Following Jesus is like a box of chocolates. One of my greatest warnings to my brothers and sisters in Christ is to never get used to following Jesus. When following Jesus becomes comfortable, you should be concerned. It’s not that Jesus changes, we just keep discovering more and more of Him. It’s kind of like a space journey.
One place that the Lord never fails to surprise me is in the Harvest field. We just finished our week of orientation in Bangkok and many of us are already getting floored with challenging questions and heavy convictions. “If You love me, why won’t you heal me now? Why don’t you free the oppressed right now? Why do You wait? Why am I here?” I get the feeling that God wants us to wait before answering our burning questions. Wild guess.
A consistent tension that has been mutually shared among the team is the balance of noticing and appreciating the beauty of the city while simultaneously acknowledging its brokenness. It is a tricky spectrum to navigate. As Christians of the North American first-world church, we carry a specific lens that tends to blow some things out of proportion. It is particularly easy to focus on Bangkok’s brokenness while overlooking its beauty.
The topic of empowerment has been on the hearts and minds of Christian / social justice leaders for generations. What does it mean to empower a community? How exactly do you do it? To this day, these questions still baffle even the world’s most-respected humanitarians and sociologists. But one thing that we can be sure of is that we will never empower a people if we can only see their brokenness. When we enter a slum community, what’s the first thing we see, a helpless people group or a thriving collective of intellectuals? Do we see a charity case or the next generation of leaders and world-changers? Do we see them as poor and incapable or do we see them as an untapped well of ingenuity?
Why is it so easy for us to notice, and even define, people (esp. poor people) by what they lack, rather than what they already have? Has our vision become so distorted that we cannot see people for who they truly are, image-bearers of God? I think many of us are still unpacking why Jesus has called us to Bangkok this summer but I firmly believe that for many of us, one thing Jesus wants to do is shed our Western Christian lens that we didn’t know we were wearing and sharpen our vision to see people not only for their weaknesses, but especially for their strengths and resources. Jesus wants to heal some blind people this summer. Forgive us, Lord, for we still see men as trees.
To traverse the tightrope of seeing brokenness and beauty is no easy task. Granted, we still must acknowledge the community’s areas of deficit/poverty, for indeed, they are dire needs. But Jesus doesn’t need to teach us how to do that, because we’re already so good at it. Too good, I would argue. We’re so talented that we’ve invented fields of study about it.
God needs to give a hard shove to reorient us back to the center of balance. The people we will meet this summer have strengths, talents, and abilities that will surprise us. They are God’s gifts to us. It is only until we see them as such that we can begin walking hand-in-hand with them on the windy road to empowerment.
The Kingdom of God is like a great scavenger hunt. And the Harvest Fields are, indeed, plentiful. In fact, the fields have treasures in them, waiting for us. Jesus’ invitation to us, as His laborers, is to go out and look for them.