Camper to Coach: Learning to Serve Others

At the end of July our CONNECT middle and BLOCK high school students traveled to New Orleans to serve with our sister ministry, Urban Impact. Hear from Chassidy about her experience and what she learned on the trip:

Hey, my name is Chassidy  and I am fifteen years old.  I am an intern at 2nd Mile Ministries for the summer and attend the BLOCK high school program. This past week we went to New Orleans to serve the community at Urban Impact. For the week we were in New Orleans we served the little kids at the camp, which they call Day Camp. The camp went from 12:30pm to 4:00pm. One of the rules of camp was “God first, others second, and I am third.” Throughout the week I had made this rule my motto, because they said if you follow that rule you can make others have fun but also have fun yourself. 

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At Day Camp I became one of the coaches for Challenge Circle. Being a coach was very new/different to me because I came to 2nd Mile as a camper for Summer Day Camp when I was 5 years old, where we also played Challenge Circle.  I was never a coach at Summer Day Camp so when I went to Day Camp in New Orleans, it was tough because I didn’t want to be like “Hey don’t do that,” or “Hey do this.” Although it was a new experience, I really liked working with the kids and hyping them up with cheers.

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At Day Camp we did a lot of fun things, but one of my favorite things to do was work the registration table. Registration was fun because I could meet the kids first and I already knew their names so when registration was over I could just introduce myself to them. Also, just seeing the kids come was fun because I could tell that they were really happy to be there and learn about God. I am really glad that I got the chance to go on this trip and learn to serve others.

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How We Can Act Justly

This is the seventh post in a series of seven examining the Bible’s concept of justice and the action expected of Christ-followers by our King. These principles are essential to the ministry and the faithfulness of 2nd Mile Ministries to remain on mission.

There are many ways to act for justice. Here are some details about the ideas highlighted in the video:

#1 Become a Disciple

We must consider who we are discipling and who is discipling us. We are both being influenced and influencing others. Is the Bible’s definition of justice and God’s love for the vulnerable part of that discipleship process for you? If not, consider how it could be. We want to make sure we are taking into account the full counsel of Scripture as we invite others to “follow us as we follow Christ.”

#2 Train Our Eyes

We can’t act on what we don’t know or see. For many of us, we will need to enter into a learning process. This blog series could be a great source and a plethora of books, articles, podcasts, and social media follows could help you in the process. Specifically, you could take the step to prayerfully read the news and ask how what you’re reading ties to God’s justice. Or try a new book like “When Helping Hurts”, “The Color of Compromise”, “Generous Justice”, and literally anything by John Perkins. 


#3 Get Involved

We are called to act about these important issues. So consider, what that might look like. You could:

  • Research a place to get involved locally like an under-resourced school in your area. And make a commitment to come on a regular basis for at least six months.

  • Check out CCDA.org and their interactive map of ministries in your area.

  • Consider how you spend your time, money, and relationships. Invest them in ways to display a value for God’s justice.

#4 Highlight the Image of God

From the first page of Scripture, it is established that humans have inherent value because we have been made in God’s own image. In our daily life, we have myriad opportunities to either elevate or dismiss that image. Sometimes acting justly can be as simple as being aware of the language we use (or allow others to use unchallenged). If we value the image of God in others, we will act for their dignity, their good, and to see them live in alignment with their Creator who made them.



What Keeps Us From Doing Justly

This is the sixth post in a series of seven examining the Bible’s concept of justice and the action expected of Christ-followers by our King. These principles are essential to the ministry and the faithfulness of 2nd Mile Ministries to remain on mission.

Written by Marc Nettleton, Interim Executive Director

One morning on a trip to the mountains, we woke up to find snow on the ground. It was June. This was both beautiful and alarming, because a few hours later we were scheduled to go white-water rafting. Being doused with ice cold Rocky Mountain water seemed like a questionable idea to these Floridians, but we went ahead.

When we arrived, we were outfitted with gear: wetsuits, splash jackets, paddles, and personal floatation devices (the guides were very particular about using this full three word phrase). And then, off we went into the water, hoping that none of us would end up in the water.

Once, we were launched we had to decide how to navigate in the current of the river. We had been equipped, trained, and offered the help of a guide, so we were well set up for the adventure ahead.

Similarly, in this journey of examining what the Bible says about justice and our response to it, we are approaching the time to act as well. We’ve discussed terminology and definitions, began to train our eyes to see injustice in the places it hides, and considered if we are comprehensively being molded into the character of our God. 

Even with all this equipping, we have a choice of if and how we will act upon these facts about justice. But, in making this decision to act, we will face challenges that stand in our way. Surprisingly, one of the biggest obstacles to acting justly can be our competing values. 

Every person on this planet has a set of values and it is from these values that we make decisions, plans, and organize our lives. These values are developed within us from a multitude of sources including our society, culture, and view of God. Each one of us is constantly being impacted by these social, cultural, and theological values. 

But, it is important for us to acknowledge that all of us are being formed by these. It is especially important for Christians to know this. We may be tempted to believe all or the majority of our values are simply drawn from the Bible, but that’s simply not true. We have been and are being discipled by so many things, people, and sources. Certainly, the Bible, Pastors, authors, and The Holy Spirit have informed our journey, but so too have our life experiences, media, upbringing, cable news, our generation, and our geography just to name a few.

For example, I was raised in the Midwest. In my hometown, the language of “No ma’am” and “Yes sir” felt like something lifted from a 19th century period piece movie on PBS. But, when I moved to the South, I found this language everywhere. Now, I would say that folks in both the Midwest and South value respecting your elders, but how that plays out is informed by these outside forces like upbringing, geography, and generation. It is not that saying sir and ma’am is inherently more respectful than not saying it (because you can certainly say these words with the least respectful of intention), but that there are social and cultural factors that inform our choices and worldview.

So, you may be able to make your own list of the values that shape you, but just to name a few values that are common amongst 21st Century North Americans. We as a people tend to value many of the following:

  • Control

  • Safety

  • Achievement

  • Family

  • Acceptance

  • Leisure

  • Wealth

  • Family

  • Efficiency

  • Comfort

  • Power

None of the things on this list are bad things. Most of them are great things! The problem comes when we start to pursue these values over and above the things that our God is calling us to. Philippians 1:21 exhorts us that “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” But to be human is to constantly be at risk of adding something from this list into this verse. We are at risk of saying to ourselves, “To live is Christ plus comfort” or “To live is Christ plus acceptance” or any other number of possibilities. And when we do that we fall into a stark danger.

This danger gets harsher still when we remember that our God’s value system includes concepts such as justice, righteousness, reconciliation, and compassion as primary. These are close to His heart, but can come into conflict with the social and cultural values that influence us. It is not that our values are obstacles in and of themselves, but that they shape our priorities and the decisions that we will make in our lives.

For example, if a Christian businessperson decides boldly that they will not participate in injustice in any form, this may realistically hurt their progress towards cultural values like achievement, wealth, or power. There may even be entire industries, like payday loans, that they are unwilling to do business with or pursue employment from.

Or similarly, but on the converse, if I value acceptance more than I value compassion, I may choose to not speak up when a fellow church member makes a demeaning or racist joke. In that moment, I am choosing my desire to be accepted by that person over standing up for the image of God in others.

If we played this comparison out with the value of comfort, we could probably come up with examples indefinitely and indeed I’m sure you can think of examples of how these values might come into conflict for yourself. And I invite you to take the time to examine that deeply!

These competing values form the current of our culture and the current will take us places we didn’t mean to go. It will cause us to miss opportunities that we didn’t even see. If our value on comfort or family or leisure supersedes our value on God’s justice, we may just continue to be swept downstream, not even aware of the person stranded on the rock along our path.

Because if we are going to act justly, we need to be aware of these values. At a core level, we need to order our priorities in such a way that we are prepared to look to all of God’s values including those of justice when we are planning our career path, the neighborhood we live in, the products we buy, and the people we spend time with. The values we elevate and the decisions that stem from them are eternally significant.

The reality is that all of us are already in the whitewater raft, whether we know it or not. And the water is rushing downstream. The current of our culture will carry us towards unjust outcomes, even if we don’t mean for it to, unless, we are intentional. We must be intentional every day about choosing to act, speak, and live in such a way that the values of our God are upheld and made great.

We have the choice, we can sit in the raft and let ourselves be swept downstream or we can use our vision, tools, and newfound knowledge to actively change the course and trajectory of our journey. Perhaps to even begin to paddle upstream, undoing the negative impacts of injustice we have found along the way.

Choosing to act justly is not simple, but it is aligned with the character and the will of God. With that assurance before us, we are empowered to take on challenges and do the hard things. We go forward in the promise that our God and his presence goes with us.

Historic and in the Present

This is the fifth post in a series of seven examining the Bible’s concept of justice and the action expected of Christ-followers by our King. These principles are essential to the ministry and the faithfulness of 2nd Mile Ministries to remain on mission.

Written by Marc Nettleton, Interim Executive Director

In the past several posts, we have examined the clear place of justice in God’s heart, the call for followers of Christ to pursue social and personal justice in all their actions, and how injustice can often hide itself from view. Specifically, we have looked at obvious intentional injustice and the hidden unintentional injustice that plays out along with individual and more covert systemic injustice in our world.

Following this pattern there is at least one more category of injustice that permeates the landscape, but is often overlooked: the role of history in all of this.

Today, we have more access than ever before to information about the past and most of us know about the glaring injustices that stand out in our national history. From where I write this, I am on land that was stolen from Native Americans, in a state that fought for slavery, and enforced Jim Crow laws until (and after) the Supreme Court ordered them to stop. (And, if to your knowledge, your state didn’t benefit or participate in those last two, you might want to dig deeper). These are the neon signs of injustice in our American storyline.

It is right that we tell these stories. It is right that we learn from them. It is right that we lament over them. But that cannot be all.

For the injustices of history also have a hidden side that carries on to the present day and the Christ-follower who wants to engage with this part of God’s character must stand ready to respond to these. Historic injustice is hidden in at least three key ways.

Norman Rockwell's painting "The Problem We All Live With," image from the website of the Norman Rockwell Museum.

Norman Rockwell's painting "The Problem We All Live With," image from the website of the Norman Rockwell Museum.

First, the past was simply not that long ago. Within the last year an audio recording from a slave ship survivor was uncovered. Because we are not that far removed from slavery. It is close enough that audio recording technology existed while survivors were still living. Further, perhaps your high school history textbook included this famous Norman Rockwell painting entitled “The Problem We All Live With” depicting six year old Ruby Bridges walking into and desegregating William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. This is an iconic image. But today, Ruby Bridges is still only 64 years old. She doesn’t yet qualify for Social Security. This isn’t a historic image. It is contemporary. And for many people in our society, these stories are not history, they are lived experiences of this lifetime.

Second, before absolving ourselves of the present by assuming that the world today is “not like it was back then”. We would all do well to examine our current situation to look to how the current reality may actually mirror the past more than we are comfortable with. Today, schools are actually more segregated than they were in the wake of Brown vs. Board of Education. Today, racial disparities in wealth are worse than they were in the 1950s. We must do the deep-dive work to also examine in ourselves, where the same attitudes that empowered the Dixiecrats and segregationists still inform our housing, politics, and even churches today. If we assume such beliefs have been eradicated, we show ourselves to be foolishly optimistic. So today, we must look around and ask, “Where is this still happening?”

Finally, we must acknowledge that history does not just repeat itself, but that the impact of past injustices still carry on to today. This can be seen in the locations where interstate highways (or heavy polluters) were built. It can be seen through the GI Bill, which passed differing benefits on to black and white soldiers returning from World War II. And it can be seen very clearly in home ownership and household wealth. Wealth is a measure of the total assets owned by a household. The largest contributor to wealth is by far and away property ownership. This property wealth is magnified over time through inheritance and inflation. Today in America, the average white household has 16 times more wealth than the average black household. This is no accident. It is in large part an intentional result of racist decisions made in past generations that have carried on to the present day as first the federal government and later private lenders created many policies that discouraged or outright banned African Americans from buying homes. And while many of these policies continue on today covertly, the damage they did in generations past is still significant. A person like me (descended from multiple generations of white property owners) carries a hugely significant set of benefits from that generational wealth that would have been entirely unavailable had my ancestors been of another race in the 1880s through 1968. This is historic injustice impacting the modern reality.

To act in accordance with the character of our God of justice, Christ-followers must be aware of injustice. We must train our eyes to see it. And when we see it, hidden by intention, systems, or time, we must act to bring equity and reconciliation where sin had ruled previously. To make the unjust right is part of the call of loving our God and our neighbor as our self.

Individual and Systemic

This is the fourth post in a series of seven examining the Bible’s concept of justice and the action expected of Christ-followers by our King. These principles are essential to the ministry and the faithfulness of 2nd Mile Ministries to remain on mission.

Written by Marc Nettleton, Interim Executive Director

I still remember it clearly.

I was 11 years old and my family was on our way home from dinner in Minneapolis. Going back to our suburb on the east side of St. Paul, we drove through a neighborhood that was very different from the world I was accustomed to. The houses were different. The yards were different. The people were of a race that would have been an anomaly in my school.

It was a neighborhood that in retrospect looked a lot like the one I now call home.

And I was scared.

I'd heard stories about communities where you should lock your doors while you drove through. I'd heard about "bad neighborhoods". I'd heard about "sketchy parts of town".

But it was more complex than that.

Because I also very distinctly remember feeling really upset that I was scared. Because being scared could only mean one thing.

I was, therefore, racist.

There was no escaping the conclusion. This white kid was afraid to drive through a black neighborhood. My personal feelings and interpretation betrayed me. They revealed a horrible conclusion, I must be racist.

And most of us born after 1980, you know that this is about the worst accusation you can have leveled against you. Even when your own psyche is the accuser. To maintain personal feelings of prejudice against others is one of the very few "sins" that our culture will almost universally agree upon.

I was so upset about this internal discovery that I wanted to cry.

But there was a massive shortcoming to this school of thought. It was one I believed at the time and it still is what most majority culture folks in this country still believe. I was severely limiting the definition of injustice and racism. I was defining racism as being equivalent to personal feelings of prejudice held by an individual and nothing more.

Many times in our vernacular, charges of racial injustice are even less complete than the one my 11 year old mind constructed. There is a popular belief that one can essentially act and believe however they want, but as long as they aren’t an active KKK member, they can’t possibly be racist.

This definition falls very short.

Individual prejudice is entirely real and no person walks this earth that is free from prejudice. All people hold prejudices on some level, but racism is far, far more involved, complicated, and dangerous than just prejudice itself.

In fact, even if we imagined an individual person who was entirely free from any bit of racialized prejudice, there is a hidden side to individual bias that still perpetuates injustice that must be named and countered. This is systemic injustice (Also, called corporate or institutional injustice) and it is dangerous precisely because it often hides itself within systems so that even well-meaning Christ-followers cannot see its impact or reality.

Injustice, in general, and racism, in particular, is a much, much larger phenomenon than individual feelings. It is both a blatant and a covert reality. It exists in intentional and unintentional forms. It exists on an individual level and a group level. Prejudice held by individuals is a type of racism, but its most pervasive and most harmful forms are those that are played out in structures and systems. And these often hide themselves, meaning that the worst injustices are usually invisible to those who benefit from them and have the power to dismantle them. This is why we must train our eyes to be able to see injustice in all its forms so that we, as the body of Christ, might be a people who counteract it.

Before diving into a definition and example of systemic injustice, it may be helpful to look at a Biblical framework to help us understand all of this. The majority of the audience for this post is most likely American and Americans are a remarkably individualistic people. Don’t take that term to mean selfish, but rather that as a matter of worldview, the culture of the United States primarily sees individuals rather than groups. Our worldview is individualistic rather than communal. 

This, over-emphasis on the individual can tarnish the way we see the world or even the Scriptures. For the Bible, at various times operates from both an individualistic and a communal perspective. For the sake of time, let’s just look at one example, the repentance of Nehemiah. 

In Nehemiah 1, the title character, an Israelite who was born and raised in Babylon, receives a report from some travelers about the state of disrepair and disgrace in Jerusalem. Upon hearing these words, Nehemiah’s response is to fast and pray and confess as follows:

“I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed your commands, decrees, and laws you gave your servant Moses.”

Did you catch that? Nehemiah, who has never even been to Jerusalem, repented on behalf of the sins of people that he has never even met. By our individualized American worldview, this is outrageous, but in the Bible this prayer is commended as righteous. Nehemiah and many other Biblical characters take a communal view and we would do well to heed this reality in examining systemic injustice.

For injustice is not merely an individual act, but it is found in systems and institutions. Systemic injustice can be defined as injustice that exists in social and political institutions through impersonal, implicit, and amorphous features. 

Let’s examine a few ways that this injustice plays out in our modern era. 

Systemic injustice exists in the medical field:

When doctors were shown patient histories and asked to make judgments about heart disease, they were much less likely to recommend cardiac catheterization (a helpful procedure) to black patients — even when their medical files were statistically identical to those of white patients.” (New York Times, Jan 2015)

Systemic injustice exists in retail and sales:

When controlled experiments were done sending black and white actors to purchase cars, the black purchasers were offered an initial price averaging $700 higher and were given far less favorable terms in negotiations.

Systemic injustice exists in politics: 

Members of both parties on the state legislative level have been shown to be statistically less responsive to emails from constituents with “black sounding” names. (This “names phenomenon” has also been proven to get less responses for and from resumes, college professors, and apartment rental ads

Systemic injustice exists in criminal justice:

Black children are 18 times more likely than white children to be sentenced as adults in criminal proceedings and though usage rates are almost identical, black Americans are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white Americans.  

This list could go on indefinitely because the point is: Systemic injustice exists in every city, town, campus, neighborhood, and career field. We could name any field or place and evidence of systemic injustice would be found there, if we have eyes to see it. 

However, if we are not prepared to have those eyes, we will never see it and if we never see it, we will never act against it. In fact, while in a later post we will detail practical steps one can take to act against systemic injustice, the first key is developing eyes to see it by acting to educate ourselves and developing empathy for those who are impacted by it.

The good news in all this is that Jesus is reconciling all things back to himself by the cross (Col 1:20). His reconciliation includes healing the hearts of individuals, but it doesn’t stop there, one day he will also reconcile all the brokenness of our systems and restore justice and equity for all people, for all of time. God is present with the oppressed. He is on their side. He identifies with them. He stands in opposition to those who oppose them and one day he will set all things right. Until that day, however, we are called to be aware of these injustices and to labor to undo them wherever we see them.