Together in the World

August 1, 2022 by Pete Velander (Nashville, TN)

Speaking of the body of Christ and the gifts each members brings: 

If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
—1 Corinthians 12:26 (NRSVUE)

Speaking of division and discrimination among believers:

There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
—Galatians 3:28 (NRSVUE)

My work at The Upper Room has afforded me the opportunity to travel internationally. I have looked into the eyes of refugee children in Ukraine and the informal settlement children in South Africa. I have listened at the feet of spiritual giants in both Europe and Africa. I have felt like a spiritual dwarf in their presence, not because that was their intention, but because the depth of their insight and wisdom, combined with the circumstances in which their spirituality has been formed, is nearly beyond my comprehension. I have listened to stories from the war in Ukraine and witnessed the poverty in some places in Africa. I have heard about racism in the fight against apartheid. In all of these circumstances I have witnessed the suffering inflicted on God’s children by others of God’s children.

In her July 19, 2022, meditation from The Upper Room Disciplines, Jeannie Alexander says:

We all like to downplay the ways we contribute to a world where evil holds sway; it can be overwhelming to recognize exactly how broken our world’s systems are. Yet, as Christians, we simply cannot ignore our calling to participate in the redemption of all creation. We know we cannot fix all wrongs, but we are called to action. Reconciliation is an active process; we must enter into it as such.

She also talks about our tendency to shift toward pity or paralysis to cope with these realities. I can attest to the same leanings in myself. Sometimes the world’s suffering seems so overwhelming as to be unredeemable. In either case it is an abandonment of our call to discipleship in Jesus.

In my personal life, Alexander’s words prompt me again to action—the small actions I can actually take to make a difference. Like encouraging and supporting two small initiatives assisting refugees in Poland and Ukraine. And working to organize a dental clinic in a settlement in Johannesburg. And praying.

At work, The Upper Room has made an intentional decision to shift from a USA-based organization with international ties to a genuinely global ministry. My experiences, and especially listening to my international colleagues, have directly influenced the way I think and go about my work.

For example, when traveling in the majority world (the world outside of the West) on behalf of The Upper Room, I now enter these relationships less afraid to hear about mistakes made in the past and more willing to take responsibility for ways the relationships have been damaged. I have learned that being together in relationship with integrity requires both confession and forgiveness.

For myself, the following four characteristics have become important in my work so that we act with integrity and seek positive consequences globally.

  • Cultural humility coupled with a desire to become culturally aware. Our travels begin with listening more than talking. Respectful curiosity is important as we build new relationships. Admitting our ignorance is not a bad thing. An open mind, a curious spirit, and a respectful heart will always be well-received.
  • Deep and practical commitment to social and economic justice. We approach global partnership by privileging the voice of our global siblings. We are experimenting with a financial adjustment model that takes cost of living (COL) and purchasing power (PPI) into account when setting royalty rates and other fees.
  • Rock-solid determination to be anti-racist in our work and to eliminate racism in our own environment and in places where we have influence. We are vigilant in this work. The Upper Room empowers a board of directors for each of our affiliate organizations to reflect more accurately the demographics of their country. We hire more diverse talent by exploring channels other than those which we have relied on in the past.
  • We devote ourselves to elevating the voices of spiritual leaders in the majority world. We learn from global leaders. For example, last year The Upper Room hosted a virtual event called Resilience that featured keynote speakers from South Africa.

I have come to realize that this calling is the cultural opposite of the divisiveness so prevalent in our country and our world. The commitment to recognizing that we are all God’s children and that we are not smarter, more spiritual, or somehow more evolved theologically is crucial to the healing of the world. This does not involve diminishing ourselves—it involves elevating our siblings so that we function equitably in our spiritual formation work. And so we add spiritual equality to social justice and economic justice as we pursue God’s community on earth.

This is exciting work at a critical time. Yes, it is work and our calling as the body of Christ. May God grant us the wisdom and humility to carry it out faithfully.

Pete Velander serves as Executive Director of International Engagement for The Upper Room. He is a native Minnesotan who transplanted to Nashville ten years ago to fulfill a longtime dream of working for The Upper Room. Over that time he has developed a passion for advancing The Upper Room’s mission in global ministry. He is married to Magda, and between them they have 5 children and 5 grandchildren.

Photograph by NASA / Unsplash

1 Comment
Log In to leave a comment