By Trish Morley-Forster
On Saturday September 28, Churches Together London and Hillside Church hosted Marcel Lebrun, creator of the 12 Neighbors video series. He challenged the audience of almost 70 people to “spend themselves” in order to act and think differently about how to love one’s neighbor. The context for this challenge was based on Isaiah 58: 10 to 11: “If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry, and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”
Marcel shared his own spiritual journey towards discovering the meaning of this scripture. In university, he pursued goals that brought him success, but left him disillusioned. In his first year of university he came to Christ, through the organization Navigators, and also met his future wife, Sheila. After graduation, he combined his training in engineering and entrepreneurship with the goal of being a “kingdom worker” in the world. In 2015, he left his successful marketing and technology company and waited on God to lead him.
As the starting point for his journey, Marcel looked at a variety of ways to try to help people in need and found that they often created unintended damage. Resources such as When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, and the video Poverty Inc confronted him with the fact that many attempts to help are ineffective, and rob people of their dignity. For example, in Uganda, a country where many adults had dies of AIDS, orphanages were set up by North American agencies. It was discovered that, in some cases, families were pushing out their children in hopes of giving them a more financially secure life in the institution. But this robbed the children of their emotional connections with their families and gave inadvertent power to those running the orphanage. Another example occurred after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, when huge rice donations were contributed by foreign aid organizations. The agencies ignored the local rice-growers as a source and, in so doing, destroyed the agricultural infrastructure.
Marcel was drawn to learn more about effective and sustainable community transformation, which led him to create the 12 Neighbors video series. The story segments are filmed in locations in Canada, United States and Africa. The projects shown range from a former drug dealer assisting marginalized people to find work, a ministry to children growing up without a father, a church group in New Brunswick teaching English to Syrian refugees, and HomeBoy Industries in Los Angeles finding jobs for former gang members. This free online resource is now being used by over 100 churches in North America. The usual format is an 8-week program showing one or two stories each week, followed by discussion. Stories show a mix of faith-based and secular initiatives, and provides both a Biblical and a secular discussion guide, because Marcel realized that “the intersection point of loving our neighbour is a universal intersection point.”
Many of us want to help marginalized people, but don’t know where to begin. Marcel described the “circle of compassion” of family members and close friends in which we all live, a term first coined by Albert Einstein. Marcel’s challenge was for us to expand our circle of compassion.
Marcel emphasized three practical lessons that are a good place to start:
1. People who have an impact make a habit of showing up in places of brokenness.
2. Listen to people’s stories, without thinking you have to solve all their problems.
3. Cherish each individual. Many people are so broken that they are convinced there is no hope for them. We need to watch for, and call out, the Imago Dei – the image of God – within them.
Pastor WIllemina Zwart moderated a panel discussion with Marcel Lebrun, and pastors Beth Fellinger, David Cottrill and Jared Both. In response to the question ”How have the marginalized affected you?” Beth commented that “People on the margins do relationships better. Learn to be a guest at their table and surprising relationships develop.” David realized that the marginalized are seldom given the opportunity to use their spiritual gifts, and there was a need to start a church where they could contribute in this way. Jared said that churches are uniquely positioned to sponsor refugees, and many refugee families need friends more than financial support.
Marcel’s goal is to create a movement of people inspired and educated to love their neighbour. His hope is that we will each take up the challenge of exploring the 12 Neighbours video series and study guide with our different church communities.
To learn more about the movement and view the videos please refer to www.12neighbors.org