Monday, October 21, 2013

BookPastor >> "Why Not Today?"

Ever hear of the Dalit people? This book is not mean to guilt-trip you. It is meant to open our eyes to see that there are many in this world who are needy. It's time for some of us to grow beyond our petty issues of life. This review was first published on August 7th, 2013 at Panorama of a Book Saint. 


TITLE: Why Not Today: Trafficking, Slavery, the Global Church . . . and You
AUTHOR: Matthew Cork and Kenneth Kemp
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2013, (288 pages).

Freedom is good. Freedom is great. Freedom is desired and even framed in nice sounding words in the United Nations. Yet, the very freedom that many in the developed world have often taken for granted is still very much out of reach to a group numbering more than 300 million. For more than 3000 years, this group has been oppressed, discarded, and considered as "untouchables" by many in the land. Blame it on a caste system that has managed to suffocate this race of people. Blame it on the aftereffects of reincarnation beliefs that these people are getting what they deserved. Blame it on apathy. More importantly, in this book, the focus is not simply on the outcasts, the spot light is also on those who know about it, and still refuse to do anything about it. Welcome to a book that highlights the plight of the people in South Asia known as the "Dalits."

A) The Discomfort

It begins with the Cork's discomfort over the "safe" environment he lives in. An environment that is predictable; that minds one's business; that toes the cultural line; that competes and lives like any other neighbour next door; that basically goes through life that maintains the status quo. Then one question (attributed to Bill Hybels) pops up that deepens the discomfort: "Do you have a vision with dying for?" Gradually, the conviction grows with the author finding Scriptural exhortation to speak up for the silenced, and bring about justice for the weak. This book is a story of how the author has found meaning and compassion to serve God through the Dalit Freedom Mission. Flying from California to Andhra Pradesh, Cork experiences not just a culture shock, he endures a tsunami of people in the poorest living conditions, with pleas for money and relentless cries for help. It is the sight of the children that is most unbearable. Poverty, hunger, dirty, helpless, just seeing the conditions of these "untouchables" is gut wrenching. Of all the reasons for the state of the Dalits, the one that is most targeted is the dreaded caste system where the Dalits are ranked at the lowest level to the point that they are not considered humans. What then can be done for these Dalits? How is justice going to be fought on behalf of these "untouchables?" This book reveals an American pastor's journey from discomfort to convert; and from convert to effort. Each discomfort leads him to prayer and faith. These words sustain him: "Do What You Can. Where You Are. With What You Have."

B) The Energized Convert

Seeing the real thing speaks more than words. Imagine seeing numerous beggars, mostly children who are hungry, uneducated, lost, poor, and being cast aside by the rest of society. Some children especially girls are sold away as slaves. Many are belittled, ridiculed, and treated in a manner that is less than humane. As long as one is a Dalit, justice seems to never be on one's side. Yet, seeing how education can bring about better livelihood and future for the Dalit people, Cork realizes that the most practical goal is to create an educational culture: Build schools. Those who have broken through the ranks are those who have benefited from education, such as Udit Raj who is a Dalit with a PhD, who in his early years, tell of the unfair treatment by his class, who simply assumed that because he is a Dalit, that he has to do all the chores and the cleaning up.  There is also the legendary Dalit, Dr Ambedkar who spends his entire life battling the chief cause of the Dalits' plight: Hindu Caste System. Understanding the history of the Dalit fight, and recognizing that his Church needs to wake up to the challenge to break the cycle of injustice, Cork is convinced that the rewards is far greater than the costs to bear. The 'converted' Cork learns that ministry is not about getting his Church on a balanced position with regards to worship, governance, and purpose. Neither is it about blending contemporary culture with biblical ministry. For him, the vision is about global freedom, in particular, how he can harness his Church's resources toward helping the Dalit Freedom Network. It leads to the starting of a new Church with Cork as the lead pastor. Just as his new Church finds liberation in a new vision, likewise, they increasingly realize, together with their partners from Dalit Freedom Network, that it is the gospel that will truly liberate the Dalits.

C) The Continuing Effort

On and on, the book flows with pages of wake up calls that will cause readers to have the same kind of discomfort as Cork. Education is not about helping the Dalits. It is also targeted at the powers of the land of India, and the outside world. It is also tackling the horrible divide of the rich and the poor, where the rich in India are profiting from the cheap labour of the poor and the outcastes. It is a most unfair system, tightly held and believed by millions of Hindus, including the Dalits themselves. Those who fight the system also do so at their own risk. Fighting injustice is often not so simple. For instance, it touches on religious sensitivities across the country. Certain Hindu radicals will basically use the fight to free the Dalits as a religious provocation too! Converting into the Christian faith is also a risk, and violence has been common.

So What?

It takes only less than 24 hours to change a man's view of the world. It takes a first hand look at the horrors of poverty, injustice, and a fatalistic religious system in order to wake one man out of his slumber. More importantly, what has happened to one man, can also impact us. It reminds us that Christians everywhere must stand up for the weak and the marginalized everywhere. If your Church or organization is going through a dry patch, or suffering from spiritual lethargy or a general lack of vision or purpose, what is needed is not more programs or more activities to keep one's members busy. It is also not about trying to maintain our churches' status quo, to become a church that is on "maintenance mode." What is needed is a vision from God about what the Church with all its people and resources can do: Make a difference.

The question that has arrested Cork can also be a wake up call for us: "Do you have a vision worth dying for?" If you do not have, or if you feel your church do not have one, start praying. Start seeking. Start seeing. Start visiting places. Start to venture beyond your comfort zone. Let one's prayers guide the way. Let the reading of the Word, and the examining of Jesus' outreach to the poor in the gospel energize us. Let the Holy Spirit guide us to do the right thing. The title of the book is a direct challenge to all of us: Why Not Today?

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Moody Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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