When Anna graduated from college, she had big plans to translate her labor and delivery nursing skills into overseas ministry. Then she went on a short-term mission trip to test the waters, and returned completely overwhelmed. The issues of maternal and infant mortality in Africa were deep and complicated. The problems weren’t just physical—they were political, educational, social, spiritual. Justice and ministry walked hand-in-hand, and both were heavier and more nuanced callings than she’d realized.
“Initially, I felt pretty helpless,” Anna says. “In the face of such brokenness, where do you start? As I learned more about Discipling for Development (D4D) and their vision—empowering communities through whole-life discipleship—I realized that there are ways I can have a meaningful impact. It was just going to take a lot more training, and a different approach!”
Ministering at the Root
Anna and three other team members found their chance to make a sustainable impact through D4D’s new training program. Beginning in November 2013, this program has become a foundational training experience for Anna, Jason, Erin, and Matt—its first four participants. Here they explore God’s heart for the poor, the call to serve, basics of cross-cultural communication, adult learning techniques, leadership development, community development, teamwork, and spiritual formation. This first group is nearing the end of a seven-month training in Colorado Springs, after which they will spend a few months in Uganda and a year in the Philippines ministering among the poor and vulnerable.
For team leader Matt Foral, who joined The Navigators in 2011, collaborating with D4D was truly providential.
“I thought if there are people who are addressing the problems of poverty through discipleship, through heart change, I want to learn from these people,” Matt says. “Poverty starts with broken relationship. You really see that in poor communities. I want to get to the root of things so people can continue long after I’m gone. That’s what D4D is all about—reconciling these broken relationships in Christ, empowering communities to solve their own problems so they can live life to the full, and imparting a vision to pass this hope to their neighbors.”
Organic, Whole-life Discipleship
For Matt, watching God weave discipleship and justice together through D4D’s ministry has been transformative.
“Before, pursuing justice seemed more of an activity like going to court or lobbying for new laws,” Matt says. “But as I have heard stories of injustice giving way to sacrificial love in communities D4D has come alongside, I see how justice is the result of loving well.”
Matt says many adults in their 20s and 30s have the passion and relational style to reach the vulnerable in powerful ways—whether that means creative overseas missions or carrying granola bars in their car for homeless people they seek out in their own communities.
“This generation wants to pass on the Gospel in a relational way,” Matt says. “That’s a faith that is outward looking—it isn’t just about what happens after I die, but how I live this life. Justice should be a natural outflow in a Christian’s life, and I think this generation really resonates with that.”
Ministering and serving vulnerable people in a cross-cultural context requires a posture of humility at every turn.
“When you enter a cross-cultural context, you are not the first on the scene,” Jason says. “Not only has the culture existed long before you arrived, but God has been there as well, sustaining the works of His hands whether He has been acknowledged or not. Equipped with this perspective, I eagerly anticipate learning from and participating in the work that God has already been doing.”
Erin also views her ministry with D4D through the lens of humility.
“One thing the Lord has made clear to me is that I am not the one who serves justice, I am not the one who saves people, I am not a hero,” Erin says. “I am only an instrument for the Lord to use as He wants. It’s an awesome privilege to be a part of God’s plan for justice in the lives of those who suffer oppression.”
Justice in Jesus
As D4D prepares to send off its first class of trainees this May, the team is praying that the Lord will inspire hope in the midst of every challenge. They will be the hands and feet and the tender heart of Jesus to those they meet.
“If we simply look at justice—rescuing those experiencing injustice and punishing those who kept them there—hearts will still experience pain and the system will still be broken,” Anna says. “If we only pursue discipleship, those who are suffering will see the hope in our words, and perhaps even turn to Jesus, but they’ll still be suffering, and need help. For the body of Christ, justice and discipleship go hand-in-hand as we love our neighbors—whoever they may be.”