Two recent guest speakers at Erskine College highlighted the focus on human flourishing that is part of THRIVE, Erskine President Dr. David Norman’s “Presidential Initiative for Human Restoration.”
Dr. Steven Garber, founder of the Washington Institute on Faith, Vocation and Culture, spoke about “The Role Work Plays in Worship” at a THRIVE convocation Sept. 20, and the Rev. Andy Jones, director of stewardship development at the Chalmers Center for Economic Development at Covenant College, took on the topic of poverty at a chapel program Oct. 2.
Garber began his convocation address with a basic assertion: “I am responsible, implicated in the way the world turns out.”
He offered a disturbing example of what can happen when such an affirmation is lacking, recounting a 2011 incident in which employees at an Apple Store in Maryland heard a woman’s cries for help from a neighboring clothing store, listened at the adjoining wall, then did nothing.
The woman was murdered, stabbed more than 300 times.
“What does it mean to know?” he asked. “If you have ‘knowledge of,’ you have ‘responsibility to’ and you have ‘care for.’”
Garber stressed the importance of “connecting what you believe with the way you live your life” and resisting the temptation to “protect the heart from the implications of what you know.”
One of the stories Garber told, describing them as “windows into work well done” was that of Jena Lee Nardella, co-founder and CEO of Blood:Water Mission. She met the members of Jars of Clay, a Christian band, when she was a 21-year-old student at Whitworth University and, as she says on her website, “convinced them to hire me to establish their nonprofit organization.” Blood:Water Mission has raised more than $15 million to help provide access to safe water and establish HIV clinics in Africa.
“It’s a broken, wounded world,” Garber said. He urged students to do “the work of mending—that’s good work.”
Jones, who said he hoped members of the Erskine community might come away with their “eyesight adjusted a bit,” having gained “a different way of looking at poverty, and even a different way of looking at yourself,” read Psalm 139:14: “I will praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
He recalled his visit to a homeless center in Portland, Oregon, where ways of caring for the clientele were based on research into how formerly homeless people had gotten off the streets. The key to the transition out of homelessness seemed to be relationships.
“God brought people into their lives,” Jones said.
At the Oregon center, treating homeless people “as people who are fearfully and wonderfully made” included providing name badges with real first and last names—no nicknames from the street—and also encouraging “heads up” at all times—no napping while slumped over a table. No one was to be treated simply as a statistic.
“Becoming aware of the fact that you are uniquely, wonderfully made changes the way you see yourself, the way you see others, and the way you treat the poor and oppressed,” Jones said.
Many people might define poverty as “not being able to pay your bills,” or roughly, “not having enough stuff,” Jones said. But he cited a World Bank survey in which people who had experienced poverty described it as “being an outcast,” “feeling less than human,” and “not accepted, known, loved, cared for.”
Focusing on poverty as “not a financial issue, but a relationship issue,” Jones said, “When humans flourish, it is because of relationships,” right relationships with God, self, and others.
“The poor need us to walk with them,” he said.
Knowing that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” means “You’re not unique because of what you’ve achieved—you’re exceptional because God says so.”
Looking at another human being, including the one who is poor and oppressed, through this scriptural lens, is to see “This is a person made in God’s image.”
“Every glimpse we get” of ourselves and others as bearers of God’s image, Jones said, “should drive us back” to acclaim the opening words of Psalm 139:14: “I will praise You.”
Erskine College junior Hannah Collins of Fountain Inn, a member of the THRIVE Committee, expressed enthusiasm for both speakers and said she found the opportunities to interact with them outside the formal settings of convocation and chapel “very helpful and highly enjoyable.”
“It was evident that they cared,” she said, noting that both speakers demonstrated “genuine interest in students’ thoughts and concerns” and took extra time to answer questions.