Encountering God in One Another
Foundations of Ministry
We so often take it for granted that "relationship" is the core of Christian missions: Connecting with people is what underlying our activities, projects and programs. It is at the centre of all the striving that makes up so much of what we do whether in Canada, Africa or where ever God might call his people. But what do we mean by relationship?
The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber once made a critical distinction when it came to how we relate to one another. In his 1923 book, I and Thou, he wrote about how people so often fall into relationships that treat other people, and the world, as a means to an end. He called this the experience of "I and It" relationships. How often do we go about our days and fall into this kind of pattern? We are so task orientated and goal driven that the people we experience become mere objects within our lives that we see, hear, enjoy and judge from a comfortable distance.
Buber believed that we were all created for a much more profound way of living, which he called the "I and Thou" encounter. Basically, this is what happens when we connect with people and the world, as being intrinsically valuable. In the "I and Thou Encounter", both the "I" and the "you" share a mutual bond and connection. It is like the experience of talking to someone and feeling like you and they are the only two people in the world in that moment. It is the experience of true human connection. It is what it really means to know and to be known, and to love and be loved.
This type of relationship changes us and changes the people with whom we connect. It is about living in relationships of listening, empathy, and solidarity with people. As Buber wrote "The task of each of us is to affirm for God's sake the world and ourselves, and by this very means to transform them both."
Women's Self Help Group Meeting
Fostering deeper relationships is one of the purposes of the weekly circle meetings in the Canadian Baptist Ministries' self help group initiatives in Africa. Groups of people gathering in their homes, schools or churches to share authentic relationships, which are the foundation of trust and compassion that shapes and supports everything else the group will do.
Typically groups are small, ten people is ideal, because this gives opportunity for everyone to share, for everyone to participate, and for everyone to experience belonging. Relationship requires vulnerability, as we become open to our own sense of wounded-ness and as we share in the experience of suffering within others. Healthy groups often cry together, laugh together, sing together, and pray together. We have also discovered how mature groups will break free of the initial structured pattern of meetings, and meet more frequently and often just for the experience of being together.
The ultimate "I and Thou" relationship is found in God. We believe that God created us to live in such a relationship of loving union. Buber, from the perspective of his Jewish faith, saw Jesus as examplifying such an "I and Thou" relationship. In fact, he wrote extensively about Jesus and Christianity because he recognized, in Jesus, a quality of life that was missing in so much of his society.
As Christians, we see the importance of Jesus' example, but more than that, we believe that Jesus transforms our encounter with God. In Jesus, God is transformed from the distant and complete other to the intimate divine Father. Or in Buber's words, in God we encounter the ultimate "I/Thou" relationship.
"For God, in Christ, was reconciling the world to himself" (2 Corinthians 5:19a).
This is Easter week. For many of our Muslim friends it seems a strange thing, the idea that Christians would talk about a God that became human, suffered and died. And yet this is precisely the centre of the Christian faith: God came near, God became vulnerable, and in his life, death and resurrection God shattered the distance between us and him. In Jesus, there is rebirth, resurrection, the impossible becomes possible, and all things become new.
SHG Leaders and Members
Please join us in praying for the work of our friends and colleagues as they seek to model healthy relationships. We are so thankful for the amazing team of people whom we are serving with in Africa. Please pray for their safety and peace within the communities where they serve.
To learn more about the work of Canadian Baptist Ministries in Africa and around the world, please see our website at www.cbmin.org
Alamu and Rob
Literacy teachers in Kariobangi and Haruma, Nairobi
"What do romance, doing good business, and working for world peace have in common? All require true dialogue – between lovers, between colleagues and competitors, and between groups of people or countries. More than accomplishments or ends, more than being right or wrong, more than what we own, relationships are the most important thing in life, according to Martin Buber. 'When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.' As we strive to understand, reconcile, and preserve our world, we are grateful for Buber’s perspectives."
-- Margaret Wakeley