This week’s blog entries are by guest blogger, Jean-Luc Krieg, whom I met during my time in Mexico City earlier this summer. After you read this entry, see the reflection question I’ve put at the end to help us process the ideas and their implications for our own ministries.
When I was 12 years old, my family moved from Cote d’Ivoire back to Switzerland for good. Even though I was quite unhappy initially that we left Cote d’Ivoire, the by now well-rehearsed practice of moving and adjusting to new places (I had already moved eight times since my birth) made it easier to “get into Switzerland.” Yet, after 3-4 years in Switzerland, I became very aware that I was not fully at home here, either. A rebellious teenage period, followed by a strong conversion experience – propelled by ex-junkies and Heavy Metal musicians – started an intense search for God, for identity and for an intellectually relevant basis for my faith: Why do I believe? became a predominant question for the next five years. A number of my questions were settled during my days at l’Abri in 1993, a study center founded by Dr. Francis Schaeffer in the Swiss Alps and open to people from around the world seeking truth and a relevant system of belief. After that it no longer seemed necessary to do mind-gymnastics to bridge faith and reason. During that same time my awareness of not fully belonging to Switzerland was highlighted by two events at my conservative free-evangelical church when I was 18.
The architecture of our church building, aside from the sanctuary and some class rooms, included apartments, which the church rented out. One time a very friendly Moroccan Muslim couple, both working professionals with decent jobs, applied to lease one of the apartments. Also, a divorced Swiss agnostic woman inquired, who was in a congenial relationship with a Swiss man. When the elders of the church decided to give the apartment to the Swiss woman instead of the Moroccan couple, arguing the Moroccans would bring a “bad spirit” into the building, due to their religion, I reacted with disbelief and anger. I was angry, because I knew that underneath that spiritually white-washed statement stood xenophobia, or fear and non-acceptance of foreigners. I sensed that the influx of refugees and political asylum seekers to Switzerland during those years, which had many Swiss feeling very uneasy, had also impacted the elders of my church. They had uncritically bought into the fortress mentality that could increasingly be discerned among the average Swiss citizen; a mentality that could be likened to a spirit of exclusion with serious repercussions for non-Swiss.
It became clear to me, then, that my church’s leadership was not ready nor prepared to question its’ latent and underlying xenophobia. While they were sincere and nice people, neither they nor the church would engage and take an active stance in the refugee problem; a problem particularly prevalent in our city, which was bordering on Germany. Unfortunately, based on its dualistic worldview, the church saw itself foremost as a spiritual entity and therefore apolitical. A related event cemented this assessment. In the previous two years I had built relationships with several political asylum seekers and approached the board of elders to ask for permission that a few members of our youth group could organize a monthly dinner event with these refugees, in the hopes of starting a Bible study with them. The idea was shot down, and I remember particularly one comment by one of the elders: “While we appreciate your enthusiasm, we don’t want any of our girls to get pregnant – the risk is simply too great!”
Both events turned out to be watershed moments in my life and would shape my future quest for a holistic faith, for it made me realize that it was not enough to invite Jesus just into one’s life, but that Christians must invite God into their world. It marked the beginning of a long theological crisis, in which I realized that the question What do I believe? could not simply be answered by reading systematic theology and subscribing to different doctrinal statements. Consequently, answering this question was not as simple as I had first thought. Instead, a myriad of new questions burst open.
To what degree have you experienced or observed xenophobia or racism? How does that impact your ministry?
What questions have your experiences brought to bear on your theology?