Sub-Merge: Living Deep in a Shallow World

By Josh Anway

By Josh Anway, SPU Graduate Student

Sub-Merge: Living Deep in a Shallow World: Service, Justice and Contemplation Among the World's Poor
By John B. Hayes
Regal Books, 2006, 304 pp.

Have you been thinking about social justice as something difficult and beyond your grasp? John B. Hayes has written a manifesto that brings it down to earth: Sub-merge: Living Deep in a Shallow World: Service, Justice and Contemplation Among the World's Poor. This book outlines a program based on Hayes’ vision for sustainable mission communities and gives practical and theological insight on the life of sacrifice to which God calls his people.


Hayes has gathered narratives from around the globe to illustrate the extraordinary degrees of abandonment and hope that humans experience today, weaving them into his compelling argument for the importance of incarnational ministry to the poor.


What excites me about this book is that Hayes writes from experience. Many people have the ideas down and can analyze and make theological interpretations and prescribe action, but the problem now is that there is such a disparity between the number of people who preach and number of people who actually act. Hayes writes, “We live in an age of information … the world doesn’t need more words, not even more ‘right’ words. The world needs more words made flesh.” And everything he has said is lived out so clearly in every example he gives.


Hayes’ narrative delves deeply into the plight of a poor urban community around Minnie Street in Orange County, California. He describes life for the poor in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He shares from his experience in the midst of the 1992 L.A. riots. Many of these stories come from the years of work Hayes has put into InnerCHANGE, the organization he founded to focus on forming missional communities that can learn and grow together and offer empowerment to those around them as they work and serve. They choose Micah 6:8 as one of their key mantras in their journey toward justice: “He has shown all you people what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”


Three fronts for InnerCHANGE

In Sub-merge, the methods and inspiration for InnerCHANGE are described as well. Members of InnerCHANGE commit to live out their callings on three fronts: They are to live as missionaries, prophets, and contemplatives. This life seeks to exemplify loving in mercy and servanthood (missionaries); each member pursues justice in their social environments, calling attention to evils that are overlooked (prophets); and finally InnerCHANGE participants seek to embody humility. Walking humbly with God requires seeking him through spiritual disciplines (contemplatives).


InnerCHANGE is process driven. Each member learns in community with others through “formation” rather than accumulating “information.” It’s a much more holistic way of learning. Rather than behaving like teams, they live as communities, and the training they do is not just a quick, up-front experience, but it’s considered an ongoing, long-term apprenticeship of sorts, with commitment on both the behalf of the learner and the teacher.


John Perkins writes in the foreword to this book, “Sub-merge tells the story of incarnational ministry. As I see it, incarnational ministry is ultimate reconciliation.”


For those of us unfamiliar with the term “incarnational,” Hayes defines incarnational ministry as “mission that envisions becoming like the people we are praying to reach.” One of my favorite lines from the book is, “The power of incarnational ministry is such that when missionaries believe in poor people, poor people begin to believe in themselves.” This is how Jesus acted in the world, and this is how we are to live. It changes us just as much as it changes the face of poverty, and we must be willing to give up our lives for this calling.


This is not a book that is written to compel you to act out of guilt. Hayes presents the call to social justice in a manner that instills a sense of confidence to those who have thought of this type of ministry as something impossible (or impractical) for them. Sub-merge will challenge the reader to make sacrifices and simplify his or her life, but I think this is such a good thing! It allows us to focus on the people around us rather than results.


The entire book underscores how difficult serving the poor is, but at the same time Hayes demonstrates that it is not beyond the grasp of anyone. At SPU, we are committed to learning what it means to practice a radical kind of reconciliation. In Sub-merge, John Hayes shows us how that might be done.

AuthorJosh Anway is a 2009 graduate of Seattle Pacific University. He is now pursuing a master of arts in theology in SPU’s new graduate program. He likes to read books, make music, spend time with loved ones, and find life and creativity in unexpected places.


This is the John Perkins Center video Learn more about The John Perkins Center by watching the video This is the John Perkins Center on iTunesU.