Brief Bio

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Quezon City, Metro-Manila, Philippines
I am a runner, pastor, sociologist, teacher, and missionary. After living in Chicago for 6 years, I discerned a call to go to Manila, Philippines to live and work among the urban poor, and combine my passions for ministry, running, and the oppressed. After serving in the Philippines in 2012 and 2013, I returned to the United States for two years to finish my dissertation, get ordained, spend time with my family, and work at a neighborhood center in Kansas City. Since then, I have been working in the Philippines with Companion With the Poor as a missionary. Each day I look forward to how God will direct my steps as I live into His work of restoring a broken world.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Justice in Community - Embodiment of Lent and Easter

“I used to say ’My Savior,’ but now I say ‘Our Savior!’”

These simple words were spoken by one of the guests at the shelter tonight name Jesus who, through a number of phone calls he made at the desk I sit at as well as a conversation I had at him, I found out had just accepted Christ and was baptized over Easter! These words were a huge confirmation to me tonight to write this devotional response to close out the Lenten Devotionals – a fulfillment if you will – much like Jesus’ resurrection. It is a message I need for myself and I feel the church needs as a whole.

I have been serving at the shelter in a number of capacities for over a year now. I have broken through so many comfort areas of my life and shattered a number of stereotypes of the homeless. In fact, a number of the guests at the shelter are my friends now – how’s that for breaking down stereotypes. I am no greater than any of them, and in fact they have become my teachers and my encouragers. Guys like Dennis, Earl, Willie, Robert, Ramone, Jesus, Carmelo, Joe, Orlando, and Adejenka. And while they have been my mentors and teachers, serving me in a number of capacities, I too have been able to be a servant in teaching and sharing with them in a number of ways as well. I have given water to the thirsty, offered food to the hungry, clothed the naked, given shelter to the homeless, cared for the sick and cold, and befriended (nearly visited) the prisoner. If anyone has the right to boast about being a Mathew 25 sheep, I do, right? …Wrong!

A sheep is nothing by itself – it’s only chance at survival and purpose is as part of the flock and guarded by the Great Shepherd!

In all I have done, I can only boast in our Lord Jesus Christ, recognizing myself as a sinner who, were it not for the grace and love of Jesus, would myself still be a wretched man. But now I come to my point of revelation: Jesus died and rose again so that I may become grafted into His Body; so that I may experience eternal life in communion with the family of God! Out of all of my acts of good deeds to the poor, none of them matter apart from the Body of Christ. [The Last Supper, Great Commission, and Pentecost were all communal events] Throughout the last five weeks my whole notion of justice to the poor and oppressed has been shattered to pieces; it is to the extent that from this day on all my work at the shelter and among the poor must be done differently: AS AN EXTENSION OF AND EMBODIMENT OF THE BODY OF CHRIST!

The reality of this hit me a few weeks back when we were talking about justice as a function of the church in light of modern and postmodern assumptions (in a seminary class called “the church in postmodern society”). For the first half of lecture and discussion many people in the class was looking at me to respond to the professor’s questions, many recognizing that I have been serving at the shelter for some time now. What is funny (though I assure you it wasn’t funny at the time) is that though I have had numerous interactions and encounters with the poor (only one of them to which the interactions have been tied in with my current church), the majority of my time has been as a lone ranger, acting out justice in a modern function – the act of an individual, not of a corporate body of Christ. In fact, as my professor non-directly made me aware, I really had little understanding of how the church as a community, as a body, is to live out and embody the notion of justice. The sad fact is, I am not alone in my lack of understanding justice as a representation of Christ’s body. In fact, for 23 years now I have been going to churches where the worship, preaching, teaching, and encouragement has more often than not been to do acts of justice (to the poor and oppressed) as individuals. The question is often how are ‘you’ involved with the poor? If we are not involved, guilt follows; if we are involved, pride follows. What I have been learning though is that another alternative exists.

I realize this is a rather harsh critique on modern assumptions of justice. But hang with me.

The problem with seeing justice as acts done by individuals serving other individuals is that often the in the exchange of serving the other and being served, or even a friendship that is made, rarely has any connection into the body of Christ, or the local church, been accomplished. In my case, I can serve any number of the 400-500 men I have served in the last year, including the ones I have built stronger relationships with, but if I never help connect them with a local body of believers, have I really helped them in the holistic way that Christ would have? Not really.

But there is a second part of this alternative type of justice (the first being helping others through inviting them into the community of believers). If and when I invite these homeless patrons into a community of believers, what does that community look like? Is it one that is already taking care of the members in its own body? Not just spiritually, through a sermon or small group, but financially, socially, psychologically, and relationally. If it is not doing this already with its current members, it will struggle with being a community into which a homeless person will actually experience Jesus Christ himself. This act of justice might mean one of the members of the church would have to open up their home to take in the one without one, in order that the church congregation might live out Matthew 25 on their own turf, instead of “giving it away” as my professor would say to a homeless shelter or soup kitchen. [Even if these shelters are run by religious organizations, if the functions are kept separate from the functions of the local church, only providing physical needs, it is not capable of serving the men and women holistically like a community of believers, or Christ himself intends.]

I don’t regret or think poorly upon my last year of serving the homeless. Rather, I thank God for inviting me into the city to serve and be served by, love and be loved by, and teach and be taught by, the people Jesus himself came to serve, love, and teach 2000 years ago. My prayer, and I ask that your prayer should be this: (1) to encourage our churches to better understand this notion of justice both to our own congregation and those on the margins being invited in; (2) to invite our small groups or missional communities (for me, my discipleship mission community of 15 people) and others from our churches to begin building relationships with the homeless and marginalized (for me, to invite my church family to help at the FOA shelter); and (2) [this one specific to my situation] to start a discipleship mission community in the neighborhood where the shelter resides, hopefully starting a community living situation with some of those members by late summer or early fall.

May His Body (the Church) embody the function of justice Jesus intended – an inviting and transformational community for the poor, the marginalized, and the man or woman sitting next to us on Sunday morning. Amen.

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