As a first grader living deep in the Liberian jungle, Palmer Chinchen watched a young African girl quietly pull the shoes off her feet—her only shoes, her only protection from the parasites that crawl between the toes of so many tribal children—to slip them on his sister’s feet, whose shoes were left behind in their burning bamboo mat house in the bush. That image of tribal love and empathy has stayed with Palmer and continues to drive his passions.
Today, Palmer sees a new kind of tribe forming with the same kind of desires, a tribe of people who are bothered by the brokenness all around, who are passionate about goodness, justice, and beauty. They are leaving their places of comfort to feed the hungry, give clean water to the thirsty, build houses for the homeless, share clothes with the shivering and shoes with the barefoot. This tribe is ready to change the world for good, and we, too, must heed that call today.
Conversational, fresh, and accessible, Barefoot Tribe dares us to break past the safe confines of our manicured suburbs and polished shopping malls to take action, take risks, and remake the world into one more like what Jesus had in mind.
Your time to act is now. God wants your life. Will you speak up, step out, and do something incredible…today?
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I GREW UP IN THE Sapo tribe, the barefoot people of Liberia. As a kid, my home was a bamboo-mat house in the Sinoe jungle, the world’s thickest rain forest. A single-engine Cessna dropped my family off when I was six years old. The bush roads did not reach our remote mission. We had no running water or flushing toilets. Our drinking water from the creek was boiled in the large black pot out back, and kerosene lanterns lit our home at night. I shared my bed with our pet chimpanzee Tarzan . . . and my friends ran barefoot.
On Sundays our family walked the steamy jungle paths for hours under the tropical sun for my father to preach to faraway villagers in mud-built churches with thatched roofs. The children in the bush had never seen an American hiking though their jungle. Whenever they saw my twin brother and me they always cried the same warning, “Yomplu!” (meaning “white spirit”), then ran away.
In the jungle, shoes are the exception. That’s why most of my friends had swollen stomachs or orange-colored hair.
Worms crawled in under the children’s toenails with the mud and the dust. They multiplied in their small bodies and bloated their stomachs like aged alcoholics, or made it look as though they’d had too much to eat. But it was never food that swelled their bellies—it was always the worms.
Their hair turned orange because the worms robbed their bodies of the nutrition they needed to live. Their urine was always rust-colored, because the bilharzia parasites made them bleed on the inside as they were slowly eaten to death.
It’s a disturbing fate. That’s why my blood boiled recently when a student at a large Christian university found me after I finished speaking and suggested I stop taking shoes to Africa, “Because,” he said, “Africans’ feet grow tough, and they don’t need the shoes.”
His ignorance was astonishing . . . and offensive.
Shoes are a rare and valued treasure in the jungle. So I was surprised when a young Sapo girl gave hers away.
On a stifling, dry-season afternoon, our bamboo house in the bush caught fire. Out of breath after running from the burning house, I stood on the grass next to my sister, Lisa, watching our home burn with violent intensity. The air smelled like a lit match, only stronger. Lisa cried deep sobs. I didn’t know someone could have so many tears. Then I noticed she had no shoes. Lisa had run out in such a hurry that she’d left her shoes in the burning house.
Her best friend, a Sapo girl named Sophie, was standing next to her. She, too, saw that Lisa had no shoes. So she knelt down, pulled the shoes off her feet, and gently slipped them onto Lisa’s.
I was surprised by the act of generous love, but I shouldn’t have been, because this is the way of the Sapo tribe.
TODAY, ANOTHER KIND of tribe is forming.
We are on the crest of an epic shift in humanity. As social theorist Jeremy Rifkin writes, “The Age of Reason is being eclipsed by the Age of Empathy.”1 This generation views the world as an extended family—increasingly interconnected through technology—and they live with a deep moral obligation to care for one another and a determination to change what is wrong in this world.
These innovative and impassioned millennials are convinced they are to be both in culture and shape culture. They are not waiting for governments, institutions, or large denominations to change what is not right in our world. They are acting on their own passions and empathy. They believe Jesus’ kind of kingdom can be grown from small “mustard seeds”—not just through massively financed corporate or government efforts—if they collaborate to take action and risks to remake the world.
Their tribes unite around a cause, and because of their mass, they have the power and resources to initiate change and accomplish so much more than the individual could alone. They are not an organization or a business; they are not about making more money. They are about their common desires, sharing stories, supporting each other, and living on mission together.
The church must embrace this movement and harness this force, because the values are so richly biblical. After all, it was Jesus who said, “Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me.”2 I challenge the dispassion of the church of decades past. It’s time for a church that does not withdraw into the safe confines of its sanctuary walls, but rather is willing to reach out to bring about a new kind of world based upon kingdom values.
THIS BOOK IS an invitation. It is your invitation to join the tribe. A tribe of innovative Christ-followers who are passionate about justice, compassion, art, sustainability, simplicity, beauty, eradicating extreme poverty, stopping pandemics, and sharing the love of God.
This is your invitation to contribute, to give your most passionate effort, to give this world all you’ve got . . . and to give heaven your best life on earth.
I hope you can see that God wants to use your life—your one and most valuable life—to shape and change this world for good.
TRIBES FORM IN EVERY REALM of life. Practically all people have been or are in a tribe. We have a tribal instinct to connect over common passions or pursuits. The brilliant entrepreneur Seth Godin writes, “Human beings can’t help it; we need to belong. One of the most powerful of our survival mechanisms is to be part of a tribe, to contribute to (and take from) a group of like-minded people.”1
Some tribes are closed to outsiders and filled with rules and regulations. Those are dying tribes. This book is about the kind of tribe that courageously embraces something new. This kind of tribe is interested in creating change, sharing ideas that go viral, and inspiring movements.
The new millennium missional church is being shaped by God-passioned creatives and innovators who believe they can make the world better and more beautiful—we’ll call it the Barefoot Tribe.
PEOPLE USED TO wait for large organizations or national personalities to give leadership and initiate change. We expected large denominations to set the course, or massive nonprofits and global missions organizations to lead the way, or nationally syndicated radio stations to play the music, or large music labels to sign the bands. But this generation has stopped waiting. They don’t have patience for bureaucracy. They don’t want to fund the layers of organizational charts. They are not interested in policy and polity. They want direct trade. They like the indie labels. They want 100 percent of their resources to reach the person in need.
This week the End It movement is running a social media campaign asking people to “shine a light on slavery” by writing a red X on their hands, taking selfies of the red X’s, then posting them online. Their message is, “Tell your world that slavery still exists, and you won’t stand for it. Use your influence any way you can to help us carry the message of freedom so even more people know.” They are right. They have more than 92,000 likes and 11,631 people talking about the cause already.
I love the spirit of tribal millennials. They start nonprofits the way Starbucks opens stores. They pop up everywhere—sometimes even across the street from each other. But they have something people crave, so they keep building more.
You also have the tools at your fingertips, literally, to create a groundswell right now. In this new global climate, you are the impetus for change. You are the one who will inspire others. You have the ability to launch a start-up, NGO (nongovernmental organization), ministry, or nonprofit. With Facebook, blogging, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and Instagram, you can motivate not just hundreds, but millions.
With a tribe, your influence is limitless.
A TRIBE OF people formed on Facebook just last week wanting to make vital organs more accessible to desperate people in need of a transplant. In the first twenty-four hours more than five thousand people signed up as organ donors.
Tribal passion runs deep. Tribes have glue, because they hold a shared belief. Their common faith fills them with purpose and a sense of oneness. Like a college’s football team taking the field as clear underdogs, they become one. They find a strength deep within. They play with passion that no individual will find on his or her own . . . and they win.
And that’s the entire message of this book: when people come together and work in unison, they have the strength to transform entire societies.
This is the power of the tribe:
WHERE I LIVED in Africa, they say this in the tribe: “One man cannot lift a house.” When a man is ready to build his family a new hut, he calls the people of the tribe together to make mud bricks. The clay is dug from the muddy edges of the swamp and carried in brick-shaped wooden hoppers from the pit to the home site, where the clay will dry before being stacked into a kiln and fired. The hoppers are toted with a jog, so the mud will settle and fit the mold. It’s backbreaking, exhausting work. One man could never do it alone. One man cannot lift a house. However, when the tribe rallies and collaborates, they will do it in a day.
IN LIBERIA, WHEN your son is about to leave the village to attend high school, he will go hut to hut, sit down with each member of the tribe, and tell them of his exciting future. They know before the question is asked that they, too, must help with his school fees. He is not just the son of Wolo Kleebo. He is a son of the tribe. So the tribe must pool its resources to send him to school. And the entire tribe will celebrate his graduation.
NO ONE HURTS alone in the tribe. When tragedy or sadness strikes, the tribe comes to you. They gather in your home. They don’t ask permission to visit; they simply say, “I’m coming to you.” And they will sit with you for hours. You don’t have to say much. Their presence says it all—I am with you on your dark night.
I LEARNED EARLY on in the jungle, nobody walks alone. The Sapo people always ask each other the same favor when they are about to leave: “Carry me halfway.”
They say “carry me.” They actually mean, “Walk with me. Come be with me. I don’t want to walk alone, especially at night.”
They say “halfway” just to be polite. No one ever walks only halfway—they always carry you home.
SHARING IS WHAT the tribe does best. When the Marweahs, our neighbors who lived in the bamboo-mat house next to ours, planned to leave Sinoe for a year, the people of the tribe came to them one by one, asking, “What thing must I keep for you?” They knew the Marweahs could not take all their belongings with them. There are no storage units in the jungle. Liberians say, “I will keep it for you,” but in reality we all know it’s theirs for good. By the time the Marweahs left their home it was completely empty. Every bed, every chair, every sheet, every knife and fork had been given away. The tribe shares.
So the tribe collaborates, pools their resources and abilities, cares, encourages each other, shares everything, and walks the path of life together. It sounds a lot like the kind of tribe Jesus came to start.
IT COULD HAVE been the memory of generous love by the Sapo girl years ago that made me start carrying shoes back to Africa. Maybe it was the thought of all my friends in the bush whose feet festered from walking barefoot. Or it could have been from watching high school boys share their shoes on the soccer field so their friend could play with at least one shoe on. I think it was the pool of all these memories that made me begin taking suitcases of shoes to Africa each time I returned. I never seemed to have enough. That’s why I finally told the people of The Grove (the church I help lead in Chandler, Arizona), “I need your help—I need your shoes.”
A few years ago, we dubbed one Sunday “Barefoot Sunday.” I hoped people would get the idea that each of us has the resources, means, and ability to make a difference in a hurting world. I asked everyone to come to church wearing their best and favorite shoes, then take them off and go home barefoot. Our team heading to Africa would pack their shoes and give them away.
I had never heard of a church anywhere trying something like this, but I was convinced that leaving church barefoot would help our people get that this world is a broken place. And understand the profound truth that with your one and very important life you can change what is not right in this world—if we will care less about things like shoes and care more about people who hurt.
That first Barefoot Sunday more than two thousand pairs of shoes were left on our stage, and the next year, five thousand pairs!
As news spread I began to receive emails from people and pastors as far away as Florida and Maryland to say they, too, were holding a Barefoot Sunday. A college in Ohio asked me to come speak on the day their entire student body walked barefoot in order to share their shoes. Surprisingly, a young reporter in Texas invited her entire city to go barefoot for Africa . . . and they did.
As I’ve traveled the country talking about the kind of missional life God calls us to live and watched Christ-followers across the country; from California to Florida, Illinois to Texas, take off their shoes and walk home barefoot, I sense a movement is swelling—a tribe is forming of people who actually want to live the gospel and spread the kingdom of heaven in places of hell on earth.
TWO THOUSAND YEARS ago, at a spring evening dinner for a few close friends, a young Jewish rabbi started a barefoot tribe—on a day we could call Barefoot Thursday. In the middle of the meal, the Christ abruptly stood to take off his coat and wrapped a towel around his waist.
The room went silent as Jesus bent down in front of his closest friends and, one by one, pulled off their shoes—then washed their bare feet. When the stubborn one resisted, Jesus calmly reminded Peter, “You cannot be a part of this kind of kingdom-movement until you take off your shoes.”
When all the shoes were off and their feet washed, he said to them, “I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do . . . If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it—and live a blessed life.”2
So what is this pattern? In what ways must we act? How can we live this most blessed life?
The answer is simple. Follow the missio Dei of the Christ, which he sums up by saying, “He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim the captives will be released, that the blind will see, the oppressed will be set free.”3
Next, he says to all who wish to join this tribal movement, live this way:
Feed the hungry,
Give clean water to the thirsty,
Build houses for the homeless,
Share your clothes when people are cold and your shoes with the barefoot,
Care for the sick and everyone with AIDS,
Become a voice for justice.4
Eleven young men came as followers. They left that night as tribal leaders—ready to make the world better and more beautiful. A tribe had formed; a movement had begun.
SINCE THE GROVE’S first Barefoot Sunday, a tribe has formed, a movement begun.
Over the past two years, here’s what has happened in our tribe:
• The tribe partnered with coffee growers in Thailand to provide fair-trade coffee in Chandler. We call it “Tribal Coffee.”
• Teams formed to rebuild an orphanage in Haiti.
• Junior-highers filled more than a hundred backpacks with school supplies for children of the Navajo tribe.
• The tribe rallied to repaint more than a hundred homes in blighted neighborhoods.
• The tribe rebuilt a girls’ dorm in Liberia after the civil war.
• Tribal people began tutoring children of immigrants in the Phoenix East Valley.
• High-schoolers launched an effort to give away mosquito nets in Africa.
• The tribe sponsored 105 college students in Africa in one day.
• The tribe rallied their resources to dig four wells in Malawian villages to provide clean water.
• A motley band of tribal artists painted murals on city walls where Phoenix’s homeless gather.
• And the tribe sent dirt bikers to Liberia to ride jungle trails and put twelve thousand pairs of shoes on bare feet.
In many ways, I think this gathering of God’s people in Chandler at The Grove is now more a tribe than a church. I say that because somewhere in our Western practice of faith we have made the church more a place than a people. But this eclectic collection of passionate Christ-followers is committed to justice, sustainability, microeconomics, art, fair trade, compassion, generosity, and austerity.
I write this book because what is happening in Chandler is not staying in Chandler. As I travel the country telling people about this tribe, more want in. More tribes are forming and flourishing. The face of spirituality is changing.
This next generation of Christ-followers is ready to live differently. They wear Toms shoes, because Toms puts shoes on bare feet in places like Bolivia. They’ve made scooters cool again, because you can ride a hundred miles on a gallon of gas, which leads to fewer oil wells off the gulf coast of our southern cities. They embrace simplicity, because they want to share more with people who have less. They will pay more for their cup of coffee if it’s fair-trade. They are living the way Jesus said to live when he pulled the shoes off a dozen people’s feet and said, “Follow me.” And here’s what I know about you. God has planted a burning passion in your soul to change something that is wrong in this world. I know it’s there. It’s just that you don’t think you have the resources, or the time, or the right background or experience to make it happen.
Somewhere in the back of your mind you believe someone else will act. Someone else will abolish the sex slave trade. Someone else will dig the well. Someone else will end the malaria.
But that someone is you.
You are the one called by God. God himself put you on this earth with a unique passion, special ability, fresh perspective. So give us all you’ve got. Give this world all you’ve got. Stop holding back.
The Christ left this work of bringing healing to a broken world to you and me. Oppression, injustice, poverty, bigotry, and abuse are real and present. But it doesn’t have to be this way. When Jesus left, he asked that you and I continue to change and love the world.
If I can convince you of only one thing, let me convince you that you are the one who will do the most critical things for God. Not for fame. Not to be spectacular, but to make this world better and more beautiful.
Your time to act is now.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Tribes 3
Chapter 2 The Barefoot Tribe 9
Chapter 3 Good News for Bare Feet 21
Chapter 4 A Tribal Kingdom 31
Passions Worth Living: A Manifesto
Chapter 5 WE WILL Stop Injustice 45
Chapter 6 WE WILL Embrace People of Every Race, Nationality, and Background 59
Chapter 7 WE WILL Become Social Entrepreneurs and Empower Fair Trade 77
Chapter 8 WE WILL Become Modem-Day Abolitionists 97
Chapter 9 WE WILL End Extreme Poverty 109
Chapter 10 WE WILL Stop the Spread of Pandemics 125
Chapter 11 WE WILL Put Down Our Weapons 139
Chapter 12 WE WILL Promote S us taxability and Care for the Environment 153
Chapter 13 WE WILL Live Simply 167
Chapter 14 WE WILL Create More Art and Make the World Beautiful 179
Chapter 15 WE WILL Love Like Christ-Always 195
Conclusion: Join the Tribe
About the Author 225