Social Justice Issues


Anyone familiar with The Gathering knows the change we have gone through the past seven months.  We have had a staff change (which is a lot for a small community to take) and moved meeting places and lost financial support.  Our Sunday morning gatherings look quite different than they did last fall, our worship has been revamped and revisited.  Even more, we decided to look at what our role is in the greater Aurora community: why we exist and what we can do to bring God’s kingdom to earth more and more.

Our leadership team has debated how we can and should be missional for some time.  But, at our last meeting we agreed that the immediate course of action is to do our best with a relationship that already exists: Cimarron Elementary School.  Last fall, we began to partner with Cimarron and offered food and clothing.  We found that this school, 1/2 a mile from The Gathering, has tremendous need: over 35% of kids are on free or reduced lunches, food and clothing go to families often the very day we bring them in, families are struggling to get by in today’s economy.  In suburban Aurora this shocked us: we did not believe there existed so much need so close.

This summer we are running a food and school supply drive, along with New Hope Community Church (where we meet and our “parent” church).  Yet, our leadership has been looking for greater ways to get involved, greater ways to impact the community.  Two leaders are working on putting together a movie night.  The idea is to get a projector and a screen and show a movie out on New Hope’s lawn, inviting the community in.  The fee will be to bring canned goods or school supplies which we can then donate to Cimarron.  

Other ideas are sprouting.  We are talking about planting a community garden next spring, with the ability to bring fresh vegetables to needy families associated with Cimarron.  We are looking for ways to advocate for Cimarron and the need in suburban Aurora — through blogs like this and word-of-mouth and whatever other venues we can find.  We may try to partner with local grocery stores to donate food so that the pantry for Cimarron is never empty.  

And who knows where this will lead us?  Our goal is to get people in The Gathering passionately involved in this work: if teaching is a passion we can find a way to tutor, if the environment is a passion we’ll have a school clean-up, if counseling is a passion we’ll make that available (actually, that’s already in the works).  We believe that the good news of the gospel is good news for everyone, including our neighbors, and that Jesus calls us to care for those around us.  We always want to uphold laws about church and state because those are good laws and there for a reason — we do not help with an agenda.  We help because Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”  We help because Jesus loves us, and we want to share that love with others.

 

I brought my lunch with me to work today: spaghetti and meatballs.  I had cooked it right before I left, so it was still warm when I got to the church (those of you who know me realize that I usually don’t waste the time to re-heat food) and I sucked it down while trying to finish this Sunday’s gathering.  Afterward, I printed something off in the main church office.  While in the main office I realized that there were a couple cookies left over from a funeral reception earlier this week.  Since I was at the funeral I figured, hey, I can have one of those cookies.  I picked up a big chocolate chip cookie and it was the consummate end to an already satisfying lunch.

I listened to a podcast today by a guy named Steve Chalke.  He’s from London and thus he sounds extremely bright with that British accent.  I found myself silently agreeing with him from time to time, enjoying his accent and message.  He helped found Oasis Trust and Stop the Traffikand was informative and funny.  Steve’s message was on Genesis 1, on man and woman being made in the image of God — all men and all women — and that we have a responsibility to live that out today: to treat others as image-bearers, to give dignity and respect to everyone, to stop human trafficking.  

Steve gave statistics on trafficking: human trafficking made more business that Microsoft last year, there are over 17,000 people trafficking every year in the United States primarily for the sex industry (which is probably a gross understatement, since no one puts “sex slave” on their census forms), 50% of worldwide trafficking is in children.  It was enough to move me, but almost too much information to get me to act.

Then, Steve gave an action point.  Which is nice.  Or convicting.  

He said that at least 12,000 kids have been trafficked into the Ivory Coast from Mali and are working as slaves.  A little research of my own shows that 284,000 kids are working in the Ivory Coast and other African farms in hazardous conditions.  The trafficked kids, the other children in hazardous conditions all work on cocoa farms, where we get our chocolate.  About 43% of the world’s chocolate comes from the Ivory Coast.  

I think about my chocolate chip cookie today.  Maybe the cocoa was picked by enslaved children.  Maybe it was picked by children period.  Maybe not — but I’m sure that some of my chocolate has been.  

What to do?  Only eat fair trade chocolate.  As consumers, we vote with our wallets.  When William Wilberforce fought to stop the slave trade in England, he encouraged everyone to stop eating sugar and show the plantation owners that they cannot hold slaves.  Today, we must do the same: stop eating chocolate that we cannot account for and eat only chocolate with the logo on this page.  

I want to make a difference with the way I spend my money.  I want to communicate that everyone is made in the image of God.  I want to live this way all the time, even when I’m eating a serendipitous chocolate chip cookie in the middle of a Friday.

 

 

  by: Cole Gross

    When we think about nature, we think about our responsibility, as humans made in the image of God, to keep and care for it. But, it is also important to remember our relationship with others. For any man, the easiest way to tell if he is living a life of loving God – a life out of love for God – is if he is living a life of loving others. These are our responsibilities, our privileges on this earth: loving God, loving others; one way we do this is by keeping and caring for the earth.

    There are men, women, and children all around the world who are going without food or clean drinking water. There are even people on the street we will pass today who are hungry, and clearly we cannot feed them all. There are countless people who die of starvation and unclean drinking water every day in other countries, and feeding them all ourselves would be an insurmountable task. So, if we cannot expect a utopia here on earth (that is, made by our own hands), what can we do? We can start by picking up two pieces of trash (litter) before we leave a park, a parking lot, or any public area, and of course any neighbors and/or our own backyards. Clearly, this will help take care of nature (which in turn, helps humans), but how can we foster our relationships with others, showing our love for them? Well, it is a terrible fact that in many other countries, men, women and children must wade in piles upon piles of garbage, rummaging for meals or any scraps of recyclable products which they may trade and sell for money to survive. If we remember them when we pick up these two pieces of trash in our own communities, and pray for them, we are already helping and loving them more than we could possibly understand through the Father. In this simple act we have helped our own community and neighborhood, and we have helped another in prayer a thousand miles away.

    For we cannot simply offer food or prayer and go on undisturbed in our lives, but we must invite others into our homes, and step out into theirs. By picking up trash in our community, we have taken that first step into another’s home, those who must scavenge to survive in other countries, and those in our own community who are hurt by the pollution and sight of litter.

    Of course, how we can start to invite others into our own home is a less simple task, so we will start with this simple asking: Whenever we are outside in a public place, let us pick up two pieces of trash on the ground (large or small…whatever we are capable of at the time) and throw them away, or better yet, recycle them if they are recyclable. Then, when we do so, let us pray for those who are poor and hungry, those who are strangers in our own community, but hurt by the very same things, and those who may survive by the very same means of picking up trash, men, women, and children.

 

 

Just a quick note:If you’re ever looking for something to do while on the ole’ computer, go to freerice.com.   It’s a great way to have a little fun and provide some food while you’re at it…

In case you haven’t heard, widespread flooding in southern Mexico is forcing thousands from their homes.  About half a million people have had their homes damaged or destroyed, which is a staggering number.  And you can bet that there isn’t a lot of flood insurance down there, which means that most families will have to rebuild everything themselves.

Unfortunately, with no infrastructure to help them, many residents have been forced to drink out of swollen rivers or overflowing cisterns.  This obviously compounds the problem, as disease will naturally shoot through large populations with poor drinking water.

One way to help is click here.  World Vision, among many other organizations, is offering a chance to support, feed, and offer clean water to families in desperate need.  And, of course, take time out of your day to pray for those affected: for their health, their safety, for relief from flooding, for a future that is hopeful.

Just a quick update… representatives from the LRA in Uganda (actually, the LRA leaders are now hiding out in eastern Congo, but you get the idea) are meeting in Kampala (the capital of Uganda) today. This is really exciting, mainly because the issue of the International Criminal Court (ICC) seems to be lessening: there is a real possibility the LRA may sign a deal even if the ICC doesn’t drop charges against their top leaders. Uganda, for its part, is petitioning the ICC to let the criminals be charged in Ugandan courts, rather than international courts, which has been a pressing issue.

We’ll continue to monitor the situation; continue to pray for peace and reconciliation…

So I was sitting here, trying to think of what to write for our Issue of the Week. The problem, of course, isn’t that it’s hard to find an issue, it’s that how do you pick one issue out of hundreds of places around the world where people are suffering?

Today, thanks to Calvin Smothers, we’re looking at Nepal. Calvin’s been part of our community for awhile, and he was in Nepal last year during mass protests due to illegitimate elections. And he’s going back, hopefully in March or April, to work and serve there for the next three years.

Nepal’s history is complicated, so I’ll try to be brief. In 1990, Nepal become a constitutional monarchy — basically a form of government that keeps the monarchy around, but also allows for democratic elections. Unfortunately, the governments elected were weak, marked by in-fighting and corruption. So, in 1996, the communist party broke away from the government and began to use force to achieve their ends: they called themselves Maoist and terrorized rural areas. For ten years fighting between Maoists and the government wore on, again mainly in rural areas. As a result, over 50% of rural Nepal (and up to 80%, depending on estimates) fell into Maoist control.

In 2006, spurred on doubtlessly by Calvin’s liberating presence, the Nepali populace staged mass protests. The government of Nepal was notoriously corrupt, and had recently staged illegitimate elections. These protests led to an interim government being established, and brought the Maoists to the table to participate in the talks.

This past September, however, the Maoists suddenly quit the government, demanding an immediate end to the monarchy. This is problematic because elections were scheduled for this November (2007), and the newly-elected government would then decide what to do with the monarchy. The Maoists are circumventing the process (but what can you expect from a rebel group of terrorists?).

As of today, the elections are indefinitely postponed, the Maoists have left the negotiating table, and, to cap it all off, an ethnic group in the south of the country – the Madhesis – is protesting for greater representation in the peace process. Human rights abuses by both the government and Maoists mean that Nepal now has the largest number of disappearances in the world. In 2005, the U.N. set up a Human Rights office in Nepal to monitor abuses. It’s the second largest in the world. Additionally, about 85% of Nepal’s population (around 28 million) live on less than $2 a day. Less than a mocha at Starbucks.

So, what can you do? Three things. First, become more informed — and tell other people about it. Go to AlertNet and check out info on Nepal. Second, support Calvin! He’s going to Nepal as soon as he has enough support, and he will be bringing real change into lives there — showing people love and hope where they had none, acting as an agent of change. To support Calvin go here, and be sure to write For Calvin Smothers where appropriate. Third, pray for Nepal: for the people, for peace. Whatever you believe, pray to God or send out positive energy to a place that desperately needs help.

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