BesNewf 07-06-57

The New Friars:

The Emerging Movement Serving the World's Poor


Scott A. Bessenecker

InterVarsity, 2006, 199 pp., ISBN 978-0-8308-3601-7


Bessenecker is the director of global projects for InterVarsity USA and he has written for several Christian Journals.  In 1999, he began dreaming about providing experiences for students to live and learn in slum communities, now called Global Urban Trek.  He says, "There is something happening today that follows a long established pattern of movements of vow-driven Christians directed to the social and geographic fringe." (18) 


Scott describes the environment and ministries of some of the young Christians who have chosen to live and serve in the most destitute places in the world.  This may be the leading edge of a new monastic missional order dedicated to those on the margins.  The communities represented include InnerCHANGE, Servant Partners, Servants to Asia's Poor (Servants), Urban Neighbours of Hope (UNOH), and World made Flesh (WMF).  These "friars" are marked by uncommon levels of commitment and devotion and by the distinctive qualities of being incarnational, communal, devotional, missional and marginal. (24)


"Almost all of the movements discussed in The New Friars have been born out of a reaction to spiritual flabbiness in the broader church and a tendency to assimilate into a corrupt, power-hungry world." (22)


Chapters 2 and 3 describe forces that keep people in poverty.  Some kinds of poverty, like of those of our most of our grandparents, can be overcome by hard work, determination, and good management.  But some kinds of poverty are too entrenched to be overcome from the inside.  Massive economic engines shift work to where the most desperate people will work for the lowest wages.  Political corruption allows opportunists to exploit the poor.  The poor take advantages of those poorer.  Systems to help the poor are often out of reach of the most needy.  The poor often resign themselves to their position, enjoy what pleasures today might bring, and sense little incentive for planning for a doubtful future.  Bad choices, sin and the active involvement of the evil one bring consequences that are not alleviated or minimized by the help many of the rich receive. 


Chapter 4.  The Voluntary Poverty of God. 

God chose to be born of an unwed mother in a poor backwoods town.  He was showing solidarity with the poor. 


"To undertake an incarnational approach to ministry is to be sent as Jesus was sent--to empty yourself of all that alienates you from a people and to become to a significant degree as they are." (620 


Jesus appointed twelve apprentices--beggars of sorts, stripped of money and extra clothes, depending upon hospitality--to draw close to people, to heal, cast out demons, and proclaim good news of the Kingdom. "The kingdom of God had come near to the people because the disciples had come near to them."  (63) 


"Voluntary poverty was the best way Jesus knew to move his followers into the arms of God and bind them to the needy people who could welcome them.  The same thing has been true for his followers throughout the ages right up to today." (65)


Chapter 5. Incarnational.  Pursuing Jesus' Descent into Humanity

"But incarnation is not easy.  For Faye, the glamour of a life of service among the poor…was short-lived.  Her early journals betray a period of testing and complaining.  Being constantly dirty, having legs peppered with bug bites, the heat, the difficulty of life without modern conveniences--all of this wears on a person.  Living in a context where cruelty perpetrated against children is continually uncovered means depression is close at hand.  And at twenty-eight, Faye worries about being single.  Living among and serving the poor sometimes feels like a curse to a single woman.  "I have chosen a life that is radical (but not really radical if you look at the saints throughout church history)--that freaks out many of the men I come across.  I overwhelm them." (76) 


"Choosing a life among an oppressed community brings with it a kind of purifying power. 'My selfishness and things that make me ugly are brought out to the surface,' Faye says, 'and God is making me into a more beautiful person.'" (77)


"For the kingdom of God to come near to slum communities, kingdom people need to become part of the slum-dweller's household." (80)  "Walking alongside the rickety boardwalks over sewage each day with his neighbors, eating where they eat, sleeping where they sleep, hanging out where they hand out--all of these allow a kind of companionship not available to those outside the community." (82)


The family members of young people bent on such an enterprise often to not understand or approve. (83)


Chapter 6 Devotional.  Pursuing Intimacy with Jesus

"Jesus was in fact homeless during his ministry years." (85)  "There is some kind of strange connection between those at the bottom of society and Jesus."  "Jesus is present in society's dregs, mysteriously 'there' in the form of the least of the world." (86)


The sheep and goats judgment in Matthew 25:31 says our destiny is determined by our treatment of people in need. (87)


"The gift we came to bring was the gift of coming near.  …coming near emotionally to grow attached to people and learn to love." (90)


"'I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death' (Philippians 3:10).  The new friars understand this.  Their move to a slum community is, in part, an act of worship.  Some are ready to suffer and to die to themselves as a form of devotion.  All of them, however, will be confronted with suffering and will be faced with the choice of entering into the pain." (94-5)


"As wonderful as it is to bring the kingdom of God to the hollow places on earth, even this is rubbish in comparison to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus.  Intimacy with Christ must be first.  Without it, mission is empty and self-serving." (99)  "Without intimacy with Jesus we have nothing to give away to others." (104)


Chapter 7. Communal. Pursuing Relational Wealth

"There is something about intertwining our lives with others to the extent that possessions or space or time are held in common that offends Western sensibilities.  The new friars, however, don't seem to have quite the same traditional, Western, nuclear family structure notions.  Perhaps their community orientation is more biblical." (107)


"Giving yourself emotionally to a community marked by poverty means you deal constantly with grief and loss." (111)


"The inter-dependence of slum-dwellers puts to shame the kind of shallow relationships that exist in most suburban communities." (117)


Chapter 8. Missional.  Pursuing the Kingdom

"The followers of Jesus are…taught to pray for this kingdom to come, to seek the kingdom above all else, to tell people it's at hand and to bring it near to people.  But there is also an oppositional role to be played by God's people--though not directed at other human beings.  The mission of the church is to confront the counterfeit kingdoms of this world and to usher in a kingdom that is essentially not of this world." (122-23)


His kingdom of righteousness and justice is good news to some and bad news to others.  (123) 


"Dismantle the systems that are not aligned with God's character, lift up those at the bottom, put the broken people back together, and teach people to obey God and to believe in his Son:? This is the mission of anyone who dares to follow Christ, and it will cost some of those bringing this kingdom their very lives." (123)


"Church leaders and missionaries lose touch when their realities differ greatly from the people they serve."  (125) 


"There are certainly hazards to slum life…., but following Jesus is not safe no matter where he leads you….  And not following can actually be dangerous." (126)


"The pursuit of God's kingdom is a powerfully motivating force, but it is fraught with discomfort, failure, sickness, discouragement and danger.  It almost always leads out of the cocoons of familiarity." (127)


Chapter 9.  Marginal.  Pursuit at the Edges

"Most of the historic mission orders found themselves bound to people at the margins: the desperately poor, the 'uncivilized,' plague victims, lepers, slaves, outcasts--people whom nobody else really wanted to be around." (137)


"The new friars are also placing themselves alongside people on the margins.  For the most part they too are peripheral to mainstream church life.  The social activism and prophetic voice of the new friars are often kept outside the center of wider church."  "We've forgotten that some of Christianity's best years have been spent outside the bounds of popularity." (137)


"As John watched the van pull away, he experienced a moment of frustrating clarity and conviction.  He saw that good-hearted Christians doing 'commuter' ministry were conveying but little impact, that driving down and driving into people's lives were two very different propositions." (144)


"But the daily violence of living in the margins wears down perspective." (145)


"How can you expect a man who's warm to understand a man who's cold?" (154, quoting Alexander Solzhenitsyn)


Chapter 10. Our Darkest Hour

Movements of friars have often arrived at the low points of the church or civilization.  The Moravian and the Nestorian movements arose as a result of religious persecution. (155)


Life on earth has never been nastier than it is now.  Globalization of poverty, environmental destruction, exploitation of children, massive urbanization, and the scale of destructive weapons make life harder for more people than ever before.  A new wave of friars who live justice and holiness in Jesus' name is urgently needed. (156) 


"We began the twentieth century with 1.6 billion inhabitants and ended it with 6.1 billion." (158) 


"If the entire planet lived like North Americans, we'd need two more earths just to keep the supply of lattes, Lexuses and other luxury items flowing in order to accommodate our voracious environmental appetite." (158)


"The poor are the most vulnerable people in the world."  (159)  100 million kids, one out of every 20 on earth, live on the street. (161) 



Jesus is the only worthy obsession; all other obsessions must be beaten into submission." (170) 



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