At SEED, when we think of our partners around the world, we never want to think only of their work lives. It is true that our main focus is on partnering with people to create self-sustaining livelihood … but if people have income without the other elements that make up a healthy life, we have failed.
I was reminded of this recently on spending two weeks with a pastor from Vietnam. I won’t mention his name for fear of the repercussions that might befall him in his country. We are engaged in conversation with him about possible livelihood group partnerships for the churches he works with, but today I’ll share a little of his story.
After the Vietnam War ended, many former South Vietnamese fled the country out of fear. Many came to the US and settled into creating a new life. Many others died in boats trying to escape to other Southeast Asian countries. And many were able to make it to those other countries, where they were typically not greeted with open arms. The brother I am writing about made it to Hong Kong, where he spent five years in a “refugee camp” that he says was much more like a detention center.
At the end of that time, despite the danger to many of them, these refugees were refused further stays in Hong Kong and were returned to Vietnam, where my friend was imprisoned for four years, enduring constant deprivation, hardship, and abuse.
This brother has been rebuilding his life in Vietnam, but it is complicated because he began to follow Jesus while he was in the detention center and has continued to do so no matter the cost. He shared with me recently that his greatest concern for Christians in Vietnam is not persecution – though that is very real – but fear. He worries that Vietnamese Christians will be so afraid of the persecution that they will not do what God is asking them to do.
What does this have to do with SEED? Well, nothing … and everything. It may be obvious that in a situation of government persecution people may need partnership to generate sustainable income for themselves. It is especially critical in these situations, we think, not to simply give and keep giving, but instead to help build appropriate business-thinking skills so people sense their own ability to create income opportunities. Dependency is the enemy of empowerment.
Additionally, we think this is a tremendous reminder for all of us, no matter the country, the economic system, or the government. Fear is not unique to repressive regimes or to Communism, no matter what those of us in the West may have been taught. Christians in the US are just as controlled by fear: fear of lack of income, fear of no health insurance, fear of public disapproval, fear of not knowing … the list could go on.
What is the solution to fear? My brother in Vietnam discovered it as he was struggling with hatred for his tormentors, and it’s not new. “Perfect love casts out fear,” John writes in 1 John 4, and that love comes from recognizing that our value is not attained by any political, economic, or social situation: it comes only from recognizing that we can love because God loved us first.
Because God loves you perfectly, ask yourself today, “What am I afraid of?”