A “Hand Across,” not a “Handout”

Welcome to “Mission Monday”! These posts will flesh out and explore various aspects of LAMP Seminary RDU’s distinctive emphases and vision. This season of Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas gives us another opportunity to consider issues of poverty, injustice, and how to best use the resources God has given us. In the swirl of Black Friday (right after we stop and “give thanks” for all that we have, we scurry out to get more!), Cyber Monday, and now “Giving Tuesday,” many voices clamor for our monetary allegiance. Pictures of starving children appear in our inbox, we fill shoe-boxes with school supplies and toys, and perhaps serve a Thanksgiving meal for the homeless. It seems that in our annual economic stampede to acquire more and give gifts to others, we also feel to pull bless those who have so little. This is a good and noble desire. God commands it, and promises to bless it (Proverbs 19:17-“Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.”) It reflects God’s nature, as the God who gives his gifts with outlandish liberality and generosity.

But, whenever we give (whether it be our time or our money), we can unintentionally reinforce negative patterns of dependency, paternalism, or even our selfish pride. We’ve all heard the slogan that we want to give a “hand up,” not a “hand out.” I’ve used it myself, repeatedly. However, Soong Chan-Rah challenges this way of thinking and speaking.

Soong-Chan-Rah-e1480536397434

According to his web-site, Chan Rah is professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary and formerly was the, “founding Senior Pastor of the Cambridge Community Fellowship Church (CCFC), a multi-ethnic, urban ministry-focused church committed to living out the values of racial reconciliation and social justice in the urban context.” His book, Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church, is essential reading for anyone trying to engage in cross-cultural ministry. Given the changing demographics of the US, this book should really be essential reading for any pastor or leader in ministry. Rah challenges the “hand up” phrase & its implications:

many colors

“I participated in a missions conference that focused on the need to reach the new immigrants moving to the suburbs. The attendees were mostly white suburbanites who were struggling with how they would reach the growing number of first- and second-generation immigrants who were moving into their community. One speaker stated, ‘It’s not about a handout, but a hand up.’ The gathered participants vigorously nodded their heads and voiced their approval. I wondered, however, what was actually meant by that comment.

“Our participation in the mission of God is not actually about either a handout or a hand up. ‘Handout’ implies that one person has more than the other and therefore the one with everything is giving to the one who has nothing. Sometimes, there may even be an implication that the one who has nothing doesn’t deserve the handout. At minimum, there is the very real danger of developing a paternalistic attitude toward those we are helping.

“But a ‘hand up’ implies that one party is trying to lift another from a bad place to a good place. Often, that means taking someone out of their cultural milieu and social context to bring them to a better place–my place. Usually, that means the adaptation of the person receiving the hand up to the norms and culture of the those extending it.

“I think both the handout and the hand up are inadequate in describing a very real kingdom value of the relationship between God’s people. It is neither a hand out nor a hand up–it is a hand across. We are all made equally in the image of God. We are all equally depraved as a result of sin. Our cultures are equally reflective of God’s glory yet equally limited by human folly. We need a hand out and a hand up, not from each other, but from our Savior. No human effort (no matter how sophisticated or well-intentioned) can pull us (all of us) out of our fallen state. We need Jesus to offer us His nail-pierced hands. We now become co-laborers and co-seekers of the kingdom of God. We are called to pursue God’s kingdom together in partnership and not under the duress of paternalism. As we look for ways to cross cultures and develop cultural intelligence, we need to understand the impact and role of complex power dynamics. We need to continue to seek authentic partnerships across the racial, ethnic, and cultural divide but not ignore the reality of a preexisting imbalanced power dynamic,” (Many Colors, pgs, 121-122).

I won’t even try to begin to unpack all of the ramifications of Rah’s vision here. It speaks to what we are trying to do at LAMP Seminary RDU on many different levels. As a seminary site in the LAMP national network, our vision is:

“In a small ­class/mentoring environment
Using resources of the local church
And intentionally targeting multi-ethnic students 
Provide seminary training at an affordable cost 
Resulting in developing pastors and leaders for the local church in the Greater Triangle”

We are intentionally bringing together pastors, teachers, and students from different ethnicities and backgrounds. As we do this, we need to be very aware of the cultural assumptions, preferences, and privilege that we bring to the table. And, rather than thinking we are giving theological “handouts,” we truly desire to offer a “hand across.” “Mission Monday” posts will explore this further, and will offer short reviews of helpful books, articles, and talks that motivate and guide us as we pursue this difficult, but urgent, work.

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