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Embezzlement in the Church

This is an excellent article on tithing in the Church by my pastor, Ray Mayhew. He compares contemporary Christian giving to the generosity of the Church in history. Embezzlement: The Corporate Sin of Contemporary Christianity?

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Operation World on Moldova

February Update from Galati

Dear Friends,

I am writing you in the midst of a hard winter. The past three weeks have been incredibly cold. Here in Galati it got down to -22 C (-8 F). On top of that, we have had lots of snow. Both last week and this week, there were days when the roads, train-lines, and the Danube were blocked off. That has led to grocery stores with empty shelves. But the weather has been worse in other parts of the country where houses are completely immersed in snow, there is no access to well-water, it is difficult to get wood from the sheds to the houses, and where villages are cut off from food. Dozens of people, especially the elderly or those living on the streets, have died from the cold. Thankfully, the families with whom we have relationships have managed to get hold of firewood and most of the children have been able to get to school.

I would ask you to pray for one of our kids, who I’ll call Catalin. His mother has some mental problems, which causes conflicts between her and Catalin. Catalin has a degenerative eye disease, which has made it difficult for him to stay in school. But he manages his eye problem with some thick glasses. Although Catalin often stays home to help his mother clean their house or to buy groceries from the market or to carry in water, he also avoids his mother, spending time with his friends. During one of the nights when the temperatures dropped below -20 C (-6 F), Catalin’s mother sent him to buy cigarettes. Catalin returned a few hours later without the cigarettes. So, his mother refused to let him in the house. He slept in a shack next to his house under some blankets. The next few days Catalin stayed with neighbors. Although he feels hurt and rejected, he wept when the mother of some of his neighbors gave him her dinner so that he could eat. Catalin eventually went to the police and convinced them to come talk to his mother. At the insistence of the police, his mother let him back in the house. But because he brought the police, she broke his glasses, which means that Catalin hasn’t been able to go to school. Please pray for Catalin and for his mother.

A census was taken last year in Romania. While most of the data won’t be published for another year or two, an initial report has come out on the state of the population of Romania’s cities. It is not an encouraging picture. In the last 10 years, the overall population of Romania has decreased by 2.68 million. Of the five cities with populations over 300,000 in 2002, now there are only two: Cluj-Napoca and Timisoara. Galati lost the most inhabitants. Galati lost 22.56% of its population. In 2002, there were 298,589 people. In 2011, there were 231,204. This has devastating affects on the city, on the economy, and on families. Please pray that this trend of mass-migration would cease, and pray for the development of our cities in Romania.

In January, I started another series of literacy lessons. We had 6 people enroll, but 3 are coming consistently. And they have made incredible progress in a short period of time. Please keep these new friends in your prayers. We pray that they not only learn to read, but are also drawn to God through our time together.

Next week I will be with our community in Chisinau, Moldova. We’ll be working together on a tactical plan. Please pray for the community, for the children that they are ministering among, and for their witness in the city.

We are planning a Regional Retreat in May for our communities from Romania, Moldova and Sierra Leone. Although it’s difficult for our friends from Sierra Leone to get visas for Romania, we have started the application process. Please pray that we obtain those visas. And please pray for the planning of the regional retreat.

Thank you for lifting us up before the Father,

david and lenutsa

Challenging Politically Engaged Christians

A challenge to left-leaning Christians: in what areas are your views distinctly different from the Democratic party-line?

A challenge to right-wingish Christians: in what areas do you disagree with the Republican party-line?

Ideation Talk by Chris Heuertz

Is this class warfare?

‘Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
‘Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

‘But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
‘Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
‘Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.

Neamtu and the New Republic

Last week, I had the opportunity to go to Braila (Galati’s neighbor city) and listen to Mihail Neamtu – a young Romanian theologian whose writings I have followed over the past few years. I am a fan. Recently, he has established a political movement called the New Republic (Noua Republica), which will soon become a political party.

Noua Republică Neamtu explained the concept of the New Republic whose logo is a tree, rooted in Romania’s long tradition and extending upward towards Romania’s future.

Neamtu criticized Romania’s government, which since the fall of communism in 1989 has claimed to be socialist. The socialist government has promised to provide education, health care, and the security of the police. However, students are obliged to pay all sorts of fees. If they want to succeed in school, they have to pay for tutors. As for health care, one must pay for needles, syringes and medicine, not to mention paying bribes for nurses and doctors to provide medical care. As for the police force, there are cities in which the police is impotent in the face of mafias and the illegal underworld. While this is nothing controversial or surprising, Neamtu simply pointed out that the government claims to be socialist – something that many citizens would affirm without hesitation – but largely fails to deliver on its claims.

In opposition to the narrative of socialism, Neamtu is promoting the New Republic as a party on the right of center – something missing from the political spectrum in Romania. In his discourse, Neamtu drew on the ancient Greek idea of the agora: the public square in which civic discourse and commerce take place. Neamtu said that in today’s economy in Romania, the agora is dysfunctional. Instead of a context of free trade and in which competition creates expertise and specialization, Romania has a clientele economy. There are clients who are privileged in the marketplace because of friendship and family or because of bribery or blackmail. This cultivates corruption and impedes development.

While Neamtu didn’t mention that the ancient agora also privileged a certain clientele – namely the male, landowning citizens – he did advocate for laissez-faire capitalism in which agriculture, industry, technology and investment are encouraged. This he sees as a response that will alleviate poverty in Romania. Neamtu also articulated the hope for a country in which Romanians would not feel impelled to migrate in order to succeed, but rather are encouraged to participate in building a country that could be passed on to future generations. While his promotion of personal investment, responsibility and work is a welcome and appropriate response to the present needs in Romania, Neamtu failed to address the weaknesses of globalization and consumerism.

At the moment, the New Republic is at the stage of articulating its ideas and ideals and of recruiting adherents. Realistically, I don’t see the New Republic being elected to office – at least in the short-term. But it can and increasingly is introducing new ideas into the public debate. And it can stimulate fresh imagination for the politically conservative.

I appreciate that Neamtu is not organizing the party around himself but rather around values. It remains to be seen who are the personalities, other than Neamtu, that will publicly promote this new party. The party’s stated values are: citizens, people, justice, free trade, faith, memory and the voice of future generations. However, there is need for these values to be better described and less ambiguous. For example, the New Republic describes citizens as participants in civic society and not simply consumers. But what do they mean by “faith,” especially in an increasingly context of religious pluralism?

Also, as Neamtu declares the New Republic being a movement of the middle-class, how do they reconcile the middle-class with right-wing politics that, speaking strictly as a historical posture, sides with the bourgeois and, speaking contemporarily, has facilitated the increasing disparity between the upper and middle-class as wealth is more and more concentrated in the hands of a smaller and smaller minority?

I am also looking for proposals from the New Republic on how it will not simply critique but concretely address corruption, the client economy, the development of commerce, and the development of “conscience.”

While the New Republic is bringing fresh ideas and a healthy critique to the status quo, the movement’s strength can also be its weakness. Namely, it lacks experience. I am looking at whether the New Republic can attract those with some level of experience in public administration and political engagement to help implement their ideals into reality.

Children as Metaphors of Hope

Jurgen Moltmann writes:

For me, children are metaphors of hope for three reasons:

(1) With every child, a new life begins, original, unique, incomparable. And while it seems that we always ask, who this or that child looks like (apparently because we seem to think we can only understand the new in the comparison with what is already known or similar), we also encounter the entirely different, the entirely dissimilar and unique in each child. It is these differences that we need to respect if we want to love life and allow an open future.

(2) With every beginning of a new life, the hope for the reign of peace and justice is given a new chance. It is important to see children in their own transcendent perspective and so to resist forming them according to the images of our world. Every new life is also a new beginning of hope for a homeland in this unredeemed world. If it were not, we would have no reason to expect anything new from a beginning.

(3) The last reason to see “a new beginning” or a “beginning of the New” in the beginning of a child’s life is the fact that, for me, children are not only metaphors of our hopes, of that which we want, wish for and expect, but also are metaphors of God’s hope for us: God wants us, expects us, and welcomes us. Humanity is God’s great love, God’s dream for God’s earthly world, God’s image for God’s beloved earth. God is “waiting” for the “human person” in every child, is “waiting” for God’s echo, resonance, and rainbow. Maybe that is the reason God is so patient with us, bearing the ruins of human history, inviting one human generation after the other into existence. God is not silent, God is not “dead”—God is waiting for the menschlichen Menschen the “truly humane human.” “In all of the prophets, I have waited for you,” Martin Buber has the Eternal One speak to the Messiah, “and now you have come.”

With this kind of transcendental expectation placed on every newborn child, it becomes the task of parents, siblings, and teachers to hold open the doors to this future and to walk with these children into this future.

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