Community, Faith, and Justice

Colin Whitehead, Hope College, 2017

I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I joined the Emmaus Scholars Program.  My initial motivation for joining was to mature spiritually.  The Emmaus Program did this for me by providing me with a daily rhythm of prayer and and feeding my intellectual curiosity as a Christian History and Theology major.  Yet there were two aspects of the program that surprised me: the importance of Christian community, and the link between faith and justice.

I have been involved in the Emmaus Scholars Program in various capacities over the last three years, and time and time again I have heard my fellow Emmaus Scholars say how they had been craving an intentional Christian community at Hope before joining Emmaus.  Thanks to them, I now realize how important community is to the Christian life.  It’s never just “me and God”.  We are part of the Body of Christ, a reality that connects us and signifies that we are dependent upon each other.  The communal aspect of Christianity is a guideline, maybe even a “rule”, that I now reflect upon often as I study theology and live out my faith practically.

It’s never just “me and God”.  We are part of the Body of Christ, a reality that connects us and signifies that we are dependent upon each other

Prior to my participation in the Emmaus Scholars classes, my understanding of the word justice was bland with abstract implications.  Justice is a term that is thrown around often, and in many different contexts.  However, the Emmaus Scholars Program helped me to see that the role of faith is not just about orthodoxy, but also orthopraxy.  People of faith must care about the injustices that go on in this world because God cares about these matters.  Sometimes we can limit the scope of the Christian life to salvation.  We become so preoccupied with what’s to come that we fail to be present in what’s going on around us.  If we reduce the implications of faith to the future alone, then what kind of defense are we left with to argue for creation care, and proper treatment of inmates, and caring for the poor?  While my understanding of the relationship between faith and justice still has much room to develop, it is now an active part of my thought process.  The Emmaus Scholars Program has shaped my interests, concerns, and the opportunities that I am pursuing going forward now that I am a Hope graduate.

Finding God’s Kingdom in Community

Corinne Qualkinbush, Hope College, 2019

As I reflect back on my year as an Emmaus Scholar, the biggest thing I carry with me is the relationships I built through the community. As a group we often joked that we never would have met or interacted with each other had we not done the program. Although this seems extreme, I see a lot of truth to the statement. Each of us in the program came from different majors, extracurricular activities, and student groups, and it’s unlikely that we would have gotten to know each other and connected had we not done the program. I love that I am now connected to people from all over campus, and have built relationships with people that think, act and believe differently than I do. We’ve wrestled with challenging topics, but through it all sought to glorify God through loving one another and I hope to continue investing in these relationships in the years to come.

I love that I am now connected to people from all over campus, and have built relationships with people that think, act and believe differently than I do

Not only did Emmaus connect me to a group of students on Hope’s campus, but it also connected me to members of the community that are seeking God’s wholeness in their lives and the lives in their community. We talked deeply with them about how they have arrived at the spot they are now, and also how they see their vocation and calling changing throughout their life. I loved meeting these people, enjoying delicious food and laughing over things that connect us together. In the program we often talk about how sharing a meal around a table is often foundational to building a community. When we gather at the table and break bread together, we look across the table and see not only a fellow human but a fellow child of God, made in His image and likeness. It’s around this table that we can see Jesus and can further seek His Kingdom and work of redemption on Earth together.

When we gather at the table and break bread together, we look across the table and see not only a fellow human but a fellow child of God, made in His image and likeness

It’s all that I have learned and experienced through the Emmaus Program that has made me desire to continue with the program and further journey alongside the incoming Emmaus Scholars. I hope to carry into this next year an openness to all the things God is doing through the program and all the beauty of Him we will experience together.

Sold Out for Justice

Nathaniel Nelson, Hope College, 2017

Growing up in an evangelical Christian home, I became familiar with church doctrine and discourse from a young age…I developed a strong sense of the importance and value of faith, and an intrinsic understanding of the need to care about and work towards justice. However, in my mind, the two worlds were separate. Only through the Emmaus Scholars Program, during my sophomore year at Hope College, was I able to truly wed the ideas of faith and justice in practical, incarnational ways of living theology. Emmaus gave me language and real life examples of powerful Christian communities completely sold out for the cause of justice in this world…The Emmaus Scholars Program is a beacon of true orthodoxy put to practice.

Learning What True Discipleship Looks Like

Christin Bothe, Hope College, 2017

It’s my final semester at Hope, and I’ve been spending time reflecting on the overall quality of my educational experience here. As a high school senior choosing Hope College, I had no clue what a Christian, liberal-arts education might mean for me and my future…The community I found in the Emmaus Scholars Program was what helped me begin to answer this question…It was through my time in Emmaus that I had the chance to see my classroom discussions actually leave the classroom.

It was through my time in Emmaus that I had the chance to see my classroom discussions actually leave the classroom.

It was a deep and true kind of learning experience—one that changes who you believe yourself to be in light of God’s love…As an Emmaus Scholar I cried with my roommate as she thought about the many years she suppressed the tension that accompanies her black skin…I wrote and listened to poems that another housemate and I shared as we tried to create something beautiful out of injustice. I read scripture with a friend who thinks about these issues very differently than I do…To put it simply, Emmaus has taught me what true discipleship looks like.

To put it simply, Emmaus has taught me what true discipleship looks like

It’s hard. It means little things, like sharing your milk; and it means big things, like committing to love people who are different from me. I didn’t know how beautiful and rich that kind of commitment could be. I would not be the woman I am today without the formation that the Emmaus Scholars Program provided for me. It is truly the model that bridges education and discipleship. Following Christ is counter-cultural and inconvenient—so is this program. What a treasure that we have here at Hope.

Learning to Hope

Natalie Brown, Hope College, 2017

My year in the Emmaus Scholars Program gave me hope—hope in the Church, hope in millennials, and even hope in myself. As an African American female I’ve spent much of my life feeling the weight of brokenness in regards to race relations. My year in the Emmaus Scholars Program gave me hope by exposing the injustice that so often tries to creep inside and hide within the framework of our lives, but it did not leave me there; rather, it further exposed the truth, love, and righteous heart of God that calls for change from myself, others, and the world around me. Emmaus gave me people to dive into this truth with—people to challenge me, encourage me, and grow with me. As cliché as it may sound, I am a different person because of Emmaus and I hope it continues to thrive and change the lives of others in the years to come.

A Simple Truth

Christin Bothe, Emmaus Scholar, 2015-2016

If you want me to put it simply, the biggest lesson I’ve learned, or had reaffirmed, through this last semester is as follows: It isn’t about me. No matter how much encouragement I may get from professors, or how many opportunities I get presented with, or how many people need my help, it doesn’t change the reality of my existence. The truth is sweet, simple and yet horribly hard to cling to. The truth is that I was put on this earth to “worship God and enjoy Him forever,” to sacrifice my hands and feet so that they might be used to glorify a purpose much greater than one I could muster up on my own. 1 And when my life enters into that framework, it is hard to avoid the implications it has on my interactions with the ideas of vocation, community, and shalom. Life looks quite different when God’s causes are cast as the vision statement – the ways I will spend my time change, the people I look to spend that time with change, and the standards I have for these relationships change.

In regards to vocation, God has been at work sowing seeds in my heart to flee from the path I had always assumed I was destined to. Sure, I genuinely believe that we need Christians everywhere – we need them in our private prep schools, we need them in our government, and we need them in our public businesses. We need them to have credibility and a voice and integrity, and we need them to have their eyes fixed on the places and people that they often won’t have time to be with themselves. However, I believe these are the very people the Lord has called to be my kingdom building partners, because of the voice they might project on behalf of the people I hope to serve alongside. Boesek and DeYoung, in Radical Reconciliation, helped me put words to these developing desires when they wrote:

“Reconciliation emerges from the margins and not from the centers of political or religious power.”2

At first I had taken their words as a call for us all to flee to the forgotten inner cities, the run-down rural areas, and the war-torn villages on the other side of the world; and, frankly, I was a little confused when I spoke with friends who felt called to pockets of political power and influence. Before too long, the Lord graciously unveiled a larger story to me. In this story, there are people who enter into these seemingly hopeless places, but then work with those in different spheres to usher in a fuller, more wholesome redemption. These people I dream of serving some day are exactly the people who will save me. They will save me from wandering towards purposes of my own, they will save me from knowing God’s power only from my own worldview, and the will remind me of this simple truth: It isn’t about me.

It’s funny, or maybe it isn’t, how my new understanding of vocation has already intersected with my new understanding of community and shalom. In reexamining the meaning of vocation, I find that I am, indeed, called to a life of community and shalom. This community is what weaves together work for the Kingdom, and it is exactly what this work for the Kingdom creates. As I am called to seek God’s vision and not my own, I am reminded of the paradox presented in Matthew 20:16: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” This piece of Scripture has been used in many contexts, but I can’t help but to think of how it might apply to this question of community: If I have been gifted with nimble hands and quick feet, should I not used them to run to the back of the pack and help move them forward, instead of running far ahead and getting lost? I might think I am sacrificing so much of myself, but truly I am gaining everything by embracing a life of being “last.” Because when I am reminded of God’s purposes and shed my own, He reminds me that He is making all things new, He is molding us together for a life of equality, and that means that my privilege is, in fact, just as unjust as their oppression. It is in community with different cultures, different classes, different ages, different generations, that we find Christ and we find the path to becoming His body, His bride – His purpose for us. It is in this union, that those below me and those above me will unite to remind me of this simple truth: It isn’t about me.

And all of this talk leads me to Shalom. All of this journeying leads us to a peace we’ve never known, an equality that we’ve never understood, and a life we were created for. Christ has entered into our brokenness so that we might have hope for a fully redeemed, fully renewed, fully reconciled life with him and with each other. A life where the rich and the poor, the thief and the hero, the lion and the lamb, will not just co-exist but will, together, be nestled into our God’s great love and grace.

This life will not come easy, for “peace is always the fruit of justice, which is attained only through suffering and sacrifice,” but oh, will this life be worth it. 3 This suffering and sacrifice, and the joy it produces will, once again, remind me of this simple truth: It isn’t about me.

 

Photo credit: “https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)

  1. A. W. Tozer, and James L. Snyder, The Purpose of Man: Designed to Worship (Ventura, Calif.: Regal, 2009), 28.
  2. Allan Boesak, and Curtiss Paul DeYoung, Radical Reconciliation: Beyond Political Pietism and Christian Quietism (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2012), 155.
  3. Orlando E. Costas, Christ outside the Gate: Mission beyond Christendom (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1982), 32.

Common Objects of Love

Emma Donahoe, Emmaus Scholars, 2015-2016

Approximately one year ago, 12 freshmen and sophomores made the decision to apply for a program with a focus on community. One month later, these individuals, mostly strangers, met for the first time for dessert. Six months later they moved into two cottages and began their year as Emmaus Scholars. We are now at the halfway point of that journey. Our lives together have been shaped by several common objects of love which bind us together as a community.

During our Fall Break retreat we discussed the concepts of calling and vocation in the context of the Christian faith. Dr. Mark Husbands, the director of the program said that, “Our primary calling is to a person” 1. In the context of the Christian faith, this person is Jesus Christ. In our community, each individual is striving to live into that calling in light of our individual gifts. This is also highlighted in Romans:

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others [Romans 12:4-5 NIV].

Though we are uniquely different, we are all called to the same person which provides us with a new communal identity.

From our obedience to our calling to Jesus comes our love for others. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus continually commands his followers to love one another.

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends [John 15:12-13 ESV].

This is a concept that our community has committed to this year. In our individualistic society, community is about surrounding yourself with people who can do things for you. In the Christian sense, this is reversed because of the love that God has shown us. Community becomes a necessary expression of God’s love for us as we strive to show God’s love to those around us. A community in this sense is now about what we can do for others.

Lastly, our love for justice is the final love that has formed us as a community. This also stems from our calling to the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus spent a majority of his ministry with thequartet of the vulnerable: the widows, orphans, prisoners, and the foreigners, guiding them towards the ultimate goal of shalom or flourishing in every aspect of life. As followers of Jesus,we must participate in the work that the Holy Spirit is doing today. In Micah, our requirements as Christians are clearly explained:

He has told you, O man what is good; and what does theLord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with thy God [Micah 6:8 ESV].

As a community formed through a shared calling, we go out into the world to pursue shalom in all areas of life. The Emmaus community is still young.

We have much to learn in the coming semester about each other and how our God given gifts fit into the work of the Holy Spirit in our world. The newness of our community will begin to wear off, and we will have to truly learn how to lay down our lives for each other. Our pursuit of shalom will at times falter, as the pressures of our culture encourage us to take the easy path. However, we are guided by our common love and are not alone:

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them [Matthew 22:37-40].

For more information on this topic of communities, read Oliver O’Donovan’s Common Objects of Love: Moral Reflection and the Shaping of Community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Dr. Mark Husbands, “Lecture: Vocation, Calling and Community”. Fall Emmaus Retreat – Honey Rock Camp, WI, October 2015