This weekend I’m at Calvin College in Michigan for their annual Faith and International Development Conference. To keep you all updated on what I’m learning, here’s some raw points that really stuck out to me:
The first session featured talks by Kurt Ver Beek and Pauline Muchina. Kurt, a Cornell PhD with thick round glasses and an elegant suit jacket talked about his work in Honduras, and his transition from doing development work to doing justice work. He told the story of a neighborhood gang that was committing murder in the neighborhood. Because of police corruption, no one wanted to step forward as a witness against these men. It took 13 deaths before the police intervened, causing two more deaths in the process. Kurt asserted that we like development because it makes people happy (especially the church). Justice work makes people mad. It is hard, long, complicated and dangerous. But it is ultimately transformational- a priority expressed both by the poor and in the Bible.
Pauline began by getting the entire room to start singing; “There is power, in the precious blood of the Lamb”. The next verse was “justice”. She asserted that the power of God needs to be expressed through justice, standing up for our neighbors in love. She talked about the way that gender discrimination has been ignored by both Western development and the Kenyan church, and argued that establishing just relationships is foundational to any other kind of poverty alleviation or empowerment campaign. She was a fireball, and spoke with passion about the need for justice.
Before these two, Ravi Jayakaran, participatory development expert, gave a devotion. He looked at Luke 9, where Jesus sends out his followers to teach and heal, but tells then not to bring extra food, money, or clothes. Ravi explained that in development we must abandon our own resources and power, instead relying on God’s power to see change. He asked if our longing for God was crucial; did we need Him in everything?
These speakers blew me away! I had read works by two of them, but to see them live was so exciting (I have an academic crush on Dr. Jayakaran). They communicated with clarity and passion. What challenged me was the way that they talked about justice and power. I usually think of development in terms of resources (money, livelihood, capital), but each of these speakers put justice as the foundation. Kurt asked us “What would justice do?” in the case of poor educational scores in Honduras. The answer was not to build schools or do after school tutoring, it meant building a coalition to pressure the government to reform the system, a journey that eventually led im to the president of Honduras’ office! This is an important lesson for me, and I am challenged to explore the power dynamics behind the situations I encounter.
I’ll be in sessions all day today- I’m excited to learn more!