Typhoon Trauma in the Visayas

by Dennis Alger, Wider Church Ministries Team, Central Pacific Conference, UCC

typhoon shipFirst, you need a map. Those of us who are old enough to remember the assassination of President Kennedy also remember 6th Grade Geography Class, but many of us do not know much about the Philippines.  Oh, that’s right, it takes some effort to find a useful map; I suggest Powell’s Books.

Now that you are back from Powell’s and you are inside your warm and dry house and have had your coffee made with safe-for-drinking water along with a snack from your abundant pantry (I know, you’ve been meaning to donate some of the things people actually like to eat to a local charity), and your family members are enjoying their day—safe, healthy, secure, all accounted for—open your map.

Liberation

Liberation

The transcendent image of a resurrected Christ shines with liberation, even from death, with a promise of life everlasting.  This audacious promise is the heart of our faith.  It is also the heart of our mission of justice and equity for all, because life everlasting begins not after death but in this life on earth.

 Justice and witness ministry is a ministry of liberation:  to free the oppressed, to use power and wealth on behalf of the powerless and poor, and to act boldly for justice.  This ministry carries our Christian faith into the world through action, amply supported by scripture and the ages-long actions of our UCC forebears.

 This ministry, however, contains within it the seeds of its own undoing.  As we work to free the oppressed, we may assume we are free and they are not.  As we give and ask nothing in return, we may flaunt our power, separating us, the powerful, from them, the weak and oppressed.  As we fight for justice, we may focus on a furious fight against injustice, on oppression rather than liberation, and take our eyes off the prize.

 A few months ago, I came across a quotation that rings true to me for justice ministry.  It is often attributed to Lilla Watson, an Australian Aboriginal elder and activist, speaking to a missionary:

If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

 “Your liberation is bound up in mine.”  What a marvelous phrase.  In a few simple words, the arrogant assumption of being free, the inequitable separation from the other, and the furious focus on oppression, are all replaced by a call to work together for liberation.

 In our justice ministry we are clearly not free.  In the Rev. Dr. King’s letter from a Birmingham jail, he writes “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  We work for freedom in a mutual mission of liberation, with a handshake, not a handout.

 “Bound up…”  A profound intimacy pervades those words, loving our neighbor as ourselves.  We are not separate from each other, any more than the body of Christ is dismembered.  A Jew, Martin Buber, expresses this best for me.  His “I-Thou” relationship is warmly intimate, as is the Bible.  Today, we see the Biblical use of “thou” as formal and stiff, but in the England of King James “thou” was a term used for friends and relatives, bound by kinship and friendship.

 This intimacy is empowered in forgiveness.  The oppressed, and those fighting oppression, are often angry, outraged.  The justness of the cause becomes a justification for anger that can blind us to each other.  Forgive us our rages, as we forgive those who rage against us.  Liberate us to love one another.

 “Let us work together.”  We work together, shoulder-to-shoulder, with our eyes firmly on the prize: liberation.  Of course we fight oppression, but as a gardener fights weeds, as a part of growing a finer garden.  Gardeners of justice work together not for a final prize but for a recurring cycle of sweet, savory prizes that nourish and grow through constant, careful tending.

 Christ did not die for our sins; he rose from death for our salvation.  He came because his liberation is bound up in ours.  As we work together for justice, may we follow Christ.

Will Fuller – Kairos-Milwaukie UCC

MISSION MEANS MORE

By Brenda Kame’enui, First Congregational UCC, Eugene, Oregon

Tasajera Islanders with FCC Eugene friends

Tasajera Islanders with FCC Eugene friends

Some of us in the United Church of Christ (UCC) flock tend to shrink from God/Jesus/religion talk in public. Mission is a word we’ve steered clear of since James Michener’s novel Hawaii. Webster defines mission as a “specific task or duty; calling in life; delegation; being sent on some service.” I like the American Heritage Dictionary definition: “a body of persons sent to conduct negotiations or establish relations with a foreign country.”

First Congregational Church UCC Eugene was not intent upon negotiating with a foreign country when members first went to Tasajera Island,  El Salvador in 2006. This tiny island, about an hour’s boat ride from the mainland of El Salvador, is home to a small, poor fishing village. That first group from Eugene looked forward to meaningful health care work with Salvadorans on the island, surely a “foreign” place to the North Americans.

Who knew this visit by a few doctors would blossom into a continuing relationship that flourishes on both sides of the border? Since that first trip, FCC-UCC Eugene has sent another half-dozen delegations, from 3-year-olds to 65-year-olds, who live and eat with islanders and work together on a variety of projects.