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A Challenge to Love the Poor and the Orphan

Being challenged can be, well, challenging.  It can be a challenge that helps sharpen where you stand or it can be a challenge that is unfruitful.  The Urban Halo by Craig Greenfield provides the former kind of challenge.

Read this book and thank me later

Read this book and thank me later

This book seeks to challenge Christian believers in two areas.  The first is to live incarnational lives among the urban poor.  The second is to reevaluate how we do orphan care.  These challenges come at a very opportune time for me, as I am about to move to Kampala, the capital and largest city in Uganda.  I am moving there after spending time at a children’s center studying for 5 months.  So I am the perfect audience for this work.

Greenfield was a well to do New Zealander who gave up his plush job to live in a slum in Cambodia with his wife, Nay.  The book tells the story of this journey giving the rationale for his radical move.  It also depicts how he came to work with orphans.

The stories told make one lift his eyes to heaven and praise God for His power and His love.  The author’s heart to serve Christ was gripping.  The story of his wife’s childhood escape from the murderous communist regime in Cambodia was especially moving.  There is no doubt the author has striven to serve Christ with his whole life.

Greenfield also writes with an authenticity that identifies with the reader.  For example, when he had just moved to a slum in Phnom Penh, he was frustrated with some aspects of life there, and so he wanted to punch anyone who annoyed him.  This honesty can only come when you realize Christ is sufficient for you and you do not need to seem perfect to others.  Christ’s grace is sufficient.  This dependency on Christ’s grace is refreshing and encouraging.

The author’s quest began when the options he saw for ministering to the poor in Cambodia seemed insufficient.  The options he saw other missionaries attempting were:

  1. Ignore the poverty and “preach the gospel of salvation from eternal damnation”
  2. Combine preaching with ministering to physical needs and creating “rice Christians”[1]
  3. “Carry out social work. . .without using any words about Jesus”

He wanted a “more integrated spirituality where proclamation and demonstration went hand in hand” (p 12).

These observations led Greenfield and his wife to move into the slum of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  He had discovered a ministry, Servants to Asia’s Urban Poor, which encouraged missionaries to live among the poor.  So he joined their work in Cambodia.  This decision was also fueled by his view of Jesus’ incarnational ministry.  If “Jesus left his privileged position to join us in our human condition, suffering alongside us,” then this would be the model for ministry for believers (p 37).  I discuss the validity of his conclusions below.

While serving with Servants he became familiar with its ministry to people with AIDS.  He began to realize that the children of those with AIDS would soon be orphans.  So he thought he and Nay would start an orphanage.  However, as he researched the issue, he found that having an institutional orphanage was not the best model for caring for orphans.  His research included numerous studies of the various models for caring for orphans including community based orphan care.  Greenfield’s conclusion is that community based orphan care is the best for the child.  More on this model below.

So this book offers two challenges.  The first is helpful but ultimately falls short.  The second is a wake up call to all those working with orphans.

DOES LIVING INCARNATIONALLY MEAN LIVING IN A SLUM?

This is the premise of the author’s first challenge.  Certainly Jesus’ ministry was by definition incarnational.  Jesus did leave a position of privilege and came to live in a low estate.  However, does this reality merely describe Jesus’ ministry[2] or does it prescribe[3] how believers are also to minister.

Would you live here?  The author did.

Would you live here? The author did.

Greenfield asks this very question.  He answers that, in fact, it does prescribe our ministry methods (p 37-38).  He believes his living in a slum was “modeling a kingdom way of life that values the poor and underprivileged” and his prayer was others to follow him live like he did (p 53).  The author admits to having to repent for feeling superior to other missionaries not living in a slum (p 42).  If he is just presenting one model for believers then that is one thing.  However, he wants others to follow his example which he bases on Jesus’ example.  So this book serves as his challenge to most if not all believers.

But just what does incarnational mean?  Does it mean that you must find a poor[4] area and live there like those there live?  I think it does not for 3 reasons:

    1.      The criteria are arbitrary
It is one thing to say you should live among the poor.  I agree with the author that to ignore them would be sinful.  But how does one decide who are the poor and who are the not poor.  Where is the line drawn and who draws it there?  For example, why does the author not live as the homeless do?  They are surely poorer Cambodians than those that lived in shacks near him in Cambodia.  If Jesus’ ministry is a literal prescription then believers should also live without homes just as Jesus did (Matthew 8:20).

2.      The Bible’s view is for the rich and poor to live and serve together, not for all to become poor
Had it not been for rich and poor divides we would not have one of the two passages about the Lord’s Supper outside of the Gospels.  In 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, Paul chastises the richer Corinthians for hoarding and not sharing their food with the poorer brethren.  He does not chastise them because they are not living like their poorer brothers and sisters.  In 1 Timothy 6:17-19, Paul charges the rich of the world to be generous and ready to share.  He does not command them to live among the poor.

3.      It is a non sequitur to say that you must be like those to whom you minister
One of Greenfield’s arguments is that you must be like the poor in order understand and effectively minister to them.  His wife had a ministry to prostitutes in Cambodia.  Must she become a prostitute in order to understand and minister to them?  Of course not.  What it takes to minister is a willingness to understand where they are coming from and how the gospel impacts their life.  It would be helpful to listen to them, to be near them, to read about that lifestyle, and many other things.  But being exactly like them is not necessary.  Besides, he had money, a guest house to escape to rest, and many other accommodations that his neighbors would know nothing about having.

We Should Live Incarnationally!
I say all of this because I agree with the author that we should live more incarnational lives. I agree that the current ministries to the poor largely seem insufficient.  Too many people ignore the poor or just throw them a handout.  Instead, believers should engage the poor and live with them and alongside them.  They should bring the good news of Jesus Christ in a relational and holistic way.  But this does not mean Christians should necessarily become poor.

Incarnational living is being able to identify with others so as to bring the gospel to them in a way they will understand.  This is why Paul can say that he became as one under the law but was not under the law himself (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).  So we see Paul able to identify with some but did not actually become like them.

Rightfully, Greenfield laments that the problem is that the church is “preferring instead to keep the poor at arm’s length” (p 169).  This actually supports my view of incarnation.  Instead of keeping them at arm’s lengths we should invite them and welcome them with open arms.

With this in mind I concur with Greenfield that more should be done in ministry to the poor.  I agree with him that ministries of “word and deed are inseparable” (p 169).  I agree that there should be more interaction between the poor and the rich.  Churches should be intentional to invite the poor into their midst.  People should not consciously or unconsciously avoid the poor or distance themselves from them.  But this does not necessitate living as a poor person in a poor area.  To be sure it is more than drive by mercy ministries.  However, the biblical call is not to act poor but to be “generous and ready to share” (1 Timothy 6:18).

ARE WE HURTING OR HELPING ORPHANS?

The author’s second challenge is important for the care of orphans in the coming years.  The fact that the Bible commands the care of orphans is not in doubt (James 1:27).  But how does one go about doing this?  He answers this question well.

Greenfield goes on a mission to find out the best way to love orphans.  He scatters the research and findings throughout the second half of the book.  His conclusion, after sifting through copious amounts of research, is that no matter how you slice it, community based orphan care is better for children than institutional based orphan care.

This is a very helpful discussion for a novice like me.  I just assumed you put all the kids in a big building and call it an orphanage.  However, it is not quite that simple.  For sure, some orphan care works like that.    But the other end of the spectrum is to find a home for the orphan to become a member.  Usually this home is that of the nearest relative but could be someone else from the community.  There is a continuum of models between these two options.

Greenfield’s team in Cambodia oversees this finding of relatives and homes for the kids to live.  They also provide encouragement, training, and a little financial support to the adoptive families.  This model has several positive features:

  1. The child gets to know his family
  2. The child gets to know her heritage and culture
  3. The child has a lifetime support network and does not “age out”
  4. The cost is significantly reduced
  5. Studies show kids are better adjusted to life in this model

The research is impressive.  Being ignorant of the different options for orphan care this community based model strikes me as very biblical in that it emphasizes family.  It is also a low investment but high impact way to love orphans.

The author and his family left the high life to serve the poor

The author and his family left the high life to serve the poor.

Since reading this book I have come across two articles (this one and that one) arguing for something similar.  Greenfield takes a more graceful tact than the articles.  He praises God for those loving on orphans for the fact that they are at least doing something to care for those in need.  He even provides some steps for those wanting to move towards the community based approach and away from the institutional approach.

CONCLUSION

While I will not live in a slum when I move to Kampala, I will visit one and get to know poor people.  I will also know how to think about caring for orphans.  This book will help move the discussion forward on how to care for those without parents.  The call to live incarnationally should be heeded by all believers everywhere.  Besides being a good biography of a faithful servant of the King, the book is a must read for anyone working with orphans.  It serves as a good challenge to check our methods and our heart when we serve others.  I praise God for Craig Greenfield and thank him for his service to our Lord!

 


[1] Those that get “saved” in order to continue receiving the free handout
[2] And thus giving principles for believers to follow but leaving the methods open
[3] Giving not only principles but also the methods
[4] Poor is being defined here as those who have few material possessions and might not have all basic necessities met.
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Ox Plowing 101

The last time I ox plowed, I got a biblical lesson. How many of us can start a sentence with “the last time I ox plowed?” Well I can now.

On my way to plow

On my way to plow


In case you were unaware, and I hope you weren’t, Brooke and I are doing 5 months of training at the New Hope Institute near Kiwoko, Uganda. We have the going to class every day part down pat. Another part of the class is to work with one of the seven families that are homes to orphaned children. We work with the family known as the Calvary family. We visit and lead devotions some times and other times we work in the garden (more devotion leading than garden work for me) or let them braid our hair (more for Brooke).

One of the requirements of the Institute (and this might be the best one) is to ox plow with, well oxen. Only I am not sure they are actually ox oxen. They are more like cow oxen, for whatever that’s worth. I grew up mowing lawns and maybe working in a garden here and there. But farming or working with live animals was not a real requirement for me. I have been around a lot of farms, but mostly to get lost in their corn mazes.

So just before rainy season began, I made an appointment with my family to do some ox plowing. This required getting up early and skipping breakfast time but being back in time for class (remember I have that down pat). Real man stuff, especially considering there were pancakes for breakfast.

Plowing behind live oxen seems like real hard work. I mean I have seen movies where people have struggled at it. So it was good for me that the guys of the family were there to show me how to do it.

Ox plowing in Uganda

Ox plowing in Uganda

I must admit I was a little nervous. I had visions of wild oxen running wherever they wanted with me hanging onto the plow for dear life & yelling at them to stop. Meanwhile I would have plowed the road and other places that did not need plowing.
But when we got there the guys quickly showed me how to do it. You walk behind the plow and tilt it right to go left and tilt it left to go right. However, the object is to go straight. When I started it felt like I was doodling curved lines everywhere. Going straight is definitely the hard part. Holding the plow upright is not the hard part. I did not have to drive the oxen for there is another guy to do that.

It is at the turns where the hardest physical labor comes into play. When the oxen turned I had to pick up the plow and get it in line behind the oxen for the next plow line. The plow is heavy and a little awkward to carry. It only caused me a little struggle (just don’t ask me to define little).

The turns are also where the biblical lesson was learned. One of the best commands in the Old Testament is, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain” (Deut 25:4). We were not treading grain and were using cow oxen but it was close enough. In the New Testament, Paul quotes this verse not once but twice. You didn’t know just how important not muzzling an ox was, did you?
But never did I think I would ever have to apply the verse in its original sense. When Paul quoted that verse, he used it to show that a pastor should be paid. If you have ever wrestled with this issue, then let the oxen settle it for you.

When I had thought about this verse previously I just assumed the oxen ate as they walked. No big deal. No time or energy lost but maybe some food is lost in the process. It really is a neat command by God for the Israelites to show concern for the oxen and then pastors. Yet, I think I was right in how I thought about it. In my experience on that morning, the oxen took forever to make the turn because they were eating the grass on the edge of the field. I just stood there as the oxen driver tried to encourage them to move along. At least in my experience time and energy were also lost and so it was an inconvenience not to muzzle the oxen. So I learned something about the Bible while plowing behind oxen. I may have also decreased their yield by doodling in their field. So I am praying the Lord will multiply their harvest.

Doodling in the fields

Doodling in the fields

I never did get to eat those pancakes for breakfast. I am still looking for the verse about not muzzling the ox plowman while plowing. If you find it let me know.

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