Yes, In Our Backyards: On Global Thinking and Local Actions

Contributed by Jenny Selig

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Image by Nick Bastian, used by permission creativecommons.org

By now (especially if you’ve been following these blog posts), you’ve probably heard of the international Fair Trade movement. For most U.S. Americans who seek to do so, participation means looking for Fair Trade certified chocolates, coffee, sugar, herbs, wine, and other goods to purchase in stores and online. These products are shipped from a wide variety of international locations, and that Fair Trade logo on a package is a sign, we hope, that we are, by our purchases, promoting sustainability in economic markets and supporting international workers who are treated with dignity and compensated well. By extension, when we request and purchase Fair Trade products, we trust it supports the communities in which those workers live and produce their goods.

Purchasing Fair Trade products is economic social justice work that may feel practical even to people who would never consider themselves economic activists.Though it is not an option everyone feels she can afford, it is a way that one person can make a difference. It’s meaningful even on a small scale, but it doesn’t need to be limited to changes in the shopping habits of private individuals and families. Whole communities are banding together to pledge their support of Fair Trade values in an active, participatory way. There are now “Fair Trade Towns” in the United States, where neighbors work through a 5-step process (outlined on the Fair Trade Campaigns’ website) that is designed to link whole cities with Fair Trade values, products, and purveyors. There are Fair Trade universities, congregations (officially launching in “early 2014”) and schools, too. It’s possible that your town already has one or more community campaigns underway.

Pledging to support the international Fair Trade movement with your friends, neighbors, fellow students, or congregants — in partnership with local businesses — is an exciting way to further this international cause. It can be exciting when the actions we take together are organized to connect us here at home, even as we support our foreign partners. Check out this online map to find campaigns near you and get involved — or launch a campaign yourself!

Another way we can work to build community at home is to support the many local and national programs that empower disenfranchised, disadvantaged, and oppressed US residents. To give you an idea of the variety of these programs, here are some organizations I found on VolunteerMatch.org, a great website to search if you feel moved to offer time, money, clothing, or other resources to these sorts of causes:

These are just a few examples, of course, and a list like this just begins to describe the efforts going on all over the nation to lend a hand to those most in need. These programs create community, identify blind spots, and enhance the connections we’ve already formed.

It’s no great leap to suggest our global economy means we are all connected to each other. The strands that link us form a complex web, or net; it covers the earth. Between each point and the next, any person and another, is a relationship, and these relationships are sensitive to both damage and repair — to nurture and neglect. Economic empowerment is a tool; it makes a good gift. With it, we can choose to make each other stronger. We can fill the net, tighten it, narrow the gaps, and reach out to those who are slipping through. When we lend our attention and thoughtful support to those in need, abroad or at home, we work to strengthen the bonds between us all.

This post is part of an ongoing series on economic empowerment in your own backyard. Purchasing fair trade and through alternative markets can have both local and global impact. Click on “economic empowerment” in the category list of this blog to read other posts on the topic.

This blog post has been contributed by Jennette Selig, blogger at snackreligious.blogspot.com. Jenny lives in New York City and attends Judson Memorial Church in Washington Square Park. Having been raised by two American Baptist ministers, she enjoys a good potluck as much as any fine dining experience. When not taking pictures of snack foods or her toddler, she works as an audiobook narrator and postpartum doula.

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Diaspora Missions

Contributed by Marcia and Duane Binkley

Our work since 2006 has been to connect Baptist churches in the U.S. with refugees from Burma being resettled throughout America by the U.S. government. Knowing the situation of the Karen in Thai refugee camps, we marvel at their ability to adapt to a U.S. lifestyle, language and culture. We have also been pleased to see so many U.S. churches with no prior cross-cultural experience extend Christian hospitality and acceptance to these newest Americans. With 90,000 from Burma already in the U.S., over 250 new churches and congregations have been started. The largest Baptist church-planting program in America today is the U.S. government’s refugee resettlement program!

While learning of refugee resettlement in the U.S., our eyes have been opened to the many other people and language groups living in America. Others in Christian circles are noticing as well and a fledgling movement is being started that some call Diaspora Missions. The idea is that by reaching the international communities living in America, our local churches will grow and the world could be reached without leaving the country.

Virtually every major city in America and many smaller towns and cities are now home to populations speaking languages and belonging to cultures from everywhere on the globe. The U.S. census estimates “over 300” languages are spoken in homes in the U.S.A., and Global Research of the Southern Baptist’s International Mission Board lists 541 “unreached people groups” living in America. However, many of us, and many of the churches we attend, don’t recognize the international nature of America today. When contact is made with people speaking something other than English, we see them as separate. Some churches may invite a non-English speaking group to use “their” building, but often there is a feeling of “us” and “them”. For still others, the response has been to wait until newcomers learn English and have assimilated. Only after they become one of “us” will they be welcomed.

A quick survey of the Bible indicates God wants us to take a different approach. When Moses came down from the mountain with the stone tablets with his face still shining from being in the presence of God, one of the first things he said to the people of Israel was, “And you are to love those who are aliens” (Deut. 10:19). Throughout the Old Testament that command is repeated and we’re told the same rules apply to strangers, foreigners, and aliens that apply to us.

In the New Testament, Jesus’ cross-cultural encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well illustrates his love for those considered different. Then, in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit came, there were at least 15 language groups represented. In Acts 11, Peter was at first criticized for taking the Gospel to non-Jews until he explained his dream. When it was apparent everyone could receive the Holy Spirit, Peter said, “So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think I could oppose God?” (Acts11:17) Peter seems to say when we don’t welcome the stranger, alien and foreigner, we oppose God. Ouch!

Recently, on a plane ride I sat next to an East European who came to the U.S. as a refugee several years ago. He has done well materially and has a high-paying job. After explaining that I was working with refugees from Burma and trying to connect churches with them, he looked hurt and asked, “Why did no church try to connect with us?”

I pass on his question for us to consider. As individual Christians, churches, organizations, and denominations, why aren’t we connecting more with the foreigner, stranger, and alien living near to us? Often, the main thing newcomers want is acceptance and a chance to be the people God made them to be. Our Lord accepts us as we are so, in turn, his church should be the first place newcomers to America should find acceptance. In the words of Peter, “Who are we to oppose God?”

(View a gallery of photos from multicultural church gatherings!)

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medium_DSC_0066Duane and Marcia Binkley are missionaries to the Karen in the U.S. and Thailand, jointly appointed by American Baptist Churches USA and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.