by Mark Thompson
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Brazil IN
I enjoyed hearing about God working throughout the state of Indiana from other participants in the Cohort. Not only was God working before the Program began, God inspired new direction to each participant as we learned from each other and from the thoughtful content of the experience.
I have connected with other pastors in meaningful ways and will forever treasure our times together. I maintain connections and friendships established by our Cohort. The one thing I miss most is the regular gathering of my Cohort and the leaders Libby and Derek. Libby is the most gracious, yet purposeful person I have ever met. Derek is by far the most educated, yet fun person I have ever been around.
We were introduced to the leaders of our state in every area of importance. We had personal conversations with people we would never have been able to connect with outside of this program. Not only did we glean incredible insight from influential leaders, but they also wanted to hear from us, the local church pastor.
I have new eyes to view my own community. Before the Program, I felt under resourced. I knew problems existed, but I was not seeking help. I was focused on the marginalized of my community and those without resources. I was losing the fight. During the second gathering, I was challenged to engage my community from a different direction. I began connecting with my community leaders instead of focusing all of my time with those in need. I found people wanting to help. Due to my new inter-denominational experience of the Program, I was able to connect with other churches. Together, we are accomplishing amazing work for the Kingdom.
I can identify technical changes and the need for technical fixes. I can now minimalize time and effort working toward solutions realizing the difference between technical and adaptive change. An example of technical change would be a food pantry to help those in poverty. If a church wants to feel like they are helping those in poverty, a technical solution would be a food pantry.
Adaptive change is much more complex than technical. Adaptive change asks the “Why” question. More time is spent identifying the root causes and in depth solutions. Instead of a technical answer like a food pantry to help those in poverty, adaptive change will ask “why” is there poverty. The next step in adaptive change is theological. The questions emerges, “In light of who God is, what should we be doing?” to identify the direction taken. In my own context of ministry we hand deliver lunches every day of the summer to over 600 kids in my county. The delivery of lunch is a technical fix. In addition to lunch deliver, my church offers free child care to teenage mothers to help them stay in school. This service answers the question, “Why are kids in poverty and what can we do about it?” The answer takes more resources and happens at a slower rate. Both types of change are needed. Adaptive change is systemic. The Program helped me understand the needs of my community and what the church can do to meet the needs.
I learned so much about my own community exploring an area that seemingly looks nothing like the small city of Brazil, Indiana where I pastor. I learned many approaches and opportunities for ministry. I was moved to see the value of the church in a city whose inhabitants are known for no religious affiliation. I had the opportunity to worship with the Japanese Baptist Church. The church still holds on to many stories from World War II where many parishioners were held in internment camps and the church would take care of their homes and possessions.
By visiting the most unequal place in the world, the inequalities of my own country became more apparent. South Africa is the most amazing place I have ever gone or will ever go in my life. I saw penguins and ostriches on the beach. Are you kidding me?
I also witnessed mass and extreme poverty on a level that is inhumane. I heard theologians take responsibility and ownership for the history of racial discrimination and hate. I understand rioting and violence and what drives those who participate to such extreme measures. I also was honored to sit in the wisdom of Rev. Peter Storey as he dispensed first-hand account of the aftermath of apartheid and its continuance today in another form. I met a local store owner who sounded much like a local store owner in Indiana. She complained about those in college who felt entitled to a free education just because they were black and in poverty. Twenty hours from home and I heard the same arguments except the gap of injustice in South Africa was much farther. But is it?
I felt a call to ministry in high school. I was discouraged by many adults telling me I would be wasting the mind God gave me and that I should become a doctor or lawyer. I felt the local church pastor was the greatest career path I could take. I have always felt rewarded in the most altruistic sense, but this program showed great appreciation for this high-calling and honorable work. The cohort was treated with the utmost respect and dignity by all persons encountered from those who came to Wabash to meet us to those we traveled to meet. The leaders of the Cohort went beyond any expectation to accommodate our needs and to treat us as they would any celebrity. I learned more from this experience to understand my role as pastor to a community than I did from my time in seminary. Seminary helped me in orthodoxy and this Program was orthopraxy.
When we met with the representatives from the Lilly Endowment, we were told the Endowment believes the greatest way to help the local community was to help the local church through the pastor. I have always believed this. I was touched and pleasantly surprised to hear an organization of this caliber not only believe it and simply state it, but then resource it. The vision of this Program is to educate, lead, and feed the vision of the local church pastor. My community is a completely different place. Because of my participation in this Program, churches come together in Brazil to work as one and each time we meet, I see the true Body of Christ.