Saturday, January 10, 2009

Call + Response // The Role of the Church


Part of my career has been spent as an investigative news producer. (I’ve got any Emmy on my mantel to remind me of my many adventures during that time)

One thing I’ve learned, the heart of the investigative journalist should contain a deep respect for the influence that they hold.

The day a multi-week investigation into Dangerous Doctors in Calif. culminated in a confrontation with a Dr. who let his receptionist administer anesthesia to one of his surgical patients (the tummy-tuck patient died on the table)… was a day to recognize the GOOD real investigative journalism does. (In the end… this investigation that lasted nearly 6 months, and exposed dozens of doctors and resulted in changing the way The Medical Board of Calif policed physicians. Prior to our investigation the MBC didn’t have the power to get a TRO on doctors who were killing people. After our report… they were able to stop Dangerous Dr’s as soon as they were found out. Also, our report revealed the reason this hadn’t been done before: Doctors were the leading contributors to the legislators who held the key to empower the MBC.)

Real substantive change resulted from this investigation… from revealing the true horror that was being done to people.


It is because I respect the power of investigative journalism that anytime a reporter or film maker dives in to an issue and exposes something that needs light or needs to be changed… they’ve got my attention.

This week in East Texas… the work of a visionary who is leading the charge to change the course of humanity is being showcased. It is a work of passion. It is a work that requires a response. It is not a piece of art that can be view passively.

The film “Call + Response,” pioneered by director & musician Justin Dillon is a voice. It is the voice of investigation that reveals the plight of nearly 27 million human slaves that still exist in the world today. Hard to believe, but true. Slavery is not gone.

The film is worthy of our attention. The movement being pioneered by modern day abolitionists is something not one of us should ignore. In fact… we should join their ranks. We should insist that real change comes from the awareness this film brings.

But, one thing beyond the investigation, and the obvious need to do something about this crisis is the role the church should/needs to play in this movement.


I was struck by the words I read this morning in Patrick Butler’s column published in the Tyler Morning Telegraph. Butler interviewed Dillon, and asked him about what the church should do about this abomination:

Justin Dillon (JD):
The church, as I understand it, is not just a redeeming organization. In fact, it doesn't really do the redeeming. Its prime focus is in restoring, rebuilding and helping individuals to understand their lives (in the context) of a post-spiritual redemption. The church is a mechanism for that. When I think of a lot of people of faith, their role is not just in the redeeming - and if you want to create an analogue for that inside the work of human trafficking, that would be the "rescuing" - but also in the restoration, the building of a system that puts people in a better place than they were before they were put into a slavery situation.

Q: When you said the church is not primarily a redeeming organization, who does the redeeming?

JD: I would assume that would be God. (Pause). I hope so. Let's be honest, I think people do get confused. I think people sometimes think the churches are the redeeming organizations. They're not. I think you get confused when you start turning it into "we're the ones that redeem." If you think, "we're a part of the restoration once someone has been redeemed," that (involves the church) as part of life.

And restoration is the part not quite as "sexy," to be quite honest with you. Restoration is hard work; restoring someone who's come out of, say, drug addiction, they want to go back. There's a 50-percent rate for girls brought out of child brothels who want to go back. That's defeating at some levels, but do you not pull them out and try to help them anyway? Of course you do.

But you realize that the work of restoration, the work of rehabilitation, is the unsung work. It's the non-sexy work, it's the day-to-day, it's the thankless work. I believe part of the church's mandate - honestly, what they're really good at - is sticking with people, helping them be restored.

Everyone in the international community cries for that bit of labor - "will somebody stick with this" - because you can pull 10 kids out of brothel, but you just created a life's work for someone else. And who's going to stick with it?

The church’s work should be RESTORATION.

Words of wisdom spoken by someone not part of the traditional Evangelical Community. Words of a film maker.

I pray he’s right that RESTORATION is “what (the church is) really good at.” I know that CAN be true.

Sometimes, out of good intentions, we (the church) can really focus on REDEMPTION: #’s of Professions of Faith, or #’s of seats filled on Sunday morning. Those things are measurable. In business terms you would call those #’s ROI – Return on Investment. (it cost X to run this church and we’re reaching X amount of people, or the Missions Trip cost us X to do and we were able to reach X amount of people.)

Much of the time we DO use our compassion and love in the RESTORATION process. We do try to care for widows, the poor, the hurting. We do try to be Christ-like in our responses. (After all he did spend much of his time ministering to the “sick.”)

But there is something I can’t get out of my head that Dillon points out: We need be in the restoration business for the long-haul. Through set-backs, mis-cues and hard-times we need, as a body, to continue to convey the love of Christ. Return on MINISTRY (ROM) is often harder to measure and justify than ROI. It isn’t sexy. It isn’t glamorous. And, it’s hard to present in the annual church/ministry report. But it IS the key to success in the modern-day abolition movement (and many other restoration needs as well). We need not only to rescue, we need to restore.

A good case study might be found in the Lost Boys of Sudan. Many of those boys who escaped lion attacks, persecution, and death… were brought here to the U.S. Most have been molded into our culture… but it hasn’t always been successful or easy. I had my groceries bagged by a former “Lost Boy” in San Jose, CA once, and met several of his friends who were rescued as well, then settled in the same area. Most were doing well, and I was moved by all that those in their lives who were doing so much to craft both healing and assimilation. Other “Lost Boys” have struggled much more with blending into a life that is vastly different than what they were rescued from.


The point here… the church needs to play a pivotal role in stamping out slavery… for good. The church needs to be relevant inside its wall and out. We need to step up to the plate. We need to reveal Christ in the way we respond to the disgrace of human slavery. Our response needs to be compassionate and physical. It needs to include check-writing and donations, but it also needs to be tangible on the back end.

For most of the next week in East Texas (Times Square Cinema to be exact) “Call + Response” will be playing. If you’re in the area… please go see it and have your heart broken. If you’re not in the Tyler area… find somewhere near you where you can see the film. It’s making the rounds.

One last interesting thing: “Call + Response” hasn’t emerged from the church or Christian Ministry circles. Yet… and I might add appropriately so… the church here in East Texas has embraced this fight against slavery with resounding force. George Montalvo from Grace Community Church has pioneered the effort to bring “Call + Response” to our community. Many churches and ministries in the area have locked arms with him & Grace. (Amen & Hallelujah!) Also, fellow East Texans, Hannah Walker and Brandon Davidson are joining other area young adults seeking to help end industrial, domestic, agricultural and sexual slave trades in the next 25 years via innovative purchasing strategies for consumers. They have formed: 21AM – a 21st Century Abolitionist Movement. 21AM can be found on Twitter and Facebook. You can also find out more about “Call + Response” and where it’s playing on their website.

The power of film/television is in its story-telling. The power of investigation is in its truth, influence, and ability to move people. The measurement of both of their effectiveness lies in the number of people who take up the cause.

Thank you Justin Dillon for bringing the secret of modern day human slavery into the light.

Thank you George, Hannah & Brandon for bringing "Call + Response" to our attention.

If you want to read Patrick Butler's entire interview with Justin Dillon, you can find it here.

Missing You

I've been away from my blog too long.

2 Reasons:

1. Took some time off with the Fam.
2. Building a new blog that will unveil soon.

More posts coming... starting today.