The Gospel of Ruth

gospel of ruth banner

The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules, by Carolyn Custis James, is a fascinating book. While I’ve always enjoyed the book of Ruth, I’ve never taken the time to do a deep dive into it’s message and narrative. Unsurprisingly, there is far more to this short book of the Old Testament than many would assume.

James does a powerful job of dispelling the mistaken ways we romanticize the story through our modern cultural bias and instead brings light to how the ancient writer and readers would have read the text. What comes through are incredible lessons in hesed, in seeing the dramatic ways in which Ruth broke with expectations, how Boaz and Ruth both serve as incredible examples of kindness way beyond what was expected or required. James’ comments on Naomi’s story’s connections to the book of Job were eye opening for me.

Walking with God takes us into a sea of possibilities that stretch our capacity for sacrifice and our imagination for obedience, reminding us there’s always more to following God than we think. (p. 102)

All that to say, I really enjoyed this book. It’s definitely worth checking out. It’s fascinating to see how Ruth and Naomi pushed the cultural bounds and expectations. It’s amazing to learn about the response of Boaz and the community. This book really helps open the reader’s eyes to what God accomplishes and teaches through the book of Ruth.

Students and the Church free sermon resource

Students and the Church slide title blog

This is a sermon resource I put together based on a sermon I gave at my church, Brandywine Valley Baptist Church, in which I was challenging the church as a whole to be more intentional about integrating young people and children into the body and life of the church as a whole. The core of the message comes from Galatians 5:5, with input from current research and experts. The resource includes a sermon manuscript, powerpoint slides, graphics, and audio from when I gave the sermon. I hope it can be useful to other ministries! Click here to download it!

Lamentations: How to Grieve

Lamentations_title_slideblog

My latest resource just went live on the Download Youth Ministry website! It’s a three week teaching series on the book of Lamentations. I really enjoyed creating this one and taking my group through it; Lamentations is a powerful book with a lot to learn from. You can find the resource on the Download Youth Ministry website here. Here’s the official description:

Lamentations is a collection of five ancient poems that the Israelites would recite together as part of their grieving process. Students will learn some great principles for handling their grief today and ways to process it in a healthy, God-honoring way. Through the themes of God’s judgement, compassion, and sovereignty. students will find hope in their deepest suffering.

This is a complete three-week teaching resource that would work great as a sermon series for students, college-age students or even the church at large.

This Resource Includes:

  • Complete message manuscripts (Word files)
  • PowerPoint presentation file for each message
  • Student handouts – blank and filled-in (Word files)
  • Series graphics (jpeg files)
  • Resources and sources document (Word file)

Ethnos360 Victimizes Survivors of Abuse

In the early 90’s, I was a victim of abuse at an Ethnos360 boarding school. Over the past decade, the betrayal I have felt from the leadership of Ethnos360 has been far deeper than that of my abuser. Through their manipulation and misleading of former missionary kids (MK’s), rather than bringing healing, Ethnos360 has instead victimized the survivors of abuse entrusted to their care.

In 2012, Brian Shortmeier, the Director of Child Protection, and an NTM USA (now Ethnos360) Executive Board Member, wrote former mission kids, alerting us to what was called an “independent investigation process” led by IHART. Apparently the key word was “process.” Every missionary kid I have communicated with understood it the same as I did; that it was an independent, outside organization, contracted to investigate allegations in the same way that Ethnos360 had previously hired GRACE to investigate the Fanda boarding school run by Ethnos360.

I immediately reached out to IHART, not knowing it was actually a part of Ethnos360, to tell what I knew of abuse that happened to myself and others during my time at Tambo. I spoke with four investigators at length (all former detectives and police); I can only say good things about them. They were hired to travel the world, following up on every individual like myself that had come forward – my interactions with the investigators has me convinced of their desire to see justice happen. It was both painful and cathartic; I was shocked to find myself breaking down and sobbing as I gave the details of what I had witnessed and experienced during my time in Bolivia.

In a private Facebook group of other MK’s from Bolivia, I loudly affirmed to hundreds of my fellow MK’s that despite their mistrust of Ethnos360, they could trust IHART.

And then something completely unexpected happened. In November of 2014, an email was sent to MK’s who had participated in the investigation to let them know that Ethnos360 was removing Pat Hendrix as the lead of IHART and that Ethnos360 was placing one of their attorneys, Theresa Sidebotham, in charge instead. In what world is the client of an independent company allowed to get rid of the lead person and replace them with one of their lawyers? Had Ethnos360 been still working with GRACE, they would not have been able to get rid of Boz Tchividjian and replace him with a person of their choosing.

Ethnos360 was able to do this because IHART is Ethnos360. The “independent” process was not hired by Ethnos360; it was formed by Ethnos360. The trademark for the name IHART is registered and owned by Ethnos360.

After this came out, I was one of many that voiced my anger and feelings of being misled. The response in general from Ethnos360 was that we had somehow not paid attention enough, or misunderstood their use of the word “process.” I felt as though we were being patronized.

In an email conversation from February, 2015, between myself and Theresa Sidebotham, even she, who had been serving as one of Ethnos360’s lawyers through all of this before being appointed in charge of the IHART process, wrote; “I too misunderstood the structure of IHART initially, believing that it was Pat’s organization.” Clearly, not only did Ethnos360 not communicate the nature of IHART accurately to MK’s, even their own attorneys did not fully understand it. This intentional misleading happened in public communications as well in an effort to have the appearance of doing the right thing while retaining control and setting the narrative; in a 2013 interview a Chicago Tribune reporter was told that Ethnos360 “commissioned another agency to investigate similar claims in Bolivia, Panama and Brazil” after parting ways with GRACE. “Commissioned another agency” is not remotely an accurate description of the relationship between Ethnos360 and IHART.

For years I hoped for a positive outcome to these investigations. Instead, I have felt misled by the organization I trusted to do the right thing. I, and countless other missionary kids, were betrayed by Ethnos360’s process that led us to believe we were talking to an outside organization comparable to GRACE, only to find out that Ethnos360 had retained full control of the investigation and our stories. As I mentioned in a previous post, it came out in the ABWE report regarding abuse in their mission that leadership in Ethnos360 gave them advice to avoid truly independent investigation groups so they could “control the information” (p. 254), advice ABWE wisely chose not to follow. And ultimately, rather than release the names of the abusers they have discovered, as every other organization in recent years has done, Ethnos360 continues to hide and protect the identities of the abusers, content that they are no longer in their organization, with no thought to the damage they may be causing elsewhere.

This is why the betrayal I feel from the leadership of Ethnos360 cuts far deeper than the abuse I suffered at Tambo. Abusers are sick. But the leadership of a large mission organization? They should “care for the least of these” (Matthew 25), not the risk to their bottom line. And they certainly shouldn’t protect themselves by leaving survivors of abuse feeling betrayed and used.

Obadiah: Where Do You Find Your Joy?

Obadiah_title_image

My latest youth ministry resource is available on the Download Youth Ministry website (you can see what else is on the way here)! This is a one-shot lesson on the book of Obadiah. I had a lot of fun making this one; Obadiah is such a fascinating part of the Old Testament. You can purchase the resource here. Here’s the description:

Obadiah: Where Do You Find Your Joy?

This one-off message on Obadiah explores the history and relationship between the Israelites and the Edomites, challenging students to ask the question, “do I find my joy in my enemies’ suffering, or in their salvation?” Do we have the heart of God for the world around us, or would we prefer to see only those we like to know God?

This Resource Includes:

• Complete message manuscript (Word file)
• PowerPoint presentation file
• Student handout (Word file)
• Message graphics (jpeg files)

Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age (review)

Disruptive Witness Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age

I recently finished Alan Noble’s “Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age.” Noble’s goal in writing the book is to challenge the reader to a deeper, more disruptive (to the culture around us) faith, freed from the distractions of the technology and culture we are immersed in. I found the following passage particularly powerful:

We can adopt thin beliefs about almost anything. Perhaps you become deeply convicted about the plight of Syrian refugees after the US president callously calls for them to be banned. His words strike you as offensive, inhumane, and cruel. And while you may still harbor some unspoken suspicions about Middle Easterners after 9/11, this issue feels like the perfect opportunity to show your goodwill. The next time you see a meme showing refugee children with a superimposed verse about caring for the “least of these,” you decide not only to like it but to share it with your friends. This signals what your stance is on the issue and maybe something about your personal character, your open-mindedness and concern for foreigners. An argument breaks out on your post, with some of your distant relatives and old high school friends arguing over whether Islam is a religion of peace and whether “moderate Muslims” exist. You jump in to defend your position, citing lines of argument that you’ve picked up from other viral images or a John Oliver clip you watched on YouTube. You care about this issue passionately. There is a tremendous moral urgency to your writing, and you are even willing to anger and lose friends over your stance—a stance you adopted fifteen minutes prior, after seeing a compelling viral image on Facebook. Meanwhile, the foundation of your belief goes unquestioned. (p.45)

When he’s calling out these kinds of thin beliefs, the ways we allow ourselves to be distracted, disconnected – Noble really hits his stride. His challenge to live a life of faith that brings a witness to the world around us is a strong one. I found those parts of the book deeply compelling. In other parts, he critiques contemporary worship services, expresses his dissatisfaction with Vacation Bible School, and other modern attempts to bridge culture and faith. I wasn’t convinced that he was right that these approaches are wrong – just that they don’t resonate with him and his pursuit of God, and even found myself somewhat frustrated with his conclusions in those areas.

Overall, I’m glad I read the book. Having said that, it was a bit of a mixed bag for me; parts I loved, parts I found frustrating.