HaySubm 09-01-016


Living Deep in a Shallow World

Service, Justice and Contemplation Among the World's Poor


John B. Hayes

Regal, 2006, 303 pp., ISBN 978-0-8307-4306-3



John Hayes is a graduate of both Princeton and Yale.  He has worked with the poor in inner city ministries since 1984.  He and his wife, Deanna, are general directors of InnerCHANGE, a mission order working among the poor in five countries.  Hayes recommends planting transforming Christian communities (orders) in our inner cities to work for lasting spiritual change from the inside out. (54)


Sub-Merge is the story of incarnational ministry.  It takes you into the heart of some of the most distressed ghettos in Los Angeles and Cambodia, and helps you see what it means to minister with poor people by building authentic, long-term relationships, affirming their dignity and loving them.  As John Perkins says in the Foreword, "We must go into these cultures that have been divided by war, poverty, and race." (12)


Hayes suggests we need more than agencies today.  We need orders - mission communities that are part team, part tribe, part family.  The call is to go beneath the surface of society and find life with Christ among the poor. (14)   Incarnational means "becoming like the people we are praying to reach." (16)  Perhaps two thirds of the world could be considered poor; half, nearly 3 billion people, live on less than $2 a day (37).  Yet only about 6 percent of mission workers actually live and minister among the poor. (18)  In order to minister incarnationally among the poor, "we must move from training to developing, or forming, individuals." (19) 


Sub-merge insists there are not enough workers among the poor.  They don't stay long enough.  Mission organizations are not organized wisely to sustain and empower such missionaries and more Christian professionals are needed to attain holistic transformation. (20) 


"I set out to see poverty in India and came face-to-face with poor people instead."  He discovered the need to learn the language, culture and history from the poor themselves.  He also discovered the need for essential character formation in addition to skills training.  "I saw the need to develop mission workers among the poor whose priorities were spiritual and emotional growth."  "The traditional religious orders and their focus on learning that forms, not simply informs, were important models to consider.  He also learned the importance of journeying with committed others. (47)


The 1992 riots in Los Angeles were a wake-up call for the Church, a "burning bush" experience that called for action.  The commuter church does not exert a parish influence like the neighborhood congregations of 60 years ago.  (58)  Christians are generally "caught up in our autobiographies." (59)  The twenty-first-century consumer dream is the man in the gospels who built bigger barns. We celebrate such people and pattern after them.  (60)


Christians throughout the world can no longer claim ignorance about the poor.  "Poverty, we know about.  It's poor people we do not know; but it's knowing poor people that enables substantive change and authentic empowerment to take place." (71)  But this seems unrealistic, as it must have looked to the Samaritan on his donkey. (71)



"We do not believe that God makes the poor His first concern because they are in some way 'best.'"  "We believe that God puts the poor first because the world puts them last." (78-9) 


The poor tend to think the rich are blessed but that God looks down on them. (84)   "In our work, we are learning what it means to lead poor men and women to Christ, including their self-esteem.  Otherwise, their souls may belong to God, but their self-esteem will continue to belong to the world.  And that can be the difference between an empowered believer and a disempowered believer." (85)


Our interconnected world offers ever-increasing opportunities of involvement with the poor. (90) 


Scripture indicates that God wants our social systems to ensure the security of the poor.  This is threatening to modern individualism and capitalism.  God never meant for there to be poor in the land.  However, we don't expect poverty to be eliminated.  But, according to Deuteronomy (15:11) we are to be openhanded toward the poor and their needs.  This is a very important verse for twenty-first-century Christians who are motivated primarily by success.  "Essentially, God clarifies that we will never win the war on poverty.  But He goes on to command that we should pursue the battle vigorously."  "His economy is indexed to obedience, not performance." (92) 


St. Francis demonstrates that one cannot always be an agent of change and remain inside the system. (95)  He pushed beyond the established limits of charity to found a new missionary order. By contrast the 20th century Western Church tries to save and be safe at the same time. (96) 


It is arguable that the poor are central to God's heart, yet the majority of Western Christians with resources have no meaningful relationships among poor people. (101)


A hinge movement of orders working with the poor began with St. Francis.  Could another hinge be coming now?  InnerCHANGE thinks so.  (107-08)


"The world doesn't need more words, not even more 'right' words.  The world needs more words made flesh." (113)


Four dimensions of incarnational ministry:

  1. The Model of Christ - following his example
  2. The Method - becoming an insider and earning the right to be heard
  3. The Message - If love is costly then those who are the object of love are worth much.  We validate hope by trusting our lives to God.  We serve and learn.  We send a message that their environments are not too toxic for 'good' Christians. 
  4. Incarnational Ministry as Spiritual Discipline - Living among the poor helps move us from self-reliance to God-reliance.  (114-119)


"Incarnational ministry is a careful, negotiated process--a courtship that includes the Christian worker, the host culture and team members in the mission work group and in the host community, all guided by the Holy Spirit." (123)  "Incarnating as a careful process means taking time to court a community and allowing God to set us up to be received by them."  (128)  "Acquiring authenticity and intimacy with a community takes years and precludes other options." (139)


"God desires to stretch before us a vision of living well--not simply living well off." (150) 


"In our experience, we have found that the personal dimension is most often lacking in large-scale efforts to help the poor.  The welfare system…is a blunt instrument….  So the poor continue to be caught between Byzantine welfare systems and holiday food baskets." (155) 


According to Isaiah 58:8, "God credits His people with visible integrity and gifts them with His personal glory when they simply work among the poor." (158) 


"We pay a heavy price as God's people for our neglect of the poor--a price that goes beyond the tragic social and political costs of poverty.  We pay a spiritual price." (161) 



"In the 1980s, I was schooled to think of poor neighborhoods as war zones that needed to be fixed, and quickly.  In my first few months living on and courting Minnie Street, I realized that this impression was not only superficial, but it was also disempowering." (173)


We use multiple models depending on the type of ministry.  The genre of biblical story is universally effective.  Our formation materials are largely oral, dialogue-driven, low tech but profound. (178)


"Missionaries can spring into action in response to a need, assuming they have an empowering attitude; but in their haste to meet needs, they communicate that getting to the problems is more critical than getting to know the poor themselves and working together toward solving the problems." (181)


"Performance focuses on results and is distracted into pressing for outcomes.  Obedience focuses on God and bears fruit."  "I am not suggesting that we will never use terms like 'successful,' 'effective,' 'impact' or 'results.'  I am saying that they cannot displace the worlds 'faith' and 'obedience' or the behaviors behind them."  "One of the reasons we have organized ourselves as an order with spiritual rhythms is to help us forestall this kind of culturally inbred workaholism." (190)


Common motivations to work among the poor include mercy, justice, and guilt.  I stay primarily out of love. (191-92)


"I still sometimes have a hard time believing that God uses me to show others Himself, but that is what it means to be in relationship with Him." (195)


"But the power of incarnational ministry is such that when missionaries believe in poor people, poor people begin to believe in themselves." (196)  


"Spiritual authority, so critical to seeing transformation among the poor, is something that God seems to fashion out of years of faithfulness, wise choices, successes and failures." (200)


"I believe that 'order,' as a word, idea and structure, is an example of a helpful tradition that needs to be re-imagined to see Kingdom mission advance sustainably among the poor.  'Order' is a powerful word that connotes mission, mystery, discipline, distinctive values and longevity." (203)  An order is "a religious community living by mutual consent according to the principles of a common rule of life." (204) 


We behave more as communities than teams, apprenticing new staff in an ongoing way rather than up-front training.  We informally make long-term commitments, realizing God is fashioning us as a people with specific values and vision more than an organization with a task and goals. (204)   Mission orders engage the world as front-line agents.  InnerCHANGE is a mission order among the poor.  We uphold 10 essential values and 6 commitments, in order to be a tangible expression of Micah 6:8.  We serve as missionaries (servants among the poor), prophets (a hopeful sign community seeking justice), and contemplatives (seeking life-giving spiritual depth and stewarding one another). (204-206)


"I believe that the source of much unhealthy pain derives from team members setting unrealistic expectations of themselves and each other."  "The point is, expectations of teammates do harm when they are unrealistic, not when they are big or small." (258)


"Eternal history will not be impressed with power, or preoccupied with celebrity, but will, instead, celebrate the lowly."  "The needy will be vindicated and the hurting compassionately delivered." (262) 


"Within decades of their founding, the Franciscans, Dominicans and Poor Clares numbered in the thousands, and within 50 years they were proclaiming the good news to the most remote corners of the globe.  Could this missional phenomenon happen again?  Could apostolic living among the poor spark renewal in the same way God used the lives of the friars in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries?" (269)


"We continue to approach the poor with a split personality in the West, alternating between compassion and indifference." (271) 


"We cannot accurately talk about reaching the world without coming to grips with reaching the poor.  If we walk by Bartimaeus, we walk by much of the world." (278)


"For us the mission field often seems to be some other place."  "I'm confident that when we truly position ourselves to follow Jesus, we will stop for the poor when He does." (279) 




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