Worldwide, Christians are the single most persecuted religious group worldwide. This fact was confirmed by a Pew Center report issued just last week that focused on government restrictions and social hostility against religious groups. What I have noticed about US Christians is that we tend to idealize, or paint an unrealistic picture of the persecuted church in places like China. Why do we persist in idealizing them? Why do painful torture, social ostracism, long imprisonments, and, sometimes, often-cruel death lead to rhetorical exaggerations like those behind this story on the number of Christians executed each year for their faith?
This past spring international student minister, Mike Krajnak, took a group of seven students through Wilberforce Academy’s Redemptive Change Agents program. In this Q&A he shares his own experience as well as some advice to others who might be interested in taking their students through the program.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the journey was the direction the students chose to go with their change project.
What is your background and how did you come to try the Redemptive Change Agents study with your students?
I work with International Friendships Incorporated and reach out to international students here in Ohio. I’ve volunteered for them since 2010 and then I came on staff last year. I’m actually coming from a professional computer career, but this past year I felt called to step into ministry full-time.
As for the study itself, I’m running a discipleship training program for some of our students and we always want them to have a social project that they spend time putting together and thinking through. Bob suggested that we just fold the Change Agents study into this, and it seemed like a good fit.
How did you prepare your students to engage with the study?
Before the first lesson we watched the 1-hour YouTube movie The Better Hour together. Most of them had never heard of Wilberforce and had no idea what it was like during that period in time, both with slavery and the difficulties in making change. The movie helped them put things in context.
(Note: an additional option is to watch Amazing Grace, if your group has more time.)
What demographic of students were you working with?
We had seven students from China, Thailand, and India. There was a mix of bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and one of the students joined us remotely via Google Meet Up. There was also a variety in spiritual maturity: some had been Christians for a long time, others for only one or two years. I would say that their English level was fairly high.
What was your relationship to these students prior to starting the study?
Each of these students had become involved with our discipleship training during the past year, so we were taking a group of students we felt we already knew fairly well for our first run with this study.
We always want to have a social project for our discipleship students to take part in, and dovetailing that with the Redemptive Change Agents Study worked well.
How did the students come up with the societal issue that they would seek to address?
I made it clear from the beginning of the discussion that the project they chose had to be something meaningful to both the American and their own cultures so they could take it back home and it would make a difference.
They started brainstorming after the third lesson. Some of the ideas they came up with didn’t cross all cultures and some felt too big for them to address in the time we had available. Through a series of votes, the students decided that a concern they all shared and that they could actually do something about was abortion.
Once the students chose the societal issue they wanted to address, what steps did they take to make sure they truly understood root problems related to the issue?
We visited Heartbeat, an organization that specialized in preventing abortions, as well as watched the movie Unplanned. They also spent time discussing what they knew about the abortion crisis in each of their home cultures.
Ok, so now they had a deeper understanding of root issues…how did they come to a decision about what to do for their actual project?
The challenge is that Wilberforce did some great stuff, but it’s many years ago and we’ve got to make the bridge between what was happening back then and what is happening now.
Some of the ways that Wilberforce got through to things are not going to work in dictatorships, so they had to say, ok, we can’t hope that some like Wilberforce comes up and makes a stand. This has got to be done a totally different way.
We asked, “What did Wilberforce do?” The answer was that he actually started by educating people…the common people. So they decided that a grassroots project focused on their peers would be best.
Ultimately, they chose to design a relationship seminar that would help people make better decisions in their relationships. The goal of this was to get closer to the heart-root of the problem, instead of chopping at the stems and leaves above the surface.
The seminar would also specifically address the issue of abortion, in ways aimed to connect with their international peers.
What do you feel helped your students become so excited about taking on this project:
I really think that because we started by watching the movie about Wilberforce, and then went on to watch Unplanned, these stories helped really make them on fire about actually doing something practical.
What suggestions would you give to someone just preparing to take students through the project?
Start with the movie to give them context, and before or after that give some background information on the politics of the issue of slavery as well as how government worked at that time, as many international students come from non-democratic cultures. (It might help if you read a little about England’s system of government ahead of time so that you can answer some basic questions they may have.)
We did need closer to two hours to get through the materials. This may depend on how many people you have as well as their English level. We had a group of seven, which necessitated more discussion time.
Also be prepared to explain what “the better hour” means, as for some it was not immediately clear.
It can also be helpful to share a more recent example of a change agent from a non-western country. (One to consider: social reformer and Christ-follower James Yen.)
Do you think that this is a program you would do again?
Yes, we are considering doing in this next school year as part of our discipleship program…I felt that we did a pretty good job of covering the materials last time and had some great results from the students, both in the discussions and the process of working on the project.
I suggest church leaders should teach Christians that they are citizens of two kingdoms, with dual loyalties. Thus, we must carefully balance music that exalts the Savior and His goodness to our nation. This is an especially important issue for most of my students who come from nations where the long-term influence of Christianity has been absent or muted at best (e.g., India and China). How do they faithfully cherish their citizenship in God’s Kingdom while citizens of nations without a Christian heritage?
If you’ve interacted with those of us at Wilberforce Academy at all you’ve probably bumped into this idea of a five-part model for social change. But what exactly is that model? Where does it come from?
In Part One, we discovered the central fact about corruption, namely, that it lies within each human being by virtue of the reality of original sin. Thus, efforts to control and bridle this global “beast” will not succeed if we merely rely upon policy, economic, or legal solutions; rather, we must find a way to control the problem within each of us. Part Two aims to not only demonstrate the full impact of personal corruption, but also the ultimate hope for controlling and bridling it.
I wrote the book Taming the Beast: Can We Bridle the Culture of Corruption? because of my work as a campus minister amongst international students at the University of Minnesota for the past 30 years. Early on, as we sat together with our Cokes, or cups of tea in the case of most Asians, I found that the single most aggravating fact of life back home in their countries was corruption.
It’s just a matter of time before another mass killer once again bloodies our streets, our homes, our schools, and our concert venues with a rain of bullets. Since the 1999 Columbine massacre, we Americans have learned to expect the worst. The scary reality, though, is that we know very little about what is behind America’s mass killings, and so we have come to call them “senseless.”
Now, at the end of the second decade in the 21st century, something new is hitting many of our churches: a social justice ideology that is, as I wrote a few weeks ago, “anti-biblical, borrows heavily from the postmodern worldview which aims to redistribute power (Marx aimed to do the same with wealth), and…is becoming a kind of false religion.” Has a postmodern version of the old social gospel reared its ugly head inside churches where it once, at least during the fundamentalist era, was rejected?
It’s time for me to tell you how Wilberforce Academy is helping prepare them as Christian nation-builders, to use a term that my friend Vishal Mangalwadi has often used. To explain how we do it, I must first highlight the 21stacademic backdrop: Our academic institutions are graduating cynical secular postmodernists, on the one hand, and, inadvertently and indirectly, fueling radical Islamism, on the other (as I suggest when I address the case of Sayd Qutb below). At the Wilberforce Academy, by contrast, we believe God wants us to help shape men and women filled with hope, skills, and commitment for redemptive change because they follow Jesus Christ.
Citizens of Zimbabwe (southern Africa) and Venezuela (northern South America), once known as successful, thriving countries, are starving. And now, in early 2019, the populations of both have reached the boiling point, frustrated by authoritarian dictatorships that recklessly assault those protesting incompetent corrupt, and brutal leadership. In the past several weeks, as dozens have died at the hands of the militaries in both countries, Venezuela’s crisis has reached a tipping point that may have great significance for the future of Zimbabwe as well.
My friend Scott Allen, President of Disciple Nations Alliance, recently blew the fog hornfor evangelical ships tempted to sail into the inviting waters of social justiceideology: “Stay clear, lest you undermine your faith by crashing upon unseen obstacles!” His article is a must-read, and will shock you at the extent to which social justice ideology, which defines justice strictly in terms of desirable outcomes for the poor and minorities, has penetrated the evangelical orbit.
Modern, Western culture wants us to concentrate on ourselves, all little Narcissuses staring at our reflections in the pool. That’s a problem for people made for community and for love, not merely the transmission of a gene pool.
Our friends at Minneapolis-based Intellectual Takeout have just published Bob Osburn's latest blog, which explores a scenario rarely if ever discussed these days: The beginning of America's slide into tyranny (which is no foregone conclusion, by any means) will begin with the Social Security trust fund crisis that will explode into prominence no later than 2028, ten years from now. Dr. Osburn suggests that Congressional inaction and polarization will make the US president (whomever that is at the time) a hero. And why? For acting as an autocrat who, by executive or emergency decree, will solve the problem and thus rescue America from a mortal policy crisis while creating a tyrannical presidency. What do you think about this scenario? Will the five-step program (that Dr. Osburn designed and recommends) help avert this outcome?
As I suggested in my last blog “The Rejection of a Christian Moral Consensus and America’s Political Polarization,” the best hope for our divided nation would be the re-embrace of Christian culture. But, absent that ideal outcome and notwithstanding the Economist magazine’s doubts, I settle for a better hope that goes by the wonderfully prosaic name “Better Angels.”
Politically centrifugal forces--- those that drive Americans from the moderate (not mushy) center to radical political extremes on the Left and Right ---are winning the day in America because the Christian cultural consensus that once united them is long gone. And the elite-motivated effort to substitute a progressive culture is not only failing, but actually drives Americans farther apart.
Why did I feel such revulsion when our American president uttered a profane description of nations in Africa (and the nation of Haiti)? First, I work with international students from around the world, and I do not want to unnecessarily offend them. Secondly, I am deeply concerned that our president is degrading the American people, and especially members of his political party as well as his core support base (evangelicals) in ways previously unimaginable and tragic.
I never took a music appreciation course, but, with carols playing in our family room this Christmas Eve, something is very clear: Christmas music is beautiful. Where else in the pantheon of the world’s great religions and philosophies is there anything that rivals this aural beauty? Could it be that not only has the Gospel produced unparalleled masterpieces that are feasts for the eyes and ears, but that Christianity is the only plausible explanation for beauty itself?
Ever since the 1960s when confident, brassy Baby Boomers rejected what I often call the Christian cultural consensus, we have been struggling to find what unites Americans. Sports? Ephemeral and fleeting. Freedom? A treasured ideal twisted into a license to speed past all the traditional sexual stop signs. Flag? A valuable symbol that, apart from our armed forces, inspires far less sacrifice than it ought. It seems as if we are so brittle that we break into cultural and political ice floes, our separate groups adrift on rolling, turbulent seas.
Rather than meaningless slugs whose only satisfactions are power, prestige, sex, and drugs, every one of us are invested with a two-fold purpose: 1) Wisely steward the natural resources God has given us in the first place; and 2) Apply God-given rationality and creativity in order to create, out of those natural resources, new products and services that can further enhance God’s glory and ensure human flourishing.
I want to make the case that evangelical campus ministry needs to shed its guerrilla image and embrace an institutional presence where Jesus is the vital, dynamic center and reason for everything we do.