by Meg Lavery, Volunteer Mobilization Coordinator for World Relief DuPage In 2010, jeggings made their triumphant debut, South Africa hosted the World Cup, and Haiti was devastated by a 7.0 earthquake. 2010 was also the year I went to my first Mission on Your Doorstep Conference in West Chicago, IL- most likely wearing jeggings. There I sat in on an indelible talk by Rev. Dr. Soong-Chan Rah of North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago. He spoke on Theologies of Suffering and Celebration.
Rev. Dr. Rah explained that churches in developed nations, in relative affluence and stable societies, tend towards a Theology of Celebration whereas churches in developing nations, facing abject poverty and violence, tend towards a Theology of Suffering. Curiously, we see these churches grasp for the characteristics of Christ that they do not experience on earth. Often, Theologies of Suffering declare the victory of Christ and promise of eternal life in heaven whereas Theologies of Celebration embrace the solitude and somberness of Jesus’ life on earth. Perhaps that’s why we often worship to soothing slow jams in the west; and in Burundi, worship will get you up out of your seat clapping and dancing around in your ankle-length skirt.
In the end, neither is the complete picture. There is both death and resurrection in the story of Christ. I learned that we need both to gain the fullest understanding of the God of the Bible and this life on earth. And I learned that to do this, we need more than expanded theology books. We need to get to know people who have lived a different story.
At World Relief in Wheaton, IL, I work with volunteers day in and day out. They are the loveliest and most generous people on the block who want to get to know those who are different from them. However, people are quickly met with the startling realties of the refugee and immigrant experience- chronically ill friends without healthcare access, family members separated indefinitely, depression and isolation in a foreign society, bed bugs (modern day locusts?). In these situations, when there are only imperfect solutions and hard choices, I recall my lessons from MOYD2010. I try to encourage volunteers that sometimes the best thing (and maybe the only thing) you can do is be there, be present, be together. And when we take on the burdens of each other, that’s when we share our greatest joys, that’s when real relationships are formed.
Two years later, the conference has done a name change, Mission On Our Doorsteps, further bridging the mythical divide between “us and them”. I’m so pleased to see this year’s theme is “Suffering and Celebrating Together”. The conference has raised awareness of the realities of present suffering in our communities and celebrates how Christ is bringing His own glory through that grief. The lonely isolation within modern society, the fear of immigrants living under a broken system, the anguished prayer for the lost, and the frustration of those trafficked to America against their will are all unique expressions of our present suffering. However, such suffering is not the last word.
This suffering pales in comparison with the glory that God is birthing in and through us as we weave our stories, the pain and the joy, together.