Bhutanese-Nepali Community Organizes the "Stop Suicide Project" (Feb. 28, 2015)

Consider this an update to the issue that I have brought up a few times here on this blog, most notably here:

The Bhutanese are Killing Themselves at an Alarming Rate
A Report on Suicide among Bhutanese-Nepali Refugees
Calling on the Bhutanese Refugee Community to Stop Killing Yourselves

I am thrilled to see that a number of key leaders in the US-based diaspora group have taken the initiative to speak out on suicide and have gone as far to organized a program in Akron, Ohio under the "Stop Suicide Project" banner and presented by the Menuka Memorial Foundation.  This is a worthy effort to raise awareness and open dialogue in a community that has suffered one of the highest suicide rates in the world.  I applaud especially the artist-leaders who have lent their talents and the organizational and leaders who have sought to bring mental health professionals into this event.

A couple issues that I'd like to highlight:

1. Akron is an excellent choice for this event as it represents one of the largest hubs for secondary resettlement among the Bhutanese in the USA and is a true weigh-station for Bhutanese travel from the Midwest to the East coast and vice versa.  Most Bhutanese east of the Mississippi have been through Akron at one point or another.  Of course, I hope that similar events will take place in many other cities as well.

2. One apparent omission is the involvement of spiritual leaders in the effort.  Hindu pundits, Christian pastors and Buddhist lamas should find this to be an issue of common ground.  It would be a very powerful message indeed to see pastor, pundit and lama joining hands to proclaim the holiness of life, the inherent evil of suicide, and to tell the community that it is good and acceptable (not shameful) to ask for help with emotional and mental difficulties.

If you are around the Akron area, don't miss this event. I, for one, really wish I could be there!


Sraddha (श्रद्धा): Going Mad to Get Him

A scene is described by the well-known Bengali sage, Swami Vivekananda. He asks his listeners to imagine a thief trying to sleep in a room.  He has come to know that in the very next room there is a mass of gold, essentially unguarded.

The Swami asks, "What will be the condition of that thief?"

It doesn't take much imagination for us to guess that the thief will not be getting much sleep at all that night. His mind will be racing with schemes to somehow get at the gold. He will surely not rest until it is his.

The Swami explains his meaning:

"Do you believe that a man could believe in God and not go mad to get Him?  If a man sincerely believes that there is that immense, infinite mine of Bliss, and that It can be reached, would not that man go mad in his struggle to reach it?"

The true devotee cries out, "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for You, O God! My soul thirsts for God, for the Living God! When shall I come and appear before God?" (Bhajan 42:1-2)

And this, is the meaning of the ancient Sanskrit term "sraddha" (श्रद्धा) which is often used as the name for memorial ceremonies performed on the anniversaries of the deaths of our loved ones.  It is to have faith in God and to "go mad to get at him", which should be our attitude daily but especially in difficult times (such as the death of a family member).

Sadly, as the sage says, it seems that not "one in twenty millions in this world believes in God".  He is not wrong.  Even the most devout soul will struggle to maintain sraddha/faith.  Even the bhaktis of Prabhu Sri Yeshuji, the Mahamukteshwar, who listened daily to his pravachan and witnessed countless displays of shakti (power), often were said to have only a "little faith".

But even the answer for this dilemma is found in God.  The Ishwarprerita wrote that our moksha (liberation) would come by grace (anugraha) through faith and that this itself was a gift of God.  We do not have the faith that we need to go mad to get God.  It is foreign to us and must be given by Another.  But praise to Sureshwar, the Good God, who will give freely to all who ask.

Today, ask God to give you true "sraddha" so that you can know the joy of salvation and knowing the Living God.  


Oy Vey: Remember When it wasn't Cool to be an Anti-Semite

Photo Credit: Unknown (Contact me)

I seriously like Jews.

I mean, I'll pass on the Manishewitz, but in general, wow, I love those people.  Yeshua, of course, is my favorite.  He did die for me after all and indwells me by his Spirit. But, he is in good company.

As a goy-boy growing up in rural Oklahoma I was not afforded many opportunities for, well, schmoozing with the Chosen People, but as my world gloriously expands God is giving me more and more encounters with Jews of many backgrounds.  I'm getting opportunities for cultural learning, friendship and partnership.  Yiddish words and phrases in sitcoms are starting to make sense and I'm secretly (not so secret now, I guess) hoping for an invite to a pakka Purim celebration (okay, "pakka" is Hindi lingo rather than Yiddish, but old habits die hard. Would the Yiddish be echt?)

But what is going on today? Is it just me or is the mood changing?  Though I grew up with very little global exposure, I somehow imbibed a rather undiluted message about the Jews -- i.e. antisemitism is evil.

So why does it suddenly seem more okay to be antisemitic?  Consider the following short video taken of a man simply walking the streets of Paris as a Jew:

Are you kidding me?

Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg with a seemingly growing number of terrorist threats and attacks directed towards Jews, consider:

The recent desecration of Jewish graves in France
The shooting at a synagogue in Denmark
The conspiracy and cover up regarding the massacre of Jews in Argentina

To mention just a few high-profile incidents.

It's enough to prompt Israel's PM, Benjamin Netanyahu to call for Jews to come "home" en masse to the Promised Land.  A fact that's sure to tempt a few of you to dust off some of your old Jenkins-Lahaye novels (you know exactly where they are, don't you?).

Of course, it get's even more meshuggah.  On the one hand, you have Hollywood legend Shirley MacLaine writing some really stupid stuff about karma and the holocaust.  Her speculation that the millions of Jews slaughtered by the Nazis may have had it coming to them due to bad deeds committed in a previous life was newsworthy for about five minutes.  But, hey, Vanilla Ice is trending on Twitter so ... at least our priorities are in order.

Swing the pendulum from the famous to the obscure and you find this bizarre story of a Iowa woman who  was apparently trying to convert a Jewish neighbor to Christianity through the old beat-them-till-they-convert method.

Oy gevalt!

And then there are my own evangelical tribesmen (and tribeswomen) who in their zeal to always be attacking everything that U.S. President Barak Obama says, rushed to defend the Crusades in response to the President's suggestion that they might have been kind of a bad thing.  The standard defense posted and re-posted especially in the Facebook-sphere went something like this:

"Silly Obama, don't you know that the Crusades were essentially defensive struggles against extremist Islamic powers bent on the conquest of Europe?  Gosh, you really are a Muslim aren't you?"

And before you go about comfortably dismissing me to some ideological camp that you've taught yourself to ignore, let me say that I begrudgingly voted for McCain and No One in the past two presidential elections, respectively.  Not that it's any of your business.

But look here.  Putting aside whatever defensive motives may or may not have been at play in the various Crusades (and to what extent those motives were shared by the actual Crusaders) for a moment, I must ask.  Have we really forgotten how many Jews were killed by Christians during the Crusades? I blogged a bit about this recently (Here is the link in case you missed it).  I don't understand how this isn't a no-brainer for my fellow Jesus-followers.  The Crusades resulted in the massacre of thousands of Jews.  They don't get to be defended.  Why isn't that the end of the story?

So, here I am, scratching my head. Praying. And wondering what good a little voice like mine can do in this context.  Should I start a #Jewishlivesmatter or #JesuisHebreu? But leveraging trendiness doesn't go very far.


For now, I feel that I want to say without qualification that I genuinely love and admire the Jews.  As a follower of Jesus, I know that they are a people greatly honored by the God I worship.  I owe my spiritual heritage to their stewardship of faith and the Scriptures.  As a student of people and culture, I am intrigued by the festivals, the language, the religion, the history, the music and pretty much all things Jewish.  As a human, I rejoice in our shared humanity and know that I'm richer in relationship to Jews and poorer when separated.

Those who know me well, will know how sincere I am when I say that I would love for more Jews to move into my neighborhood.  If the man in the video above came walking by my house -- or up to my door -- he would find a warm welcome.

Join me in praying for peace for the Jewish diaspora wherever they live in the world.


Defending the Crusades (Not really, they sucked)

I am grateful to a friend who pointed out this piece. I've held my tongue while the heat was high following the National Pontificating Breakfast. I have no interest in either defending or critiquing President Obama's comments - it never occurs to me to look to sanded down, poll-tested speeches for profound insight anyway. 

However, the subsequent rush to defend the Crusades by many of my fellow Christ-followers was downright embarrassing. At first, I thought it was a joke - something like the Onion. Surely no one would actually try to defend the Crusades.  But, the more I read and saw posted, the more I blushed.  It was true. Which meant that the hatred towards President Obama was felt so hotly by some that they would seek to actually defend one of the darkest moments in Church history. 

Now, I know that some have taken pains to point out the larger context surrounding Crusade history and the various pressures that gave rise to a war between European and Islamic powers. This is well and good. A passing reference to the Crusades as "bad" is certainly abbreviating matters. However, it isn't abbreviating matters incorrectly. Yes, there were genuine acts of piety and golden feats of heroism along with understandable and necessary military campaigns designed for legitimate defensive aims.  But, the Crusades featured so much evil and of such a wretched sort and so blatantly "in the name of Christ" that the only reasonable response of the modern day disciple of Jesus is to lament.  

I would respectfully urge those who have tried to defend the Crusades to read this very solid NYTimes article on the first victims of the First Crusade. 

If the massacre of Jews that started off the Crusades had been the only atrocity committed, it would be enough for me to condemn the whole affair. But, so much more would follow. 

Our history is what it is. And there is a lot of garbage there. And none of it makes any of the horrors being carried out by ISIS, Boko Haram, etc. even the least bit more acceptable or understandable. Indeed, it seems to me that the Church today would find its prophetic word all the more powerful in the face of such evils if we could soundly and unanimously condemn the sin we ourselves have been guilty of in the past.


Happy 206th, President Lincoln: Slavery Abolition Facts

In honor of Abraham Lincoln's 206th birthday, here are some abolition facts for you:

Iceland abolished slavery in A.D. 1117.

Pope Paul III forbid the enslavement of indigenous peoples in the America's in  1537.  Forced displacement and systematic oppression was still okay.  Oh ... and of course Africans could still be enslaved.

Portugal banned the buying and selling of Chinese slaves in 1595.  Black slaves still super cool with them.

Russia abolished slavery in 1723.

Sierra Leone was founded by the British as a colony for freed slaves in 1787.  Domestic slavery, perpetuated by the wealthy, wasn't outlawed there until 1928.

Haiti declared independence from France in 1804, perhaps the only truly successful slave revolt in modern history.

The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed in Britain in 1807. The United States banned the trade the following year though President Thomas Jefferson called Congress to make the slave trade illegal in 1806.  A slew of nations abolished slavery or slave trading in the decades that followed.

The last slaves were freed in Mexico in 1829, but when the Republic of Texas was established in 1836, it legalized slavery there.

President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, one of the most important executive orders in United States history.  It was followed by passage of the 13th amendment two years later.

Oklahoma, then Indian Territory, didn't abolish slavery until 1866.

In the 80 years following the British abolition of the slave trade, Brazil imported an additional 1 million African slaves and became the world's leading producer of coffee.  Slavery was finally abolished in Brazil in 1888.

The British, who had abolished the slave trade in 1807, continued using Indians as indentured servants on a large scale until 1917.  Many long-established Indian populations around the world began during this period of forced displacement.

Slavery continued legally in Ethiopia until 1942 when it was officially abolished by Emperor Haile Selassie.

Slavery was still legal in the nations of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, UAE, and Oman until the 1960s.

The most recent nations to make slavery a crime were Niger (2003) and Mauritania (2007).

Slavery is now officially illegal in all nations.  However, estimates suggest that more than 35 million people remain enslaved around the world.


The Global Slavery Index - http://www.globalslaveryindex.org/findings/

The UN International Labor Organizatin - http://www.ilo.org


Brewing a Better World (Part 5): Reversing Coffee's Dark History in a Borderless World

Photo by Craig Sunter
We'll make this the last in the highly-caffeinated 5-part series on coffee, business, and mission in the 21st century that I've entitled, "Brewing a Better World".  [Catch up on the whole series here.]

Today I want to continue my musing upon the idea of coffee as the perfect "Great Commission Commodity".  

Everywhere I go I repeat a simple statement that I believe is absolutely critical for the people of God to digest as they engage in 21st century mission. Here it is:

In the 21st century, people keep moving, especially to the cities and yet stay connected to everywhere.  

This last phrase, about connections, speaks to the reality of globalization in the world today.  A globalized world is a borderless world connected by high-tech communication, high-speed travel, and high-impact influencers whose messages resound from Bollywood to Belfast and from Twitter to Timbuktu (seriously, the city in Mali).  But long before mobile phones outnumbered toilets (a real fact that needs to be addressed, here's a tiny awareness project we did on this) and before Viber made it possible for me to call Uganda from Chicago for free, it was coffee that began to show us that this is indeed a small world after all. Coffee was the first truly global commodity and is the second biggest in the world today (behind oil, which isn't nearly as tasty).  Coffee moves today in ways very similar to the way peoples move and the potential to leverage that movement for the sake of mission is very interesting to me.  As I hop around coffee houses in the US I’m noticing that more and more local roasters are even bypassing “Big Coffee” in favor of direct sourcing strategies – a trend that ties people movement and coffee movement even more closely together.  Again, the key is to leverage movement for mission, which means transforming realities for the sake of Christ  - till all people movement and all coffee movement means gospel movement.

And take this a step further,  if Bosch is right when he says that mission is about transforming reality (and he is right) then the coffee industry has tremendous potential for holistic Kingdom work.  Coffee has a “dark history” (to lift a phrase from Antony Wild) closely tied to slavery, corporate greed and abuse, ecological devastation and worse.  The finest coffees in the world, consumed by the West’s most comfortable suburbanites and grooviest hipsters are nevertheless grown in the poorest regions of the globe by people who are lucky if they make enough money to feed their families. Coffee has not only had a front row seat for some of the greatest injustices in history but the industry as a whole continues to do much to perpetuate the same systemic evils.  

But that’s exactly where things get interesting.  

First of all, coffee shops have always been fertile ground for over-stimulated people to stimulate one another to ideas of innovation, social change, and even revolution (e.g. both the French and American Revolutions were essentially brewed – pun intended – in coffee shops).  I observe today that crowds of caffeinated coffee consumers could still be rallied around coffee production strategies that brought about positive and sustainable transformation. To say nothing of using coffee shops as third-spaces to catalyze all manner of justice causes.

What is more, the business of coffee growing and shipping puts one in close proximity to poverty, disease, violence and the long-term effects of violence, the global gateways of forced migration (trafficking), and other forms of oppression.  Proximity gives way to intentional presence for the Christ-follower, to incarnation and thus to strategic engagement and partnership for the sake of Kingdom transformation.  So, the implications here are deep for how we do business and to what end.  What is clear to me is that the best way to address injustices perpetuated or ignored by the coffee industry is to radically transform the way that business is done. 

So, we close the series today with two quite different concepts - globalization and justice - that will absolutely need to be taken together if we are ever going to end or stop anything.  What does the world look like from your seat?  How are you and your team engaging in global connections and partnerships for the sake of bringing Kingdom justice to bear?  

Well, the coffee shop in which I sitting as I write this is closing.  I need to wrap this up.  I've enjoyed pouring out my heart to you during this series.  Pray for me and for everyone at Trinity and Endiro as we journey with the Lord in this new endeavor.  


Brewing a Better World (Part 4): The 10/40 Window & The Coffee Belt

Now into part four of this series of musings about how magical beans are going to usher in the millennial reign of Christ . . . well, that's not it exactly, but you know, something big and lofty and mission-y and such . . . I want to begin to muse specifically about the commodity of coffee.  I hereby introduce a phrase sure to take the world by storm, "Great Commission Commodity" and ask:

Is coffee the perfect Great Commission Commodity for 21st century missions?

I will dedicate a couple posts to this question but begin today with a very intriguing image:

Original image by Coffeeforless.com, modified by C. Lorance

Intriguing, isn't it? Or is it just me? 

The "10/40 Window" has long been associated with the world's least reached peoples.  If this is a totally new concept for you, please read up on it at Joshua Project here. Of course, one of the great passions of my life is to travel around and spread the news that God has "opened the window" and scattered unreached peoples from there to everywhere else in the world.  And most of time time when I talk about this, I am addressing people in the West who need to be awakened to the presence of 10/40 Window peoples in their own cities and thereby mobilized to reach out to them with the hope and wholeness of Lord Jesus.  BUT, it is also true that global migration occurs as much on a "South-to-South" trajectory as it does "South-to-North".  What that means is simply that as much as the world's least reached peoples are moving to the great cities of the Western world, they are also moving to Manila, Bolivia, Lima, Accra, Dubai, and Nairobi.  The Kampala skyline is now dotted with many Hindu temples, groups of Arab businessmen can be found in every major airport in Southeast Asia, and Addis Ababa is being rebuilt practically from the ground up by the Chinese. The reverse is also true, East Africans travel down the Nile to North Africa.  Filipinos work as mariners on cargo vessels which travel to every port in the Global South. Girls from Indonesia and India are trafficked into China and elsewhere.  And everyone seems to eventually pass through Dubai.

The phenomenon of South-to-South migration is an ever-increasing force in the world today that inextricably links the destinies of peoples of the 10/40 Window and those living in the Coffee Belt - the region of the world in which all coffee is grown. This geographic juxtaposition means, among other things, that the unreached billions in the Window have close, regular, normal commerce with scores of potential lay-missionaries living in the Belt. 

If we have come to embrace the notion that we now live in the era of missions from everywhere to everywhere (and I know that many in my country have not embraced this) then we must begin expecting and planning for the raising up of countless missionaries from the majority world.  Indeed this is already happening on a large, albeit difficult-to-measure scale.  The Coffee Belt is home to most of these would-be missionaries as it passes through the most populated portions of Latin America, Africa and Asia.  Here is a major "what if":

What if we found a way to pair coffee as a positive, sustainable and profitable business presence with not only evangelism and disciple-making but full-on mission mobilization?  

This is what I mean by musing and pushing yourself to the "what if" questions.  I don't know what those questions are for you and your mission context.  I can only tell you where they are - further.  And I can tell you that the Holy Spirit is waiting for you there.


Brewing a Better World (Part 3): Business ITSELF as Mission

Photo by United Nations Photos
Today it's the third installment of our series about coffee and Jesus and changing the world. By now you have realized that while I am talking about coffee, I'm not just talking about coffee. [Catch up on the whole series here.] The question on my mind today is this:

How can the business of coffee itself transform reality for the sake of the Kingdom of God?

To be honest, I am still doing a lot of research on this, but it seems to be the case that daily earnings of the average coffee grower is significantly less than the price of a single cup of the muck they're mass-pouring over at Starbucks.  The African "coffee belt" countries in particular have long known more than their fair share of poverty, disease, violence, human trafficking and more.  Coffee giants have too often been guilty of ransacking growing areas paying little attention to local wages, pushing low-quality coffee into the market, harming ecosystems (which not only comes at a price measured in flora and fauna but also in long-term agricultural sustainability and thus the livelihoods of people), etc. 

What if we could develop businesses that created jobs and professional development, wealth and sustainability? What if the business found a way to form strategic partnerships to address local and global injustices?  What if we approached agriculture with a passion to steward God's creation?  What if we created third-spaces globally which encouraged redemptive relationships, church-outside-the-walls style engagement with communities, and which otherwise facilitated local disciple-making?  

These "what if"s are sending my brain into overdrive (the caffeine helps) as I consider not just ways to make money but a way to do so that is itself mission.  Not long ago, I was talking with a very wealthy Filipino business man who loves Jesus and missions.  We were talking about coffee and the whole idea of "business as mission".  He drew a very important distinction for me.  "What we are after, Cody, is not just business that supports missions but an entire model of doing business that is itself mission."  That is, we want to create a business that transforms reality for the sake of the Kingdom of Christ.  The implications are very wide for us in the coffee industry because it means thinking about the current realities of the coffee growers, the executives and mariners associated with coffee shipping, the servers and baristas and other employees, our customers and all the many families and communities that we touch.  What are their current realities?  What does God think about those realities?  What is God's will for them and what would it look like to bring the Kingdom fully to bear upon those realities?  

It is actually very exciting.  

Think about a business in your community - perhaps its your own business or workplace.  Ask those same questions:

1. List all the people that your business touches and consider the families and communities surrounding those people.  What is the current reality for them?

2.  What does God think about those realities?  How has sin and Satan established footholds and strongholds in those contexts?  What is God's will?  

3. What would it look like for the Kingdom to come in the context of those realities?  

4. How can you business become mission - an agent of Kingdom transformation - in the context of those realities?


Brewing a Better World (Part 2): Financial Engines for World Mission

Photo by Asian Development Bank
Let's pick up again on our missiological musings of coffee and missions in the 21st century.  [Catch up on the whole series here.]

Today I'm pondering whether coffee can become a financial engine for world missions.  

A fact that has increasingly disturbed me as a missionary, missions executive and missiologist is the ever-increasing struggle of simple missionaries to secure financial support for their endeavors.  It seems that more and more of the proverbial pie of missions funding is being consumed by short-term projects and trips conducted by local churches.  Many moons ago, when I was a youth minister, the prospect of taking a youth group on a summer missions trip was considered "cutting edge" and "extreme".  Nowadays, its part of the standard job description for many churches.  I've met people who have been on dozens of mission trips and count it as a sign of their commitment to the Great Commission.  I might even be tempted to agree with them except that I've seen far too many promising long-term missionaries forced to leave the field due to a lack of sufficient funding.  It is very difficult for me to celebrate when I know that a week-long overseas trip by a small group of short-term missionaries could easily fund a year's salary or more for someone who was willing to spend their entire life on the mission field.  As I step down from this particular soapbox let me just say that the Western Church has yet to take seriously our responsibility to teach stewardship alongside mission mobilization.  

Well, as the Nepalis say, "Estay chha" (it's like that). I don't see it changing soon and I am very tired of waiting for rich, wasteful Christians to condescend to support people that are sacrificing so much every day for the cause of Christ.  If they are determined to spend more on coffee than on world mission - and they totally are - then I think it's time to get missions into the value chain.  

Simply put, I am determined to see our venture into the coffee industry become extraordinarily profitable for the sake of mission.  It feels odd to even say it, but I want to make lots of money so that I can pump lots of money into missions.  I dream of funding ridiculous projects that bring lasting change and supporting crazy, wild-eyed missionaries who are ready to do whatever would be the modern equivalent of packing their belongings in coffins on their way to the ends of the earth.  Beyond that, I find myself musing about other business ideas too because I'm tired of limping along dependent upon the charity of people who could afford to give in seriously game-changing ways but who simply can't be bothered.  

I'm sorry if I seem upset.  The truth is, Katherine and I have enjoyed the generosity of a very small handful of supporters for years now.  But many of our supporters have been elderly saints who believed in a "pray, give, go" paradigm of mission mobilization rather than the newer "take, spend, and tour" mentality that seems to dominate the stage today.  As these surrogate grandmothers and grandfathers have gone to be with the Lord, they have not been replaced by a younger generation of supporters.  And we are not the only ones who have experienced this.  

I fully believe that the best thing is for most followers of Jesus to be in the workforce and to sacrificially give as they pray for the minority who are called into missions as a career.   I pray that we will experience a global renewal of that very biblical model (Paul did NOT make tents everywhere he went!) but until then, I'm challenging the brothers and sisters that I work with, mentor and oversee to seek sustainable sources of income which will not only provide for their personal needs but actually create significant streams of funding which they can direct towards strategic mission.  

It was an eye-opening moment when I finally came to terms with the fact that I and the folks that I have been working with for years are men and women who are highly skilled, creative thinkers, gifted entrepreneurs and hard workers who have the potential to create and run businesses that were holy, excellent and highly-profitable.  And if I was sitting across the table from you right now, I think we'd talk about the untapped value that God has put into you.  You have skills and expertise that could be used to generate the income that your family needs.  There are ideas that could result in funding streams which could transform the community to which God has called you. To return to an earlier metaphor, I'm just saying that you can wait around and beg for those who should be sharing their pie with you to actually do so OR you can go make your own pie.