sector working well together, and to see churches expanding the food pantry ministries to including SNAP outreach and Summer Meals programs for children.
Jeremy: Thank you for your time. I have one final question. What would you like to see Texas do better?
Max: Although, we have increased participation in public and private programs over the past year, the programs and resources available to hungry families are still underutilized in Texas. That means increased hardship for families that are already having a difficult time. Many Texans trust their pastors and so pastors need to step up. Pastors can use their influence to encourage their congregations to do more for hungry families in their communities.
My hope for Texas is that we will heed the call of Matthew 25 like Max has done. I hope that we will realize the wisdom of the Jesus’ words in the Gospel passage that the least of these are members of His family…and thus our own. Together we can make Texas food secure.
Jeremy Everett is the Director of the Texas Hunger Initiative in the Baylor University School of Social Work.
Max Finberg previously was the Director of the Alliance to End Hunger, a non-profit organization that engages diverse institutions in building the public will to end hunger, both in the United States and worldwide.
Prior to joining the Alliance, Mr. Finberg served Ambassador and former Representative Tony Hall (D-OH) for 12 years in a variety of capacities. He was Special Assistant to the Ambassador at the U.S. Mission to the UN Agencies for Food and Agriculture in Rome, Italy. Mr. Finberg was also Senior Legislative Assistant covering domestic hunger and poverty issues for Representative Hall.
Mr. Finberg graduated with honors from Howard University’s School of Divinity with a Master’s degree in Social Ethics. He lives in the Washington, D.C. area with his wife, Kate, and two children, Eliana and Matthias.
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The Baptist World Alliance convenes our World Congress this week. Baptist Christians from more than 500 hundred countries are represented by the BWA. Among the very good friends that we will see are our mission partners from the countries supported by the Texas Baptist Offering for World Hunger from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cambodia, India and the Philippines.
It is perfectly clear when standing shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters from this beautiful Baptist world family that God’s great kingdom mission is global and it is spirit led. As Texas Baptists, our international participation, whether through mission trips or in Congress of Baptist leaders, provokes an overwhelming feeling of stewardship. We are stewards of a great family of God’s people. As US Baptists we are also stewards of a wealthy, free, expressive church. These gifts are not universal nor or they to be lavished only on ourselves; our gifts are to be used in stewardship for God’s great kingdom and His family worldwide.
At Wheaton College, during the recent Evangelical Consultation on Government, Foreign Assistance and the Kingdom of God ( see my column) a group of about 100 evangelical leaders were convened by Bread for the World and spent several days listening, talking and intentionally framing some important principles about the intersection of our Christian witness, the relationship of the church’s missional efforts and US foreign assistance. Here are some excerpts of that discussion. Discussion that will surely be revisited and reflected upon this week at the BWA Congress
- Christians in the United States and other northern and western countries are being changed as we listen to voices from the Global South and from multiple social locations in each country affected by interaction with western mission efforts and government policies. In a spirit of humility we must always be open to new perspectives and corrections in our advocacy and service.
- Church leaders have significant educational responsibilities in instructing their communities about the realities of structural injustice, the need for government responses of sufficient scale to address these injustices, and both the possibilities and the limits of government foreign assistance.
- Christians must always live what we advocate. We realize that Western and US Christians are now called to a journey of lifestyle change so that our buying, eating, spending, and investing, and so on all bend toward justice for the world’s poor. Our advocacy has as much credibility as our lives.
- The great growth of short-term mission projects among US Christians poses an educational and missional opportunity in this era. While legitimate criticisms can be offered of the actual benefits in proportion to costs of these mission efforts, with proper education and follow up these mission experiences can be used to expose an entire generation of Christians to the needs of the world’s poor and the complex challenges involved in addressing them well.
- Communication advances now enable the global Church to function more and more as one truly global Church. That church is already involved every day around the world in meeting the needs of the poor. Western Christians must be in ongoing and respectful dialogue and conversation with their Christian brothers and sisters in the Global South. This is important both for Christian community and for shaping and informing our missions and advocacy.
- We agree that Christian activity for and with the poor must remain an ongoing aspect of Christian discipleship no matter what governments do. We agree that even if church-related groups receive government funds to serve the poor we must never become subservient to government, and must be willing at any moment to refuse such funds if conscience requires it. However, we also agree that advocacy related to foreign assistance and other aspects of government policy is an appropriate expression of our Christian discipleship, and that partnerships with government are both possible and necessary under many circumstances.
- There are sound foreign policy reasons rooted in national interest for why our government should give generously to effective foreign assistance programs. These are widely recognized in the United States government and among foreign policy intellectuals. As Christian citizens we are grateful to God that the interests of the state and the interests of the kingdom of God in this case coalesce. We know that this is not always the case, and that as Christians we will need to continue to offer our witness and do our work regardless of what governments and states decide to do. But we can work toward shared ends with groups who do not share our worldview, whenever this is possible.
Would you like to join this discussion? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your voice is needed because the worldwide conversation is growing.