The Civilly Disobedient

Is it ever right–ethically or morally–to break the law? Explain why or why not.

-Honors American Literature journal question, Monday

It’s always a good day when I get to stand on a chair.

I sense that the students understand this, also, even as they mutter about being hustled, a few minutes into class, from their comfortable plastic chairs to the space at the back of the room. This space, perhaps 25 feet wide and six feet deep, is magic. It’s the floor we sit on, in a narrow oval, to read scary stories, and the back-of-class stage for all manner of skits and roll-plays. Today, it’s the ground for Would You Rather: Lawbreaker Edition.

At the beginning of class, I asked them to write for a few minutes about the question above. Is it ever right to break the law? They wrote, dutifully, and now they’re standing just as dutifully in the back of the room, while I direct them from my chair perch on high.

“OK,” I begin. “You have to pick a side. This is the question you wrote about. Is it ever right to break the law? Yes,” I motion to the door side, “Or no?” I motion to the windows. Mostly they shuffle to the door, a few students opting to stand in the hall outside to express their extreme comfort with law-breaking. A few misunderstand, citing times when obeying the law is just fine.

“I didn’t say ‘Is it always right to break the law,'” I remind them. “I said ‘ever.’ That’s important. Obviously we mostly obey the law, right?”

My students nod. “Now. Would you rather not pay your taxes,” window, “Or plot to overthrow the government?” door. The students laugh, mostly opting to not pay their taxes because “…you know, I’d rather have my money than… not have it.”

We’ll be reading Henry David Thoreau’s “On The Duty Of Civil Disobedience” in a few minutes, the author’s treatise regarding why he, among other forms of passive protest, refused to pay a poll tax that would fund the Mexican-American War. As I read through a few more scenarios involving various laws broken through civil disobedience over the years, I begin to think I may have lost them, my international students. They didn’t know that interracial marriage was illegal in America the early 20th century, and don’t have a solid grasp on the concept of draft-dodging. It all feels very theoretical in this safe little classroom in Germany. We’d disobey the laws you think we should, they seem to say, but we’re not super sure why.

Then I reach the second-to-last question.

“Would you rather hold a secret worship service in a country where it’s illegal, or smuggle Bibles into a country where they’re illegal?”

Suddenly, they’re all questions, of which the most common, and loudest, is “What if we’ve done both?”

Sometimes, in the busyness of writing and rewriting papers, reading classic literature and pacing ourselves through bell-ordained school days, I forget that our students at Black Forest Academy are rather extraordinary. All teenagers are extraordinary, of course, because they are odd and clever and creative, because they’re heroically weathering one of the more difficult seasons of human life, because in spite of it all most of them remain optimistic about the future and their roles in it. But these teenagers, our students, are something else entirely.

I forget that some of their very lives are founded on acts of civil disobedience, large and small. I forget the risks associated with some of this work, for which deportation–permanent exile from the places they call home–is sometimes a light potential consequence. I forget that Paul’s preaching and imprisonments, which I read in the early morning alongside many other “Bible stories” are the real models on which they base their ministry. If you’re not supposed to preach Christ, do it anyway. If you’re put in prison, keep preaching. God’s law always comes first.

When we reach the last question, asking them to choose between participating in the Underground Railroad in the 19th century or the Resistance in Germany in the 20th century, my students rebel. “Both!” they cry. “How could we possibly choose between those?”

In a few years, my students will be in college, perhaps away from the law-breaking part of their lives. But as I listen to them today, I’m inspired by their nonconformity, the way they’re able to evaluate both laws and cultural norms in light of the truth of Christ. They’ll go back to America, doubtless to be amazed at the “stands” their peers choose to make, or perhaps the lack of them. I can only hope that the students who confidently tell me that they can’t choose between an illegal worship service and an illegal Bible will continue to value both in places where worship and Scripture are less illegal than simply forgotten. Their civil disobedience might not break any laws, but it will continue to remind them, and those around them, of the extraordinary lives they’ve lived, and the extraordinary God they serve.

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Why Give?

With our return to Germany set for five months from today, we are working to raise about $1200 in additional monthly support before then. We are incredibly grateful for those of you who have been supporting us financially for years; our ministry truly hinges on your partnership. As we look ahead to the future, we are excited for this opportunity to bring new supporters into this ministry at Black Forest Academy.

So who should support this ministry? While there are many reasons we are passionate about serving students at Black Forest Academy, we love to partner with those who are excited about education, young people or overseas missions.

Passion for Education

DebateAs a premier Christian international school in the region, BFA offers a quality education, building a solid foundation for young people from which to become learners and leaders in the world. Since all of the staff and faculty are support-based missionaries, your support allows the school to offer this education to the children of missionaries at a fraction of the cost of other international schools.

Passion for Young People

Winter Retreat 2013The students of BFA often come from mission backgrounds, but most arrive at school at a critical point in their learning and faith development. Many are pursuing a relationship with Christ as they make the transition from childhood to adulthood, and the staff of BFA are privileged to stand in the role of mentors and role models on this journey to maturity. Through the gifts of financial supporters, we have been able to invest in the lives of extraordinary young people as they seek answers about their lives and the world around them.

Passion for Overseas Missions

Central AsiaThe majority of students at BFA are the children of missionaries serving around the Eastern Hemisphere. With especially concentrated populations serving in ministry in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Central and East Asia, BFA facilitates global missions by providing for the educational needs of families serving in these places. Many of our students tell us that their families would have had to leave missions entirely if not for the education and community available at BFA. Supporting us as we serve at BFA in turn supports mission work in over 60 countries around the world!

We love being able to share the work that God is doing with education, young people and in missions worldwide through Black Forest Academy. Please pray about getting involved in this great work and joining our support team for the coming year. If you have questions about our work in Germany, feel free to email me at kristi.dahlstrom@gmail.com.

The Love We Share: M-Trip Sunday

The Tanzania Team tells about their experiences.

We’re on the sixth slideshow when my roommate, Emily, leads her team to the front of the auditorium. The mostly-female team are all wearing the shapeless, colorful dresses that they wore for their week in a Central Asian village. This, along with covering their hair and serving the three men who accompanied them, was their homage to their hosts, most of whom had never met a Christian before.

It’s M-Trip Sunday today at Black Forest Christian Fellowship, the day on which the 70 students and 15 leaders from the spring break mission trips give reports in the service of their weeks around the world. By the time the Central Asia team takes the stage, I’ve already stood in front, wearing my orange Habitat for Humanity t-shirt and stucco-speckled jeans as our students shared about the provision of safety and fellowship during our week in Romania.

As I listen to the students today, I’m struck by both the variety and the similarity of our weeks in six different countries. Some went with boldly evangelical missions, preparing dramas and Bible studies to share with children in Italy and Belarus. Others went to “closed countries,” where to speak the name of Jesus at all was forbidden. Some were teaching, others building. We went to three continents–Europe, Africa and Asia–and took with us 85 different sets of expectations for what the weeks would hold.

Yet this morning I’m struck more with the similarities of the trips than their unique differences. As slideshows reveal that kids in every country like to jump rope and blow bubbles, I hear the students say, again and again, that what was most meaningful and important each week was the relationships they were able to build with one another and with those they’d come to serve. No matter what the “project” that had brought them to Tanzania or Slovenia, Romania or Belarus, the students were impacted by this opportunity to share the love of Christ the best way they know how, by loving His people.

I was sixteen the first time a short-term mission trip took me to a foreign country. Bethany Community Church sent twelve people to San Jose, Costa Rica, where we spent the week building relationships with a community of believers there and, most of the time, doing the backbreaking labor of building a church from concrete, rebar and cinder blocks. I remember the Costa Rican pastor, during our last meal together, sharing that with the money we’d raised to fly twelve people from Seattle to San Jose, we probably could have hired people to finish the project. Discouraging thought to my sixteen-year-old self. But he continued, saying that in the end, this was better, this fellowship of believers coming together to know one another, reflecting the love of Christ that knows no language or cultural barriers.

This is what I hear from our students as they return for the last six busy weeks of school. It was amazing, they say, so see the God is everywhere, working in grander ways than we could ever have imagined. Even though many of our students have grown up away from what we call their “passport countries,” most of them come back impressed by the international nature of the body of Christ, delighted to see that whatever the differences of language and culture, they are joined by a more important bond of shared love for their savior, Jesus.

Thank you to all of you who make this ministry possible, for your prayers and support that enable our students to take these journeys of faith as they grow towards maturity.

Ben shares the value of community in their time in Central Asia.