Tag Archives: Jesus Christ



Renee Splichal Larson, A Witness: The Haiti Earthquake, A Song, Death, and Resurrection (Eugene. OR: Resource Publications, 2016), 264 pp.

This book could have been titled so many different ways: A Love Story; Tragedy in Haiti; Loss and Grief. But I think A Witness is just right. Renee Splichal Larson is a participant witness to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that killed her husband, Ben, and left her a widow at age 27. A Witness is a very personal and also a very global book. In telling her painful yet hopeful story, Renee invites us to enter, from wherever we are; to see, to feel, to question, and to understand more deeply the power, grace, and love of God. This is a communal story. It is about accompaniment and relationship, about Ben, Renee, and Jon, all Wartburg Seminary seniors, who went to Haiti to be with the people there, and who became part of the shaking of the earth with them.

This book is about a few minutes in history and about the years that surround them. It is not a short book, but you won’t want to put it down. The book is intimate, deep, and profound, but not heavy.  We laugh as well as cry. We see people who go to amazing lengths to care for each other. Care across boundaries!

As the book begins, we meet these three young people and enjoy setting out on life’s journey with each of them. Ben and Jon are cousins who are closer than brothers. We hear Renee’s own story about her early years. I have witnessed in Renee an incredible woman. You will discover this, too, as you come to know her and see how she views life and the people whom she comes to cherish. We see Christ in people, because Renee is a witness to Christ in their lives and to Christ at work in the midst of tragedy, care, connection, and the renewal of resurrection.

The story’s focus is on one very gifted young man who died too soon. But the story is also about two people, and three, and about the families of Renee, Ben, and Jon. This is a book about family. Yet we also meet strangers, and we learn from them, and learn what it means to be served by them as much as serving among them. We see, really see, the people of Haiti: Bellinda, Livenson, Kez, Louis, Mytch, and more. Soon we are a witness to hundreds and yes, thousands. This story is about the global church. It is about faith and what it means to be church together in life and death, and in new life.

We see the Haitian people, who have suffered so much and continue to care for the outsider. We hear their faith and song in the midst of despair. We see their resilience, but dare not romanticize the complex issues. In our own ignorance and arrogance, we who live in affluent countries benefit from countries that remain poor and dependent. These are the causes and ramifications of poverty. The call of A Witness is to community and justice.

Poetry from fellow witnesses (friends and classmates) comforts us as well as the author as we walk and weep with each step from earthquake to resting place. This is a book for all who have suffered trauma, sudden tragedy, or the sadness of long suffering.

Renee is a theologian—of the best sort—who lives life fully, and is forever asking questions. (So the title could also have been A Theology.) Her reflections are existential and challenging, and she invites her readers to reflect theologically with her. She also knows that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is true, and that new life in Christ is real. But this new life comes only after lamentation and loneliness and deep grief.

Together with Renee, we become witnesses to the importance of pastoral care and of a worshipping and caring community. Friends carry a body out of Haiti, and all are carried by the body of Christ. This is a theology of grace, of the cross and resurrection, of Christ with people in their dying as much as with the living. This power of God, God’s own commitment to us, empowers us for commitments to all of God’s global family.

There are more ministry opportunities for this now-ordained pastor and for us all. Renee goes where God leads, including to the people of Heart River, North Dakota. I believe this work is and will be a blessing to all who read it, to all for whom she is a witness to Christ and to his cross and resurrection.



is a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Born and raised in North Dakota, Renee is a graduate of Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota, and Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa. She is married to Jonathan Splichal Larson, who is also a pastor in the ELCA, and their son is named Gabriel. Renee and Jon are both survivors of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. A Witness is Renee’s first book.

TEN THINGS THE CHURCH CAN DO TO HELP ABUSED CHILDREN By Victor I. Vieth, 1st Year MA DL, Sr. Director and Founder, National Child Protection Training Center, Gundersen Health System, La Crosse, WI


“It is to the little children we must preach,
it is for them that the entire ministry exists.”
–Martin Luther

The academy awarding winning movie Spotlight has again focused attention on the relatively recent and widespread failure of the church to protect children from abuse or to respond with compassion when abuse is discovered. Although the church has made important strides in the past twenty-five years, church policies and training continue to lag behind research and what many national experts consider best practice. Although this article includes a checklist for improving church responses to the needs of maltreated children, it begins where it should–with the teachings of our Lord and an exploration of early church views on the maltreatment of children.

Jesus, child abuse and early church history

Jesus scolded the disciples for keeping children away from him and warned that it would be better to be drowned in the sea with a millstone around our neck than to hurt a child (Matthew 18:6). Jesus also had strong words for those who preached in His name but failed to care for those who were suffering—promising to one day tell these false Christians “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23; Matthew 25:41-45).

The early Christians took seriously the words of Jesus and distinguished themselves by opposing the abuse and neglect of children that was common in the Greco-Roman world. In his book Bad Faith, Dr. Paul Offit writes:

Jesus’s message of love for children was embraced by his followers…the church was the first institution to provide refuge for abandoned children [and] the church put pressure on the state to legislate against practices that endangered children.

Ten things the church can to do help abused and neglected children:

  1. Make sure church child protection policies meet minimal standards 

The Centers for Disease Control has promulgated guidelines to assist churches and other youth serving organizations in developing and implementing child protection policies. The CDC guidelines, published under the heading Preventing Child Sexual Abuse within Youth Serving Organizations, are free and online. All churches should review and adhere to these guidelines.

  1. Make sure child protection policies address all forms of abuse

Most child protection policies, including those promulgated by the CDC, focus only on preventing child sexual abuse within a church or another organization. Although commendable, these policies exclude from protection children who are physically abused, emotionally abused or neglected. These policies also fail to protect most sexually abused children since the vast majority of these children are violated in their own homes. Since it is inconceivable that Jesus wanted his followers to protect only a fraction of the abused children in our pews, churches must expand their policies to include all the children in their care.

  1. Require pastors and other called workers, as well as all staff working with children, to be rigorously trained in recognizing and responding to child abuse and neglect

According to numerous studies, the vast majority of clergy and other mandated reporters fail to report even obvious signs of child abuse. When working with survivors, clergy often fail to make appropriate referrals or to coordinate pastoral care with medical and mental health care. In these and other failures, a lack of training plays a significant role. Seminaries should work with child protection experts in addressing this issue before graduating clergy or other called workers and major denominations should require continuing education on these issues.

  1. Provide personal safety education to children participating in church programs 

According to several studies, children are more likely to disclose abuse if they have received personal safety education. This instruction is easily provided and numerous organizations, including the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, have a wealth of information to help churches in providing this essential instruction.

  1. Develop effective child protection and faith collaborations 

The Office of Victims of Crime encourages churches to collaborate with child protection agencies. In Minnesota, for example, an organization called Care in Action helps churches connect with child protection agencies to meet the needs of abused and neglected children in their communities. When an abused child has a need the government can’t provide, such as the entry fee to little league baseball, faith communities share this need with their parishioners and, invariably, one or more Christians agree to help. It is a simple way for churches to share their faith—and to make at least a small difference in the lives of maltreated children.

  1. Have church resources for child abuse survivors 

Clergy and churches should have brochures and other information for families seeking counseling or other services in response to maltreatment. Church libraries should have books and other materials families can easily access. Church websites should include helpful links that will aid families seeking help discreetly.

  1. Address the spiritual impact of child abuse 

Dozens of studies, involving more than 19,000 abused children, document that many abused and neglected children are not only impacted physically and emotionally but also spiritually. This may happen when religion is used in the abuse of a child or simply because the child has spiritual questions such as unanswered prayers to stop the abuse. The American Psychological Association has noted the importance of addressing the spiritual impact of abuse and numerous experts have called for coordinated medical, mental health and pastoral care. The church should be front and center in meeting this critical need.

  1. Tell parents God allows them to discipline their children without hitting them

According to the CDC, as many as 28% of children in the United States are hit to the point of receiving an injury. Often-times, this is done by parents who were lead to believe the Bible requires corporal punishment. Numerous biblical scholars, conservative as well as liberal, have concluded the scriptures do not require parents to hit their children. Unfortunately, pastors are often afraid to make this clear to their parishioners because corporal punishment is deeply ingrained in our culture. Every major and medical health organization in the United States discourages hitting children as a means of discipline and it is time for the church to join this chorus.

  1. Deliver a sermon or conduct a Bible study on child abuse 

Over the years, numerous survivors of child abuse have told me they left the church not because clergy or other faith leaders abused them but because these leaders never spoke up about abuse. One survivor told me that during the years her father was sexually abusing her she desperately wanted to hear a sermon or a Sunday School lesson condemning the abuse of children. She never heard that message and, when she became an adult, she walked away from a church she deemed indifferent to the suffering of children. Still another survivor told me “I used to spend my Sunday evenings listening to the podcasts of all the area churches desperately hoping to find a message about child abuse. I never heard that message and I finally just gave up.”

  1. Listen to the needs of survivors 

Many survivors want the simplest things from their pastors and churches. A woman abused while her father hummed a certain hymn wanted to return to the church but was afraid of hearing that hymn and losing control of her emotions. Another survivor was abused on a church altar and needed to be ministered to in a facility without altars or the traditional symbols that comfort others but were used to violate her tiny frame. These and other survivors are not asking for much but, in order to meet their needs, we must first hear their voices. 


Although millions of child abuse survivors have fled the church, many of them tell me they still cling to Christ. “I love Jesus,” one survivor told me, “because he knows what it is like to be abused.” Another survivor told me that when he feels abandoned by his church, he recalls that Jesus was also rejected by the religious leaders of his era. The fact that so many survivors align themselves with Christ, but not organized religion, is a stark reminder of how far the church has fallen away from the teachings and example of Jesus. It is also a reminder that if we truly desire to find Jesus, we will need to look among the children.


You may find yourself driving,
Impelled by some invisible fire,
Some dark explosion inches from your body
And feel that you are not and never have been
The one driving.
You may say, raging at this dark leashing,
This implacable master,
Screaming at the invisible grasping inertia,
“This is not who I am, show your face!”
And you may only hear the joyless laughter,
As the weight bears down on you
And you imagine crossing the yellow line
As the semi-truck passes mere inches away
In this world
That calls
This normal.
This, life.
This, real.

And you may see the crosses
Lined up on the side of the road,
Treated so that the earth’s rot
Will not touch them,
Strung together with lines of power,
Carrying the flame overhead,
Vast distance traversed instantly
Into the closeness of every hearth,
The flickering light in the rapt gaze of those
Screens staring without seeing
Any of this fire carried beyond
Any horizon you can imagine,
An endless procession of synapse,
Bearing the mind of the greatest
Thought that man can conjure,
The harnessed power of
Onto the creation with pain inflicted.

And you may commence the lament
Of this rite run rife with fire
Hiding, afraid of its own opposite,
Unwilling to stoop into quenching weakness,
Purifying the dross of some metallic world
As its spew mars this one,
Feigning invisibility, its face blazing everywhere,
Ripping holes in the air itself as
The suffering of each creosoted cross
With that flame turned tar black
Replaces the trees very being,
Bears the poison into your own body
Whose task now is only to bear this mind,
A husk quivering under the nerves hung in midair
As the hammered nail scalds the pain
Across the breach between appendages
Back to some distant source,
The destruction which created the world
In which your life means
The death of all things
That are in your way.

And it says to you:
“You were merely born,
You have no choice into which world.
And there is only this road, and
There is only one way to go.
My mind is your mind,
These lines are your bloodlines,
This wound is all you have of flesh.”

And you might find yourself asking,
“But if you are all,
Tell me where the hope
Lies that bears the world?
This is not gravity, but hatred,
And you, if you don’t love me,
Let me go!”

But it will not let go.
You are crying out into the places
Where no one is listening,
Silent and alone in the hurtling madness
Of this car as you sit passively, unmovable,
Driven on to the endless horizon
More biding than inevitable,
Slouching onward
At 70 miles per hour.

CHRISTIAN UNITY by Jennifer Dahle, M.Div. Jr.

Segment of a sermon Jennifer  wrote for a prayer service centered on Christian unity. Her sermon was chosen to be given in Oklahoma City this past spring.

Text: I Cor. 15:51-58.

“Listen! I will tell you a mystery.”  A mystery that will happen in the twinkling of an eye, a mystery filled with trumpet blasts and the raising of the dead to immortality, a mystery filled with the transformation of the living, when corrupted flesh is made incorruptible and the power of death, sin, is broken forever. In that moment God will fully reveal Godself, and we will eternally live out our new identity in Christ. This mystery contains an ending that is so wonderful it is beyond our wildest imaginings! BUT, while we are caught up in our contemplation of this future moment we must not forget that our mystery, just like all mysteries, begins with a death, the death of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ death is the key to our future transformation and our starting point when speaking of Christian unity.

I recently had an opportunity to visit Taize, France, a community that invites young people, year round, from all around the globe, to partake in worship, reflection, and work. Take, for instance, the story of Sebastian, a 17 year old boy from Chile who is studying abroad in Prague, and decided to visit Taize. One evening I found myself discussing with Sebastian the similarities and differences between the Lutheran and Evangelical churches. For Sebastian, this was a sensitive subject because in Chile there is a great divide between the two and tensions are high. He constantly finds himself put down by his family and friends because he enjoys worshipping at both churches while they do not. When I asked him if Prague was any better, he said it was worse. Beautiful churches sit virtually empty on almost every corner because most of the population is atheist. According to Sebastian, the people of Prague become very angry when you try to speak with them about God. In fact, the other young people he goes to school with in Prague spent the better part of a month calling him dirty names because of his Christian beliefs and his desire to talk about them.

It was at Taize that Sebastian experienced peace, love, and reconciliation, and he felt renewed. No one at Taize cared what church he attended. No one refused to speak with him about faith and God, nor did they avoid his questions. He found himself surrounded by young people whose primary concern was living for a short time in community with other Christians, other seekers, and other young people searching for a place where they were accepted without question. All that was asked of him was to help keep the bathrooms clean. Sebastian was content to join in the prayer of the brothers and found joy living in communion, united with his brothers and sisters in Christ.

  After visiting Taize, I found myself asking the question, why is ecumenism so easy at Taize, and so hard for the rest of us? Especially when you consider that all Christian denominations recognize the importance of Christ’s actions: his life, death, and resurrection. We agree that it is through Christ that we will undergo this mystery of transformation that Paul speaks of. We trust in Christ. I wonder, however, if we have a tendency to put our trust in our own traditions and denominations over and above the Word of Jesus Christ. In today’s text, Paul claims that “the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” Our persistence in creating distinctions amongst ourselves can take our attention from God and hinder the unity that God wants us to embrace.

 A man I spoke with at the World Council of Churches in Geneva said that it is our job as churches, in terms of creating unity, to “plant the seeds of the trees under whose shade we may never sit.”  We work together now for justice and peace, all the while knowing that “nothing we do here on earth affects what God has already done for us.”

God gives us victory through Christ. We don’t earn it and we definitely don’t deserve it, but we are free. Free to serve the Lord who is in the poor, the sick, the elderly, and the oppressed. We are free to live in community with each other. This is the good news. God loves us in spite of ourselves, and continues to work in us and through us. The incarnate Jesus Christ disrupts and ultimately breaks the power of sin and death on our behalf. This truth is what we keep at the center of our prayer for unity as we follow our call to move forward, to be in communion with each other, and to seek Jesus in the broken places of this world, as he seeks us.