Tag Archives: church

tent city. rosze, hungary border

Three Great Reasons To Reject Refugees (and Starbucks)

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DSC_0406Just as the  Starbucks fiasco about those blasted red mugs began to cool, Paris exploded. The Middle Eastern Refugee Crisis came barreling back. This post began as a satirical piece about the red mugs and the refugee crisis and radical Jesus, but with the division in our world right now, I did some editing.  The last thing we need is more cynicism and hate.

What follows are 3 points often given by those less eager to welcome refugees.

I respond with answers based in a core belief that the Christian God that we serve is missional (continuously in pursuit of his created ones), is grace-filled, is just (and that means actively in pursuit of justice for all of his creation), and chooses to redeem the world in synergy with (thru / by means of / together with) his people who are the body of Christ.

I fully acknowledge that from the world’s perspective, this God-activity is nonsensical, radical, recklessly passionate and often extravagant.

I also believe that the world is watching our Christian response and somewhere in every human heart there is a kernel of hope that this Jesus is really who he said he was.

I dislike the lines that we draw so easily with our speech: the believers and the non-believers, the refugees and the safe people, the Christians and the other faiths – as if somehow, we were not all made from the same lump of dirt-grey clay and redeemed by the same blood-stained Lord.

The Refugee Crisis Is A Plot

A mastermind is coordinating the movement of large numbers of non-Christian people into the West as part of a larger plan to transform Europe and North America. 

God, how I hope so.

I hope …  No. I believe – that this unprecedented movement of the Middle East into Europe is a God-plot. Nations where Jesus had to show up in dreams are suddenly present in places where his name is freely spoken. These are God-ordained windows, kairos moments,  where Jesus in the actions and the attitudes of Christ-followers everywhere can be clearly seen.

Nearly 1.5 million people from countries where owning a Bible is illegal or proclaiming Christ as Savior is punishable by death have suddenly shown up on christianized Europe’s doorstep. What an amazing chapter God is writing. Just as Europe and then North America began to see themselves as post-Christian, the Author of our salvation fans the waning embers of our faith.

It is a plot – an incredibly significant movement across Europe. Let us stop crediting dictators and politicians for the uprooting and transplantation of souls into the heart of our homelands. God should get all the glory for this story line.

If you do not like how he is sovereignly scripting the continuing tale of his good mercy, address your complaints to the Author. I strongly suggest that you read the story of Jonah first. (Bring something that provides shade and, dare I say, a red cup with beverage.)

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The Refugee Crisis Will Affect Western Comfort

With so many refugees flooding EU and American systems, household affluence will be affected, social systems compromised, education deteriorate, and crime increase. 

This is possible although there are significant and reputable reports that make a case for positive outcomes for western economies and societies.

Let me be the unfortunate one to ask: Where did we ever get the idea that safe and affluent lives were God’s guarantee or even his plan for us? In fact, if we use the life of Jesus as a template, we should expect to know the instability of life as a refugee, homelessness, poverty, rejection, and death.

Affluence also has a down-side. It nurtures apathy and it has created rampant materialism and individualism with a by-product of loneliness and depression in many cultures. The western church has long struggled with a forgotten ability to live in community with one another – we split over generational music preferences.

In contrast, Middle-Eastern cultures are highly hospitable. Dare I say that they reflect a key component of the character of the God-head and Christ himself, which is radical hospitality?

This is not an either / or paradigm: as in, either affluence or community. The simple point: we have something valuable to learn from the infusion of highly hospitable societies. There is something of eternal wealth to be gained in the meshing of our lives with one another – across cultures, across skin color, even across religious identity. We are richer for our diversity.

Would we be a better reflection of the God we say we serve if we responded to the stranger with welcome? And, might it be possible that God himself has sent the stranger to your door?

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The Refugees Are Radical Extremists.

There are large numbers of young men who will fill Europe and the US from within and then attack – a Trojan Horse. Or, the demands for mosques and Shariah Law will transform towns into Arab communities. Either way, the West is lost. 

It is undeniable that the pilgrimage of so many refugees from the East continues to permanently change the landscape of the West.

It is possible that extremist elements exist amidst the masses.

It is true that radical extremists have vowed to destroy what they see as the ‘infidel west’ and establish a Caliphate.

Their stated purpose is Armageddon.

All true.

Terrorism is now our reality. This is nothing new for Christianity, it is just new for western Christianity.

So, we would be wise to understand the full arsenal of weapons that come against us.

We spend a lot of time worrying about a number of extremists mixed into the general refugee population but we ignore a much more powerful threat.

When desperate people run from a radicalized war zone towards the ‘Christian’ west and they find christians unwelcoming, harsh, hateful, fearful, and suspicious, what happens? When they find barbed wire and fences? When they see self-preservation get in line before compassion? When they read Facebook posts? And, they do read English. What better means of radicalizing a population could there be?

What better means of radicalizing young people including western young people?

To strip away the last hope that somewhere in the world, radically self-giving, recklessly passionate, and extravagant Love exists …

Somewhere in the whisper of our history is the voice of Ghandi, ‘I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.’

Perhaps that Trojan Horse is a little less obvious but so much more effective.

A Jesus Response

Can I be honest for a moment?

This post is not for the people applauding the 30 governors who closed 30 American doors.  These words will not change their minds.

This post is not for the politicians or the leaders of countries. Their ears will never hear my tiny chirp.

This post is to honor the journey of courage that so many have set upon – to honor their intense pursuit of hope and their determination that people are still good.

This post is for Jesus-believers of every color and language. Let us be the Church – known by our love.

This post is for those who do not believe in the Christ that I proclaim. There is room at our table – no coercion, no manipulation. We are many who would love to simply walk with you as friends – hear your story as our toddlers play together and our coffee grows cold.

This post is for my children and my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren who will inherit a world from us. I want them to know, long after my smile has faded, that I raised my voice for the voiceless and my feet journeyed beside the weary traveller. I expect you to do the same.

This post is for my Lord because I believe that a radically self-giving, recklessly passionate, and extravagant Love exists … and his name is Jesus of Nazareth.

Thank you Jesus for giving this refugee a home.

#refugeeswelcome

Version 2

 

 

 

Dear Church

Munich HBF early morning at the train station

Munich HBF early morning at the train station

Dear Church,

I’m not sure if you are listening. I’m not sure what you do behind your walls. I’ve never been there, you know? Never sure who was invited, or what to wear, or how to talk. And, I’m sure that I don’t look like someone who would ever wander into your building. But I’ve heard that sometimes you speak, sometimes you protect. I’ve heard that you could speak to God for me. I’m sure he wouldn’t listen to someone like me, but maybe you could … Maybe you could speak to him for me?

Could you ask him to stop the traffick?

Please.

dear john – no trespassing

 

Jewelry sold to support Bulgarian women who have been trafficked

 

Dear John.

I arrived at the rescue house last night and it was full of girls, like me. Some older. Some younger. But, all of them wear the ‘for sale’ sign in their eyes. We don’t shed our price tags easily. 

You never asked me how old I am. 15. Do you remember 15? 

I was just like every other girl that loves makeup and music and friends and dreaming of summer break without school. I suppose it was your dream to go to the Black Sea for sex tourism?

Did you know that I was a seasonal special? That as summer gets closer, they anticipate a great sea of tourists on the coast and begin to recruit girls to fill your black desires. 

My boyfriend became my pimp. I thought that we were in love. He told me that I was beautiful and that he was taking me away to a beautiful place where we could work and make money for our families and build a big house where we would live. He told me that he loved me. He didn’t tell me that I would forget how to hope.

I feel so stupid.

Now, I am a woman in a girl’s body with a grandmother’s soul. My heart aches, my body hurts, and my dreams no longer belong to a little girl. 

You cannot imagine the nightmares that I have lived in the dark night.

Today, the for sale sign has been replaced with another. It says, ‘no trespassing’.  This means you, John.

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six ways your church can make a difference in anti-trafficking

The Blue Bird Cafe

The Blue Bird Cafe

coffee anyone?

coffee anyone?

The Blue Bird Cafe is tucked into Budapest’s historic Jewish Quarter. It is Euro-whimsical with spirally staircases and bird-infused wallpaper percolating caffeinated warmth. Tourists like its vibe. Locals like its roast.  The beat of old school music can almost erase the memory of the 1940’s when the place of this cafe was a hell-hole of dying. Almost, but not quite.

Evil tapped a victory dance and the Nazi war machine devoured people. Thousands. Chomp. Chomp. Chomp. Here where the Blue Bird sings today. I used to say that if I had lived then, I would have raised my bony fist and screamed down the gates of tyranny.

But, I no longer voice that sentiment not since a Christian friend working for a secular, cross-governmental, anti-trafficking organization mentioned that he meets a lot of people like me. 

“Many people tell me what they would have done in another period of history, as if it would have birthed a different response in them. I tell them, ‘No you would not have.’ 

He says it matter-of-factly, “If the story of the current 32 million slaves in the world does not move you, neither would any other plea from humanity.[Tweet this @TSunberg]

In patient tones, I explain that the Church feels helpless. “Our hands are tied.”

“Like a 12-year old trafficked and sold for sex?” 

He watches me shift uncomfortably and then he implores the Church to act. Governments, NGO’s, and even global partnerships are not enough. The Church is uniquely situated to win this war and without an intentionally focused Christ-body, this generation loses the fight for freedom. 

we can do something

we can do something

 SIX WAYS YOUR CHURCH CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN ANTI-TRAFFICKING

1. Be aware of vulnerability

The plight of trafficked millions entered the global stream of consciousness at the turn of the 21st century. Today, there is issue-based recognition but, the root of dismantling the industry lies with creating awareness that prompts community development. When businesses, neighborhoods, organizations and churches begin to harness the power of their presence for active prevention, then, awareness becomes real power.

Multiple layers of society need to be educated about awareness. That education looks different for each group.  

Everyone must learn to spot and protect vulnerable people.

Vulnerable people, such as children, the impoverished, the neglected, must learn how to recognize and to reject exploitive persons. 

Those who would become exploiters must be aware that they have other economic opportunities.

2. Be present in difficult places

Governments and NGO’s have money, but often lack grass-roots infrastructures for effective prevention and rescue. The Church, however, is present at an unprecedented, hands-on level in communities across the globe. 

A strategic Body can root itself into a community and become that layer of protection to identify the next girl to be prostituted and the next boy to be pimped.  Being present to develop economic options that remove vulnerability and to establish financial independence is crucial.

To intentionally live and work with vulnerable people will develop relationships that can strangle the trafficking pipe-line.  This war will be won in a one to one, every boot on the ground battle. Effective anti-trafficking will not be sanctioned by government, or cured with programming alone. The end to slavery will happen when holy people, in combination with government and programs, are motivated to be actively present in hell on earth.

3. Step away from the church culture

For so long, Christians have enclosed themselves within the safe walls of the church and developed a vocabulary and culture that can sound odd to others. Secular organizations can be hesitant to partner, fearing manipulation or poor practice until we learn to communicate in authentic, professional and intelligible ways that are free of the christian dialect.

Healthy evangelization means working with secular people for temporal good absent of the pressure to lead them to Christ. Focus on building healthy relationships of respect and be ready to give witness when you are invited to do so. Pray.  Learn to see people as people, not as salvation projects. 

Trusting the Holy Spirit is not an abdication of our Christian responsibility, rather, it is a reliance on Grace to open doors and hearts.

4. Change the boy culture

Historically, the Church has focused on teaching women to dress modestly for the sake of her male counterparts. We heap guilt and responsibility on young girls to prevent men from being led astray by sexually suggestive clothes.  We have a ‘boys will be boys’ mentality that leads us to say much less to men and with much less fervor about their responsibility to submit their thought life and sexual practice to Christ.

Comparatively, Sweden has one of the most effective anti-trafficking cultures on the globe. Law enforcement prosecutes those who pay for sex, not the prostitutes and pimps. By targeting those who create demand and bypromoting media campaigns that create a culture of shame around paying for sex, the ‘boys will be boys’ mentality is crumbling. 

5. Stop sexualizing wealth

Sex sells – in the media, in sports, in fashion, in food, in cars, in video games. Sex is everywhere and men are inundated with warped messages of masculinity, power, and wealth. Culture perpetuates greed and lust. Breaking the connection between sexuality and material happiness demands that the Church takes a hard look at the idolization of money and wealth – inside and outside of her walls. 

6. Create economic alternatives

Statistics show an alarming rise in forced labor, with 50% of all human trafficking now the exploitation of people, including children, for work.

Just as sex sells, poverty creates disposable people. In his book, Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, author Kevin Bales explains that the situation for a 21st century slave is graver than his 19th century counterpart. ‘Humans are  easily used up and discarded by those who exploit them. Today, an average illegal child laborer can be purchased for $90. At that cheap price, the smartest business decision is to simply use up a person and then buy a new replacement.’

Profit margin based upon cheap labor drives the industry but faith communities can create economic alternatives. How can you work with a pimp to create other employment options? Are there creative ways to help businesses be financially profitable without exploiting people?

Long before the Nazi war machine roared to life, Irish philosopher Edmund Burke said, ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.’ [Tweet this @TSunberg] Painful words, Mr. Burke. Some two centuries later, German theologian and anti- Nazi dissident, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, echoed Burke. ‘We are not simply to bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.[Tweet this @Tsunberg] Bonhoeffer must have pictured Nazi tanks as he made his plea. 

Our call is to go beyond patching wounds. The ‘spoke in the wheel’ that Bonhoeffer refers to is our life. Today, the Church is called to rise up, to move in and to speak out as the Jesus-body for this generation.

Pick up a spoke. Stop the machine.

so many people

so many people

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when we doubt that God is powerful enough

budapest

Budapest Lonely

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Viscri, Romania

Budapest

Budapest

It is a difficult thing to see a place laid to waste. Where there was once life and laughter and activity, now there is nothing but a hollow chasm and the whistle of the wind chills the bones and the soul. It is a desolate thing, this place that once held such promise, but now offers nothing in the way of comfort or protection. The memories of what once was beautiful make the ruins more difficult to bare.

I have seen that place – in Kosova after the war – in Moscow after the fall of the Berlin Wall – on the road to IKEA in the movements of prostituted women who freeze their bare flesh by tire fires.

In the story of Isaiah (58:12) we are told that after 70 years of decay, the people of Israel now faced the ruins left behind by past generations.  Not only the ruins of a city with buildings and streets and life, but the ruins of a culture, of a religion, of a way of life, of a lineage and a promise.

Who could carry such a heart break and stay the course of the journey? Who could look past the destruction and see a city in the future? Who had the strength of soul to see hope in the midst of decay?

For the heartbroken, for the weary, for the resourceless, Isaiah spoke of a beautiful hope that was hard to embrace as a reality. A someday hope, when the foundations would be raised up, not replaced. Rebuilt. Repaired. Restored. The old made new.

We read the prophesy of Isaiah from a 21st century cushion and recognize the Savior, who came to make all things new. He came to restore broken hearts, decaying souls, destroyed cities and families and dreams. We see the fulfillment of the prophesy in the incarnated Christ. Looking back, we see Jesus as the answer, the only possible answer, to the brokenness of Israel. There is no question of his faithfulness, his power, his love, his able-ness to restore his people.

But, let us be honest: Sometimes we struggle to believe God’s restoration power for our future.

200_9905194487_9823_nCan he repair our broken relationships? Can he restore our cultures, societies and governments? Can he raise up the foundations of Christian ethics and holy hearts? Can he cure the decay of sin that is an everyday, uncontrollable predator of all that we love and hold dear?

The reality of our ruins sends a chill of fear into our bones and into our soul. The future can seem, well, hopeless unless we let Isaiah’s prophesy be true for our us as well.

Our story begins in a beautiful garden. It ends there too – in a garden; restored, repaired, raised up, healed from the bondage of decay. John writes of a new Earth restored from the old. He writes of a new Jerusalem. He meshes and blends and echoes the voice of the Prophet Isaiah with a promise for our future.

Today, will you believe Isaiah’s prophesy for your future?

Dear Jesus, 

It is true that we recognize your faithfulness in the past. Not only your faithfulness to us, but to those who came before us throughout history. Still, our human nature makes it difficult to leave our futures in your hands. We struggle to believe that you can restore, repair, rebuild that which has been destroyed. Help us, please, to give you our unbelief. Help us to submit to your restorative power in our lives, in our hearts, and in our world. 

We give you the glory. Amen.

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silent words of worship

called and capable

called and capable

I have been singing worship songs to Jesus in languages that I don’t speak for close to half of my life. Today, I am cozied into the back of a packed-out women’s conference in Hungary. We are singing a tune that I know, but I cannot voice the words to this particular ditty in today’s language nor in my mother language. I learned this song in Bulgarian years ago and that is the praise that my heart raises to the heavens today. Continue reading

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5 practical ways to grow your church

In the Dohanyi Synagogue Museum, Budapest

In the Dohanyi Synagogue Museum, Budapest

In the Synagogue’s museum, there is a photo of a Jewish man and boy behind a fence in the Ghetto. A sign reads, ‘No Christians beyond this point.’ The irony of that sign punched me in the stomach yesterday, because, if there is anywhere the Body of Christ should be, it is beyond that point, right there with the hurting, the hated, and the walking dead.

I understand the cultural context, how that sign made sense to the ones who posted it, and perhaps that is what makes it all the more frightening. It made sense to the Nazis. It made sense because anytime we use ‘us and them’ as language, we enter into dangerous, self-serving waters.  Continue reading