I had another one of those highly contrasting set of events 2 weekends ago:
(1) Freedom Summit: “Our goal is to inform and engage the Bay Area in a united fight against the epidemic of human trafficking. Our local response to this global injustice involves training individuals to raise community awareness, identify trafficking victims, and vote for change through policy and consumer choices.”
(2) Culture of Healing Conference: “We want to see the local church rise up to her destiny as a healing community in the land. All are invited who want to grow in praying for the sick. We will have a time of worship and inspirational instruction followed by an application of healing ministry by the attendees for all who need healing.”
I barely caught the 17 bus in time to get to San Jose to be picked up by a friend and on our way to some church for Freedom Summit. I made it just in time to get on the bus, but not in time to get change for bus fare. A young man spots my $5, and I tell him that I’ll get change at the end of our ride. I’m quite grateful for the kindness of this stranger.
At the end of the ride, as we walked to the vendor inside the train station, I decide that I want to buy him food (in addition to paying him back). It turns out this person came over the hill to get an advance on his paycheck so that he could pay off debts. He’d had some bad run in when someone got in his face while he was “reading the Bible.” Hah, ok, well if I ever needed an opened door to pray for someone, there it is. That’s just the beginning of my trip…
I get picked up from a Stanford friend to register for Freedom Summit. I don’t know how or when it happened, but somehow he graciously decided he’d pick me up for the summit, leave early so that we’d catch the Healing Conference, give me a ride to another friend’s house, then do it again the next morning. I offerred to pay for gas as I tend to do (I think next time I should just leave a $20 in his car).
You know it’s really hard to write about these trips b/c so much happens emotionally and spiritually, especially this past weekend. This post will be about the contrast of a conference on slavery and a conference on supernatural healings. My next post in regards to this weekend is called, “So This Is Passion,” which will be about how deeply I believe in connecting with the PhD students in the bay area, even though it seems so hard to explain why.
The first Freedom Summit was in 2009, and this was it’s second occurrence, headlined by Condoleezza Rice and some Christian singer/songwriter that I’d never heard of before. Didn’t end up seeing Rice’s talk, but this meeting was about more than the motivational words of some famous political figure. This summit was a rally of causes, organizations, and curious individuals to build community and awareness.
For me, the most valuable bits of information I received upon registration was the list of organizations represented which ranged from fair trade to ending sex slavery abroad to ending sex slavery locally. The exhibit hall was far too chaotic, and I’ve been to too many conferences to play the “passport game” and collect stamps from each exhibitor for my chance to win an ipad. I’m in the game industry and the variety free stuff/raffles available at E3 and GDC cannot be matched, although, the occasional free ball point pen did come in handy.
A Great Campaign
The most impact I experienced was coming into the main lobby and being asked where I bought my clothes. “Forever21,” I respond. “Oh great, they’ve got lots of slaves,” I’m told. They asked if I’d mind taking a photo to show that I care about modern day slavery so that they could send the photos to the appropriate corporations. Did I feel guilty for wearing clothes made by slaves?… Yes, however, they weren’t trying to make me feel guilty, I just did. Will this make me stop buying clothes from Forever21?… No, but that wasn’t what they were trying to do. This group chose to attack the problem closer to the source, at the corporate and commercial level.
My thesis involves logic, and this is an example of great deployment of good logic. Now, my main focus in on rhetoric, and how it is used to convey meaning. When rhetoric is overused, people feel manipulated. This group however relied on how they presented the facts to make their statement without needing to bias their discourse. Perhaps a bit too technical, but just look at the breakdown below:
- Suppose a person goes to Freedom Summit, then they must care about slavery.
- Suppose the same person wears clothes from a particular vendor, then this person is some sort of consumer base for this vendor.
- It then follows that this consumer cares about slavery.
They don’t need to force the correlation, because that’s for the marketing department of Forever21 to figure out. This great setup has left a lasting impression on me, where I’ll inevitably be more thoughtful about where my clothes come from. They didn’t force me accept their views, they merely informed me. I find it to be refreshing to be given the honor of coming to my own conclusions. This is a gem among the propaganda saturation of today, and something that Christian Evangelism should adopt more– honoring, provoking, and un-intrusive.
Driving the Big Picture
After loading up on chocolate from Trade as One (which is based in Santa Cruz!) and breezing through the bookstore, I try to collect information about the organization of this big picture. What I find to be optimal from my experiences both as an academic and within the game industry is that there has to be this one thing that drives the overall message.
In Computer Science there is one main Artificial Intelligence Conference, defined by its community of researchers. Now, those people in that community may also be part of other similar communities, but there would be no point in having the same conference for the same people as its own separate organization. Eventually, one of the organizations would be defined by a stronger community and the other would cease to exist, because such divisions only weaken the cause.
Talking to the anti-slavery organizations, who were all trying to do similar things either in the area of slavery in manufacturing , slavery in prostitution, or slavery from oppressive regimes, there isn’t one unifying move. It’s a lot of specific endeavors with the same vision. They’d make a greater statement if they were able to demonstrate one unifying cause defined by friendship. Instead, there are a lot of these remote conferences where people seemed more to be defined by their co-misery.
Now, I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be separate organizations, but that they should figure out how acknowledge one another in extreme friendship and, dare I say, love. To me, that says, “something big is happening, and you don’t want to miss it,” rather than, “this is so messed up, and we have to do something because no one cares.” The first statement inspires people through empowerment and adventure, the second statement inspires people through guilt and despair. You don’t need a PhD to see that contrast.
Basically, they need the one conference that makes their statement– the ultimate freedom conference.
The plenary speakers told stories of their adventures and life experiences (implicitly talking about faith and scripture), which were thought provoking and novel, but nothing revolutionary. Also, I went to two breakout sessions and, by the end of the day, was too aggravated to go to a third.
The first session speaker, from Hagar International, gave very practical information about statistics for funding and marketing efficacy. Here are some statistics from Jane Tafel’s presentation:
What influences online giving (Convio, 2009)
- 44% say organization’s website influenced decisions
- 40% word of mouth
- 27% email from organization
- 28% postal mail from organization
- 25% what family and friends say on social media and in personal email
Who influences support of charities (Cone Communications, 2007)
- Family (77%)
- Friends (64%)
- The organization, itself (63%))
- Places of worship (60%)
- Co-workers (40%)
- Companies (30%)
- 15% Celebrities (LOL)
Eerily, this was a non-Christian conference where everyone seemed Christian. Something about that rubs me the wrong way. I see the tactfulness of their approach, but the whole putting Jesus in the back seat is something that has grown intolerable for me in the last few months.
The second session was about spiritual self care sessions, which basically reiterates how we need to take care of ourselves. It was too spiritually indirect for me to glean more than the general idea. That’s what aggravated me about this event most, which I’ll write more about in Part 2 – “So This is Passion,” that it’s just a big gathering of people looking for purpose through finding a few good ideas.
What bugged me to the point of tears, pacing back and forth talking out loud to sort out my frustration, and then writing down the reasons why I was mad, while still at the conference, was that almost everyone there knew God. Now, I can imagine the indifference from my atheist labmates, b/c there isn’t a feasible solution to these problems, so they focus on the more solvable ones. So, at least all the people here dared to attempt the impossible, right?
What it would take to solve these problems would be a miracle. So, this is basically a conference where Christians come together to talk about causes that could matter to everyone, so they leave out God, such that they can perform the miraculous for God.
Miracles with God
“Let me say that his stories are far more amazing than the healings I saw that night. It’s easier for me to believe that Joaquin had no reason to lie to me, was of sound mind, and not trying to manipulate me in any way, than it was to believe that people all around me were getting healed through prayer. Seeing isn’t believing.”
This second healing conference, held by the Gathering by the Bay group, was conveniently 15 minutes away from Freedom Summit. I was suppose to arrive there early (because I was formally trained and placed on the prayer team), but out of the respect for my ride, I didn’t want to impose at all. I was just grateful for, first, that this person may experience aspects of his God in new ways, and second, that I didn’t have to walk… lol.
I asked so many people to come to this; many came, most did not. I wasn’t in the mindset to focus on those who were sick and in pain. I was focused on the grad students, students with grad degrees, and others. My networking mechanisms kicked in and I was all over the place all night, introducing everyone to everyone else.
- There were 4 PhD students (plus 1 husband, software guy) and 1 who’d gotten his masters from UCSC.
- There were 2 people with PhD’s, 2 who were getting PhD’s, 1 who’d gotten her masters, and a few undergrads from Stanford.
- Now, I didn’t invite all of them, but most of them came because of some invitation I sent, perhaps indirectly.
- Additionally, was a friend from my Baptist church and a vigilante healer friend (named Brandon).
- Then there were the people from my other church, who organized the event (which probably composed of 1/4 of the people there and 3 of them were working professionals, 2 PhD’s and 1 EdD)
That is to say that I knew a lot of people there.
Now, the first healing conference left a huge impact on me. It was so unbelievable, that I started going out and trying to see if I’d yield similar outcomes. In my mind, I knew I had to bring the most well-educated people to see how they’d take it, because this is honestly, irrational, to not consider that the evidence possibly correlates to faith.
I watched and dialogged with some of the most well educated people in the world, some hearing about this sort of thing for the first time. It was funny looking at their facial expressions as I tried to evaluate how they were being impacted. Perhaps, my favorite parts of the evening was watching my PhD friends laughing at Joaquin’s jokes. “What a miracle!,” Joaquin said, when I told him about it the day after the conference.
Seeing all these people, and knowing that each person was at a different point in their walk with God was similarly inspiring. I watched new and old Christians reaching out in faith, in hopes to having a real encounter God. I watched some of the most analytical people I know, collecting and interviewing from those who’d been healed of ailments, some spanning decades, with pain that was no more. I did the same thing when I first met Rick Larson a few months ago at the first one.
This second time, I’m not overwhelmed by the contrast of what is going on in the room and what I’d only experienced in my life. I am certain that healings happened those two nights, stories that evidence the supernatural. These testimonies have been recorded and will be available online soon, but this post isn’t about that.
So sure, as intellectuals, this meeting changes everything about what many of us have known to expect from faith, but slavery is still a problem. Don’t we still need to care about the appalling numbers of children being sexually abused all over the world?
Maybe someone doesn’t have cancer anymore. A few people can bend their knees, and others can hear again. It almost feels like a bunch of parlor tricks when compared against world-wide devastations, like child prostitution. I suppose to solve those problems may be miracles of far greater magnitude, but what I want to emphasize was best explained by Joaquin.
Joaquin Evans spent the night talking about what it was like to partner with God. That this wasn’t ever about us, b/c God loves that person more than we ever could. Freedom Summit makes it all about us and how we are to bless others. In the last few months, many people have made this point clear, whether it was Mike Bickle at IHOP, Heidi Baker from her book, or Jake Hamilton at his concert, that God’s heart moves when our hearts move with His.
- Mike Bickle says that his ministry isn’t his dream, his dream is to know and love God
- Heidi Baker pleads for us to stop doing everything, if we don’t understand what it means to be utterly in love with Jesus
- Jake Hamilton said that if we know Jesus, not just know about Jesus, that this intimacy enables the impossible
These are people who have seen and continue to see revivals, so those aren’t ineffective statements of sloth and indifference. They bring a message of hope and victory, not desperation and defeat. Similarly, I want to see revival. For me, this begins with inspiring the most well educated people in the world to want more in the right ways, not just by using their big brains to come up with a few good ideas.
If we could just figure out how to be friends who love God more than anything, the unimaginable would be possible. If God can heal cancer through a 10 year old boy, imagine what miracles would be possible from a whole body of people willing to live in faith and contend for the worst problems in the world. As Joaquin says, it’s as simple as “acknowledging His presence.”
God doesn’t want us to solve His “problems,” He wants us to know Him more than we could possibly fathom. I choose “Miracles with God.”