What am I hearing over here?

Reflections of a missionary abroad on far-reaching American politics

Joshua Garber, second from left, and church youth lead worship at a gathering of the Mennonite Evangelical Community of Barcelona. — Alisha Garber Joshua Garber, second from left, and church youth lead worship at a gathering of the Mennonite Evangelical Community of Barcelona. — Alisha Garber

People often ask me, “What are you hearing over there about the elections?” What a tricky question. In 2020, news and political commentary are limitless. Whether you’re sitting in your recliner in Sunnyslope, Ariz., or typing this article from a kitchen in Barcelona, Spain (as I am), the media you ​choose to consume determines what you hear — and frames your worldview.

And yet, here I am wrestling with this question while also carrying my own baggage of being both a veteran of the U.S. military and a Mennonite missionary.

Now, I know good Christian folks politically on both sides of the aisle and, prior to COVID-19, they could have sat next to each other in church. Within my family there are “blue” folks and “red” folks and others who lean Libertarian, vote for the Green Party or remain independent. And, like a good dinner-party guest, I often decline to comment on politics (declining to discuss religion is not an option due to my chosen vocation).

That said, I feel moved to shift political questions like “Should I vote?” and “Who should I vote for?” to thinking more creatively about fundamental issues of faith and allegiance. This comes from a place of not wanting to embolden an egomaniacal society that has assumed the role of self-appointed world police while living an “in God we trust” nightmare where:

Babies are separated from their parents and put in cages (#MigrationInjustice).

Tax-paying citizens are still without clean drinking water (#FlintMichigan).

Folks are living under tarped makeshift shelters as another hurricane season comes and goes (#PuertoRico).

Children of God are suffocated in the street and shot on their sofas for the “crime” of being born black (#BlackLivesMatter).

“One nation under God”? Well, my God doesn’t stand for that nonsense. These certainly aren’t examples set by the Jesus I know.

What am I hearing over here about the elections? I’m hearing about a nation where the power-hungry pursue profit over people. A nation whose peaceful activists are silenced with brute force and whose cries for justice are suffocated by pepper spray. A nation whose elite rise by kneeling on the necks of the brown and Black folks whom Jesus sought to protect.

What am I hearing? I try to listen carefully, broadly and wisely. With resources like Politifact and Snopes, anyone can discern facts from fake news. Social media can be a cesspool of false information, especially before an election. I implore you to eschew ignorance and pursue truth, with a heart attuned to justice in the name of Jesus.

Please pray the words of Luke 6:27-28​ and carve them into your heart, before it becomes hardened by the donkey vs. elephant debate: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

To make our every thought, word, deed and social media post reflect the character of Christ, we need to revisit the God we see in our world today (Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5). After Christ’s death on the cross, we assumed his “second body” here on Earth. We are what remains and have a responsibility to the whole world, not just one country.

What am I hearing over here about the elections? Let me tell you, the world isn’t so different over here.​

Alisha Garber and son Asher share communion with members of the Mennonite Evangelical Community of Barcelona. — Joshua Garber
Alisha Garber and son Asher share communion with members of the Mennonite Evangelical Community of Barcelona. — Joshua Garber

A few months ago the youth group of the church we serve — Comunidad Evangélica Menonita (Mennonite Evangelical Community) — took responsibility for the Sunday online church service​. In solidarity with the political demonstrations occurring globally for the #BlackLivesMatter movement, they dedicated a section of the service to listing the names of people of color who died at the hands of police officers in Spain, leaving space for contemplation and prayer.

What a beautiful way to shed light on the very things for which Christ desired justice!

In a conversation later that week, we realized not everyone received the service the same way. One person asked, “Did an adult approve the things the youth published online?” This person went on to say that topics like that have no place in the Sunday service because they aren’t about spirituality or from Scripture and just aren’t church.

My response was that matters of justice are matters of Christ. They can’t be separated. Both deserve attention and action.

Similar conversations happen in places other than Barcelona. When one treats the church like a perfect crystal cathedral — only worthy of four-part a cappella songs and perfectly preached sermons that affirm your own lifestyle while turning a blind eye to the beggar on the corner and the hate speech outside your neighborhood mosque — then one’s bound to be disappointed when we talk about the muck of the world.

What am I hearing over here about the elections? Honestly, nothing I should share. What I can​ tell you is that I hear the wind rustling the trees, blowing warmer as the summer heat encroaches well into autumn (#ClimateJustice).

I can tell you I feel a rock drop to the pit of my stomach every time I read about another person of color murdered by those meant to serve and protect (#SayTheirNames).

I can tell you I hear the young people in my church crying for change, imploring us to try something different after the reset of a pandemic.

I can tell you I’m listening but not sitting idly by.

If you ask, “What are you hearing over there about the elections?” I’ll respond: What are you doing about the cry of the Lamb?

Alisha Garber serves with Mennonite Mission Network in Barcelona, Catalonia, a region where allegiance to Spain vies with voices calling for independence. With husband Joshua and son Asher, she works alongside the leaders of Mennonite Evangelical Community of Barcelona focusing on youth outreach and congregational mission.

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