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.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Truth about Preaching and Missional Orders: Viv Grigg and the New Friars

Viv Grigg

Bessenecker writes, "In 1999, while I was engaged in a master’s program in international development, I began praying about how I might become invested in a movement to incarnate the gospel among the poor, like the Franciscans had done. I wondered what such a movement would look like in the twenty-first century. It was about that time that I first learned about Viv Grigg. A young New Zealander who had moved to the Philippines, he was a picture of the modern-day Franciscan to me, and I was captivated by his example. In his twenties he was working as a missionary at a Bible school in Manila, helping to establish a middle-class church. But Viv was possessed by a kind of emptiness—a soulful unrest. “My life was unfulfilled,” he writes in a biographical work called Companion to the Poor. “The philosopher within me found no answers to the search for meaning; the artist found no fulfillment in the search for perfection and ultimate truth; the leader had not found the center of destiny and purpose towards which to lead others. All three voices told me I still was far from the place of God’s call." (78)

Then he was invited to the home of one of his students, Mario, whose family lived on a pineapple plantation on the island of Mindanao. The seven thousand workers for the pineapple factory lived in slum communities on the land that they once had owned. Now a transnational corporation paid them a barely livable wage while their work generated millions of dollars in canned pineapple sales that mostly stayed in the pockets of a few people in America. Mario’s house was made of items he had scavenged from a dump. His parents both worked the maximum amount of time allowed by the plantation (four hours per day) but could not afford medicine for a skin disease from which his father suffered.
After a week in Mario’s home, Viv returned to Manila more disturbed than ever. He began to hunt for a slum community into which he could weave the thread of his own life by moving there. At first he was misunderstood, and many concerned friends and missionaries tried to talk him out of his radical notions of stepping into the world of the poor. Still he persisted. At one point in his journey of faith in the slum communities, Viv climbed a one-hundred-foot mountain of stinking, rotting garbage and walked through the community of ten thousand men, women and children who lived and worked at the dump. Weeping, he cried out to God to do something about the plight of the desperately poor. God spoke into the brokenness of Viv’s heart that he had sent his Son into the stench of human poverty and now was calling others to follow his example. Viv took God at his word and began to invite others into the incarnational life of serving the poorest of the poor. Reading Viv’s story planted a seed for me that would germinate later that year.
In the fall of 1999, as director for InterVarsity’s short-term mission programs, I began to dream about what it might be like to set up experiences for students to live and learn in slum communities during their summer break. Perhaps God was calling others like Viv to leave their middle-class lives behind and bind themselves to the urban poor. The idea possessed me. I lost so much sleep in those first few months as I began thinking and planning how I might call students to listen for the voice of God calling them to take up residence in slum communities. (78)

The New Friars, The Beginnings

I asked Viv to come from New Zealand to our debriefing time in L.A. at the end of the summer, when all eighty students would be back together after having lived and worked in slum communities. I was going to give them the opportunity to stand in response to God’s call to serve the poorest of the poor, and I wanted Viv there to lay hands on them and bless them. Honestly, I had no idea if anyone would stand to such a sobering call. Viv spoke to the students on just how costly his life in the slums had been. His health had been compromised, he had married quite late in life, and many other opportunities had passed him by. “Those of you going to live in the slums in Calcutta will need to build teams of twice the size you desire because half of you will return within six months,” he told them. Not exactly the “rah-rah” inspiration for students to rise up and “claim their blessing.”
On that final morning of debriefing, I asked for students to stand if they felt that God had called them to the poor for at least two years. Viv and I both wept as thirty students stood in response to the call. One by one we went to them, anointed them with oil and prayed over them. Today, some of those standing have embraced poverty as an incarnational lifestyle choice in order to reach those trapped in intractable poverty. (80-81)

One of those students was David Von Stroh, the Bangkok slum-dweller whom we met at the beginning of the book. He has learned that incarnation is a choice he must make every day. Options for nice clothing, nice housing and food are easily available. He identifies with Paige Young, an instructor in the Servant Partners training school, who confessed that when she first moved into a slum community of North Africa she thought she had made some kind of final and conclusive decision to incarnate the gospel among the poor. What she discovered was that she needed to embrace the incarnation on a continual basis.
David Writes,

I thought like Paige, that back at some point in the past, whether a quiet time of prayer in Boston, or a call session at a Trek debriefing, I had surrendered to the call and decided on a life of incarnation. But that was just the first step. Each day, incarnation is a choice. I’m al ways tempted with easier ways out—compromises, or healthy moderations, depending on how you look at it. It would be a lot easier to have just been able to decide on incarnation and then follow in auto pilot. But my journey with
Jesus is that much richer when I have to daily live out and reaffirm this decision to incarnate with free will. It makes ministry not just about accomplishment or objectives, but a discovery.

It’s the little choices to live simply and share day-to-day life with his slum community neighbors that give David rapport. Walking alongside the rickety boardwalks over sewage each day with his neighbors, eating where they eat, sleeping where they sleep, hanging out where they hang out—all of these allow a kind of companionship not available to those outside the community. (81-82)

New Friars and New Monasticism

The cloistered (or inward) and the missional (or outward) forces in these various monastic communities were often held in tension, some emphasizing one over the other. Likewise today we find both cloistered and missional communities cropping up. The New Monasticism, as it is being called, often consists of households of Christian men and women planted in dying inner-city communities within their home country, attempting to live the Christian ideal among their neighbors, drawing the lost, poor and broken to themselves. They resemble more the cloistered order. The new friars, on the other hand, have something of the spirit of mission-driven monks and nuns in them, leaving their mother country and moving to those parts of the world where little is known about Jesus. (21)

In my experience, the new friars are really quite ordinary. They are not the elite branch of the church—the Christian Marines or the Navy Seals of the faith. They are broken men and women on a journey. They experience fear, loneliness and anger. They suffer pride, lust and hatred. In some ways, that is why some of them have made the choice to live among the poor. Moving into a slum community is not so much an attempt to be “good” but is rather a place where God can better shape them on the potter’s wheel of service. The new friars are not perfect, but one thing many of them are intent on is pursuing Christ. This is the heart of their true mission. (97)
Developing World Examples

There are, of course, followers of Jesus who were born in the harsh realities of urban poverty and who seek to follow him there. One organization working with the urban poor, Kairos, for instance, was born out of the barrios of Brazil. The church is, after all, predominantly a church of the southern hemisphere and located squarely in the developing world. Those who grew up in the developing world and are now serving the urban poor in other parts of the world deserve a book all to their own. The interesting thing about these five organizations (Word Made Flesh, Urban Neighbors of Hope, Servants, Servant Partners, InnerChange) based in the West, however, is that many of their missionaries have sought a path of downward mobility – moving from places of power and influence to places of poverty and desperation, renouncing privilege and opportunity in the West in order to find “true religion,” as James puts it, among the widows and orphans in slum communities: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27). (25)

“…in 2001 John and Birgit moved with their three kids – Johanna, Marna and Mark – into a barrio (slum community) in Caracas, Venezuela. They had formed a relationship with a Venezuelan missionary order that served among the poor, Operacion Timoteo. John was eager to help train and release Venezuelan slum-dwelling friars into ministry around the world. A team soon found and too up residence in a Caracas barrio.” (144) 

*Quotes from Bessenecker, Scott A. (2006-10-31). The New Friars: The Emerging Movement Serving the World's Poor. IVP Books. Kindle Edition. 

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