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John Lewis made me feel like an honored guest Lewis made me feel like an honored guestBy Wil LaVeist <p><em>In 2015, Wil LaVeist interviewed John Lewis for his radio show. Listen to the <a href="">full interview here</a>. Congressman Lewis wrote  <a href="">this essay </a> a few days before his death and planned for it to be published on the day of his funeral.</em></p><p>​</p><p><span style="font-size:1.4rem;background-color:transparent;color:inherit;font-style:inherit;">"Get in good trouble."</span></p><p>Count me among those who will personally remember this encouraging phrase spoken by the late Congressman John Lewis, my brother.</p><p>After a battle with pancreatic cancer, Lewis, who at age 23 was getting into good trouble with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders, went home to the Lord on June 17. He was 80.</p><p>Back in 2015, <a href="">I was honored to interview Lewis</a> for my talk radio show in Hampton, Virginia, when he came to Hampton University as the commencement speaker. We recorded as we sat together in his guest quarters on the campus.</p><p>The interview was wide-ranging. From Lewis growing up poor in rural Alabama, to being inspired by Rosa Parks and King, to joining the Southern Freedom Movement, to serving in Congress. We talked about the ongoing battle against racial terror and police brutality against Black people. As Lewis recalled the impact <a href="">the murder of Emmet Till</a> had on him as a boy, I thought of the trauma <a href="">the killing of Randolph Evans</a> near my neighborhood had on me growing up.</p><p>The interview was a month after <a href="">the killing of Freddie Gray at the hands of Baltimore police.</a> Tensions were high then too across America. Lewis talked honestly about the role, challenges and shortcomings of Black politicians in fighting on behalf of Black people.</p><p>"We all must do more," Lewis said. "Baltimore today, yesterday it's Ferguson, tomorrow it will be some other place. It's a wakeup call for Black leadership."</p><p>How prophetic Lewis was then. America today wrestles yet again with why unarmed Black lives are too often taken at the hands of White police — Breonna Taylor in Louisville, George Floyd in Minneapolis, and others.</p><p>"It is very painful to see that on one hand we have come such a distance," Lewis said. "We've made progress, but on another hand, we slide backward."</p><p>He talked about the need for nonviolent direct-action workshops across the nation to teach young people how to wage a "nonviolent revolution." He expressed great optimism in seeing Black and White young people, particularly high school and college students, out in the streets protesting. Out getting in good trouble like Lewis did when he was young.</p><p>I shared Lewis's optimism then, and again recently, as part of a racially diverse crowd of nonviolent protestors <a href="">gathered at National Harbor</a> just outside of Washington, D.C., to march against racism and police brutality. I witnessed sincere White sisters and brothers who had the spirit of <a href="">Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner</a>; young men who believed so deeply in their shared humanity and equality with Black people that they willingly put their own White lives on the line.</p><p>It was a stark contrast to what can often be observed online, particularly on social media, as people post and click their activism from behind the comfort and anonymity of computer screens. One's position on #BlackLivesMatter (BLM) has become a litmus test for progressive and conservative street-cred, depending on your side of the political spectrum. Does supporting BLM essentially mean proclaiming, "Black lives matter, too," or are you instead affirming allegiance to the activist organization <a href="">Black Lives Matter Global Network</a> and all its beliefs? Or is BLM just the latest cause <em>célèbre</em> to market, monetize, and/or debate <em>ad nauseam</em>?</p><p>Most people of African descent in the United States and throughout the diaspora, view debating whether to state that "Black Lives Matter" as absurd and inherently racist. We've long known that our lives matter and have always mattered. We live it every day.</p><p>BLM is the modern iteration in the ongoing struggle for Black liberation, justice and equality. BLM is civil rights marchers holding signs proclaiming, "I Am A Man" and "Freedom Now." BLM is "Black Power" and "Black is beautiful."</p><p>I know Lewis would agree.</p><p>As we concluded the interview, Lewis said, "We must never ever give up. Our struggle is a struggle of a lifetime, and each generation must play a role and do its part."</p><p>After turning off my recorder, I tried to leave to allow Lewis his privacy and to eat his lunch. He wouldn't let me go so quickly. He invited me to stay and eat. Here I was honored to meet him, and he was treating me like the honored guest.</p><p>We talked for another 30 minutes about life. An ordained minister, Lewis shared that he delivered his first public sermon at age 15. He expressed his love of Jesus who had sustained him over the years.</p><p>My brother, John Lewis, told me to not worry when I get in "good trouble" because God would never leave me, nor forsake me.<br></p><p><br></p>
Losing control to a camping critter control to a camping critterBy Laurie Oswald Robinson <p>​<span style="font-size:1.4rem;background-color:transparent;color:inherit;font-style:inherit;">Rustling and scrunching woke me up at 2 a.m. during a Colorado camping trip. I groggily reached for my flashlight and shone it towards the ruckus. The feeble ray revealed nothing, though I was "fairly certain" it wasn't a bear. Camping near residential Boulder at the foot of the mountains could not possibly yield that wild drama, could it? I wasn't looking for it in any case, as I was taking vacation to escape the adrenaline rushes of my Mennonite Mission Network editor job.</span></p><p>Though I tried to calm myself, I was unnerved. However, the sounds soon ceased. So tired after my long trek from the Kansas prairies, I warily took no noise to be good silence, and I went back to sleep.  </p><p>The next morning, I awoke at 5:30 a.m. to the first hints of sun rousing the geese on the glassy pond at St. Vrain State Park. In contrast to this pastoral image was the ravaged mess of my food supply. I figured a raccoon got a free meal. </p><p>Most notable was the package that held my beloved Ghirardelli dark chocolate squares. Not one dot of the exquisite morsels remained — only the wrappers! A few feet away were gnawed-off chips of a sweet potato. A mouth-sized hole was gnawed into a plastic carrier that held my spices, tableware and fruit. Two banana peels laid limp and forgotten on the grass. </p><p>The scene flooded me with shame. I should have protected my food stuffs in the trunk. I should have forged better boundaries between what was mine to eat and what was mine to share. I should have known that in the wilds, it is the survival of the fittest. </p><p>My first takeaway: If you want your chocolate all to yourself, hide it and horde it. </p><p>My second takeaway emerged when I reflected on a writing team meeting several months earlier. It's when I agreed to write a blog for Give Something Away Day, celebrated in the U.S. on July 15. I did not know then that I would share a pond picnic against my will. I envisioned writing something far loftier. More spiritual. Perhaps how I strive to give something away every day on the job — the healing and hope of Jesus in collaboration with our partners around the world. </p><p>I have chosen to serve where I can give away with prodigal generosity what I have received — God's abundant love, joy and peace. And yet, after the chocolate fiasco, I realize how much my giving is invisibly threaded through with a sense of control. I choose at work or home or church how much I give, and when. That power of choice is so unlike the feeling of vulnerability that flooded me at the critter crime scene. </p><p>As I traveled home eight hours east on I-70, I reflected on how a sense of loss of control has predominated the COVID-19 lockdown for people of all cultures around the world. Protests have arisen over how the pandemic has more deeply affected Black and Brown people. They are demonstrating their inherent dignity of empowerment by protesting systemic racism. Their courage has caused me as a White person to examine the unfettered entitlements in arenas of choice and control that have been mine: where and how I live, give and share. People who aren't born into the dominant culture don't share these automatic privileges.</p><p>Telling a hungry raccoon story seems a bit silly during this very serious summer. And I don't want the metaphor to get muddled, suggesting that the raccoon is a symbol for protestors. For me, that raccoon provided a wakeup call to examine issues of power and control. The incident exposed how much I want control in the sharing of my gifts with others. So, this July 15 — while I know I can't humanly, or even wisely, relinquish all my responsibility for balanced self-care — I want to give away an unhealthy sense of <em>entitlement</em> to control. To unfurl some of my tight-fisted grasp of the White privileges that have been mine without question, even before I took my first breath after birth.</p><p>I confess that I still grieve not having that chocolate bedtime snack by a snapping fire, beneath twinkling stars. I so wish I could say that I gave those sweets away, but I didn't. They were taken. The good news? I lost my sugary treat, but I returned home with something far healthier: a bittersweet sliver of self-understanding. <br></p>
Out of our pews and into the pain of our pews and into the painBy Ann Jacobs<p>​P<span style="font-size:1.4rem;background-color:transparent;color:inherit;font-style:inherit;">eople of color are feeling deep pain as the result of the death of our brother, George Floyd, killed by a police office in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a couple of weeks ago. He is one of the recent and tragic examples of injustice wielded by systemic racism across the world. We are bent over, rocking back and forth for comfort, and asking God to respond. </span></p><p>As the spouse of a Black husband, mother to four Black sons, and a grandmother to many Black and biracial grandchildren, I have been profoundly impacted personally. "I can't breathe," Mr. Floyd said before he died. I join him and his family in feeling the suffocating effects of fear in our community in South Bend, Indiana. It's where I pray for God's protection every time the males in my family leave the house. I breathe a sigh of gratitude when they walk back in the door. </p><p>In a revision of the verse in 1 Corinthians 12:26, when one suffocates, we all suffocate. Shortly after Mr. Floyd's death, I cried out to God for a response to our collective pain. What I sensed as God's response was that <strong><em>WE </em></strong>are God's response. We are God's ambassadors for reconciliation and love in a world reeling with hate and separation. The Spirit moved within me during my prayer and Ezekiel 22:30 emerged in my heart: "I looked for someone who might rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards the land." </p><p>My personal application of the verse is this: The walls (structures) of our communities are falling down and crumbling through pandemic lock-down and the police brutality that is violating the bodies and souls of Black and Brown people; these same members of society are the most deeply impacted by the sufferings of COVID-19. As God's people, we can no longer live in the faith of yesterday and look from afar. We can no longer look at this mountain of challenge from behind the safety of our cell phones, out-of-office replies, and keeping with our own agendas. </p><p>We must move beyond lamenting racism's evils with only words and hymns. We must rise from our prayer groups and from behind our hymnbooks and follow Jesus into the highways and byways. We must <strong><em>DO </em></strong>church with our feet and hands. That means acting to help dismantle the systems that sanction the murder of George Floyd and so many others. </p><p>I'm calling for actions that cause unhealthy systems to fall, one brick at a time. As Anabaptists, we have historically seen ourselves as the "quiet in the land." Many Mennonites have sought to live godly and quiet lives to witness to faith, rather than messing with worldly powers. While yielding some fruits of the Spirit, this choice has often rendered us voiceless in the public square. If we are God's response to the world, then we need to take our songs and sermons of peace and justice out of our pews and into the pain.  </p><p>Urgent events are disorienting our lives and challenging us to be God's "noisy" response to the world in which COVID-19 and lifeless Black bodies in the streets are twin evils. Corrupt systems are killing and challenging the identity, dignity and power of people of color. Glen Guyton, executive director for Mennonite Church USA, is <a href="">inviting us to leave our comfort zones and to <strong><em>ACT</em></strong> for change.</a> As God's response, we cannot remain silent or paralyzed.  </p><p><a href="">During a June 3 meditation on Mennonite Mission Network's online Hope Series, I challenged our church to take new directions.</a> We are looking for God, and God is looking for us. God is calling to us to come from under the rubble of the crumbing walls and stand accounted for in the broad daylight. That's where we as individuals, the church, and as a nation, are called to repent of inaction and to revolt in righteousness — to follow Jesus in the paths of peace by paving new roads for justice. </p><p>When God comes looking for someone to rebuild the walls, I pray we will be ready with tools in hand and willing hearts. May we be servants of reconstruction who dismantle the dividing wall of hostility and build a society of dignity for everyone, a renewal of the Spirit that offers life-sustaining breath for all.<br></p>
Breathe on us, breath of God: a lament for George Floyd,-breath-of-God-a-lament-for-George-FloydBreathe on us, breath of God: a lament for George FloydBy Joe Sawatzky<p>​<em style="font-size:1.4rem;background-color:transparent;color:inherit;">"I can't breathe."</em></p><p>The world watched last week as George Floyd, an African-American man in Minneapolis, Minnesota, cried out in desperation. Handcuffed and immobilized, Floyd pleaded for air as Derek Chauvin, a White police officer, knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes. Crying out for his mother in his final breaths, Floyd, 46, breathed his last. His killing became the latest in a pandemic of violence against people of African descent that precedes the birth of the United States.</p><p><em>"I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh . . . and they shall prophesy</em>.<em>"</em></p><p>On the Day of Pentecost, which churches remembered last Sunday, Peter used these words to explain how the disciples of Jesus were able to speak about "God's deeds of power" in the languages of the nations. On that Day, some mocked and sneered at those who cried out, supposing them to be crazy. So, Peter stood up and began to speak. "These are not drunk," but prophesying by the very breath of God (Acts 2:1-21).</p><p>Then, Peter proceeded to talk about Jesus, a fellow Jew who had been crucified by the Roman imperial authorities, with the consent of the people (Acts 2:22ff.). Unjustly condemned, Jesus suffered the most humiliating of deaths. Beaten and bloodied, he bore the beam of his cross beyond the city, a shameful spectacle for all to see. There, arms nailed and bound with ropes, he was "hung on the tree" (Acts 5:30, 10:39). Arms outstretched, bearing the full weight of his body, he gasped for breath. <em>Crucifixion</em>. <em>Death by asphyxiation</em>.</p><p><em>"I can't breathe."</em></p><p>Aided by the Scriptures, he cried, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me." And finally, "Father, into your hands I commit my breath" (Psalm 22:1, 34:5; Mark 15:34; Luke 24:46).</p><p>In Jesus, God joins the company of the condemned, accused, abused, abandoned. "We crucified him . . . but God raised him up" (Acts 2:23-24). God vindicated the life of Jesus. God justified him. God declared him righteous. And God made him the source of the life-giving breath by which all peoples might become one in justice, love, and peace.</p><p>So, we lament, we repent, we hope, and we sing:</p><p><em>Breathe on me, breath of God.</em></p><p><em>Fill me with life anew,</em></p><p><em>that I may love what thou dost love,</em></p><p><em>and do what thou wouldst do.</em></p><p>Amen<em>.</em></p><p><strong>Editor's Note:</strong> Mennonite Church USA has posted two commentaries on its response to the George Floyd murder and protests against systemic racism. One commentary written by staff is "Prayers of Lament; Responding to the Violence of Racism." You can find it <a href="">here</a>.<br></p><p>The other commentary, "We need to engage in more costly peacemaking," is written by Glen Guyton, executive director of Mennonite Church USA. You can find it <a href="">here</a>.<br></p>
Defying gusts of pain by lighting candles of peace gusts of pain by lighting candles of peaceBy Eric Frey Martin <p>​<span style="font-size:1.4rem;background-color:transparent;color:inherit;font-style:inherit;">I</span><span style="font-size:1.4rem;background-color:transparent;color:inherit;font-style:inherit;">n early 2019, a car bomber drove into a police academy in </span><span style="font-size:1.4rem;background-color:transparent;color:inherit;font-style:inherit;">Bogotá</span><span style="font-size:1.4rem;background-color:transparent;color:inherit;font-style:inherit;">, Colombia, killing 22 and injuring 68. Neither the culprit, nor the purpose, were identified. The country had just begun to emerge from 60-plus years of civil war, so this act was a reminder that full peace had not been achieved. Would these acts of violence become common again in a country that had begun to hope for a more peaceful future?</span></p><p>The day after the bombing, my wife, Kelly, and I (serving with Mennonite Mission Network at that time in Colombia) were in the city of Riohacha, on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. It is the location of a Mennonite church that sponsors a ministry that houses elderly adults and where 45 Venezuelan refugees sleep each night. The church owns another site where 1,200 people are fed each day in a ministry coordinated by the Red Cross and World Hunger Project. </p><p>Over the past several years in Venezuela, corrupt power, inflation, and a struggling economy mark life for millions of Venezuelans. As a result, more than 2 million Venezuelans have migrated to Colombia to better provide for themselves and their families. The new immigrants find a mix of empathy and fear. Colombians know well what it is to be displaced by war and economic factors, but they do not want jobs and opportunities to be taken away from them. </p><p>This unrest and struggle formed the back story to the bombing in Bogotá. Across the country that evening, citizens held vigils in their city's central plaza to remember the bomb victims, and we joined a vigil in Riohacha. After a short prayer service in the Catholic church, we moved to the outdoor plaza. It's where a dove with an olive branch in its mouth (strikingly similar to Mennonite Mission Network's logo) was painted on the ground. We lit each other's candles and placed them on the outline of the dove. </p><p>It soon became clear that our attempts at showing solidarity for peace would be a struggle. A constant breeze wafting from the nearby ocean kept blowing out our candles. A little Venezuelan boy quickly tried to relight the flames with the few candles that were still lit. Soon, his dad, several other Venezuelan refugees, and people in the crowd joined him. Just as soon as we relit some flames, wind gusts blew several other flames out again. The comedy transformed the somber mood into joy as people smiled and laughed. The job of keeping candles lit became a labor of love. We did not want another thing to die too quickly. </p><p>The Venezuelans were the first to attempt relighting the peace candles. They probably did not feel the tension about the bombs as acutely as did the Colombians. On the other hand, perhaps they more deeply felt the interconnection between their suffering and that of their neighbors. They modeled how flames that signify love, compassion and solidarity can be transferred to others without extinguishing our own. </p><p>This time of pandemic-induced uncertainty and anxiety is deepening our sense that we are not islands unto ourselves. Rather, we are intertwined in a web of human connection and interaction. Yes, we are forced to be physically distant from one another, but we do not need to remain distant with our thoughts, prayers and compassion.</p><p> As more choices about interactions are opened to us, may we continue to embrace how our neighbor's health and well-being also affects our own. May we better envision how God's work in the world extends beyond ourselves to include all of creation. May we tirelessly light candles of peace that winds of injustice, suffering and pain cannot extinguish.   <br></p>
Gospel accompaniment, empowerment increase social capital,-empowerment-increase-social-capitalGospel accompaniment, empowerment increase social capitalBy Peter Wigginton <p><em>Peter Wigginton serves with his wife, Delicia Bravo, as Ecuador partnership coordinators while also sharing his gifts in music, education, and church development with Ecuadorian partners. </em></p><p><a href="">In a 2014 article in <em>Christianity Today,</em></a> Andrea Palpant Dilley revisits a doctoral dissertation and research by Robert Woodberry. Woodberry does statistical analysis on the history of Protestant missions. He concludes that some countries became democratic especially because of the work of conversionary Protestant missionaries. On the contrary, other countries became dictatorships, or theocracies. Woodberry asserts that the work of these Protestant missionaries is key to how nations developed. The main premise for this, according to Woodberry, is that Protestant missionaries were usually not connected with any government. Instead, in many cases, the missionaries pushed against government authoritarianisms. Also, Protestant missions highly prioritized literacy and education in their missional work. </p><p>In the past couple decades, criticism has arisen toward former Protestant and Catholic missionaries. Many times, missionaries infused the gospel message with a colonial flavor. Yet Anabaptist ideas of mission have often differed from this practice, a subject discussed by myself and Julián Guamán, indigenous Mennonite church leader and scholar, during a podcast of <a href=""><em>Merienda Menonita</em></a>. We dialogued about how Anabaptist ideas of mission have often differed from other types of church missions. Guamán pointed out that many missions have come from the perspective of Jesus Christ bringing "civilization." Whereas the Mennonite Church mission focused on accompaniment — "that we are brothers and sisters in the same way or path to God."</p><p>Also discussed was the ministry of Henry Klassen, an Anabaptist missionary who worked with Gospel Missionary Union in central Ecuador 1953-1993. Guamán said he didn't believe a connection exists between Klassen's work and the indigenous national uprising in the 1990s in Ecuador. However, he does believe that Klassen's work in the central part of the country that has an indigenous majority established more social historical awareness; this led to greater social capital. For example, Klassen established schools, an evangelical indigenous church association and other projects. His initiatives sparked indigenous communities to support one another in new ways that shone lights on oppressive systems. Years later, these indigenous people joined other sectors in the large indigenous protests that overturned several national governments. These protests sparked repercussions in the indigenous uprising of 2019.</p><p>We continue to focus our work in Ecuador with this Anabaptist sense of accompaniment and empowerment. We walk alongside our brothers and sisters in the indigenous and Spanish-speaking churches. We are building bridges by strengthening social connections and relationships. We strive to make sure the revolutionary message of Christ shines through in cases where free nations have flourished, and in places where justice might still be lacking.<br></p>