Education is About Communal Restoration
Jesus, like all great teachers, was good at shocking people to their senses. Whether through parables or a prophetic word, Jesus created “aha moments” that would lead to opportunities for personal and social transformation. In continuing the mission Jesus taught us, we are called to the same vocation of communal restoration.
In Luke 4:16-20 he goes to his childhood synagogue on the Sabbath and chooses to read this part of the scroll from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of our God is upon me, because the Most High has anointed me to bring Good News to those who are poor. God has sent me to proclaim liberty to those held captive, recovery of sight to those who are blind, and release to those in prison–To proclaim the year of our God’s favor.”
Then the most-difficult part of his message comes. “Today, in your hearing, this scripture passage is fulfilled.”
“‘To proclaim the year of our God’s favor’ was to proclaim a Jubilee, to let the oppressed go free is to cancel debts, to let the poor back into the economy with their rightful stuff,” says Walter Brueggemann. He goes on to say, “the ministry of Jesus is criticism that leads to radical dismantling.”
Jesus’ teachings turned the status quo upside down and challenged his disciples (including you and me) to choose a new reality, one in favor of a greater social vision found in the Gospel. What would education look like if the contents supported cooperation, restoration, and illuminating giftedness in those gathered rather than a competitive race to the top for corporate advantage?
The missionaries serving Global Ministries must see this greater social vision because they enter some of the most challenging and dangerous situations, only to face mounting obstacles with access to limited resources. They must wonder at times if their work makes any difference at all, but they stay and live out this greater social vision. Surely “the spirit of our God” is upon them.
Accompanying families in occupied Palestine, missionaries John and Faye Buttrick learned first-hand about the life-draining obstacles confronting Palestinian families each day. There is the “inability to obtain permits to put up electricity, the limited use of a well to water crops,” and the arduous journey through multiple checkpoints that are designed to strain any effort to survive. Accompaniment is a witness to the Gospel and an act of restoration.
Elena Huegel, missionary, founder and chaplain of the Shalom Center in Chile writes, “The word acompañamiento in Spanish describes the kind of relationship that leads to transformation. Acompañamiento includes a strong physical and spiritual sensation of being in the presence of another person. This walking alongside is not only an emotional or intellectual exercise but a holistic commitment. The mutuality of acompañamiento creates a safe space, a container where deep listening, trust, appreciation and encouragement shape the learning process. The sanctuary of this relationship has room enough for trial and error, forgiveness and second chances.”
In the secular setting, relationships are being transformed and community is being restored through the Longmont Colorado Community Justice Partnership. The agency describes their goal: “Restorative justice is cutting-edge work that has deep roots in ancient tribal practices. The very nature of restorative justice lives in acknowledging that we are all in this together. Every person in a restorative justice process has a voice: victims ask for what would make things right for them, offenders take responsibility for the harm they have done, and community members speak to how we are all affected when crime or conflict occurs in our midst. It strengthens community … keeping 90% of the offenders who come through the program from becoming repeat offenders.”
In downtown Cleveland, the Refugee Empowerment Agricultural Program (REAP) is one of the largest urban farms in the nation. They employ refugees who have farming skills, who learn English and life-skills for living in the United States and who in turn yield fresh produce for a local shelter, market, and county housing complex. REAP also offers classes, for children of all ages, to learn about food production and distribution, biodiversity, nutrition, and farming.
Embracing this greater social vision calls us into relationship, collaboration within community and learning that can be messy work. Whether we live out this vision in local or global community, in sacred or secular work, may God bless us all with enough sense to believe that we can make a difference in this world, to do what others claim cannot be done. And may we trust in Jesus’s scriptures of justice and healing, through our work with the prompting of the Holy Spirit, that they are being fulfilled.
Tracy Carnes serves as Executive for Mission Education and Interpretation for Global Ministries.