Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Hitler, Dante, and the Insufficiency of Tolerance

Lately I've been a bit consumed with eschatology (the study of last things). This has been in part because I've been teaching Revelation to the teens class on Wednesday nights for the last quarter, and have had to seriously examine a lot of passages that describe the return of Christ. A relevant issue to all of this is the issue of Hell. 

Hell's pretty unpopular these days. Nobody wants to believe anybody will go to Hell, except for a few choice people like Hitler or Hussein. Those guys could sizzle like bacon for a pretty good while before it would start to bother us.

So I've been thinking about Hitler, and in the spirit of Dante, I've been pondering what his punishment might be like. Dante's Inferno is a fascinating read, and a quite imaginative work. Dante holds strongly to the idea that punishments will somehow correspond to crimes. For example, in the second ring of Hell, Dante describes people being punished who are guilty of lust. Their punishment is to have strong unceasing winds that blow them violently about, taking away their ability to ever get rest or relief. This corresponds to their unwillingness in life to control the desires that they chased in a number of ungodly directions. 

I was wondering what sort of punishment would be fitting of a man like Hitler. He was hungry for notoriety and power. He dehumanized his enemies and treated them as trash. I thought about someone as infamous as Hitler, and wondered what sort of fitting spectacle would be his punishment. And then it occurred to me that perhaps nothing would be more fitting than to see him quietly enclosed in a lonely place and punished secretly, with no pomp or circumstance; to abandon him with no sign at all that suggested this man was in any way worth remembering or acknowledging. 

Up until around the end of chapter 20, I understand Revelation to be a book that is similar to the scene in the Wizard of Oz where the curtain is pulled back so that Dorothy can see what is going on that no one else can see. John is in exile, when suddenly the heavens open up, and he is invited to see what God and his allies are up to while Christians are dealing with oppressive and bestial world powers. We hear Angels shouting victory and singing new songs. We see martyrs and leaders reigning with Christ, and we smell the incense of their prayers. But one group is strikingly absent. 

The lost are kept outside of the New Jerusalem. They are sent to a "second death" in the Lake of Fire. But in all the discussion that goes on for pages and pages of the action and excitement that happens in the presence of God, the lost are completely absent. They aren't protesting, banding together, or knocking on the gates. They simply aren't part of the future that God is bringing into existence. If their souls continue to exist, it is only in that they are tolerated to exist, but no value is attached to them once they've been cast aside to be discarded.

All of this led me to think about the great clamor we all hear these days about the importance of tolerance. In every setting, people are pushing for the perceived virtue of tolerance. (Tolerance isn't always virtuous.) But when you listen to what people are really wanting, tolerance isn't it. Tolerance means I let something exist, despite finding it a total bother. Many of the people I hear shouting for "tolerance" are themselves quite tolerated. They are allowed to exist, so why keep asking for it? The deeper thing I believe people are begging for is to receive respect. Respect goes beyond tolerance. Respect dignifies and acknowledges where it can. 

I read an excellent book a few weeks ago called Leadership and Self-Deception. The book is all about one important principle in dealing with people: no matter what people do or how they have disappointed you, always continue to treat them as human beings. The place we so often fall short is that we allow people to become nuisances, obstacles, or burdens, and in doing so, we cease to acknowledge the value of their humanity. This is why we will chew out a co-worker, we will humiliate a clerk behind a counter, or we will have no patience or second chances for someone who has disappointed us in any way. We mentally categorize them as less than human so that we can treat them as such. They become something we tolerate instead of someone in whom we see value. This is a Hellish way to live.

I believe God will have painful judgments for many people who have lived far beneath what they were created to be. But he will wait until the end of their days to deliver his verdict. A challenge for me is not to be a merely tolerant person, but to be a loving person. It is ok to acknowledge when someone has annoyed or frustrated me, but I can express this in a way that simultaneously acknowledges that I believe they have intrinsic value, having been made in God's image. I can express disappointment for people or condemnation of their behavior in that they were created to do things much better than what they've chosen to do, and with God's help, I know this is possible for them.

I don't know what God will do with Hitler. I don't fully grasp how all things will unfold as the Kingdom of God continues to break through into the corrupted world we're living in. But I do know that for my part, it is my job to proclaim good news to the poor, liberty to the oppressed, freedom to those who are captive, and the year of the Lord's favor to all who are willing to accept the good news. To love people in the way that God loves them goes beyond tolerance, because in every person it sees their value and seeks their redemption. 

May you live today in a way that God would deem worth remembering,


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Planning and Fundraising for Short-Term Missions

So it's getting to be that time of year where those of us who go on Summer mission trips begin our signups and fundraising. If you're looking for a trip to get involved with, I'll be leading a trip through Torch Missions to the Buenos Aires Iglesia de Cristo in Costa Rica in 2014. We're looking for teammates if you're interested! Here are a few tips and ideas I've gained from making these sorts of efforts over the years.


1. Listen Well Before You Plan. It is so important to communicate well in every aspect of short-term missions. You should begin by communicating well with the location where you'll travel, to be sure that they can genuinely use the help you are wanting to offer. Do not impose on them. Bring your ideas, but give veto power to the local people who will know what they are needing best. Don't make any plans until you first have the support and welcome of the place you want to visit.

Don't plan on any ideas unless you can confidently state how the church you are visiting feels about your ideas. Let them know what to expect from you so that they can accommodate you well.

A lack of communication will result in both of you being frustrated. We are not here to patronize smaller congregations in poorer places. We are here to love and support our brothers and sisters in Christ in ways that show respect for them and give dignity to their lives and ministry.

2. Communicate The Spiritual Aspects of What You're Doing. One of the most frequent criticisms of short-term mission is that they are often very expensive, and provide minimal bang for your buck in terms of what your team can produce short-term in the foreign location. It is indisputably cheaper to hire a team of local workers in Honduras to build a wall than to fly down 30 totally unskilled Americans, pay their lodging, and have them build a wall. Part of your trip planning should be to ensure you are strengthening local Christians wherever you are. Humanitarianism can be a great part of that. But the selling point for your trip can't be the importance of skilled labor needed in central America, Africa, or wherever.

Be sure in all of this to emphasize how good it is for the members of your team to have the experience of talking openly about their faith, being confronted with their own affluence, and donating their time to do hard work in the name of Jesus. We need to instill in our young people the hearts of missionaries. Short-term trips are expensive, but I would have a hard time numbering all the full-time missionaries I know who started off by going on a campaign to do short-term missions.

Likewise, if you are sensitive to the local church's needs where you are going, it is very possible that your short-term efforts can open up opportunities for them. Short-term trips may see some converts, but more often, by the connection they make through a team's visit, local people may come to experience Christ through the local congregation whom the mission team was serving.

It's true that these trips are expensive. It's also true that they can be life-changing, both for the ones who go and for the ones who receive them.

3. Use a Facebook Group to Coordinate. You need some central places where parents can go to find out about the trip, and where people can sort of meet each other, even if team members are from different locations. I have had good success using Facebook groups to
a. Remind people about what's going on
b. Get feedback about what interests people
c. Share files and links to useful information and ideas
d. Post pictures and information while we are on the mission sites so that parents know where to look for it

I make sure to add everyone and their whole families who are involved in the trip. Even those who have gone in past years like to see what's still happening after the fact. We've even been able to find and connect with some of the local people we've met in other countries whom we've found on Facebook and social media.

Because I don't like to deal with a lot of spammers or people who don't have any business with what's going on, I've opted to make our Facebook group a secret group by invitation only. Otherwise, if you have lots of Facebook friends you don't know well, some of whom could be sinister, you are publicizing the best possible dates to rob your house.

4. Remember to say "Thank You." We keep track of all donations that have names and addresses (checks) so that our participants know who helped them to go. Whenever we receive a donation, my secretaries respond with a letter, expressing appreciation for their donation for tax purposes. Most of my kids thank their contributors on their own. When we arrive back from the trip, I use a program called Comic Life on Mac to design a small picture that I send out as a keepsake and thank you to all our contributors. Here's the one I made for 2012. I print them off as 4x6s and include them in an envelope with a letter talking about the highlights of our trip.


This is not an exhaustive list, but here are some of the methods that have worked well in some places.

1. Mission Team works for tips at Church event. For us, the single best fundraiser has been at a congregational chili supper during the winter. We host a chili cook off and have the members all bring chili, toppings, desserts and drinks. Therefore there is no food cost for the event for our team. We show up in matching long-sleeve Ts and spend the whole event waiting tables, refilling drinks, and passing out flyers about what we'll do on our trip. On the side of the room, I have a looping slideshow with pictures of last year's trip. 

Near the front of the room is a big bucket labeled, "Tips for Costa Rica." As far as public announcements, people are never pressured to tip. Tips are appreciated, but not mandated or expected. My experience has been that members are glad to contribute without any pressure. The bucket itself I add eyes and a mouth to so it has personality. I also prime the pump and drop in my own contribution of several $20s and $50s. So when people are wondering how much they ought to give and they see what is already in the bucket, it sets a higher expectation than if it is empty, or only has $1s and $5s in it. 

This is the best approach I've found because it is great PR for the trip, people have given generously, and the team has zero cost to make the event happen since it's a congregational event where people bring all the food.

2. Silent Auctions. While we are overseas, I make sure to spend $100-$200 on souvenirs to donate for silent auctions upon our return. At a church event in the fall without any other trip connections, we will have a table set up on the side of the room with several items that people can bid on.

The most popular item for me has been coffee. Central American coffee is high quality, and when you play up its quality, and people know that whatever they pay for it is helping your trip, I've had some epic silent auction battles going on over bags of coffee. You don't want to spend too much on large items, and are better to get things for which you pay $10-$20, hoping that you will at least raise awareness and not loose any money on the items. I begin the auction with bidding $10 on all items myself. That also helps me not waste money, because I don't get any auction items that I wouldn't want to own myself.

People have a lot of fun with this, and it helps keep the trip on people's minds, even when it's the "off season" and the trip isn't coming up soon.

3. Envelopes for Cash. I have not used this approach, due to the success of these first two methods, but I've had this idea suggested and highly recommended to me. Because my congregation has such a tendency toward generosity, I've worried that this might actually reduce what some people would give. If you're at a congregation where people are less inclined to have extra, this is a neat way to provide people with giving goals.

Take 100 manila envelopes. The 6"x9" size works well. Get your team together and decorate them fancily with numbers from 1 to 100. Include little messages on them like "Ooohh...Pick Me!"

You put up a clothes line along one of your church's hall ways, and hang the 100 envelopes all the way down the hall. The goal is that people will take the envelopes, and return them to you with the amount stated on the outside of the envelope.

This is a great project for parents with young kids. "Aiden, you are going to raise $5 to help with the mission trip. Here are some chores you can do to earn $5." Let the child bring the envelope himself or herself, and they will be so proud to turn it in.

Here's the cool part: If you do the math for adding sequential numbers, using envelopes for 1 to 100, no one is giving more than $100. But if all of them come back with their respective amounts, you will receive a total of $5,050.

If you're ambitious and do envelopes from 1 to 125, your total would be $7,875. Pretty amazing!

4. Retail and Restaurant Helps. These are great supplemental fundraisers.

- Chick-Fil-A has been really good to work with. You have a night where for a designated range of time, they will give you a percentage of all receipts submitted. I understand Zaxby's will do something similar.
- Kroger Refillable Gift Cards can be a great method to raise funds all year long. You get a set of gift cards that are all connected to the same charity account. The way it works is that people who agree to do this will get a gift card. Before you pay for your groceries, you fill up the gift card with the budget you want to spend on groceries. You then use the gift card to pay. When it's empty, you do not throw it away, but instead you refill it and continue to use it.

Basically, every time your group collectively recharges a total of $5,000, Kroger gives you 4% of that amount. ($200) That is not a huge amount, but with a lot of people shopping, it adds up quickly. I know of one group that generates a full $1,000/month using these cards.

The real benefit of these efforts is that it doesn't require any additional spending from your contributors. They spend what they would spend anyway to eat out or to buy groceries, and part of it goes to you.

5. Fundraiser Dinner. This is especially good for raising funds from people who do not attend your church. The dinner itself is simple: I get parents of trip participants to help coordinate food and decorations. We decorate using colors and themes from the country we're traveling to.

I put up a screen with images and videos, and make a presentation during the meal about the trip and our plans.

But the fundraising comes from the invitations. We make up packets for all our participants where each of them can send out 20 invitations. These are specifically not for our own church members. We invite our congregation through announcements and the bulletin, and they sign up if they want to come and contribute.

But in the mail, each of our kids sends these invitations out, inviting them to the informational dinner about the trip. We include a self-addressed, stamped envelope where they can respond by:
A. I plan to attend the dinner.
B. I cannot attend the dinner, but will be praying for you.
C. I cannot attend the dinner, but in addition to my prayers, I would like to contribute financially to your trip.

We mention the date of the dinner, but also give a separate fundraising deadline so that even if they can't come to the dinner, they know when we need donations by. This way the team doesn't have too much pressure to write letters well, or to reach out only to local people. They can send invitations to whomever they chose, and the self-addressed envelopes make it easy for people to respond. The picture here is from 2012. For last year, I actually got fluorescent colored envelopes that made the invites stand out a lot more.

6. Golf Tournament. I have to give mention to the annual Golf Tournament that Torch does near Nashville. Some have had great success with these. There are two ways you make money if a local golf course allows you to host a tournament:
a. You collect money from the golfers who pay to play. You can charge fees for individuals and for groups who sign up.
b. You can sell advertising signs to local businesses that will be placed on all the holes for the entire day, providing them with good PR. If you can find a good sign shop that will make up the signs with their desired artwork, you charge the company based on the size of the signs. Generally, you can make an enormous among of funding off of the signs especially.

This sort of event is incredible, but is also a lot of coordination. If you want to learn more about how the Western Hills Church of Christ organizes their annual Torch Golf Tournament, you can look over these materials to give you an idea of how their event is arranged.