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Autism: Education & Intervention

You may have heard of Temple Grandin, Ph.D., university professor, famed expert on the humane treatment of livestock, bestselling author, and one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. At age 3, she was diagnosed with autism. In 1950, Grandin and others like her were labeled as brain damaged and likely to be institutionalized.

In the 1960s and 1970s, it was thought that autism went hand-in-hand with schizophrenia, resulting in common treatments like electric shock therapy, LSD, and behavior change techniques using pain and punishment. Many children were removed from their parents, based on the belief that poor parenting was to blame for the disorder.

Not until 1980 was autism finally categorized separately from schizophrenia in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). In 1994, Asperger’s syndrome was added to the DSM, expanding our knowledge of the diversity of ASDs. Only then did treatments targeting behavior begin to sprout, and a tightly controlled learning environment was thought best.

Even today, there is confusion and mystery surrounding ASDs, mystery that oftentimes clouds the urgency warranted by the “one in 110 children” statistic.

How is the current education system confronting this issue? What are the latest theories on treatment? In the middle of change and exploding numbers, the answers to these questions show that the history of autism is still being written.

In our current chapter of history, the number of children with autism in public schools is increasing by 19 percent a year. In 2005, the California Legislative Blue Ribbon Commission on Autism was formed. It released this statement: “The dramatic growth in the number of children affected by autism spectrum disorders now constitutes a public health crisis.”

According to the California Department of Education, it cost $36,000 a year to teach a student with autism in 2008. That is compared to the $8,558 it cost to teach regular education students.

In California, four percent of regular education dollars was reallocated to special education in 2000. In 2008, more than 30 percent was moved to pay for, among other things, one-on-one aides assisting children with autism in the classroom.

WHERE ARE WE NOW? HOW THE EDUCATION SYSTEM ADDRESSES AUTISM

Emergent science of autism’s causes and cures is in the news on a regular basis, so it’s no surprise that educating children with autism is another topic that is still up for discussion. As we slowly understand children with autism better, their education becomes a priority.

Since education is considered a critical element in the treatment of autism, the California school system has more than 40 separate services for students with autism, including sessions with specialists or psychologists, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy. Parents may also choose to enroll their children in private schools.

When it comes to getting an education, each child with autism has a different story. Some students learn the majority of the time in an integrated classroom and receive select services outside the classroom when needed while others need to learn in self-contained classrooms all or most of the day.

“Inclusion in the classroom depends on the child,” said Mary Lou Evans, adjunct faculty in PLNU’s School of Education.

“It needs to be done well. That being said, of my 30 years of teaching, my inclusion years have been my favorite.”

Evans is not the only one teaching the inclusion model in her master’s classes; it’s likely the next chapter in autism history. Many teachers and administrators believe that children with autism gain great benefits by learning in an inclusive environment, so much so that the value outweighs the challenges of teaching students with autism and regular education students in the same classroom. Evans points out that children with autism can achieve important social skills while their classmates gain significant benefits. Evans says that an attitude of acceptance is important.

“I have seen students with autism make great progress in the inclusion model,” said Evans. “Role modeling from peers is just incredible.”

But not every student can be fully immersed in a classroom. It is common for students who may not be as highly functioning to be integrated during recess or lunch while some students are integrated into select socialization and academic settings over time.

It is federal law that students receive an education in the “least restrictive environment.” For public schools, that means integrating whenever it’s doable. While this provides challenges for general education teachers who don’t have special education training, teachers have options to be trained to better teach children with learning difficulties, specifically with autism.

Often schools will also provide therapists or specialists so students can have classroom time while still getting the additional help they need outside the classroom.

Parents of children with ASDs can get support services through the school system as well as at home. Organizations such as Autism Experts Empowering Families & Children Together (AEFCT) provide home therapy alongside parents through the Department of Education. AEFCT also works with teachers helping their students both inside and outside integrated classrooms. Resources like AEFCT enable children to thrive in the public school system.

When it comes to educators in the school system, being able to deal with the nuances of autism is in the best interest of everyone. By June 2011, all special education teachers in California will be required by the state to complete an autism training course in order to work with children who have the disorder – that’s more than 25,000 teachers who will be learning about the needs of students who were not allowed in mainstream classrooms mere decades ago.

PLNU is involved in the training by offering an added authorization in autism through the School of Education. With this two-semester program, current and future teachers are getting the skills they need to better understand and teach children with autism.

For schools, there are comprehensive program resources like STAR Autism Support. If an individual teacher, school, or even district is looking for support when it comes to the special education of students with autism, the STAR program conducts onsite, hands-on trainings; provides comprehensive lesson plans and teaching materials; and holds public workshops.

We’ve come a long way since Temple Grandin was a child. With myriad offerings for children with autism and the people who teach them, it is becoming more recognized that a good educational program depends on the needs of each unique child.

LIVING WITH AUTISM: THE HOPE OF INTERVENTIONS

For parents working with their school systems and support services, it can be overwhelming to sift through lists of intervention options. The good news is we have access to interventions that are evidence-based, promising, or linked to inspiring success stories.

The interventions discussed here focus primarily on early intervention, as it has proven to be the most effective way to enhance the development of children with autism. Also, the interventions that follow are only a few of countless treatments and combinations thereof. Many teachers and therapists working with children with autism in our schools use these approaches inside and outside the classroom. Several PLNU professors and alumni shared their expertise and stories so we can better understand a few of these methods.

Lauren (Berry) (03) Reynolds, who earned her bachelor’s in psychology at PLNU, is the executive director of Comprehensive Autism Services & Education, Inc. (C.A.S.E.), a Carlsbad organization that offers consultation services for families and school districts. She says that since each child with an ASD is unique, the choice of intervention depends on the individual.

“Our job is to support individuals whose lives are constant experiments,” said Reynolds.

Applied Behavioral Analysis

Kelly (Gallagher) (07) Montiel, who earned her bachelor’s in psychology from PLNU and is now a clinical supervisor at Autism Experts Empowering Families & Children Together (AEFCT), says atypical behaviors of children with autism are there for a reason.

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) is an effective way to teach and reinforce appropriate behaviors, ones that don’t come naturally for children with autism. Although the ABA method is used for a wide variety of disorders, it is increasingly common in treating children with autism.

Perhaps a girl with an ASD hears the buzz of a bee outside the window, a sound most people would not notice, but the sound is unbearably aggravating for her. Inappropriate behavior resulting from her sensory overload could be interpreted as bad manners, when in fact she is trying to communicate her pain or annoyance at the sound and may not know her actions are out of place.

“We have to find out why a child is doing a maladaptive behavior and then address the function of that action,” said Montiel. “We need to give them an alternative behavior to express themselves and ignore the maladaptive one.”

Montiel says the goal of ABA is to reinforce appropriate behavior and teach children what excessive (“stimming” – repetitive behavior used to adapt to unfamiliar situations) or deficit (a lack of social skills) behaviors they are exhibiting and give them alternatives.

There are different types of ABA. Examples include Discrete Trial Training and Pivotal Response Training.

Discrete Trial Training

Reynolds says Discrete Trial Training (DTT) can be defined most simply as “teaching broken down information.” It’s one of the methods she uses frequently with her clients. For children with autism who face challenges of being overwhelmed while learning, DTT can help diminish some of those difficulties.

DTT breaks a skill into its smallest parts, teaching one at a time until the child masters it.

Landon is working on his colors. His teacher wants to know that he can identify a blue block out of a collection of different colored blocks. After a quick test, she concludes he cannot recognize it, so she takes his hand, and with his outstretched index finger, she touches the blue block.

“Good job, Landon! That is the blue one!”

When she asks him to point to the blue one again, he does not respond. But she shapes his hand with an outstretched finger again and glides his hand toward the block.

“Yes, that’s the blue one, Landon.”

Again, she asks for him to find the blue block. When he does not respond, she reaches for his hand again, but just as she does, he drops his hand on the blue block.

“Yes! Landon, you found the blue block. I’m so proud of you!”

Landon gets a high five and an Oreo, his favorite sweet.

Children can learn otherwise overwhelming or confusing tasks and behaviors when a parent or teacher concentrates on one task at a time, provides reinforcement when the child achieves the correct response, and ignores incorrect or inappropriate behaviors.

It may sound robotic, but the point of DTT is not to garner mechanical responses. Children with autism have their own preferences and elements of comfort. For someone implementing DTT, it’s important to find things that a child enjoys to make learning behaviors most natural. For example, instead of continually cueing a student to pay attention, the teacher might applaud the times he or she does pay attention and, more importantly, set up his or her tasks in a way that is engaging, like setting up the room in the order and colors the child enjoys.

Pivotal Response Training

Mary Lou Evans says that Pivotal Response Training or Pivotal Response Teaching (PRT) is a popular intervention used in the classroom, one she has used with her elementary students. Evans says the ultimate hope with PRT is that a child will master pivotal behavioral areas that will have a trickle-down effect on the growth of other skills.

Much like other ABA approaches, PRT targets behaviors, but instead of focusing on specific behaviors individually, practitioners of PRT believe by engaging a child’s pivotal areas of development (motivation, social skills, ability to respond to cues, and self-management), that child will see improvements in social, communicative, and behavioral areas.

For example, many children with autism struggle with “symbolic play,” the ability to see play as creative or imaginative. A child with autism may not think to use a shoebox as a bed for a stuffed bear. With PRT, a parent can pretend the shoebox is a bed one day and then pretend a sand bucket is the bear’s bed the next day. The idea behind PRT is that by continuing to encourage imagination, children will begin to think of creative uses for other things during play. This may translate to better problem-solving skills later in life.

Floortime

Joshua Morrill (06), who received his bachelor’s in psychology with an emphasis in therapeutic and community psychology from PLNU and is currently pursuing a master’s in psychology from Azusa Pacific University, had the chance to practice Floortime. And he loves it.

“Floortime is really about building attachment and relationship development,” said Morrill. “It’s playing with the child as the leader.”

Floortime encourages two-way communication and relationship-building during play. In an iconic video in Floortime circles, 22-month-old Gary plays while his mother follows him around trying to keep his attention and Dr. Stanley Greenspan, the creator of Floortime, looks on. Gary, who has ASD, moves non-committally from toy to toy and doesn’t say much.

According to Greenspan, children with autism lack the typical connections between certain areas in the brain, but that connectivity can be strengthened. One of the ways to do that is by promoting attachment.

Gary finds a plastic crown in the collection of toys. He puts it on his mother’s head, his own, and then on Greenspan’s. When he wants the crown back, Greenspan encourages Gary to say “mine” before he can take it back. When Gary finally gets the word out, they all cheer. Greenspan calls reactions and interactions like this “circles of communication.”

Morrill says at first, circles of communication will be only reactions.

“For example, if a child is fixated on a block, you can pick up the block and raise it up to your face. Then the child is more likely to be engaged,” explained Morrill.

By prompting reaction, a circle has been opened. Floortime opens these circles by entering into the child’s space and engaging in his or her interests.

The heart of Floortime ideology can be found in Greenspan’s own words: “Meet the child where they are and move up the developmental ladder.”

Social Stories

When Tamara Heinz, a teacher at PLNU’s Early Childhood Learning Center, was faced with the challenge of getting three-year-old Avery to rest during naptime, she created a small paper booklet that told the story of little Avery. It followed Avery’s journey of sleepless afternoons, complete with pictures of her resting, along with her friends.

This method is called social stories, short stories that address specific situations that require behavioral change, making expectations of the child’s behavior clear by making it a part of the story.

When children with ASDs struggle with things like overstimulation or the inability to see what others are thinking, social stories help them wrap their heads around otherwise abstract concepts through visual clarity. A child could have a series of social stories to read when specific struggles arise.

By reading and seeing stories of themselves, children with ASDs gain understanding about a given situation and get more comfortable becoming a part of the narrative in their own lives.

Here is a social story about recess:

Recess

We play at recess after lunchtime.

Sometimes recess is on the playground.

A lot of the children play on the jungle gym, the slide,

or the sandbox.

It’s fun to play on the things in the playground.

Everyone should play nicely.

When the teacher rings the bell, it’s time to come back

to the classroom.

I will try to line up when I hear the bell ring.

When I line up after the bell rings, my teachers are very happy.

After I line up, I will try to stay standing in line.

Everyone will be proud of me.

Picture Exchange Communication System

Sarah (Wilson) (07) Reed uses the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) with her moderate/ severe special education Kindergarteners through third graders.

“[PECS] encourages students to use icons to describe what they want, which will hopefully eventually lead to speaking,” said Reed.

Many children with ASDs may not use verbal skills to communicate. The behaviors that replace verbal communication can be ineffective or even inappropriate. However, these children do have messages to convey, and it can be frustrating when they cannot find a way to articulate them.

PECS uses picture symbols to help students communicate more simply and effectively. To ask and answer questions, children use the symbols to carry on their own types of conversations.

A child may begin by using individual picture cards one at a time to identify wants and may gradually progress to lining up icons to form sentences. There are even books equipped with Velcro strips and an extensive collection of picture cards that stick to the strips.

Reed says since much of the frustration in children with ASDs comes from not being able to voice feelings, desires, or fears, PECS can help alleviate some frustration and even improve behaviors.

CONCLUSION

These approaches are just a few of the ways autism is being addressed. Treatment often involves a combination of these therapies, along with some common denominators like speech and occupational therapy. There are additional options out there, many of which have resulted in incredible success. The key to the best treatment for a child with autism is not to find the top intervention, but to find the intervention or blend of interventions that clicks best with the individual.

Children with autism possess unique and oftentimes stunning strengths. With education and intervention tailored to those strengths, there can be many more stories like Temple Grandin’s. Although there is still mystery surrounding autism, as we’ve seen, things can change.

Giving Voice

Juliette Singler, D.M.A., associate professor of music, has a gift for song. “Her voice is gorgeous,” said Cristina Pacheco (07), PLNU alum and choir conductor for First Church of the Nazarene. Yet, as talented a vocalist as Singler is, she shines most when she’s not on stage.

Singler was Pacheco’s vocal instructor for four years. This investment in Pacheco left a lasting mark. “She genuinely wants to see others succeed,” said Pacheco.

Alex Moore (09) experienced the same kind of nurturing.

“Juliette was able to find what I was passionate about and then help me develop,” said Moore.

After graduating, Moore spent a short time as the music minister at Apple Valley Church of the Nazarene. He now performs with Between Your Ears Entertainment, a multi-media production company that uses the arts to help educate young children around the world. Moore credits Singler for his early career success.

“She’s always looking out for possibilities for her students,” said Moore. “She still sends me e-mails with opportunities.”

This is Singler’s ninth year teaching voice at PLNU, a role she considers a calling. Singler taught in the Los Angeles area before coming to San Diego. One college in L.A. offered her a full-time position, a chance that aspiring university professors rarely turn down. She felt like God wanted her somewhere else, so she declined the job. Only after that step of faith did the opportunity at PLNU develop. She couldn’t be happier.

Singler emphasizes that the delight of PLNU’s music department is its highly collaborative atmosphere: “Everything we do here in music is a team effort.”

She credits her voice colleagues and accompanist Ines Irawati for enabling PLNU’s voice program to thrive. And thrive it has.

In 2008, Singler directed a student production of Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute. The performance won high acclaim, including third place in its division for the National Opera Association competition.

Moreover, the experience was the catalyst that led to the establishment of the opera club, now Point Loma Opera Theatre. Under the instruction of Singler and voice professor Craig Johnson, D.M.A., PLNU students have excelled. For several years, PLNU students have taken top honors in the San Diego District of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, a prestigious nationwide competition that identifies up-and-coming opera talent.

Singler has been supportive of her colleagues, as well as her students. She was the president of the San Diego chapter of the National Association of Teachers of Singing from 2003-05, during which she presided over a 30 percent membership increase and launched the chapter’s website. She continues to serve as vice president.

From 2007-10, Singler served on PLNU’s Committee for Faculty Tenure, chairing the committee from 2009-10.

“It says a lot about the respect and trust her colleagues have for her that they would elect Juliette to this committee,” said professor of music Keith Pederson, D.M.A.

Singler has earned a positive reputation by years of excellent service. In fact, she has gone so far as to literally put her money where her mouth is. Singler attended the University of Louisville as an undergraduate student. Unfortunately, there were very few opportunities to learn performing opera there. Even in large metropolitan regions that are home to professional opera companies, the costs of producing an opera can exceed ticket sales by 100 percent or more.

That’s what prompted Singler to get creative as a philanthropist and designate a planned gift to her alma mater through an insurance policy.

“I always wanted to be a philanthropist and do something really wonderful for God’s work in the arts but knew that money would be tight if I pursued a career in the arts. This seemed to be a great solution,” said Singler.

Now Singler has been contributing to a flourishing arts program at PLNU for nearly a decade. Through her instruction, generosity, and advocacy, she is giving her students a voice in the arts and culture.

By Dave Bruno

Jeremy Brooks: On a Mission to End Intolerance

Jeremy Brooks is an artist and an intellectual. He describes himself as an “old soul” and says that he is something of a film buff and movie critic.

Jeremy has big plans, altruistic plans, plans to help other people with autism, plans to educate people not on the autism spectrum. However, he has every reason not to have those plans – to simply look out for number one.

Despite some early signs, Jeremy wasn’t diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome until he was 7. Even then, his mom, Lori Ciccarelli, says she was in denial about his diagnosis for some time.

Jeremy didn’t find out he had autism until the 6th grade, and at first, he thought his mom said he had “odd-ism” since that’s how his classmates treated him.

“I thought kids just didn’t like me,” he said.

Lori first noticed differences in Jeremy when he was 3. He would distance himself from other children, ignore his preschool teachers, and spin in circles. He had other self-stimulating (stimming) behaviors as well, such as lining up his toys instead of playing with them and flapping his arms when stressed. He had difficulty communicating, which even now, he remembers.

“The spinning was when I was feeling stressed,” he said. “It was calming. I felt anxious at school a lot, which brought out OCD tendencies. It was hard to explain my feelings.”

Jeremy’s childhood and teen years were filled with unkindness from his peers. The intolerance of others toward Jeremy’s differences became more difficult to bear than any of his symptoms. Sometimes he was simply ignored or left out. For example, Lori hosted monthly movie and pizza nights to help create socializing opportunities for Jeremy. Only one friend reciprocated.

Other times, kids were cruel. He was often bullied.

“They basically treated me like a freak,” Jeremy said.

One of the most painful examples of intolerance that Jeremy and Lori experienced came when Jeremy was in junior high. His communication skills were more limited at that time, but he was feeling deeply lonely. Being an artist, he expressed his emotions in a heart-wrenching drawing. He drew a picture of himself being hung with the words “autism – a pariah” written next to it. At the top of the page, he wrote the names of his classmates.

Teachers warned Lori that Jeremy was likely depressed and might be suicidal. In the midst of this already traumatic time, the other parents and children at the school said the picture showed that Jeremy was potentially violent. A rumor started that the names at the top of the picture were actually a “hit list,” and parents said their kids wouldn’t attend school if Jeremy was there.

Lori and Jeremy were horrified. Jeremy wrote a personal letter explaining the misunderstanding and sent it to all the families. Not one person responded.

By Jeremy’s junior year of high school, the intolerance of other students had peaked. Other students threatened him, and eventually, he and Lori decided he needed to complete his final year of high school through independent study.

Meanwhile, many of Jeremy’s therapies were giving him the tools he needed for better interaction with others and better communication. His academics improved, too. Among his interventions were speech therapy; occupational therapy; horseback riding (which helped him with sensory integration); social skills practice such as perspective-taking; and neurofeedback therapy, which Lori said is “like physical therapy for the brain.”

While neurofeedback, also called EEG biofeedback, is still somewhat controversial because it has not been widely studied, Lori and Jeremy feel it made a big difference for him. Another thing that made a difference was what Lori called “rote and repetition.” Learning new cognitive and social skills is a process, she said, and perseverance is key.

Jeremy successfully completed his first year of higher education at his local community college. Though he did well academically, he described the place as “anarchic” and said the other students didn’t have much respect for school or their teachers. He was ready for something more.

Lori had heard about PLNU from Jeremy’s uncle, a pastor. When they visited and met Pat Curley, director of the Disability Resource Center; resident director Rick Engstrom; and Charlene Pate, writing professor and director of the Writer’s Studio, Lori knew PLNU was the right fit.

At PLNU, Jeremy has found a place where tolerance is much more the norm. Lori says that although it still isn’t easy for Jeremy to connect with young people his own age, the students have been nice to him. Jeremy confessed that living on his own, in close quarters with other students (he has a single room in the residence hall), being away from his mom, and managing college successfully have been adjustments. He said he’s had to think in new ways.

Jeremy has formed a strong bond with Pate, who describes him as very “self-actualized.” Jeremy visits with her regularly, whether to discuss literature or life or to get a hug from someone he knows cares.

“He’s so aware of his condition,” Pate said. “He really knows how to position himself. He has a goal to raise awareness about autism. It’s one of the ways in which he is really beyond his years. He really wants people to understand.”

In fact, both Jeremy and Lori are determined to help other families affected by autism and educate people in order to combat intolerance. They don’t want others to suffer as Jeremy did. As part of their efforts, Lori created a documentary called JJ’s Journey: A Journey About Autism. Though she had no previous filmmaking experience, Lori’s poignant piece has received international recognition as an Autism Society of America Media Excellence Award 2009 nominee, Official Selection Mammoth Film Festival 2008, Official Selection International Christian Film Festival 2009, and Official Selection African International Film Festival 2010.

Lori and Jeremy have been featured on NBC news and on Oprah.com and OprahsAngelNetwork.org. They also speak regularly in schools and at conferences to share their story. Lori is being named alumnus of the year at her alma mater.

“My mom and I have talked about starting our own company or nonprofit to raise money for scholarships for autistic people,” Jeremy said. “That’s something I think I would like to do.”

Jeremy, a graphic design major with a minor in writing, would also like to create a graphic novel – perhaps one that tells his own life story. One of his inspirations is PLNU alum and video game creator Doug TenNapel (88).

“I’m not too into the cure movement,” he said. “Autism is just another way of being. The world is a bag of mixed nuts that’s always being shaken up. We need to be open-minded and take the perspective of others. And we need to support the positive things we believe in.”

It’s clear that Jeremy is taking his own advice, doing all he can to support tolerance for people with autism and other differences. He’s taken his trying past and turned it into motivation for helping others.

Rising Influence: China and the World Economy

Chinese City at Night

This year, China has overtaken Japan as the second largest economy in the world. By 2025 or 2026, it is likely to supplant the U.S. as the world’s largest economy. Such estimates make Americans anxious. What is happening in this rapidly growing Asian country, what are the implications for us, and how should we treat our relationship with China going forward?

Here to share their perspectives are Dr. Lynn Reaser, chief economist for PLNU, and Jose Munoz, MBA, CPA, director of the MBA program at the Fermanian School of Business.

VIEWPOINT: Jose, in your 30 years of travel to Asia, what example can you give to demonstrate the amazing changes taking place in China?

MUNOZ: I remember the first time I flew into Hong Kong’s old airport, Kai Tak International Airport. No one prepared me for the white-knuckle approach to the landing, which makes San Diego’s airport approach look like a stroll in the park. You literally flew in between buildings before making a sharp 90-degree turn just before touching down on the runway. I was scared to death. The airport was old, over-crowded and with gates to handle less than half the planes on the ground, so most times you walked down a portable ramp like in the old movies and boarded a bus to the terminal, which was also old and over-crowded. Remember, this was when Hong Kong still belonged to the British, so you would expect something more than this.

The new airport, Chek Lap Kok International Airport, was opened in 1998, one year after Britain ceded rule of Hong Kong to China, and it is truly a marvel. It has to be one of the 5 finest airports in the world, with more space, fine dining, shopping, and entertainment – the locals actually go to the airport as a night out. Try saying that about any airport in the U.S. Keep in mind that Hong Kong never sleeps and there is always something going on. Ticket counter, customs, and security checkpoint lines are almost non-existent. As good as it was, it even got better with a massive pre-Olympics expansion. I think this one snapshot is an easy-to-understand item that illustrates the rapid and massive changes taking place in China. The scene in Hong Kong has been replicated in just about every other major Chinese city.

 

VIEWPOINT: Dr. Reaser, please tell us a little about your recent visit to China and some of your impressions.

REASER: The candor of the Chinese in many of our meetings was striking. Leaders are proud of the progress their country has made but are also acutely aware of its shortcomings. For example, while Chinese GDP (gross domestic product) is now exceeded only by that of the U.S., China’s per capita GDP is around 100th in the world.

Both the newest and the oldest technologies exist side by side in China. Airport security agents scan arriving passengers with fever-detecting infrared sensors. In restaurants, waiters are equipped with headsets and hand-held order devices to communicate with the kitchen. At the same time, China’s surplus of labor is evident. Where one worker might be adequate, three, four, or five might be engaged. We attended a banquet, where there must have been about a dozen servers attending to a table of 15. We also encountered an occasional horse-drawn cart from the countryside.

China’s focus on green industries and economic sustainability was unmistakable everywhere we went. Signs in the airport advised people to not use more paper towels than necessary, and discussions of electric cars were prevalent in our talks with government and industry officials.

 

VIEWPOINT: So how was this visit different from your previous encounters with China?

REASER: The change was dramatic. Twenty years ago, the sea of bicycles on the streets of Beijing was striking. My entrepreneurial idea at that time was to supply bicycle lights to the millions of bikes roaming the night streets in the dark. (I never executed on this brilliant concept.) Today, there are still some bicycles on the streets, but cars are dominant. Last year, China surpassed the U.S. as the largest car market in the world, with sales of 13.5 million passenger vehicles, in contrast to the 10.4 million sold in America.

Another difference is a new value of leisure time to the Chinese. This was not the case 20 years back; I remember a conversation with a young woman raising her first and only child. She spoke of her commitment to work six or more days a week to make for a better life for her child and of the willingness of the entire Chinese population to sacrifice for the future of the nation.

Now, most people work a five-day week. You see young people congregating in the parks in the evenings to practice swing dancing, followed by an energetic session of aerobic dancing. Wealthier Chinese have second or vacation homes in the countryside that they visit on weekends or holidays.

 

VIEWPOINT: As you met with CPIFA, what kinds of economic goals or priorities came out of those discussions?

REASER: Three themes emerged as dominant priorities: boosting consumption, maintaining external accounts, and moving toward greener, more sustainable practices.

 

VIEWPOINT: How was this increase in consumption evident during your visit?

REASER: A considerable consumer culture has developed in the country. Even two decades ago, the Chinese demand for the newest and best was evident. I recall visiting a local television manufacturing factory that was suffering from falling sales and bloated inventories. The problem was clear. Chinese consumers were shunning the locally produced black and white TVs in favor of color sets imported from Japan.

The attraction of high-end stores and fashion is apparent. The side streets of Beijing and Shanghai still have the collection of small, dingy shops and stalls selling only a handful of food items and goods. Retailing is rapidly transitioning, however, to modern, brightly-lit stores in shopping complexes with a wide variety of merchandise.

A generation of Chinese “yuppies,” known as Xiaozi, has emerged. These are generally members of single-child families, with parents and two sets of grandparents who have bestowed generously on them. They drink Starbucks coffee and wear the latest style of jeans.

 

VIEWPOINT: How are people able to afford their new habits of consumption?

MUNOZ: Recently allowed strikes by Chinese leaders, particularly at foreign-owned plants, have resulted in better wages at some facilities. Workers are demanding a larger share of the profits. Labor costs have risen in China by 15% annually since a new labor law was enacted in 2008. Additionally, tax preferences for foreign companies ended in 2007, and costs for land, water, energy, and shipping are rapidly rising.

REASER: Chinese households save an average of 50% of their incomes today – about ten times the personal saving rate in the U.S. The public pension system currently covers only a fraction of the population, which has prompted people to save more as insurance against costs that might be incurred later in life. To reduce the saving rate and spur consumption, Chinese leaders are moving to create a better “safety net” by improving retirement programs.

The drive to raise the incomes of rural families and close the large gap with urban households continues. Last year, per capita disposable income averaged about $2,500 per urban household, which was about three times the amount earned by inhabitants of rural areas. China is now directing more investment and capital to its rural areas, including large public works projects. In addition, Chinese policymakers are also pressing for more technology and services-oriented sectors that will create more higher-paying jobs.

 

VIEWPOINT: What has contributed to this great income gap between urban and rural workers?

MUNOZ: The inequality in income is due primarily to the 50-year-old hukou system, which is a household registration system devised in the 1950s to support population control efforts and economic development plans of the then new Chinese Communist government. Those from rural areas were required to stay there and produce the vast quantities of food needed for the growing populations. They were required to stay away from the cities.

Over time, the rules were relaxed or ignored, and rural hukou holders became a part of the growing urban workforce, but at a severe penalty. These so-called ‘floating people’ (liudong renkou) were required to work 25% more hours per week while earning 40% less than their urban counterparts. They are clearly second-class citizens, with no schooling or health care provided for their families, and it is estimated that they number 150 million. Those lucky enough to find living space pay six times as much for half as much space as do their urban counterparts. The system has been likened to South Africa’s apartheid. These workers make up 70 – 80% of China’s textile, apparel, and construction industries, which gives their employers a tremendous cost advantage.

Due to growing discontent, China announced in March 2010 that it was going to reform the hukou system. The shape and size of these reforms has yet to be presented or explained.

 

VIEWPOINT: Twenty years ago, Chinese leaders spoke of their vision to create a system of capitalism with “Chinese characteristics.” How is that vision materializing today? Or is it?

REASER: The vision is still cloudy. Opinions and practices differ significantly, running the gamut from tight government control to avid endorsement of free markets. Many corporate leaders are members of the Communist Party.

Because of this, foreign investors interested in entering the Chinese market must typically form a joint venture with a Chinese firm and are generally limited to a 49% stake. In contrast to the U.S. Federal Reserve, China’s central bank is not primarily politically independent. The Bank does make recommendations on monetary policy, but the political leadership is responsible for the final call. Credit is allocated to favored sectors including, at the present time, “green” technology and the rural economy. There is also a fear of failure and turbulence. Local governments subsidize companies at risk of bankruptcy. Firms experiencing sharp declines in their stock values are instructed to buy back their shares. The foreign exchange rate is managed carefully.

At the same time, China is making major strides to become a more open, market-oriented economy. Many of the economists and leaders we met have studied at universities in the U.S. In fact, some of the individuals we met were greater advocates of the capitalist model than many of our own citizens. New businesses continue to sprout rapidly in the country, supported by venture capital. Small investors participate aggressively in the stock market, with day-trading a popular pastime. Most firms in China are profitable.

 

VIEWPOINT: Does the growth of Christianity in China have an impact on its economy?

MUNOZ: The prevailing view is that Christianity and the market economy go hand in hand as they are both seen as modern and related to business and science, and because Christianity discourages idleness, dishonesty, and injury, encouraging instead community and good citizenship.

Independent estimates by the Pew Forum and by former party officials show that the number of Christians in China could number 130 million (in 2008), which would mean that there could be more active Christians in China than in any other country in the world. If this correlation actually exists, capitalism stands to continue growing.

 

VIEWPOINT: What is the financial relationship between the U.S. and China?

REASER: The U.S. and Chinese economies are now inextricably linked. China’s exports, many of which are produced by American firms operating in China, need the U.S. market. In turn, we need the investment of China’s large current account surplus to finance our large external deficit through purchase of our Treasury securities and other financial assets. It is China’s sizable holdings of U.S. Treasury securities that have allowed the U.S. government to run large budget deficits, our citizens to maintain low personal saving rates, and our lenders to maintain low interest rates.

If China were to liquidate its holdings of U.S. assets, interest rates could possibly soar and the dollar could plummet. Fortunately, China would be loath to take such a step. Such a move would inflict severe losses on its own portfolio. It also could be expected to push up the value of China’s currency sharply, which would hurt the competitiveness of its imports. Nevertheless, as China’s consumer society continues to grow, its trade surpluses are likely to shrink, implying smaller purchases of U.S. securities.

MUNOZ: China is also diversifying its investments in the U.S. by dramatically increasing its foreign direct investment (FDI) into the U.S. Chinese companies have found that land costs in parts of the U.S. are one-fourth of what they are around Shanghai. While labor costs are as much as 15 times higher in the U.S. than in China, Chinese companies receive local and state payroll tax credits and other benefits which help offset those costs, as do the reduced shipping costs and lead times for their American customers. Culturally, the “made in USA” label has some appeal to Chinese manufacturers.

 

VIEWPOINT: We know that China tightly controls the value of its currency, closely managing its appreciation. What is likely to occur if the yuan is allowed to float freely according to market forces?

REASER: Chinese officials are divided as to what would happen. Some believe it might initially rise only to eventually fall back close to its prior value. Others, including a number of American economists, believe that a sizable appreciation will be necessary to help achieve equilibrium in world financial markets.

Calls for China to allow its currency to appreciate have persisted for some time. Americans argue that by preventing a sizable appreciation of their currency, the Chinese are in effect subsidizing their exports and restricting imports. Most Chinese appear to believe that their currency should be allowed to move over time, but that the process should be carefully managed. Disagreement exists over the impact of a higher value of China’s currency on the U.S. trade imbalance. While a stronger yuan might slow the importation of Chinese goods into the U.S., imports might well just shift to other countries, such as Vietnam, India, or Indonesia.

MUNOZ: As Chinese wages have risen, some foreign companies have responded by relocating to the poorer, lower cost, western regions of the country, but in some cases, they are actually exiting China. For example, Wham-O (maker of the Frisbee and the Hula Hoop) has brought back half its production to the U.S., as China’s labor costs rose. Any appreciation in the yuan could rapidly erode China’s labor cost advantage. In fact, an outsourcing and re-structuring firm has estimated that China is now more expensive than Mexico, India, Vietnam, Russia, and Romania.

 

VIEWPOINT: In what ways is China changing to become more environmentally sustainable?

MUNOZ: For every new governmental policy or initiative, there are many glaring examples of environmental degradation that reflect the reality of China today.

The recent massive floods in Gansu, a poor, remote province of western China, killed more than 1,000 residents. Blame has been placed on the combined effects of uncontrolled logging, denuded hillsides, agriculture, and the building of many dams. In southeastern Fujian province, a massive toxic spill of copper-processing acidic wastewater into the Ting River essentially poisoned the river and killed thousands of fish.

China has almost 20-25% of the world’s population but only 7% of its available water resources. Worse yet, it is estimated that up to 80% of it is undrinkable. The standing joke among residents of south China’s apparel industry is that one can tell which colors are in fashion in the West by looking at the color of the river. One company, Fuan Textiles, was discovered to be dumping 22,000 tons per day of untreated dye and wastewater directly into the river.

There are other critical issues concerning product safety, workplace safety, and infrastructure. Chinese mining accidents always seem to be in the news with many deaths, often blamed on unsafe work conditions. The tainted powdered milk scandals of several years ago have just reared their ugly heads again, even with the conviction and execution of one of the corporate CEOs that was responsible. A massive traffic jam of unheard of proportions occurred on a highway from Beijing to Inner Mongolia, limiting traffic flow to one third of a mile per day, and stranding motorists for up to two weeks without relief.

REASER: The pollution threat to urban areas is palpable. A thick haze hanging over Beijing is also evident in Shanghai. In fact, 16 of the 20 cities worldwide with the highest levels of air pollution are in China. Prior to the 2008 Olympic Games, China moved its major industrial plants out of the central part of Beijing into outlying areas. That policy has been maintained. Driving is now rationed in Beijing, with car owners only able to travel on “odd-even” days according to their license plate numbers. Conservation is clearly a focus, although there are exceptions. For example, in Shanghai, one is struck by the vivid color display at night with skyscrapers throughout the city lit from head to toe. Some of these contrasts represent the Yin-Yang in a culture focused on balance. Others represent the clashes inherent in an economy and society undergoing rapid and far-reaching change.

The country does aim to have 15% of its energy consumption supplied by alternative fuels (including hydropower and nuclear) by 2020. It appears that this goal will be readily achieved, with some thinking that 18 to 20 percentage rates will be accomplished.

MUNOZ: Even China’s harshest critics will acknowledge that there has been progress in the country’s environmental awareness and desire to be environmentally friendly.

 

VIEWPOINT: What recent issues have arisen in relations between the U.S. and China?

REASER: The largest complaint continually voiced by the U.S. against China regards the country’s currency (as mentioned above). However, China is a

lso the target of criticism because of the counterfeiting of goods and violation of intellectual property rights. There appears to b

e some progress on these issues, but the critique remains. For example, counterfeit goods are no longer featured in stores on major shopping streets, but vendors are eager to guide you down side streets to sell them to you. Meanwhile, goods patented in the West are commonly “reversed engineered” and then sold as Chinese products. The largest motivation for a greater enforcement of intellectual property rights is likely to be the development of new products by Chinese firms, and the drive of those companies to protect their innovations.

Chinese criticism of the U.S. involves two primary issues: (1) technology and (2) visas. The Chinese would like to see much greater access to technology, and they oppose the many restrictions the U.S. imposes because of concerns over national security. There is also much concern over the limitations we impose on travel from China to the U.S. China’s officials argue that the allowance of freer travel could help offset some of the large trade deficit now existing between the Chinese and American economies.

 

VIEWPOINT: What should Westerners consider when engaging in future relations with China?

MUNOZ: A major concern for the West is the next long-term direction to be taken by the Chinese government. The era of President Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao is coming to an end, under whose leadership China flourished and achieved its most dramatic growth. Vice President Xi Jinping is seen widely as the replacement for President Hu, and is due to take over in 2012. Of significance is that Hu and Xi are on opposite sides of the domestic policy issues in China, and this will have a direct bearing on China’s future directions. Xi is from the so-called Shanghai School of Development, which places priorities on urban centers and market-based reforms. Xi is also called a ‘princeling’ – a title given to descendants of China’s original communist leaders.

Hu wants to focus on more rural development and more central state control, which is ironic, because under Hu’s leadership, China has loosened state control and the rural-urban divide has become more severe. This divide in top leadership strikes at the heart of the future of China. Will China become more market-oriented or more state-controlled? Will the emphasis be on urban or rural areas?

REASER: Attitudes towards China in the U.S. cut sharply in two directions. Numerous companies of all sizes are currently doing business with this huge economic entity or at least exploring possibilities. American investors continue to look for ways to participate in the rapid growth spawned by China throughout Asia. At the same time, Americans despair over the possible loss of jobs and the potential erosion of our competitiveness relative to this emerging economic giant.

China’s commitment to grow their technology and services sectors, areas where the U.S. has so far enjoyed a comparative advantage, means that we must continue to innovate, improve productivity, and improve our educational system. It is important that we try to raise our standard of living rather than worry about or prevent China from raising its standard.

It is also vital that we strive to strengthen the Chinese-American liaison by encouraging more candid exchanges of ideas and thoughts. We should not lecture the Chinese; indeed, we do not always have the best answers. Still, China knows it has much to learn from us. We can do much to extend and deepen our relations.

Entrepreneurs: Undertaking More Than Business

While in the Harvard Business School program six years ago, several classmates read my bio in a class packet and sought me out: “Talk to us about this,” they said. “How is it that you’ve run a successful company for many years and have a master’s degree in theology? We don’t see the connection.”

I couldn’t blame my colleagues for not seeing a relationship between faith and business. I, too, had many times struggled to find connections between what I was hearing from the pulpit on Sunday and my work as a business person.

“Religious leaders speak inadequately about business,” writes professor Richard J. Goossen of Trinity Western University, “more so than almost anything else they preach on. Their professional vocabulary, for the most part, so misses the point that it is painful to listen to them. The alarming state of the church’s ability to be a relevant force influencing business can be summed up in a simple observation: we already see many signs of Christian businesspeople from every denomination rejecting religion, and religion overwhelmingly rejecting businesspeople.”

In the book, Church on Sunday, Work on Monday, Dr. Laura Nash of Harvard Business School and Scotty McLennan, dean of religious life at Stanford University, suggest that business is not as simple as religious leaders tend to think it is. Capitalism is frequently reduced to a monolithic concept labeled as “The Market,” that inevitably exploits all participants except the most powerful. In my own experience, misconceptions about the marketplace create hurtful and inaccurate stereotypes that portray even Christian businesspeople as uncaring, unthinking, exploitative, and unengaged. What is needed is a richer and more accurate view of business – one comprising numerous relationships and actions, full of nuances and complexities.

This is not to say that the business world is beyond criticism, for the events leading up to the current economic crisis underscore the need for serious reflection and correction among those of us in business. Indeed, many companies and business schools are vigorously discussing these failings, and some political reforms and restrictions on business practices have already been implemented. The fact remains, however, that all too often, the business world does not look to sound, biblical principles to inform business practices. In truth, many Christian businesspeople have found it easier to go along with the status quo in their organizations and not rock the boat with their own set of ethical principles. To complicate matters, the Christian businessperson’s set of values may be founded on the latest pop culture book instead of Biblical wisdom, in part because they have not themselves made a connection between their faith and their work.  

While I serve in various roles at PLNU connecting business, economics, and students as the executive director of the Fermanian and Business Economic Institute (FBEI), I am also an entrepreneur, perhaps one of the most misunderstood types of businessperson. I did not necessarily seek the entrepreneurial path; my undergraduate education is in communication, and I once thought I would become an educator. Instead, I did what the research shows holds true for most entrepreneurs –I came upon my career almost entirely by accident. Since joining PLNU in the fall of 2005, much of my academic research and personal writings have sought connections between the church and the entrepreneur. And what I have observed is a tremendous opportunity for connections, but what I have experienced is significant misunderstanding and mischaracterization.

Defining the Entrepreneur

Perhaps part of the misunderstanding stems from the lack of clarity around what an entrepreneur really is. The dominant media images of entrepreneurs are visionary inventors such as Bill Gates or Steve Jobs who start transformational businesses in a garage and ultimately achieve staggering riches, power, and influence. This no more accurately represents the realities of entrepreneurship than do televangelists represent the rural pastor of a small congregation or the U.S. presidency compare to the local civil servant. In the field of entrepreneurship, this mistaken typology is called the “entrepreneurial myth.”

In sharp contrast, 17th century European economist, Richard Cantillon, offered the French term entrepreneur meaning “one who undertakes.” Considered the first definition of the term, it distinguished the “undertaker” from landowners and hired labor because the undertakers had to adjust to risks and live with uncertainty. There was no distinction in class or status for the entrepreneur, but simply the recognition that a third actor was emerging between the farm worker and landowner, one who sought additional opportunity, freedom, and flexibility.

With no direct translation for the French word, it was very early rendered in English as “master,” “speculator,” and “projector” – all inadequate to convey Cantillon’s work. This inaccurate representation likely contributed to the entrepreneurial myth and grew out of the publicity and attention given to a small number of entrepreneurs who achieved great success. Throughout the rise of the industrial revolution and beyond, headline-grabbing inventors, financiers, and capitalists who achieved incredible success while taking great risks became the archetype for the entrepreneur. Ironically, while the specific motivations that drive entrepreneurs are complex, success is not typically the entrepreneur’s driving motivation.

Professor Scott Shane of Case-Western University has written that “The real reason most people start businesses, however, has nothing to do with wanting to make money, to become famous, to better their own communities, to seek adventure, or even to improve the world. Most people start businesses simply because they just don’t like working for someone else.” While Shane’s research is insightful, it has a common limitation: first, it does not fully appreciate the movement of contemporary entrepreneurship far beyond the traditional boundaries of for-profit business ventures, and second, the impact and influence of personal religious faith upon the entrepreneurial processes.

The Kauffmann Foundation, a highly influential voice and research group in entrepreneurship, released in 2008 a comprehensive study that described entrepreneurship as “…a process of fundamental transformation: from innovative idea to enterprise and from enterprise to value… As a distinct mode of thought and action, it derives from business but can operate in any realm of human endeavor.”

Research and experience show that embedded in most Christian entrepreneurs are strong missional, communal, and faith-driven principles which make them natural allies for congregations seeking new insights and solutions. When we consider the Kauffman definition, we begin to see how the entrepreneurial personality might be helpful in three areas where the church is currently engaged: critiquing the dominant culture, serving the poor and doing justice, and building relationships with people and groups outside the church.

Critiquing the Dominant Culture

Artists, poets, and activists are some of the strongest voices calling for renewal in the Christian community. These voices are frequently at the forefront of re-imagining the church, for they speak out against the dominant culture’s influence on the church. In many cases, however, these artists, poets, and activists appear to be overly academic, radicalized, or impractical, using language and imagery that draws from sources unfamiliar to the typical churchgoer, rendering their valuable message irrelevant.

Yet, to the ears and minds of the entrepreneur, some of this activist language resonates deeply. Why? Because the entrepreneur is, in many ways, the voice of renewal within the business community, constantly challenging the dominant culture of business and propelling it forward through innovation, flexibility, and a dynamic nature. The entrepreneur waits from the fringes, impatient and desiring to engage in ways of doing business that are not yet imagined. This is not a reckless personality but rather an observing character. And from this observation come new products, firms, and services. These entrepreneurs are people sitting in our local pews each Sunday. They are the often overlooked small business people – the farmer, restaurant owner, financial professional, building contractor – who must go beyond the poetic imagery portrayed in the pulpit and face the realities of meeting their payroll in the coming week, dealing with an emerging competitor, or resolving disputes among employees.

In light of the current economic crisis, renewal and change are on many people’s minds. It appears that a profound economic “reset” of some sort is underway, its exact scope and implications not yet fully defined. A significant number of us are making economic and lifestyle choices that are turning away from the excessive consumerism of recent decades. Economic reality has collided with our own personal lives.

Entrepreneurship has the power to respond and then transform society. It is, in fact, the primary driver of economic activity in the U.S. and worldwide, far more effective than governmental policy or corporate expansion. Nearly 70 percent of U.S. economic growth can be attributed to entrepreneurial activity. Over the past 20 years, two-thirds of all jobs within industrialized countries can be attributed to entrepreneurship.

Conversations between church leadership and entrepreneurs would be groundbreaking, for there are few others with the kind of practical experience and appreciation for the value of “time, talent, and treasure” as the entrepreneur. The typical entrepreneur exists largely without the governmental protections that generally favor publicly held corporations, public employee unions, and other organized groups. There are no bailouts for the small business or aspiring entrepreneur. But the entrepreneur compensates for this lack of formalized power by being dynamic, imaginative, and flexible, thereby sharing numerous characteristics with the artist and the activist. They, too, can envision new possibilities and are uniquely positioned to act on them.

Serving the Poor and Doing Justice

The past decade of entrepreneurial research has done well in chronicling the rise of social entrepreneurship and microfinance, both of which contribute to global economic justice. While social entrepreneurship and microfinance are not a distinctly Christian notion, there is certainly a ripe opportunity for the church to support and nurture the entrepreneurs who stand to align their goals of justice and mercy with those of the church.

Social entrepreneurs look at the intractable problems facing society and feel great frustration at the lack of progress towards solving them. Bill Drayton, widely regarded as the founder of the modern social entrepreneur movement, has written, “The core psychology of a social entrepreneur is someone who cannot come to rest, in a very deep sense, until he or she has changed the pattern in an area of social concern all across society.” Famine, clean water, housing, education, and the administration of justice are just a few example areas of great importance to these contemporary entrepreneurs.

Mike Mellace, founder of Mama Mellace’s, is in the snack business – nuts to be exact. His products can be found in retail stores throughout the U.S. Mellace has been a friend to the Fermanian School of Business and FBEI for several years, and his company employs several PLNU alumni. At his manufacturing plant in Carlsbad, numerous ministry events, including a church’s primary sanctuary, co-exist with snack production. Mellace and his partner, Mike Runion, are an impressive example of traditional entrepreneurs, taking a business idea and shaping it around serving the world in the name of Jesus.

Besides providing wholesome snacks with natural ingredients, a positive mission in itself, Mellace’s non-profit foundation has also developed a product that could help end world hunger. Using surplus nuts, Mellace created a peanut-based paste fortified with minerals and vitamins that World Vision plans to use to fight malnutrition globally. Statistics have shown that a child who eats three packs a day for 30 days has a 90 percent survival rate compared to the 5-10 percent survival rate without the product. Mellace and his partners are using their professional talents and passion, combined with a creative, solutions-oriented entrepreneurial spirit, to fight hunger.

What Mellace and his company and foundation do is certainly bold and dramatic, but it is not an aberration. There are elements of justice, grace, and service in many entrepreneurs in a wide variety of industries if we just take the time to look.

At PLNU, Dr. Rob Gailey, director of PLNU’s Center for International Development (CID), is helping students make connections that will enable them to make this same kind of impact. The CID, based in the Fermanian School of Business, provides opportunities for aspiring social entrepreneurs to learn from those already in the field. There is groundbreaking collaboration between key microfinance and social entrepreneurial practitioners, university faculty, and students from throughout San Diego. This collaboration, the San Diego Microfinance Alliance (SDMFA), is no theoretical platform – students are shaping and being shaped by practitioners who are directly involved in serving the poor not only in San Diego, but globally.

The most significant impact is probably the influence these CID activities have on students. For many students, these activities provide their first exposure to the idea that poverty alleviation and sound business practices can go together. They discover that they can use a PLNU degree to pursue careers in the non-profit and social innovation sectors. These are transformational moments in a student’s life.

My hope is that as more and more students aim to fulfill Jesus’ call in Matthew 25 to serve “the least of these” by combining viable business solutions with a conscientious and compassionate mindset, we will find more and more connecting points between church and business – connections that will help us, together, navigate the challenges of global poverty.

Points of Connection

The use of entrepreneurship to point people to Jesus is near to my heart. In my own life, business interactions and people’s interest in entrepreneurship have led to spiritual conversations and relationships in many different settings and countries. These opportunities to share my faith would never have been achieved through traditional evangelistic methods.

Our Personal Impact

Business is an opportunity to show people the impact of our faith. When we have strong character, conduct business honestly and fairly, show transparency and generosity, and care about the needs around us, we open up opportunities for relationship. Our conduct gives us a voice.

Much of my work at PLNU occurs in an off-campus role, where I meet with business leaders from throughout the region to discuss issues of common interest. Since San Diego is fundamentally a small business and entrepreneurial community, I have been able to connect with people in diverse settings, including faculty colleagues at great regional public universities, business people in companies of all sizes, and leaders of local churches and ministries. These initial connections often deepen into significant opportunities for spiritual conversations.

I recall a meeting two years ago with a group of leaders from a very prominent San Diego organization at a local restaurant. Lunch was served, and the senior executive present from the organization asked if I would pray for the meal. What was originally intended as a business lunch turned into a time of fellowship, and my relationship with the organization has blossomed on all levels.

Global Opportunities

These surprising points of connection have developed in other areas as well. For the past five years, I have been working with ministry friends in France and Portugal on how entrepreneurship can become a common meeting ground when traditional tools or language fails. In October 2009, I was asked by the non-profit organization Coherence, created by Parisians Stephen and Joy Johnston, to speak to a group of business people in France on the topic of entrepreneurship. Coherence partners with Greenhouse, a traditional evangelical ministry operating for over 20 years in the heart of Paris. Coherence has a complementary purpose – it connects local business people who are interested in supporting sustainable development projects in the French-speaking world, such as Africa and Haiti, with experts in their field.

The ability to talk to secularized Parisians – those who literally think that Christians are mentally deficient – is an exciting breakthrough, leading to unprecedented open doors in Paris.

“Too often we approach people outside the church with an attitude that says, ‘we know something you don’t,’ and the implicit message we convey is ‘we’re better than you,’” said Stephen Johnston. Joy Johnston added, “We also forget that we all share the same deep longing for something meaningful. One way a lot of people outside the church express this longing is through altruism. When we remember that true religion is to help orphans and widows in their distress (James 1: 26-27), all of a sudden this altruism becomes a place where secular values intersect with the heart of Jesus, and that’s a meaningful place for us to connect with people outside the church.”

This is what’s happening through Coherence. Parisians from inside and outside the church are meeting at that intersection. Together, they make donations that encourage social entrepreneurs serving the poorest of the poor in French-speaking countries around the world. And they make these donations while attending events where they dialogue with experts in various fields. This makes for a lot of meaningful interaction, and a lot of conversations that Jesus can enter.

In an increasingly secular and hostile world, entrepreneurship is a platform with broad potential application, allowing us to connect with communities that have generally turned away from the traditional voice and vision of the church.

Conclusion

Meaningful connections abound. At the intersection of faith and entrepreneurship, we can, together, seek out ways to be salt and light in profound ways. We can envision new ways of engaging and transforming our culture, we can love the poor through compassion and solid business ideas, and we can build relationships with those who might not otherwise ever enter the doors of a traditional church. This is an opportunity ripe with possibility.

By Randy Ataide

A Fighting Spirit

Eddie’s feet pounded the pavement in quick succession as he jogged home from the high-risk youth day camp he attended after school. He didn’t mind the sweat collecting on his brow – today was a big day. Today was when home would be the home it was supposed to be, the home with both his parents in it. Eddie’s mother had been released from prison a few days before, and today his dad was also getting out of the joint. They’d all be together – Eddie, his mom, dad, and sister, Starla – like a picture perfect family (well, almost) as soon as he could get there.

Though Eddie slowed up as he got to his place, he was still slightly breathless when he opened the door. But it wasn’t right. The scene wasn’t what it was supposed to be. In fact, both Eddie’s parents were already high. It took a moment for the shock to translate into rage, but when it did, Eddie was overcome. Without a word, he fled from the apartment, running again. He smashed up cars along the street, trying to purge his mind of the questions that tormented him. But it was no use. When he stopped to breathe, it was there still: why did his parents love drugs more than they loved him?

Eddie spent the night at the home of his baseball coach, Henry. There was a roof over his head, but he took little comfort in that fact. He thought that he would never be able to love or respect his parents again. He thought that the recent Sundays he had spent in church with Henry would be his last – he was angry with God.

Life was challenging for Eddie from the beginning. Born in the South Bay area of San Diego, Eddie’s parents were both in and out of prison for most of his childhood. Drug use, thefts, and parole violations always seemed to send them back when they were released. Eddie and Starla were primarily raised by their grandparents, but sometimes one of their aunts temporarily sheltered them.

“Even though my grandparents tried to instill good morals in me, I grew up unstable and confused,” Eddie said. “I had a lot of anger and frustration. Already in elementary school, I was always getting into fights.”

Caring adults sometimes tried to help Eddie – there was his fifth and sixth grade teacher, an elementary school counselor, and baseball coaches, Roy and Henry, who invited Eddie into their homes and even took him to church. But the continual upheaval in Eddie’s life made it hard for them to make a difference. By middle school, he had a reputation for fighting and was constantly changing schools as he was shuffled between living with his parents, aunts, and grandparents.

By 13, Eddie was firmly headed down the same path as his parents. He was using drugs regularly and hanging out with kids who didn’t care about school. In eighth grade, Eddie got involved with a gang in San Ysidro and then, after moving again, with another gang in Imperial Beach (IB). He wasn’t allowed to walk at his eighth grade graduation because of his constant fighting at school.

His freshman year of high school was no better. Eddie sunk more deeply into the IB gang and was heavily involved in drug use. In addition to marijuana, he used cocaine, crystal, and acid. Except for during baseball season when he put in just enough effort to be eligible, Eddie failed his classes. When Henry, who was himself an ex-gang member, tried to reach out to Eddie, Eddie wasn’t ready to listen.

The wake-up call came Eddie’s sophomore year. He was kicked out of another school – Mar Vista High – for fighting, and he ended up first at Southwest High Learning Center and finally, by his junior year, at Palomar High School, the continuation school in his district. It was a last chance to catch up and salvage his education.

Eddie’s uncle was the principal at Palomar, and he offered to help his nephew catch up. At first, Eddie refused to listen, but after his uncle enrolled him in a drug rehabilitation program, Eddie began to change.

“I started to think about my future. I didn’t want to end up like my parents,” he said. “My grandpa said that a wise man learns from his mistakes, but a wiser man learns from the mistakes of others. I credit my grandpa for teaching me to be a man. He means everything to me. He’s my best friend in the world.”

When he started continuation school, Eddie moved from his half- sister’s house back to his grandparents’. He wanted to make his grandparents proud, and he finally began listening to Henry, his coach. Eddie started attending both sessions of the school day at Palomar (most students only attend one) and began going to church.

“When I first started seeking God, I was still messing around,” Eddie said. “But once I fully surrendered my life to God, I also fully gave myself to school. It’s like He changed me overnight.”

Eddie was 17 at the time, and he made dramatic changes in his life. Significantly, he realized he needed to forgive his parents – a big change from the night he spent smashing cars and hiding out at Henry’s. Eddie stopped using drugs and hanging out with his old friends. While some of his friends didn’t understand, some were happy for Eddie. They saw the change in him and were glad he was turning away from the life that entangled them all.

At the same time, Eddie went into overdrive at school. He took eight to 10 courses a day and caught up completely by the end of his junior year. He was able to return to regular high school for his senior year. Eddie said the administrators and teachers couldn’t believe how different he was. He earned all A’s and B’s, worked as an office assistant, and started a Christian club on campus. He was voted “Most Changed Student” in senior standouts and graduated on time with his class.

“It was one of the happiest days of my life,” Eddie said. “I don’t think anyone at graduation appreciated it as much as me.”

After high school, Eddie went on to community college where he won both academic and spirit awards. When he finished, Eddie wasn’t sure if he would be able to transfer or how he could afford to continue his education. He worked as a custodian for the South Bay Union School District for two years, waiting for his opportunity.

Around this time, Eddie’s younger cousin, Anthony, was now at his old continuation school, where he met Ronald Williams, who worked for PLNU. Anthony told Williams that he didn’t want to go to PLNU, but that he knew his cousin had always dreamed of going there.

With Williams’ help, Eddie applied to and was accepted at PLNU. At first, the prospect of competing with students he saw as especially smart intimidated Eddie. At New Student Orientation (NSO), his worries increased when he saw that most of the other students’ parents were there with them. Eddie wasn’t sure he could make it through college on his own, academically or financially.

Fortunately, PLNU’s associate vice president for enrollment, Scott Shoemaker, noticed Eddie’s distress at NSO and helped direct him to Pam Macias, director of financial aid. Eddie felt an immediate connection with Macias and found himself breaking down in front of her.

“She embraced me and encouraged me and prayed for me,” Eddie said. “Then she told me we would take things one step at a time, and she would be there for me. And she always has been.”

The support and encouragement Eddie received from Macias were only the first he experienced at PLNU. Soon, associate professor of sociology Dr. David Barrows awarded Eddie his first A of the semester for a research essay on social stratification.

Eddie recalls that Barrows then told him, “You have what it takes.”

Buoyed by the success and praise, Eddie’s insecurity began to diminish, and he began to believe in himself. When more A’s followed in courses on criminal justice and world literature, Eddie knew he was where he was supposed to be.

“What I love the most is that my department, dean, and professors have been there for me academically, spiritually, and personally,” he said. “They have prayed for me and been an iron rod in my back while I’ve been here.”

Sometimes Eddie was struck by the disparity between the two worlds he inhabited – the warm, academic surroundings at PLNU and the often hopeless, violent world at home where he watched cousins and friends struggle with the problems he had overcome.

“School became such a haven for me,” he said. “It was like paradise.”

After two and a half years, Eddie is graduating from PLNU with a degree in sociology and a concentration in criminal justice. He participated in Commencement in May and is finishing up his last class this summer.

Although graduating from PLNU is Eddie’s biggest achievement so far, his joy is tempered by recent tragedy. His beloved grandmother, one of the most consistent, positive forces in his life, the woman he calls “the most important person in my life,” recently suffered a stroke. The extent to which she will recover is not yet known.

The next step in Eddie’s life may be to apply to law school – though he worries about taking on additional debt. He’s also considering serving as a probation officer and trying to reach youth who are struggling the way he was. For now, Eddie is thankful for his education and for God’s grace in his life. Eddie’s parents have also both given their lives to the Lord, which brings Eddie joy.

“No matter what, I love my parents,” he said. “My experiences gave me my fighting spirit and taught me perseverance.”

iMedicine: Drugs, Money, and Ethics

You can customize your music playlist. You can customize your ringtone, your restaurant order, your credit card image, your Facebook page, and even your Sharpie (it’s true – if you want a lime green Sharpie with paw prints and your dog’s birthday on it, you can get it). But what if your medical care could be customized, your treatments tailored just to you – and not in some sort of touchy-feely, I’d-like-a-room-with-a-window-and-pink-sheets sort of way, but genetically? The idea is called personalized medicine, and it’s a potentially transformational concept that may improve outcomes for patients with cancer and other diseases.

When the Human Genome Project began, researchers hoped to find out which genes were responsible for causing various diseases. What they found was more complicated. While some diseases, such as sickle cell anemia and Huntington’s, are caused by a single gene mutation, many others, including cancer, seem to be the result of factors that cross multiple genes. By looking at a person’s entire genome, researchers hope to better understand these diseases and their potential treatments.

The Promise of Personalized Medicine

The premise behind personalized medicine is fairly simple: people are different from one another in terms of lifestyle, environment, and genetics, and some of these differences affect health. One person’s DNA, for example, might increase their likelihood of developing breast cancer or heart disease. A person’s stress level, diet, or exposure to toxins might reduce or increase this likelihood. Genes can also play a role in whether or not a certain treatment is effective for a specific person. Personalized medicine takes these factors into account when seeking to prevent and treat diseases. There is also the hope that personalized medicine might teach doctors more about who is likely to experience side effects from specific drugs.

How Futuristic Is It?

According to Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, personalization is the future of medicine, but that doesn’t mean it is years away. In fact, the Personalized Medicine Coalition (PMC) points out that some personalized treatments are already available, and researchers are currently working on many more.

For example, Dr. Brad Carter (82) of the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Florida noted that in about 20 to 30 percent of breast cancer cases, a specific protein, called HER-2, is over-produced. A drug called Herceptin targets HER-2 positive breast cancer cells and has proven to be very effective. Herceptin doesn’t work as well for patients whose breast cancer is HER-2 negative, so its best use is as a personalized treatment for those with HER-2 positive breast cancer.

Carter calls treatments like Herceptin “smart bombs” as opposed to “nuclear bombs” like chemotherapy, meaning that they more directly attack cancer cells and have fewer side effects on normal cells.

Better Prevention

If a healthy person’s genomic scan indicated a higher than average risk for a particular disease or condition, the person might be able to benefit from strategies aimed at preventing the disease or controlling it. This might mean undergoing more frequent screenings or even taking preventive medication. For example, in the case of breast cancer, the drug tamoxifen has been shown to lower risk among women with a genetic predisposition for the disease. Different diet, exercise, or other lifestyle choices might also help the person.

(Of course, compliance will still depend on the patient. A recent study indicated that many people do not want to take preventative medications like tamoxifen because of a fear of side effects.)

Better Treatments

Despite the personalized option Herceptin offers to some breast cancer patients, Carter notes that chemotherapy is still the recommended treatment for most stage two breast cancer patients.

“Without treatment, patients with stage two breast cancer have a 30 percent risk of the cancer spreading to solid organs,” he said. “Chemotherapy only reduces the risk to 15 percent. Right now, we don’t know who the 15 of each 100 patients are.”

The goal is to figure that out so that treatment options can be improved and given to those who need them. Those whose cancer wouldn’t progress anyway might be spared the side effects of unnecessary chemotherapy and be treated only with surgery, for example.

The possibility of preventing unnecessary treatments is one that appeals to Dr. Robin (Reber) Leach (78) of the University of Texas Health Science Center as well. Leach, who studies the genetics of complex diseases, has done considerable work on prostate cancer. She notes that about 20 percent of prostate cancer patients will have their disease progress without treatment, but that means 80 percent won’t.

“We may be over-treating,” she said. “For those with low risk, it may make more sense to do active surveillance of the disease than to treat with surgery or radiation that may not be necessary.

In addition to providing better advice to patients as to which treatments to choose, genomics may also help with finding better treatments in the first place.

According to the PMC, “The expanded use of biomarkers – biological molecules that indicate a particular disease state – could result in more focused and targeted drug development.”

Moffitt, for example, is partnering with pharmaceutical company Merck to obtain the genomic profiles of various cancers. According to Carter, so far, they have profiled more than 10,000 tumors and are now comparing treatments and outcomes.

Ethical and Policy Questions

Although the promise of personalized medicine is great, there are many questions that remain to be answered.

Questions about Cost

If a drug will help only a few thousand people and millions of dollars will be spent to discover and produce it, should a pharmaceutical company still make it? If a drug worked better, would you pay more for it? Would you pay more if it meant someone else’s drug would work better?

In 1983, the Orphan Drug Act was passed in order to provide incentives for pharmaceutical companies to develop drugs that treated diseases from which 200,000 or fewer Americans suffer. According to Dr. Mark Jameson (92) of the University of Virginia Health System, personalized medicine is unlikely to suddenly render each type of cancer an orphan disease. It’s also unlikely to split cancer patients into so many subgroups that treatments will not help large numbers of people. While Jameson recognizes that cancer is not “a” disease, and that within specific types of cancer there are often many variations, he notes that there are common biological mechanisms that drive the growth of cancer cells.

The head and neck squamous cell carcinomas that Jameson treats can be caused by smoking, alcohol use, and human papillomavirus (HPV) and can exhibit substantial variability.

“In the past, squamous cell carcinoma patients were typically male smokers. Now, there are more HPV-related cases, and both genders are affected. It’s not one cancer. It can be triggered by different genetic mishaps. There is a lot of heterogeneity,” he said.

But he went on to stress that many of these triggers are common to other cancer types. For example, the same HPV strains that can cause head and neck cancer are responsible for most cervical cancer, and the HER-2 protein that is involved in some breast cancers also plays a role in some head and neck cancers.

Jameson believes that personalized drug combinations for head and neck squamous cell carcinoma will involve a handful of medications selected from perhaps 12 – 20 options, but “probably not 100.” Thus, while there will likely be some fragmentation in the market for squamous cell carcinoma drugs, “you probably won’t have to build a drug for three people,” he joked.

More seriously, Jameson emphasized that it is likely that drugs targeted to a certain genetic variation of one type of cancer will also work to treat other cancers, particularly when applied in combination. This is the case with the landmark drug, Gleevec, which has revolutionized treatment for chronic myeloid leukemia. Gleevec can also be used to treat nine or so other kinds of cancer.

None of this means that questions about cost don’t matter. It does mean that researchers and pharmaceutical companies are aware of the issues and are working to make personalized medicine feasible.

Questions about Patient Rights and Privacy

If you could find out whether you had a genetically higher risk of developing cancer, should you be required to tell your insurance company? Should they be required to cover you anyway? What if genomic testing suggests a drug isn’t likely to work for you, but you still want to try it? Should your insurance company cover it? If certain health risks become associated with certain sub-groups of the population, will these groups be stigmatized?

These are serious questions that the PMC is attempting to bring to policymakers’ attention. In order for consumers to buy into the concept of personalized medicine and genomic testing, they need to feel that their rights and privacy will be protected. This, too, is an area of which personalized medicine advocates are keenly aware. National organizations and universities are collaborating at a number of colloquia and conferences to discuss these questions and how to handle them.

Looking Forward

While the issues surrounding personalized medicine are thorny, they are worth tackling. The hope genomics offers to those with cancer and other genetic diseases – as well as to those who may be susceptible to them – is too promising to be ignored. In Francis Collins’ book The Language of Life: DNA and the Revolution in Personalized Medicine, there is a character for whom two possible futures are envisioned, one where she receives the benefits of personalized medicine and one where she doesn’t. The difference is stark – her life span more than doubles when her genomic profile is taken into account. The character’s name? Hope.

To Spend or Not to Spend

The current economic state of our nation and world has created a lot of confusion. On the one hand, we are told that rampant consumerism and overspending contributed to the crisis in the first place. In contrast, we’re now being told that the current lack of consumer spending is sending the economy further into its tailspin (hence the government’s discussion of handing out “economic stimulus” checks). What are we to do?

Moderation seems like a simple and prudent answer. In reality, meeting needs and limiting wants is slippery. Outside of food and shelter, what are our needs? Do we need cars to get us to our jobs? Do we need cell phones for safety and communication? What kind of and how much clothing do we need?

PLNU’s Randy Ataide, director of the Fermanian Business Center, recognizes that for many individuals and families who have lost jobs and homes, the situation is quite serious. For others, Ataide said, the economic crisis serves a motivator to curb spending and choose temperance rather than overindulgence.

“What we are experiencing is a reality check,” said Ataide. “People are going to have to spend more time at home and do more at home – everything from watching movies to making coffee. We may be seeing the end of overconsumption. Certainly, the next 10 to 20 years will be a different reality than the last 10 to 20 years.”

Steven Buxbaum of Buxbaum Group told CNNMoney.com senior writer Parija B. Kavilanz that the “habit of consumerism in this country” has been broken. However, his revealing follow-up statement was, “We’re not buying two of everything now but making do with one.”

Spending as the Problem

According to CNNMoney.com, consumer spending accounts for approximately two-thirds of the nation’s economic growth. This aligns with the definition of consumerism as the theory that increasing the consumption of goods is beneficial economically. However, an alternative definition of consumerism is a preoccupation with and tendency to buy consumer goods. It is this preoccupation and often impulsive tendency to spend that can lead to the problem of overconsumption – consuming excessively, wastefully, needlessly, and often at the expense of both ourselves and others.

For many Americans who find themselves cutting back on their discretionary purchases, living with only one car or TV is an inconvenience. It might even feel like a sacrifice. But for the majority of the world, having one of such items would be a luxury beyond imagination.

Statistics from the World Bank Development Indicators show that in 2005 the richest 20 percent of the world’s population accounted for 76.6 percent of the world’s consumption. The poorest 20 percent accounted for only 1.5 percent.

Spending What We Don’t Have

Despite our country’s economic disparities, we are a relatively well-off society (the millions facing starvation in Zimbabwe as we speak force us to count the blessings of living in America where social safety nets such as soup kitchens and unemployment payments exist). Perhaps it’s the normalcy of possessing, the expectation of having, the regularity of spending that got us into this mess in the first place. After all, ironically, unlike the people in developing nations, Americans often spend what they don’t have. Consumer spending, in many cases, leads to consumer debt.

Some call it greed, but for many, it is simply the way they are advised to live by people and institutions they trust – people like friends, family, banks, the media, maybe even churches. Take real estate, which experts say is at the heart of our current crisis. Some people who got in over their heads were reassured by nearly everyone that real estate was a safe investment, a smart economic move and that they were qualified to join the ranks of homeowners. Some may have overreached. Others may have been misled – and by people who may not have even realized they were doing the misleading.

“Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should,” Ataide noted, emphasizing a point that seems to have been lost on much of American society.

Spending at Others’ Expense

According to PLNU theology professor Dr. Tom Phillips, not being greedy is biblically important. He says that consumption is not a problem in the Bible, but overconsumption is.

“Overconsumption is destructive both to the individual and to the other,” he said. Using more than we need may leave less for others and for future generations. “It’s similar to the idea that wealth is not a problem – except when it causes others to be in poverty or causes us to ignore those who are in need,” Phillips explained.

Spending at Our Own Detriment

Phillips also points out the dangers of overconsumption for the individual. Overconsumption can lead to addictions and a perpetual feeling of dissatisfaction. The late Pope John Paul II described consumerism as a form of slavery in which people are bound by possessions and the desire for immediate gratification. He feared people’s lives had “no other horizon than the multiplication or continual replacement of the things already owned with others still better.” This pattern of overconsumption, waste, and dissatisfaction deeply unsettled him.

Ecclesiastes 5:10-13 warns, “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them?

The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep. I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner.”

In a consumerist culture where wants and needs are confused, people may feel that they don’t have enough even when they are quite well off. I once attended a conference at which the speaker asked everyone in the room if they were rich. I don’t remember many hands being raised. The speaker then asked if we had a choice of what to eat when we were hungry and whether we owned more than one pair of shoes. If we did, he said, “You are so rich.”

In fact, most Americans don’t identify themselves as being rich even though they own cars, televisions, homes, and many, many pairs of shoes. Our culture of “too much” has ironically left us feeling as though we have “not enough.”

Already 10 years ago, Mark Buchanan, in his award-winning Christianity Today article “Trapped in the Cult of the Next Thing,” pointed out, “Maybe this is the worst irony of the Cult of the Next Thing: It trains us not to value things too much, but to value them too little. It teaches us not to cherish and enjoy anything.”

Spending as Communication and Identity

David Matzko McCarthy of Mt. Saint Mary’s University attributes part of the problem of consumerism to the prominent role it plays in many of our interactions. McCarthy points out that the use of consumer goods as communication vehicles is so common that it subjugates other important forms of human interaction. For example, parents may buy their child a video game to show they care. A young man may purchase an engagement ring he can’t afford because culture has told him that the size of the diamond communicates the intensity of his love. Love, in these instances, is demonstrated not through words, time, or actions, but through things.

In addition, consumer goods have become a way of communicating our identity. In “Consumerism and Christian Ethics,” Kenneth R. Himes says, “Anthropologists remind us that goods serve as a way of signaling to others what we are for or against, what we believe or deny, with whom we do or do not ally ourselves.”

The stores at which we shop, the neighborhoods in which we choose to buy homes – these things say something about what we value. Owning a certain type of car or brand of clothing serves as a status symbol – a marker of who a person is and where he or she stands economically and socially. Thorstein Veblen, who wrote The Theory of the Leisure Class, an early work on consumerism, called this kind of spending “conspicuous consumption.” In contrast, identity may be tied in with rejecting certain brands in favor of creating an image that is less mainstream, more organic, or even countercultural.

Either way, loyalty to specific brands and products becomes a sort of religious experience for some people, says Skye Jethani, whose upcoming book The Divine Commodity is set to be published in 2009. Using Apple as an example, Jethani suggests on his blog that loyal Mac users view themselves as possessing shared values and forming a community. Likewise, Jethani worries, some Christians appear to view their religion in consumerist ways. He wonders whether wearing Christian attire and purchasing Christian products might become a substitute for living out Christian values and following biblical principles.

In fact, the Bible warns that a focus on wealth and possessions can interfere with our relationship with God. Beginning with the well-known statement “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil,”1 Timothy 6:10 goes on to observe that “some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” In addition, when Jesus explains the parable of the sower, he says in Mark 4:19, “But the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.”

Spending as the Solution

Despite the dangers of overconsumption, Phillips does not view buying and selling – or even advertising and marketing – as wrong. That is, as long as they are done in a context of good stewardship. Being good stewards means using resources responsibly, not recklessly. It means being cognizant of how purchases affect people’s welfare, including the people who produce what we buy. This could mean choosing companies and products more carefully, avoiding those with exploitative practices and embracing those who value their employees and communities and treat them fairly.

Spending Wisely and on Others

Spending money can help the economy, as the experts tell us, if it’s done responsibly. Consuming within our means is what makes the difference. Buying more than we can afford means going into debt and using credit, which as current evidence attests, can pose risks. In fact, the Bible advises saving in Proverbs 21:20, which says, “In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.”

John Wesley’s famous sermon “The Use of Money” does not decry money or wealth itself, only its misuse. In fact, Wesley highly praises money for its ability to meet needs and do good. His first bit of advice is actually to “Gain all you can” (albeit with the important caveat of not gaining money at the expense of our lives, health, minds, souls, or neighbors). Wesley’s second tenet is “Save all you can.”

The Bible is clear, however, that we are not meant to save for savings’ sake. We aren’t meant to save simply to amass personal fortunes (Matthew 6:19 says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal”) or because we don’t trust God’s provision (in Exodus 16, the Israelites who tried to save extra manna found that it spoiled overnight).

Wesley’s final tenet, “Give all you can,” reflects why we ought to save. Without doing this, he says, gaining and saving are nothing. Interestingly, he assures us, “You ‘render unto God the things that are God’s,’ not only by what you give to the poor, but also by that which you expend in providing things needful for yourself and your household.” Our consumption is not decried when it is based on the need for sufficiency rather than the need for excess, and saving is not viewed as hoarding when it’s the basis for giving.

“Ultimately, we are not against, but for!” pointed out Dr. John Wright, PLNU professor of theology and Christian scriptures. “The reason greed and gluttony are to be avoided is because they prohibit our ability to be made into generous people as a fruit of the Spirit, to engage personally in the task of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, overseeing the sick. Or to quote Galatians, ‘As we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith’” (Gal. 6:10).

Spiritual Practices Offer an Alternative

If the answer to the question of “to spend or not to spend” is something like “only spend wisely,” the practical application of this insight remains challenging. Regulating our consumerism is a bit like managing weight. We can’t give up consumption. We must consume resources in order to survive. So if none is too little and too much is too much, what is enough? Aside from moving to a developing nation or heading out to Walden Pond, what might we more-well-off-than-we-usually-realize Christians do to combat the dangerous excesses of our culture?

As noted, most experts who write about consumerism don’t promote radical alternatives. Most do suggest the nebulous answer of moderation. Despite the lack of a simple checklist for being a responsible consumer, the Bible and scholars do provide a few guidelines to help us as we navigate this issue.

1. Embrace frugality. Methodist scholar James Nash urges Christians to resurrect frugality as a desirable virtue. He does not advise that Christians seek “holy poverty” or an ascetic lifestyle, viewing these as overly extreme. He does, however, see frugal decision-making as a key to engaging in life from a perspective of “being” rather than “having.” Being frugal also leaves more resources for others and wastes fewer of the resources God has given us.

Hebrews 13:5 says, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’”

Being frugal can help us remember to be content.

2. Practice reflection. Practices such as confession before God in prayer encourage us to be mindful of who we are and what we do, taking the focus off of what we have. Fasting can help us break the pattern of immediate gratification. Such acts of obedience and self-denial can lead to greater freedom, peace, and satisfaction. In God, there is enough. Paul writes in Philippians 4:12-13, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”

3. Keep the Sabbath. In the New Testament, Jesus often criticizes the idea of keeping the Sabbath for ritualistic rather than sincere purposes. Nevertheless, the original purpose of the Sabbath, providing needed rest from labor and time for stillness and worship, is something for which many of us feel a deep need. In a society where consumption is king, more money and things haven’t led to more leisure time. Instead, people work hard and long, keep packed schedules, and feel frenzied and tired much of the time. Keeping the Sabbath provides a needed slowdown for physical, emotional, and mental rest, as well as spiritual reflection and rejuvenation. Keeping the Sabbath may also help us gain perspective on our lifestyle and “needs” that may not be as vital as we thought.

4. Give thanks. Buchanan says “being thankful and experiencing the power and presence of Jesus Christ are tightly entwined.” When we regularly thank God for His gifts, it is easier to remember that His grace is sufficient. It helps us remember what is important. It helps us remember that we have much for which we ought to be thankful – and this realization may also lead us to recognize that with such great blessing comes the opportunity to bless others.

5. Tithe. It should be easier to give the more we have. In practice, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Walter Brueggemann, in “The liturgy of abundance, the myth of scarcity,” noted, “The great contradiction is that we have more and more money and less and less generosity – less and less public money for the needy, less charity for the neighbor.”

Jesus often warns us that wealth can be an obstacle, but if we don’t see ourselves as wealthy, we can miss the message. Tithing is a perpetual reminder that all we have comes from God. It’s obedience, and it sometimes requires denying our wants and trusting that God will provide.

Some people feel that they don’t have 10 percent to give, that their budgets are so tight they can barely get by. It’s true that we don’t know what happened to the widow who gave her last two mites. We don’t know if she went hungry that night. She may have. But she gave anyway. The truth is, for some of us (not all), our budgets are tight because we spend what we have, and we take on debt. We sometimes do lack flexibility in our budgets, but it’s often a choice. It’s just a choice we don’t always notice we’re making. Choosing to tithe faithfully might mean a truly radical revamping of our budgets and lifestyles. That may be the best reason for considering it if we don’t already.

6. Have faith. In one sense, overconsumption can be seen as a symptom that consumerism has become identity. However, Christianity offers an alternative means of shaping our identities, passions, and desires: faith in God. When we have faith and focus on following God’s Word, we can be Christians first and consumers later – and wiser, more responsible consumers at that. That’s not to say every decision will be easy or that we’ll always know what “enough” is, but it is certainly cause for hope and gratitude to God.

Have More = Give Less

Part of America’s history has been a tale of increasing prosperity for both the nation as a whole and for the average American. Among Christians in particular, it might seem likely that along with the rise in personal wealth would come an increase in generosity. The data, unfortunately, demonstrates that this has not been the case. Why hasn’t greater income led to greater giving? Why doesn’t the equation add up?

In the context of the United States, the question of financial stewardship is especially relevant. From colonial times through the present day, money has been a defining object for Americans, including Christians. Early in the country’s history many Christians embraced the opportunity uniquely afforded by the new nation to pursue the rapid accumulation of wealth. Notable exceptions were marginalized Christians, such as religious African slaves, and those Christian sects that willfully shunned the larger American economic system, such as the Amish. Yet even those Christians who did capitalize on America’s fortunes in the first half of the nation’s history were concerned with more than just making money. They also were mindful of how they used their money.

INDUSTRIOUS STEWARDS OF MONEY

In the 19th century, Europeans were regularly amazed when they traveled to the United States. While many elements of the new nation intrigued visitors from the Old World, they often marveled at American industriousness. The commercial drive that animated Americans was unmatched on the other side of the Atlantic.

Charles Dickens recognized that drive with scorn during his visit to the United States. In 1842 he wrote of Americans, “Healthful amusements, cheerful means of recreation, and wholesome fancies must fade before the stern utilitarian joys of trade.” The Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville was less judgmental than Dickens, but in his famous 1835 book Democracy in America, he still observed, “The love of wealth is… to be traced, as either a principal or an accessory motive, at the bottom of all that the Americans do.”

Dickens and Tocqueville may have accurately described the American temperament for accumulating money, but the causes behind this American disposition are harder to discern. What caused Americans to be so industrious? The truth is that most Americans never paused to consider the “why” of their commercial energy. The benefits of industrial efficiency and growth were taken to be self-evident. Most commentators were less interested in explaining why Americans worked hard and focused instead on the virtues of industriousness.

Even Christian leaders sounded much like entrepreneurs. Presbyterian minister Ashbel Green (1762-1848) served as the third chaplain of the United States Congress and the eighth president of Princeton University. In God and Mammon, historian Mark Noll records how in an 1830 address, Green exhorted his audience to consider the wealthy men they knew. Who were they? According to Green, they were the men who “began the world with little – often with nothing but their hands and their industry.” For the most part, Americans followed that model of accumulating wealth, acting out the maxims of the archetypal American entrepreneur, Benjamin Franklin. Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac explained, “God helps those who help themselves.” From that perspective sprang the most famous of American economic maxims, “Time is money.” Thus, Americans used their own hands and their own time to make ever more money.

But in the early American context, money was not only for getting, it was also for using. Historian Leigh Schmidt describes the early American impulse to steward wealth in his book Consumer Rites. He says, “The way to wealth and prosperity was to rationalize time, to save it and spend it wisely, to make good use of it.” Americans did just that. Following the trend, American Christians, too, put their time and money to good use.

In More Money, More Ministry, historian Gary Smith explains the link between Protestant evangelical Christians and stewardship around the turn of the century. “In the period between 1880 and 1930 evangelicals by and large strongly emphasized the biblical concept of stewardship and insisted that Christians should earn and control as much money as possible to further the spread of God’s kingdom on earth. They argued that the faithful practice of stewardship would enhance spiritual growth and the development of character.”

Well into the 20th century, many Christians were preaching and attempting to practice stewardship in response to the wealth generated by American industriousness. Several studies summarized in Passing the Plate, by Christian Smith and Michael Emerson, examine the financial giving data of 11 denominations from 1920 to 2003. The results reveal that, as a whole, Christians were more financially charitable in the first half of the 20th century than in the latter half. The authors point out, “Despite the massive growth in real per capita income over the twentieth century, the average share of income given by American Christians not only did not grow in proportion but actually declined slightly during this time period.” Perhaps the most revealing historical record for Christians in the United States is that as a percentage of personal income, believers gave more during the Great Depression than they give today.

Yet modern-day American Christians are the most prosperous believers the world has ever known. By Smith and Emerson’s estimates, calculating the net income of all American Christians today suggests that they bring home $2.4 trillion in personal income. Hypothetically speaking, if Christians in America (differences aside) constituted their own democratic nation, they would be entitled to a seat at the G8 summits.

The decline in Christian giving during the 20th century occurred over a time period of great financial prosperity. Christians kept contributing to their churches and to charities, but total Christian monetary gifts did not even remotely keep pace with the growth of the U.S. economy or Christians’ incomes. While money was being made like never before, it was no longer being used in the same ways. How did this great shift occur? It followed changes in the American economy and in what it meant to be a consumer.

AFFLUENT CONSUMERS OF THINGS

The day after Thanksgiving, on Friday, November 28, 2008, the Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) met by conference call to confirm that the United States economy has been in recession since December of 2007. The NBER is the national non-governmental body that officially dates the beginning and end of recessions in the United States.

Just two weeks before the NBER’s announcement, and just in time for holiday shopping season, Newsweek editor Robert J. Samuelson wrote a cover story contemplating the slow economy. Samuelson posited that for the first time in memory, the next generation of Americans might not grow in affluence. By affluence, Samuelson refers to the outward display of wealth. The next generation of Americans might not be able to show off their economic progress for their neighbors and the world to see. That sobering thought can be averted, says Samuelson, but only with steeled minds. His solution is worth quoting at length:

“Whatever happens, the future of American affluence will be a state of mind as much as a state of production. So much of our national identity is wrapped up in economic progress that the failure to achieve it in palpable quantities would sap America’s self-confidence. There have been other moments when the outlook seemed grim, but enduring American strengths – a widespread work ethic and strong entrepreneurial spirit – asserted themselves and disproved the conventional wisdom. After World War II, there were widespread fears of another Great Depression or, at best, a future of meager economic growth. What actually happened was just the opposite: a great boom that involved mass suburbanization and a prodigious outpouring of consumer goods – cars, appliances, televisions. Perhaps today’s anxieties will prove equally misconceived.”

Robert Samuelson’s solution for recession panic – buck-up and buy more things – follows the dominant American economic play book for the last 60 years. In A Consumer’s Republic, historian Lizabeth Cohen documents a strategy that “emerged after the Second World War for reconstructing the nation’s economy and reaffirming its democratic values through promoting the expansion of mass consumption.” Through a concerted effort by business, government, media, and other sources, the American attitude about mass consumption changed. The economic model of industriousness and stewardship exemplified by Benjamin Franklin, who said, “A penny saved is a penny earned,” no longer made economic sense.

In 1944, economist Robert Nathan described the new formula for national economic success in his book Mobilizing for Abundance: “Only if we have large demands can we expect large production. Therefore… ever-increasing consumption on the part of our people [is]… one of the prime requisites for prosperity. Mass consumption is essential to the success of a system of mass production.” That prevailing postwar attitude turned stewardship into a vice and consumer spending into a virtue. By their giving habits, American Christians appear to have followed the American public in embracing that modification of the country’s economic ethos.

Smith and Emerson found that the earlier American impulse to make good use of the enormous wealth generated by industriousness has waned. Multiple data sources show that one out of every five Christians in America give “literally nothing to church, para-church, or nonreligious charities.” That finding is even more striking considering that people commonly over report their financial generosity when taking surveys. Nevertheless, in multiple surveys, whether theologically conservative or liberal, about 20 percent of all American Christians said that they give no money at all.

Most Christians who do give, however, are not much more generous than those who contribute nothing. The exception is a small percentage of very generous Christians. Though not all generous givers are wealthy, Smith and Emerson found that the top 10 percent of charitable Christians give the vast majority of donations. When the overall figures are adjusted, “The median American Christian giver… gave only 0.62 percent of the median Christian annual income.”

As they conclude their study, Smith and Emerson attempt to identify what has caused this massive shift in the charitable behavior of American Christians. “The first and perhaps most formidable rival to generous financial giving of American Christians… is America’s institutionalized mass consumption.” The truth is that each year Christians take home trillions of dollars in personal income in the United States and only give a fraction of a percent of that money away.

The assessment that consumerism frustrates stewardship has not been lost on more recent Christian observations of the American economy. Publisher Rodney Clapp pointed out in his 1998 book Christianity & Consumer Culture that American-style consumerism creates unquenchable personal buying habits. “Unique to modern capitalism and consumerism are the idealization and constant encouragement of insatiability – the deification of dissatisfaction.” Generosity toward others becomes more difficult when individuals feel like they are in a constant state of need. Money is used for therapeutic personal expenditures that do not feel selfish.

Christians, like Clapp, who at the end of the 20th century questioned the values of consumerism, had to contend with changed attitudes about the virtues of consuming. By the 1990s, Americans had been inundated for decades, not only by tempting advertising for consumer goods, but also by propaganda telling them that when they indulged in excessive consumer buying, they were good stewards of their money. Cohen describes a 1947 Life magazine article titled, “Family Status Must Improve: It Should Buy More for Itself to Better the Living of Others.” She summarizes the gist of the article, quoting the main point from the article at the end, “Mass consumption in postwar America would not be a personal indulgence, but rather a civic responsibility to provide ‘full employment and improved living standards for the rest of the country.’”

Americans received this same message from multiple sources, including the government. Cohen observes, “Beginning with Roosevelt’s first cautious request in 1938 for an emergency appropriation for economic stimulus, government spending began to aim at expanding mass consumption to restabilize the American economy.” That emphasis on consuming as the activity that generated prosperity was radically different than the earlier priority industrious Americans gave to production as the way to a healthy home and national economy. Consumerism replaced America’s production economy. The 2008 economic stimulus passed by Congress and the Bush Administration demonstrates that government-sponsored consumption is still the main answer to a questionable economy. Even more recently, with National Public Radio reporting President Obama’s calls for a trillion dollar economic stimulus that includes consumer incentives, it seems clear that, at least in terms of the nation’s reliance on consumer spending, little will change in 2009.

The shift of the American economy from production to consumption altered the meaning of stewardship. Stewardship came to signify buying more quantity or better quality of consumer goods. Essentially, to be a good steward of money meant getting a good deal.

That change in what was implied by the word stewardship trickled down and affected the expectations most Americans had for what constituted a reasonable standard of living. In her book The Overspent American, sociologist Juliet Schor echoes Rodney Clapp’s assessment that consumerism creates discontent. Schor finds, “Overall, half the population of the richest country in the world say they cannot afford everything they really need.” That includes more than a quarter of the Americans making over $100,000 a year who claim they cannot afford their basic needs. Those inflated lifestyle expectations help explain a New York Times finding that in 2007, the average American household only put $449 into savings. Americans, including American Christians, use the lion’s share of their incomes to buy things for themselves.

CONCLUSION

The 20th century witnessed a shift in the economic climate of the United States. Americans went from being industrious stewards of money to affluent consumers of things. For the most part, Christians in the United States followed the wider economic trend of the nation. It was hard not to. Business, government, and the media forcefully pressured Americans to consume. In Living Justice, PLNU professor of sociology Jamie Gates warns, “It is important to realize that there is a well-organized, well-educated, focused, culture-shaping machine out there reaching for you and your money, and they aren’t going to take no for an answer.” The proprietors of consumerism got a resounding “yes” throughout the 20th century. Today, despite a recession, there continue to be murmurs of affirmation, hopes that the country’s economic troubles will subside and consumers will get back to spending.

Identified by what they own and aspire to buy, many will do all they can to purchase their way into an apparent lifestyle of affluence. Unfortunately, Christians are not immune to this consumer way of life. For, in our time, consumerism has become a defining activity for Americans.

Though Juliet Schor’s book is not written with a religious focus, her conclusion is startlingly compatible with a Christian understanding of worldly possessions. She says of modern-day Americans, “We are impoverishing ourselves in pursuit of a consumption goal that is inherently unachievable.”

The souls of many in America are impoverished by consumerism, and today, what sense of stewardship Americans once had seems mostly lost. Despite all the material possessions acquired, an honest inventory would have to conclude that much remains lacking.

By Dave Bruno

Re-Assembly Required: David Adey Makes Art and Social Critique

In November, PLNU art professor David Adey was featured in a solo exhibition entitled “I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me” at Luis De Jesus Seminal Projects Gallery in San Diego. For most of the works in the show, Adey took advertising images featuring celebrity models from fashion magazines and bus shelters and chopped them to bits with his extensive collection of craft punches normally used to decorate the pages of scrapbooks. Then, with the help of his studio assistant, PLNU senior art student Jenna Morrow, whose work is funded by a PLNU Research and Special Projects Grant, all of the flesh-toned pieces were perfectly reassembled and pinned into place onto white foam board. Carefully and evenly suspended several millimeters away from the foam, the two-dimensional photograph comes eerily back into the third dimension. Since only the flesh-toned image remains, open mouth, clothing, and eyes become negative space, odd hollow voids. The effect is creepy, unsettling. In one large piece, “Misha Barton for Bebe,” the model’s arms are oddly cut up by the missing brand name logo ‘bebe’ superimposed in the original image over her flesh.

The art itself is so strange, so beautiful, and so complicated – and none of that by chance. In all of these masterminded arresting elements, Adey is grabbing our attention and inviting us to stay and think awhile, even to dig into the perspectives he presents. He seems to keenly understand that while there are many things we can learn and know, perhaps most importantly we must learn how to soberly look at ourselves and our society and begin to ask better questions about who we are.

As an artist and an educator, Adey seeks to critique society and stir up philosophical and faith conversations. Adey says, “I feel that it is my moral obligation as a believer and as an artist to address cultural issues from a position of faith. Every piece of art that I have made for the past 10 years has been made from a Christian perspective.” And yet, glancing at his work without engaging in conversation with its multifaceted deeper meanings, a viewer might just miss the Christian perspective altogether.

While Adey is a Christian and an artist, he is not a traditional ‘Christian artist’ in the sense that his work does not portray or reinterpret Bible stories or explicitly call people to faith in Christ. Rather, his body of artwork deftly draws on themes that are familiar to the Christian tradition. There are sometimes sheep. There are nearly always elements of death and resurrection in the mix. As Adey’s recent exhibition has received critical acclaim, more than one art critic has picked up on these themes, which are less than apparent at first glance. Kevin Freitas is an art critic for San Diego City Beat Magazine:

“Using ordinary craft punches, Adey pilfers today’s fashion magazines and dissects hundreds of flesh tone shapes from the celebrities and models displayed within their glossy pages and then resurrects the victims in works that are simply astounding in their complexity of design and simplicity of idea and construction. Each punched shape is pinned – crucified – like some entomological collection to a Styrofoam background and turned into some of the most sensual and sublime collages ever produced.”

These Christian references: crucifixion, fashion models as somehow willing victims of oppression, and Adey’s pinning technique as a kind of resurrection are not used flippantly in the artwork nor in Freitas’ critique and are not at all intended as a mockery of faith. Instead, they bring a powerful critique when brought to bear on our fame-obsessed society.

While fashion is a valid art form, what does it mean about our society that a person becomes distinctly more valuable and desirable with airbrushed makeup, windblown hair, and a seductive pose? Are famous models like Barton exploited for commercial gain through conspicuous consumption? If sex is used to sell us a ‘body- conscious’ brand of clothes, should we be buying? Whatever your take on the issue, Adey is craftily posing the question.

San Diego Union-Tribune art critic Robert Pincus has his take: “Isn’t there something disturbing, [Adey] suggests, about the way our culture is fixated on flesh and youth? There’s a dark side to glamour: Making celebrities grander than ourselves, we’re fascinated by their rise, but just as intrigued with their fall. Making them larger-than-life, we also dehumanize them.”

Adey says about naming his pieces, “I’m drawn to the ironic, sacrificial nature of the titles “Misha Barton for Bebe” and “Rebecca Romjin for Bebe,” which come directly from the ads. Just like the real Misha Barton is sacrificed for Bebe, Misha the photograph is sacrificed to make the art.”

Adey has stripped the image down to portray only the model’s exposed flesh, perhaps in an effort to restore her humanity (certainly something more sacred and meaningful than the clothes or the jewelry Bebe is selling). He’s taken the two-dimensional image and tried to bring it back to something three- dimensional, more real, more alive again. Obviously it’s a parody, it doesn’t fully work – but again, it succeeds where it make us think about our culture.

Adey says, “The damage has been done, a woman has been reduced to a two-dimensional dead representation of a person. The work is an exercise in futility. [By] extruding the image back into space, it can’t become real again, but it can become a strange and beautiful creation.”

Still, what’s evident in his resurrection parodies is that David Adey, in all his wild creativity, or any human artist for that matter, cannot improve upon the original work. What he can, and does, do is make us think.

To see more of Adey’s work, visit www.davidadey.com.

Beauty for Ashes

Drawing of Flower

Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free… Isaiah 58:6

It all started for me in Northern Uganda, sitting within the World Vision rehabilitation center for former child soldiers. I listened to the stories of young boys and girls, some as young as seven, being forced into a war. Hearing them recount how they were made to kill their families and endure the most horrific of traumas shattered my heart. No child should be forced to kill. It was there that I learned of the world of human trafficking even before I knew its name.

My passion for these children flourished during my undergraduate time at Point Loma. As I watched the documentary Invisible Children one night in Brown Chapel, I knew my call was to address child trafficking.

Just two weeks before Invisible Children’s return trip to Gulu, I was invited to join the team. With the overwhelming support of my professors, the dean of students, and my peers, I got on a plane bound for Uganda. I could never have imagined then, almost five years ago, the cusp of the movement on which we were riding. What began as an exploration to understand international trafficking led me right to my own backyard. Sex trafficking and labor trafficking of men, women, and children occurs across the globe, and our cities in the United States are not exempt.

In graduate school at Fuller Theological Seminary, I took a course entitled “Ministry to Sexually Exploited and Trafficked Children.” To wrap up the course, Fuller hosted their first ASHA forum, which brought together professionals working to end domestic and international human trafficking. I was shaken to hear about the injustices facing agricultural workers, domestic laborers, and those entangled in pornography and the sex industry. Learning about the sex industry within my own country necessitated action. Looking into something so dark and evil can appear hopeless. But there at Fuller more than three years ago, I felt the collective hope of a group of people who dedicated their lives to the eradication of modern-day slavery. This is the hope that we have: we are not alone. They are not alone.

Since my time at Fuller, my career path continues to be divinely orchestrated. I moved back to San Diego to intern with the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition (BSCC). This nonprofit organization provides services to victims of international and domestic human trafficking in San Diego and Tijuana. Interning provided an opportunity to be hired as The Salvation Army’s coordinator of anti-human trafficking for the San Diego, San Bernardino, and Imperial regions. Training key community members on human trafficking taught me the importance of each person in the process of rescuing and restoring those enslaved. From there, I transitioned into case manager at BSCC and put all the information I learned into practice. I concentrated on working beside victims of commercial sexual exploitation of children. An alarming number of teenage girls are entangled in the sex industry right where I live – in San Diego. Serving as an educator, advocate, and case manager allowed me to journey alongside those seeking a way out, seeking hope.

Becoming overwhelmed, horrified, shocked, or fearful is easy when you delve into the illicit trade in humans. It might even be a necessary first step. We cannot end there. We must keep learning, becoming aware and active in order to work together toward solutions. Signs of hope and glimpses of light present themselves all along the fight to end this grave violation of human rights. The local churches are vessels of awareness and activism. Students from around the globe are dedicating their academic and vocational lives to anti-human trafficking work. And though the number of survivors rehabilitated is still small in proportion to the estimated number enslaved, it grows each year, services expand, and survivors live to tell stories of restoration. If we keep our eyes open past the pain, we see that our work is not in vain and that we must grab hold of the call to keep going, keep working to set the prisoners free and bring beauty for ashes.

Mobilization of the Local Churches

The country’s churches fan the flame of enthusiasm in the fight against human trafficking. Across the nation, individuals hungering for justice have educated themselves and then shared that knowledge with their churches. Our churches have become grounds for trainings, seminars, panel discussions, movie screenings, fundraisers, outreach ministries, and prayer meetings. The energy radiating from a group of committed Christians dedicated to addressing human trafficking is powerful.

While working for The Salvation Army, I trained and shared with local churches. Continually groups kept asking, “What else can we do? How can we get more involved?” The congregants were learning more, were asking questions, and were intensely eager to act. While the network of social services for survivors continues to form, congregants utilize creativity to participate in ending human trafficking.

Within San Diego alone, almost a dozen different ministries have sprung up to specifically reach out to vulnerable populations. Churches visit areas of San Diego deemed “The Track,” where women, men, and young girls are prostituted and sexually exploited. With 12 as the average age of entry into the sex industry in the United States, many of these young girls are given the emergency hotline number for human trafficking. Churches are supporting local faith-based nonprofits, and Christians from different church backgrounds are joining together in prayer for those enslaved globally and locally, as well as for a united and effective response to end trafficking.

As a case manager, I sat at tables assembled of law enforcement, social workers, child protective services, lawyers, professors, and faith leaders. This multi-faceted crime requires a diverse and collective approach in which the church and its members must engage. While no one group holds the solution, the church can offer a radical model of restoration and care. The church stands in a unique place to address social injustices, including human trafficking. The church is needed in this fight. Churches play a critical role in creating a consciousness about the products we consume, the images and music we support, and our participation in that which enslaves others. If we seek to model Jesus, our approach in assisting others will shine within the sea of service providers.

Engagement of Student Leaders

Hope can be seen at colleges from Point Loma Nazarene University to neighboring campuses and those across the country. Almost every campus in San Diego addresses human trafficking in one way or another. Classes in varying disciplines are bringing human trafficking into the discussion. For example, PLNU political science professor Dr. Roscoe Williamson is teaching a course about the darker side of globalization, which will include a discussion of human trafficking. Awareness events such as art shows, panel discussions, mock kidnappings, trainings on how to identify victims, and numerous creative endeavors find fertile ground on college campuses. Point Loma had upwards of 250 students attend last spring’s Brewed Awakening event on human trafficking, which was sponsored by PLNU’s Center for Justice and Reconciliation and Not for Sale. PLNU students have also attended the San Diego monthly coalition meetings on human trafficking. These meetings, hosted by BSCC, allow for dialogue and participation across disciplines. Some students have attained internships with local agencies and started getting their hands dirty. As students learn more, they look for ways that their future career paths can play a part in bringing hope to those enslaved.

The resolve of students of all ages testifies that youth does indeed make a difference. Loose Change to Loosen Injustice functions as a student-led campaign providing an opportunity for youth groups to get involved in fundraising to fight trafficking. This phenomenal project of International Justice Mission equips elementary to college age students to train others. Once students gain knowledge, they can serve as powerful catalysts to affect others.

Who are the people being affected by the vast efforts of government, organizations, churches, students, and others to combat human trafficking? What does rescue, rehabilitation, and justice really look like?

Restoration of Survivors of Human Trafficking

It was only about six months that I worked as a case manager alongside survivors; however, their tears, stories, struggles, and victories will never leave me. Numerous times I asked where God was. I asked how this could be happening in the city in which I live. I was disgusted by the cruelty one human can show another. Their stories continually led me to tears. Continuing on, the days of rejoicing were present through the tears. So many people ask to hear the stories of survivors. The stories that touched me the most were those that demonstrated the strongest will to move forward.

While the journey toward healing after the trauma of human trafficking is arduous, moments of hope appear along the road. The resilience of the human spirit often propels survivors to continue on the road toward restoration.

Christina

Meet Christina. She grew up in San Diego and attended public high school where she excelled. Sadly, sexual abuse, violence, and crowded living conditions accompanied her youth. By the age of 15, she had experienced the ins and outs of group homes here in San Diego. After cycles of abuse, violence, and neglect, Christina found herself on the streets. With no one to whom she could turn, she formed relationships with others like her on the street. One day, a man approached Christina, showing interest, commenting on how beautiful she was, and offering her a place to stay. Christina agreed to accept his help to get her on her feet. What started as the “honeymoon period,” or initial time before exploitation, quickly turned into a nightmare. A whirlwind of violence, forced prostitution, and cycle of paying this man, her pimp, quickly began to control her. One day, when she was alone, she was able to contact the police and escape safely. While most trapped in a trafficking situation cannot reach out due to psychological manipulation and coercion, Christina was able to gain shelter and services through a local agency. And due to increased education of our local law enforcement and surrounding community, Christina was not identified as “prostitute” but rather recognized as a minor who had been “prostituted.”

Christina struggled throughout the rehabilitation process and faced everyday challenges. In doing so, she gained a new clarity about her situation and agreed to proceed with a legal case against her pimp. Christina’s courage inspires. Through fear, anxiety, and uncertainty, she made it to the courtroom. Upon hearing she was present, her pimp pled guilty and was sentenced to eight years in jail for domestic minor sex trafficking. While eight years seems a meager punishment for such an evil crime, the hope comes in that these cases are being prosecuted more and more. As victories are won, they set precedence for future cases. The hope is that as we are learning more, working with girls such as Christina, and dialoguing with others providing care, we are expanding that network of services and building upon the work of others.

Christina’s journey continued on past the time I met with her regularly. One day she came in the office, face beaming, to tell me how she had enrolled in college and was making positive changes in her life. She then turned to show me her back. Where there was once the name of her pimp tattooed (a common technique is to “brand” these young girls), there was now a colorful picture of a butterfly and crown. It was a beautiful image of her new life and restoration.

I take hope in the rare but beautiful stories of the courage of survivors and in the commitment service professionals, including law enforcement, district attorneys, housemothers, and social service workers, have to help them.

Zeda

Zeda’s story is also one of hope. Zeda traveled from the Czech Republic to this country in hope of a career as a waitress. As is all too often the case, Zeda was brought into a network of domestic servants. Continually forced to work in fields and homes providing manual labor, she was also a victim of sexual abuse. Unable to speak the language, Zeda was isolated. Those for whom she worked were deeply connected and unwilling to speak out against the labor exploitation that took place on their property. Zeda was eventually rescued by local law enforcement who investigated the property.

Unfortunately the legal outcome of this case was less effective than in Christina’s story. Nonetheless, glimpses of hope were seen in the reconciliation efforts. While working with Zeda, locating a safe and sustainable living environment was one of the toughest issues to tackle. Housing continues to be limited for victims of human trafficking though creative solutions are emerging. In Zeda’s case, a relative was eventually found within the Southern California region. Zeda was assimilated into the relative’s immediate family. The family received education on the effects of trauma, helpful tools to deal with stress, and multiple community resources for daily life. Educating those who are reconciled with loved ones who have faced situations of trafficking is essential. With proper education and resources, families and those providing care for survivors are able to recognize signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues that might affect a survivor’s daily life.

At home, Zeda faces multiple challenges, but she faces them with a supportive group of individuals who care for her. A church community in her native language was even found to welcome her into their community (inclusion into a community can be an extremely helpful step in the process of restoration).

Note: Names and details have been changed to protect the individuals’ privacy.

Conclusion

As the media brings increasingly more attention to stories where men, women, and children are forced into labor and sex trafficking, a grassroots movement is becoming more organized. Individuals choose to say that this is unacceptable and take action. We – especially as Christians – must also collectively cry out. It doesn’t take a grand gesture, though individuals are making those. It doesn’t take a million dollars, though donations to projects are a significant means of helping. What it takes is a willing heart and open eyes.

I don’t say this in an attempt to simplify the problem; the task ahead is indeed formidable. As we move forward together, we must learn to address both the demand side of trafficking and best practices for serving survivors. However, as we move, let us also celebrate the fact that we are moving. We are learning. We are bringing solutions and working toward bringing beauty for ashes.

We are bringing solutions and working toward bringing beauty for ashes.

By Heidi Hermann

Obesity Beyond the Individual

Obese People on Segways

A recent study determined that the total lifetime healthcare costs of obese individuals and smokers are less than those of nonsmokers and people of healthy weight. Why? The healthier individuals lived longer, eventually incurring more total medical expenses. The study concluded that from a purely economic standpoint, battling the obesity epidemic in America isn’t worthwhile. While the point wasn’t to promote obesity (the authors pointed out that there is intrinsic value in human life and that the healthier people may have contributed enough in productivity to undercut their medical expenses), the study points to the high level of confusion, controversy, and impracticality surrounding issues of obesity and health in the media.

Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) shows that rates of obesity among both children and adults have more than doubled in the past three decades. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an adult is considered obese if he or she has a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30. BMI is calculated according to the following formula: weight in lbs/height in inches2 x 703. Although BMI is not a direct measure of body fat percentage, it correlates closely in most people (athletes are an example of an exception). Child and teen BMI is calculated differently.

As early as October 1999, researchers from the CDC published an article on the “obesity epidemic” in the Journal of the American Medical Association ( JAMA). In the article, the CDC reported a dramatic increase in the number of obese individuals during the 1990s – an increase that spanned all regions and demographics.

Obesity has been found to increase the risk of many chronic, non-communicable health problems, including type-2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and some types of cancer. Unfortunately, children are not exempt. In fact, not only are more children overweight, but approximately two-thirds of overweight 5 to 10-year-olds already have at least one heart disease risk factor.

Perhaps the biggest problem in trying to address the obesity epidemic is that the problem doesn’t have just one clear-cut cause. Individuals may be overweight because of poor eating habits, lack of exercise, genetics, eating disorders, medical conditions, or some combination of factors. Regardless of all the reasons individual people may be overweight, the rapid increase in obesity as a population trend suggests that there are some systemic issues at work.

“Despite obesity having strong genetic determinants, the genetic composition of the population does not change rapidly. Therefore, the large increase in . . . [obesity] must reflect major changes in non-genetic factors,” explained James Hill, Ph.D., and Frederick Trowbridge, M.D., in their article “Childhood obesity: Future directions and research priorities.”

Systemic Causes of the Obesity Epidemic

If genetics alone can’t explain the widespread and rapid increase in obesity, perhaps cultural and economic trends can.

Cultural Shifts

According to the CDC, a comparison of surveys conducted in the late 70s with those from the mid-90s shows an increase in average daily calorie consumption by both men and women. The survey found that men increased their average caloric intake by just over 200 calories a day while women increased by slightly more than 100.

The CDC explains, “Eating more frequently is encouraged by innumerable environmental changes: more food and foods with higher caloric content, the growth of the fast food industry, the increased numbers and marketing of snack foods, increased time for socializing, and a custom of socializing with food and drink.”

At the same time that calorie consumption has risen, physical activity is reported to be down. For all the benefits technology has brought to society, already inactive office jobs have become even more sedentary. Long commutes and a social trend toward packed schedules have left many individuals feeling a time crunch. Exercise and cooking at home often seem to be the easiest things to cut.

“Unfortunately, the current culture is more powerful than common sense,” said Dr. Ted Anderson, professor of kinesiology at PLNU. “I think a lot of the issue is discipline.”

Anderson’s colleague, Dr. Jeff Sullivan, chair of PLNU’s kinesiology department, pointed out that in addition to self-discipline, motivation may be an issue. For many people, he said, the motivation for weight loss is more closely related to cultural perceptions of appearance than health. This attitude might make people more prone to looking for quick fixes rather than a long-term commitment to healthy habits like exercising regularly.

“Motivation to exercise will increase (and therefore lasting benefits are more likely),” Sullivan said, “if people approach exercise by doing something they enjoy rather than viewing it as ‘beating their body into submission’ at the end of a long work day.”

In addition to the dietary changes and lack of exercise prevalent in the U.S., PLNU’s Margaret Wing-Peterson, M.S., R.D., adjunct professor of family and consumer sciences, said a similar cultural shift is happening outside America.

“Obesity is growing in third world countries,” she said. “Also, in places like China that are becoming more industrialized, the American diet is being viewed as desirable.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 60 percent of the world’s population fails to meet recommended levels of physical activity, thereby missing the benefits of an active lifestyle.

The WHO estimates that by 2015, more than 700 million adults will be obese. The organization’s Global Database on Body Mass Index points out that, surprisingly, obesity now often exists alongside undernutrition in developing countries.

Economic Factors

In addition to cultural and lifestyle shifts, there may also be economic factors at work. Anderson and Sullivan say that the poverty-obesity connection may be related to issues of health and nutrition education – something both advocate expanding for all population groups.

Meanwhile, Dr. Kay Wilder, chair of the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences at PLNU, pointed out that unhealthy habits among low-income individuals both in America and worldwide can be a practical matter. Healthier food options may not be as affordable or as readily available in some areas.

“For many people, it’s an issue of access, not willpower,” she said.

In some low-income areas, supermarkets are far and few between, leaving people to shop primarily at corner markets and convenience stores. These stores offer mostly processed food items and few fresh fruits and vegetables. Fast food restaurants, often prolific in lower income neighborhoods, are no better an option – they also offer inexpensive but mostly unhealthy food choices.

For people on fixed incomes, the bottom line may trump nutritional quality in importance. And, unfortunately, fat and sugar-laden foods are often less expensive. Choosing costlier fruits and vegetables might mean running out of money, and thus meals, before the month is up.

Unfortunately, food prices are expected to rise rather dramatically over the next year because of higher fuel costs, bad weather, and the increasingly controversial use of corn crops to make ethanol. Some health experts worry that the imminent food crisis will lead to greater rates of obesity as more people lose consistent access to higher-priced, healthier food items, including fruits, vegetables, lean meat, and fish.

Also related to economics and development is the fact that neighborhoods are not always constructed in ways that make walking and biking safe alternative means of transportation, even for short journeys. In addition, urbanization in developing countries has made children’s unsupervised play less safe, much as it has in the United States. Safety concerns may keep both adults and children from walking or biking in their neighborhoods.

The combination of these and other factors may seem daunting, but recognizing some of the contributing factors can help lead to ideas for how to address the systemic causes of rising obesity rates.

Practical Responses

The CDC, WHO, and PLNU’s faculty all assert that it will take community-wide efforts to make a significant difference in confronting the obesity epidemic and its resulting health effects. While some individuals may be able to improve their own diet and exercise choices, the cultural and economic issues contributing to the rise in obesity must be addressed more broadly.

A story reported by CBS.com in March provides an example of a community-based response to hypertension, the risk of which rises with obesity. The story is about a Baltimore barbershop that recently began offering blood pressure testing as part of its regular services. Trained by doctors at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, the barbers are seeking to help their primarily African American male clients (a group at high hypertension risk) recognize and seek treatment for high blood pressure and underlying weight problems.

“Churches can think outside the box like these hairdressers,” said Wilder. She suggested that we look to our own circles of influence for ways to make a difference. “Elderly members of our churches may lack transportation. They may be forced to do their shopping at the nearest place within walking distance, which may be a corner store without a full range of healthy options. But we can help those we know.”

“Optimal health is caught more than taught,” said Anderson. “A church would be a great place to catch it.”

He added specific ideas, such as providing family- friendly activities that promote healthy habits, offering childcare services that allow parents time to exercise, and providing activities that combine exercise with socializing.

The church-health vision has been embraced by Mid-City Church of the Nazarene in San Diego, a multi-congregational church, whose English- speaking group is pastored by PLNU theology professor Dr. John Wright. Mid-City has partnered with PLNU’s Health Promotion Center, located at the church, to provide healthcare for the uninsured. Health screenings for diabetes and hypertension and healthy lifestyle education are also provided free of charge.

“Businesses and bosses can also make it easier for people to exercise on their lunch breaks,” Anderson added. In the kinesiology department’s efforts to provide a “fitness culture” on PLNU’s campus, for example, they have reserved time in the weight room for faculty and staff during the lunch hour, made locker rooms available, and offered workout classes for faculty and staff led by kinesiology professor Ann Davis.

Finally, government can play a role in helping consumers make healthier choices. For example, according to Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, some communities are adopting menu labeling laws, which require restaurants to provide nutrition information on their menus. Boston, Baltimore, and Stamford, Conn., have passed laws banning trans fats from restaurants as well. Also under consideration in some parts of the country are laws that would limit or prohibit the marketing of unhealthy foods to children.

Individual Choices

For those struggling with obesity, Wilder, Wing-Peterson, and their colleague Cindy Swann, M.S., R.D., director of PLNU’s dietetics program, all emphasize the importance of seeking help from a qualified medical professional.

“There is a lot of misinformation out there,” said Wing-Peterson. “A lot of people try to self-medicate. Not only may that not work, it can be dangerous.”

“Fad diets are after money, not health,” added Anderson. “They also can lead to a culture of looking for what’s easiest, for what’s most convenient.”

The faculty members suggest seeing a doctor or a registered dietitian (R.D.). Point Loma’s dietetics program prepares students for accredited internships that are required before a prospective R.D. can take the registered dietitian exam. The family and consumer sciences faculty are, therefore, well aware of the difference between R.D.s and those with less training.

“It’s important to distinguish between an R.D. and a ‘nutritionist,’ which is a term that is not well-regulated,” said Swann.

The American Dietetic Association (ADA) recently made a similar point when its president, Connie Diekman, was able to obtain membership in the American Association of Nutritional Consultants for her dog, Eddie.

In a press release about the experience, Diekman said, “Consumers beware: Not all nutritionists are created the same. Eddie is living, barking proof that anyone can become a member of an organization of purported nutrition experts, even if they have no more qualification to give nutrition advice than a dog. When you need trusted, accurate, timely and practical nutrition advice, you need to seek the advice of a registered dietitian.”

Conclusion

The obesity epidemic is complex, but finding ways to make a difference for those struggling with their weight and with related health problems is important.

“While obese individuals need to reduce their caloric intake and increase their physical activity, many others must play a role to help these individuals and to prevent a further increase in obesity,” said Jeffrey Koplan, one of the authors of the CDC’s JAMA article and former CDC director. “Health care providers must counsel their obese patients; workplaces must offer healthy food choices in their cafeterias and provide opportunities for employees to be physically active on site; schools must offer more physical education that encourages lifelong physical activity; urban policymakers must provide more sidewalks, bike paths, and other alternatives to cars; and parents need to reduce their children’s TV and computer time and encourage outdoor play. In general, restoring physical activity to our daily routines is critical.”

A community problem deserves a community-wide response.

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