Reservoir Church has a partnerships team that donates ten percent of the giving to Reservoir to people and organizations doing beautiful things in the world, people and organizations we’re in relationship with as a community. Our partnerships team facilitates those relationships as well, by staying in touch with our partners, hosting them as they visit us, communicating with you about their work, and sometimes facilitating opportunities for you to visit their work as well.
One of our most significant partnerships is with the Indian public health and community development organization, Asha. Asha’s founder and director, Kiran Martin, and her husband, Asha’s associate director Freddy Martin, have become deep friends of Reservoir, and good friends of my family as well. My family have all been with them and their work in New Delhi, India, and a number of others from Reservoir have had the opportunity to learn and serve with them in Delhi’s slum communities as well. Just this past year, two leaders in our community, the psychiatrist Dr. John Peteet, and the social worker Amanda Proctor, have been able to consult with Asha on the expansion of their community mental health programming. And Reservoir members Jean Peteet and Peter Choo are both on the Board of Asha-USA, that raises funds and advocates for Asha’s work in the US. All to say, Reservoir really loves and appreciates and respects Asha.
In a few minutes, I’m going to welcome Dr. Kiran to join us and share about what Asha is doing, and the beautiful ways she sees the Spirit of our good God working in Delhi. We’re calling this Asha Sunday, because you’re going to hear from Kiran, and after the service, there are going to be friends from Reservoir who’ve spent time with Asha out at a table in the dome art gallery. They’d be glad to talk more with you about Asha, how you learn about or give to their work, or even travel to India if you would like to learn and serve in person. We also have a video up on our facebook page about our partnership with Asha that you can take a look at.
But before I welcome Dr. Martin to share with us, I’m going to give kind of a mini-sermon on faith and power for our best work in the world. It’s a response of mine to the amazing work of Asha, and a way to try to connect it to the work that Jesus has for you to do in your jobs, in your families, and in your communities.
First, let me pray for us.
One of the best mentors and leaders in my life was my boss I had in the years I was a teacher, the school’s principal, Bak Fun Wong. Bak Fun had been trained as a teacher in Hong Kong. After his immigration to the US, he rose up the ranks in the Boston Public Schools from instructional aid in an ESL classroom all the way to deputy superintendent, one of the more prominent Asian American leaders and educators in our city at the time.
And Bak Fun had big vision for the little school where I taught. When our school was just three or four years old, still adding a grade a year on our way to a 6-12 integrated middle and high school, Bak Fun started talking with me about all that we could do for the youth of Boston.
His vision was really nothing less the disruption of how we do urban education in this country. In our country’s large cities, you may know, the wealthier families who remain in those cities tend to either opt out of public education entirely or opt in to selective schools, accessible through passing exams or other kinds of recruitment or screens. This is a huge class divide in the experience of America’s youth. And there’s a racial divide overlaid on that, and a divide between native-born and immigrant Americans, and sometimes a divide between so-called regularly developing and so-called learning disabled youth as well.
So our urban public schools, especially as kids get older are poorer in both their funding and the privilege of the students’ families. They also educate more people of color, more English language learners, more students with learning disabilities, and more students in trauma. These youth are collected in a way in some schools more than others, and then we call those schools “bad schools”, rather than saying this is bad educational policy and practice we are all implicated in.
Maybe you know this as a student or a parent or a citizen. Maybe you read about it last week in The Globe’s story published last week about Newton South and Brighton High Schools.
Bak Fun was like: we’re going to change this. We’re going to give a premier education to Boston Public School students who don’t go through all those filters, who don’t move out or test out or opt out into these spaces of privilege. We’re going to show that’s possible.
I would usually be very inspired in these conversations, like what can I do? What part can I play?
But once in a while, I’d want to say: Bak Fun, have you seen one of our bathrooms? You know, one of our too small, too dirty, too foul-reeking bathrooms our kids use. Our school is a dump right now. Or I’d want to walk him to Mr. or Ms’ So-and-So’s classroom and say, Bak Fun, have you watched what happens in this room? We’ve got some amazing teachers, and you know, some less amazing ones.
How in the world will your vision ever come to pass?
And it’s then that Bak Fun would say with a gleam in his eye: To do the impossible, you have to see the invisible.
To do the impossible, you have to see the invisible.
Other people have said similar words, but they came to me through Bak Fun.
Partly this is what social workers call a strength based approach. You may see lots of problems, deficits that stand in the way of the health or success of a person or a community. I saw our school’s sub-par facilities and our uneven teaching. The public saw our students’ poverty and trauma and below average test scores.
And most of us would tend to put all that together and think: not very much is possible here.
But a strengths based approach with ourselves, with others, with our work, with communities, always asks first: what strengths are here? What obvious, visible strengths? What hidden, and so at least to some, invisible strengths, are there to work with?
Bak Fun saw the cultural wealth of our school’s diversity. He saw the resilience of our kids and their families. He saw the rich economic and educational capital of the city of Boston, and knew there were resources we could draw on there.
And Bak Fun believed that every child is made by God, and possesses dignity, talent, and potential that mirrors the glory of their unseen Maker.
To do the impossible, you have to see the invisible.
This is a strengths based approach to life and work, and it’s also a way to think about and practice the meaning of faith.
The scriptures teach:
Hebrews 11:1 (CEB)
Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see.
How can you guarantee your hopes? And how can you prove the existence or the goodness of God?
Well, in one sense, you can’t. You can’t guarantee the future. And you can’t prove the invisible.
And yet, in another sense, trust makes hope real. And faith brings life to the invisible, and so proves it to us.
I think Bak Fun saw the love and support in the school culture he was promoting, and some of the other good things happening beneath the surface of our school, and thought, this is the reality of what we hope for.
I know Bak Fun believed in an impossibly good and just God of love. And Bak Fun, and many on our team, trusted that that good God inspires and cooperates in our endeavors to do what is good and just. And that was proof of what we couldn’t yet see.
Sometimes faith and hope, vision, is inspiring. And sometimes it is frustrating. Because it’s not here yet.
I was part of a team of teacher leaders who helped Bak Fun run our school, and implement growth and change. We’d develop curriculum and practices, we’d foster collaboration among our teachers and staff, we’d keep order and discipline and support for our students. We’d try to bridge the gap between our reality today and Bak Fun’s hopes for tomorrow.
And sometimes I’d want to say to him: Bak Fun, to do what’s possible, you need to see what’s visible.
Get your head out of the clouds. We’re not there yet.
And that was fair. Finding small, possible remedies for real, daily problems is important work. And finding contentment and peace with our not so great present realities is a big part of a good life, a faithful life. And there are spiritual tools for that too.
But if we only saw what was possible, that’s all we would ever have.
To see the invisible strengths in ourselves, our friends, our family, our neighbors, our workplace, our communities is to nourish hope in what we can still become.
And to trust God is with us, and that the nature of our invisible God is steadfast kindness, justice, and love is to give us a compass for our efforts, fuel for our gritty perseverance, and hope to make us strong and bold and even full of joy.
To do the impossible, we have to see the invisible.
Jesus taught about this too. One story I preached on this past Christmas:
Mark 4:30-32 (CEB)
He continued, “What’s a good image for God’s kingdom? What parable can I use to explain it? 31 Consider a mustard seed. When scattered on the ground, it’s the smallest of all the seeds on the earth; 32 but when it’s planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all vegetable plants. It produces such large branches that the birds in the sky are able to nest in its shade.”
Seeds are like this. Some of them like mustard seeds are tiny and hard. They look like waste. And yet within them is this invisible strength – the chemistry and properties of life, that with soil and sun and water and air become beautiful, fruitful trees of life. Themselves living things, and producers of life, and shelters of life – participants in healthy, fruitful, protective, nourishing ecosystems.
Jesus says God’s invisible presence on earth is like this. Unseen, or not looking like much, easy to neglect or throw away or underestimate.
The Kingdom of God is like that crappy, failing school you won’t send your kids to. With time and care and hope and skill and faith, God will make that the most beautiful of schools – producing leaders and citizens and caregivers we all need.
The Kingdom of God is like that autistic child you don’t understand. Why doesn’t he look at you or talk? Why is her thinking rigid or anxious? What you can’t see is that God made this child beautiful. There is perspective and brains and ability to be praised and cultivated that with time and care and hope and skill and faith, God will make to the most fruitful of people – a parent, a writer, a scientist, a programmer that will bless our world with their contributions.
The Kingdom of God is like a cholera-infested slum community in Northern India. It’s that crowded cluster of tenements off the roadside, where trash is sorted, where children work, where parents’ hopes and dreams and bodies die.
A young Indian pediatrician just out of medical school saw such a community through the eyes of faith and hope and love, and she set up a mobile clinic. That clinic became a public health center. Which became a women’s group and a children’s group. Which with time and care and hope and skill and faith became a series of centers of education, health care, and empowerment throughout the slums of Delhi.
Where most people saw outcasts, Dr. Kiran saw people made in the image of God that could be empowered to develop a healthy community. Where others saw communities you would never let your kids enter, Dr. Kiran saw loving neighborhoods where her own daughters made friends and played – as now my own children have had the blessing of doing so. And where their country and class saw kids who would become beggars and laborers, Asha has seen children who with time and care and skill and hope and faith, can gain entrance to the most elite universities, the most promising careers, and who can break multi-generational patterns of poverty in their communities.
To do the impossible, you have to see the invisible.
Kiran and Asha encourage me to do the same – in my prayers, in my parenting, in my friendships, in my work. And they do the impossible in accordance with their values of dignity, empowerment, justice, non violence, compassion, gratitude, generosity, optimism, joy, simplicity, and the power of touch. These 11 Asha values are an embodiment of the love of Jesus, they are a way of life I’m learning from Asha.
Contact steve@reservoirchurch about travelling to India with an Asha team.
An Invitation to Whole Life Flourishing
Cultivate your vision of the invisible in yourself, your people, and your work.
Spiritual Practice of the Week
Choose one Asha value and seek to make it a way of life in all you do this week. (dignity, empowerment, justice, non violence, compassion, gratitude, generosity, optimism, joy, simplicity, and the power of touch)