Is it possible for urban ministers living incarnationally among the poor to have trusting relationships with global bankers in organizations with trillions of dollars in assets?
In the early 2000s Bakke Graduate University formed around its three colleges of urban studies, business and Christian theology. Immediately historic distrust came to the forefront as students in each of these colleges were forced to take courses together. Urban workers had seen too many business people as greedy slum lords preying on the poor. Business leaders with a call to serve the poor didn’t know how to speak the language of the city, build trust, and prioritize relationships before solutions. And Christian theologians had beautifully articulated biblical theologies that quickly melted away as overly idealistic theories in the heat of the front lines of urban ministry.
But even in the early 2000s, the seeds of change had begun. During the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) annual event in Dallas in 2000, which was organized by many urban leaders who would later become BGU students, alumni and faculty, we heard one of our mentors share his then shocking vision. Dr. John Perkins had written the book on how to live incarnationally among the poor. We had all built our lives in urban ministry around his philosophy of the “three Rs” – relocation, redistribution and reconciliation. Coming together at the CCDA event in Dallas, we were with kindred spirits who knew the hardships of sacrificially living in poor neighborhoods. It was one of the few places we could share our love for urban ministry without getting the “blank stare” of “why would you do that?”
In a small backroom meeting John Perkins started sharing a new idea that was like a bomb shattering everything we believed. He said something like,
“I’ve been rethinking one of the Rs, in part. I’ve been meeting with people who live outside of the hood who are called by God to serve the poor. When I tell them, you must submit your plans to those who live with the poor, they don’t object. When I tell them, you have more to learn and more to receive when you work with the poor than you have to teach and give, they listen as if God is already taking away their pride. We will always need the front lines leaders among the poor to relocate. You can’t compromise on that. However, God is raising up some leaders who don’t need to relocate. They need to stay in their current places of power and wealth and direct those resources to those who live among the poor. They need to introduce us to their friends … to their bankers.”
At BGU, urban ministry students with annual budgets of only a few thousand dollars study alongside with bankers in organizations with $2.4 trillion in assets. These students learn a common language around common values. They learn how to respect each other. They learn that God calls each of us to steward different precious assets. For some that asset is money. For others it is the relationships formed from decades of living in poverty. They learn that the one with money is not more “strategic,” or more “significant” than the one without money. Our strategy and significance comes from our position as fully adopted children of God, children willing to follow what God has called us to do.
The article in this newsletter about HSBC banker Jeremy Gwee is about one member of the BGU family who has a unique experience and call from God. Jeremy would be the first to express his awe, respect, and need for those who serve with and for the poor. Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 describe the church as a body. It is BGU’s vision and purpose to help each body part to understand their call and find peace in serving well in that place. And like a body that has circulatory systems and skeletal systems to connect and nourish the whole body, BGU’s three diverse colleges build “whole body” systems of trust, respect, and common language to elevate the strengths and guard the weaknesses of each individual part.