This past month 22 students graduated with a masters degree in Global Urban Leadership and one with a doctorate through CTM’s partnership with Bakke Graduate University.
This celebration was the fruit of much labor and much love. Each student read nearly 15,000 pages, written more than 300 pages and completed at least 10 projects in which they translated principles into practice. These students underwent a demanding process of learning how to do theology from below – learning how to read Scripture with and for the communities they serve. This was no ivory tower experience. This was theology done in the context in which the leader’s serve. All of their classes were held in informal settlements like Kibera and Mathare.
As graduates they join a very exclusive club. Less than 1% of the world’s population holds a masters degree and a fraction of 1% holds a doctorate. A very rare and seductive kind of power was conferred upon them along with their degrees and they will be called to steward it on behalf of those they serve. They will be tempted, as all people with power are tempted, to use their gift for their own ends, thereby excluding others.
Stewarding power and using one’s voice on behalf of the voiceless is not without its risks. That is why Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, said that if we want to teach and preach a subversive Gospel, “The key is not to be detected too soon.” Why? Because theology from below is often experienced as a threat by those from above. This should not surprise us. Even Jesus’ first sermon ended badly. The crowd became enraged and filled with vengeance when Jesus began to teach about the expansive movement of grace throughout history that made room for the excluded (See Luke 4:16-30).
One incident that occurred at graduation illustrates in a small way how power has been stewarded and how these graduates will continue to steward power for those considered least in the world.
Holy moments are hard to predict. They tend to blindside us, which is probably because it’s the only side of life that is undefended and open enough for grace to get through. Of course, we should have guessed something was brewing when we saw dozens of kids from Mathare, one of the informal settlements in Nairobi, enter the grounds single file to support one of the graduates who has offered them so much support to them over the years. Moses (who has written several reflections for this website) has dedicated his life to these kids, living and working along side them in Mathare. The youth sat down on the grass and waited to hear the name of their friend, mentor and father figure announced.
As each of the 23 graduates were announced the crowd of about 400 who had come from towns and villages throughout Kenya showered the graduates with adulation. Each graduate was given an incredible show of appreciation. They soaked it in and deservedly so, but when Moses’ name was announced something special happened. The place erupted with a collective energy that swept over the gathering. The burst of energy was led by the kids from Mathare.
The kids were cheering for Moses who has loved and served his community well, but at some point the cheers ceased to be about Moses alone. It slipped into a whole other realm that included all of us, or at least that is how it felt to me. God seemed to be squeezing God’s glory into one tiny space, in one tiny moment, through one tiny gathering on this great big planet. We were witnessing the miracle of the Incarnation – God enfleshed!
For those few moments Moses became a mirror that reflected God’s grace to all of us. We witnessed our own fragile hopes and dreams come to life. We witnessed God’s relentless YES in Christ – a YES to all those who have been told NO by this world. All who were there were unmistakably, undeniably, completely and freely blindsided by grace. It was a beautiful gift.
After the graduates had received their diplomas, we decided to go off script and call the kids up front. Instead of one of the staff giving the graduates a traditional charge we invited the kids to raise their hands as a sign of God’s blessing. I don’t think any of us will soon forget the power of being blessed by children who live in wretched poverty. It is a humbling thing to be blessed by “the least of these.”
To see photos of all the graduates, go here.
Serves as director of Center for Transforming Mission
Bumps into Reality by accident, most of the time
Heard God laugh once