It’s been a great week here in Baton Rouge at the Greater Things Conference. Time to reflect, and then to look ahead.
First, it’s been nice to be away from Alaska for a week. I have to say I’m not ready to go back to snow and cold. It’s been nice to be outside in shirtsleeves. Driving on dry pavement has been an adjustment… the locals probably don’t get my gentle braking, and they sure don’t understand my extended following distance!
More important than my break from the snow and cold was the conference itself. I think I heard a number of over 800 registered participants came from all over the country (we even met a pastor from Hillsong Church in Sidney, Australia there!) to talk about what the Church can do to love our communities in the real, practical ways that Jesus loved the people and communities he walked among in his ministry. There’s a real recognition among a significant group of Church leaders that the lack of relevance the Church has in the world today is because we are focused a lot more on giving the world theology than we are in showing the world compassion. This conference was a concrete step by those leaders to try to change that focus. There’s way too much to try to recap, so I won’t. If you’re interested, the leaders are setting up a website to launch Feb 29, designed to share all the resources and workshops from the conference, as well as to provide a connection point for the interchange of ideas to reach our communities, at www.hopeoutpost.com.
While I won’t recap the conference, I want to share some of the very real indicators of the problem:
- 15% of US households struggle to put food on the table-and we’re the richest country in the world
- 27% of children under 18 live in a home with only one parent
- Nearly 5 children in the US dieevery day from abuse and neglect
- 22 million Americans have a substance abuse or dependency problem
- 1.1 million Americans are living with HIV/AIDS today
- 1.6 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in 2012
- 1 in every 200 people in the US need a place to sleep (think about that a different way, if you’re in a group of 200 average Americans, one person in your group is homeless)
- Up to 30 million people-the equivalent of the population of Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas-are estimated to be slaves or victims of human trafficking worldwide, and 80% of them are women and children used for commercial sexual exploitation. Around 16,000 of those victims are in the United States!
Christine Caine made a painful, but real point in her presentation: “People suffer daily around the world because our hearts are unchanged.” She said that what she terms as the “ordinary heart” is primarily concerned with the immediacy of our own lives. She had another awesome quote that cuts to the quick: “The Church has confused compassion with emotion.” We might look at the numbers above and say “oh, that’s tragic” but what are we doing about it?
Now for the “vision” part of this post: What am I going to do next? If all I do is go to a conference, and then go back to my life, I need to be slapped in the back of the head for being stupid–I could have been more effective by taking what I spent on the trip and giving it instead to the local food bank. If I want to invest that money, so that it delivers a bigger value, I need to take what I learned here and make a difference. Much to my frustration, God didn’t give me a new job and a clear direction during this trip, but he did give me a burden that I’m not going to let go of. Instead, I’m going to continue to pray when I get back home, that he’ll show me where he wants me to go to work. But the old way isn’t good enough anymore. Stay tuned for the changes in our lives…
In the meantime, I’ll ask you: Do those numbers, or other examples of poverty, homelessness, hunger, abuse, or injustice tug at your heart at all? Enough to make you compassionate, or just emotional?