Monday, May 22, 2017

Inspiring People

The venues where we get to give trainings sometimes are amazing.  I'm not sure that we will ever be able to top giving a training on a boat on the Nile River in Egypt, but the view from the window of the church that we taught in this past week, in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, was pretty remarkable.  To simply say that Guatemala is a beautiful country would be a gross understatement. 

The time we spent there was very productive, with three different groups of people involved in several different types of trainings:  church leaders and pastors, NGO leaders, and business people. 

But even beyond the views and the beauty of God's creation, I love to hear and learn from God's people, with all of their complexities and uniqueness.  This week, I met a number of inspirational people, and would like to introduce you to two different men, all who came from families in absolute poverty, all of who made a decision at a young age to get themselves out of poverty.

Meet Pastor Santos, who decided at the age of eight that he was not going to live in the same poverty as his parents.  He was tired of not having shoes and sleeping on the floor.  Pastor Santos started with a corn mill business that he worked from 4 am - 9 am, and a coffee farm that he worked from 10 am - 2 pm.  Any profit that he made, he reinvested into his business and determined to live very simply to help his businesses to grow.  He grew his businesses to four machines for corn, and his coffee farm to the point where he was selling to big coffee exporters.  He bought land whenever he could and earned money through selling it. 

He saved money whenever he could.  He has four children:  two are doctors, one is a lawyer, and one is a systems engineer.  He instilled the importance of hard work and the importance of education in them.  Pastor Santos also felt called into the ministry at a later age, and when we met him, he was sitting next to the three story hotel that he built with his wife and children.  This hotel is going to help him into his retirement, and as he owns it debt free, he is able to help out people who come to town for various workshops and church gatherings with discounted rooms.  Why was Pastor Santos able to make a decision at the age of eight to move out of poverty?
Meet Antonio, one of twelve children, who also grow up in absolute poverty.  His father was a coffee farmer and, when giving his testimony, he shared that there was no reason that any of his brothers or sisters should have lived into adulthood.  He decided that he wouldn't live that way or raise his children in that depth of poverty.  Through extreme difficulties and struggles, he graduated from university as a teacher and began to see that his people needed access to capital.  He started a microfinance organization that now serves over 1500 members in a rural area of Guatemala, is running a school, and raising two beautiful children with his wife.  It hasn't been easy to run the microfinance organization, but Antonio says, "The success of the business was not because of the good customers but because of the bad customers.  I had to learn from them and develop policies and procedures that led to greater protection of the business."  Why was Antonio able to lift himself out of poverty and be such a sign of hope to many around him? 

One of the things we often talk about are how the rich and the poor need each other - the rich bring hope and the poor bring faith, and together love is created.  But sometimes the poor find a hope that is beyond human understanding given what they have seen; the rich are able to have a dependence on God which is beyond human understanding given their lack of perceived "need" of God.  These inspirational stories happen more often than we know but are so moving.

If I worshipped at this church, I would be so distracted by the view!
This group of business people have over 280 years of business experience between all of them!  There were some real entrepreneurs in that group!  It was a joy and a privilege to spend time with them. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Integration of Faith and Work in Guatemala

One of the joys of doing the work that we do is to meet like-minded people along the way.  A few months ago we were able to speak with the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics and recently they asked if they could do an interview on Discipling Marketplace Leaders.

So this week, while we were busy in long training days in Guatemala, we had the interview.  The text of it can be seen below, and I have put the pictures from our time in Guatemala throughout.  It is especially meaningful while doing this type of interview to be exposing pastors to this old yet forgotten Biblical truth.

Helping Churches Support Business and Transform Communities in West Africa

(https://tifwe.org/helping-churches-support-business-and-transform-communities-in-west-africa/)
   

At IFWE we’re always looking for real-life examples of the integration of faith and work. What does it mean practically, day-by-day, to glorify God through our work and bring about flourishing? International Christian Ministries (ICM), through its Discipling Marketplace Leaders (DML) ministry, is doing just that by growing businesses and equipping churches to provide spiritual support to business owners. We recently spoke with Renita Reed of ICM about their work in Africa.

IFWE: What is the concept behind DLM’s church-based Business as Mission (BAM) program?


Renita Reed (RR): Since 2001, there have been many initiatives in and through the business as mission movement globally. Much of this work is done through nonprofits and has been theoretical, focusing on the theology of work. Some BAM work has been practical, working directly with businesses to help them develop a quadruple bottom line—addressing economic, social, environmental, and spiritual needs through their business.
The church-based Business as Mission program (or Discipling Marketplace Leaders) grew out of seeing the need for business people to have ongoing discipleship from the church to resist the business-as-usual pressures of the world. Also, when business as mission is church-based, pastors preach about it and incorporate the call to be the church very practically in our jobs.

IFWE: Who has most influenced the philosophy of the program—author, leader, ministry, etc.—and how?

RR: The business people of West Africa have most influenced the ministry, as well as the pastors of Kenya. It was through the work of business development in West Africa and feedback from business owners that ICM saw the need for ongoing discipleship and church engagement. When we began this work in Kenya, pastors at Africa Theological Seminary helped form and shape the message as they heard and were challenged by it. Several key pastors in Kenya, led by the Holy Spirit, have implemented BAM in creative and unique ways.

IFWE: Why is ICM focusing on Africa with its programs?

RR: ICM began in Kenya and grew to the surrounding countries, so it is natural that thirty years later our work continues mainly in Africa. We believe that the dichotomy between the “sacred” and the “secular” is a global issue, not one related to just Africa. So, we are taking DML where God is opening doors, which includes Central America. The message and methods are appropriate everywhere, including North America.


IFWE: The first step in the church-based Business as Mission program appears to be training pastors. Why do you need to start here?

RR: Prior to becoming the international coordinator of the DML ministry, I was involved in business development through a Christian NGO in Africa. I personally saw and experienced the frustration from the lack of support, equipping, and prayer for business owners from the church. According to Ephesians 4:12, the purpose of the church is to equip people for the works of service (ministry). We are discipled in our personal relationship with God; we are often discipled in our marital relationship, as well as how to be good parents. But very few churches seem to disciple people in how to be the church in their place of work. DML does that through church-based Business as Mission—by encouraging and equipping pastors first, discipleship of those in the marketplace becomes a natural part of what the church does.


IFWE: What are the two or three key ideas that help pastors understand the value of business?

RR: There are a number of paradigm shifts that we see pastors and church leaders make in our time together. The first shift is to understand that the purpose of the church is not only what happens in the four walls of the church building. Too often, pastors and church leaders expend more efforts to get people into church, rather than equipping people to be the church outside of it. The second major shift is for pastors to get a broader understanding of Genesis 1:28—that being “fruitful” and “multiplying” involves taking the resources of this earth and being creative (fruitful) and replicating (multiplying) for the flourishing of all people. After these shifts, we look at how God used business people to fulfill his purposes throughout the Old and New Testaments. This gives pastors a deeper appreciation for business people as God’s ambassadors to the community.

IFWE: You seem to be saying the thinking of the church has to change. What has been the problem in the church in general and in Africa specifically?

RR: A very apparent need is correcting the dichotomy between the sacred and the secular that is evident in the global church, and the tension that exists between pastors and those involved in the marketplace. We use the example that the church often acts like a cruise ship, where people come solely to get blessed and get good food, fellowship, and healing—rather
than a warship where people are equipped for battle, receive their orders, and are encouraged and prayed over for the fight. Pastors and marketplace Christians need to work together to help the church be effective on a much wider and broader scale.
The church in Africa has these same issues. In some ways, the African church is even more critical of business. Inequality and corruption seem to be more overt in the marketplace in parts of Africa than in other parts of the world. A church that is ministering to and equipping those in the marketplace will ultimately help resolve these starker systemic issues.

IFWE: What message do you have for IFWE readers (primarily in the States) learning about your program—how might you encourage or exhort us?

RR: Believers want to understand how their daily lives make a difference. If the church is to be a change agent, it must shift from being a subculture to being a kingdom counter-culture. Many pastors and church leaders need a major shift in understanding to better equip their congregations for serving the purposes of God in their community. But pastors and leaders also need practical tools for equipping people to live like Jesus as they fulfill their calling in their work. The church is the vehicle God gave us and it is the natural gathering place for people seeking God. The Business as Mission movement can and should embrace the church as the change agent Jesus created it to be.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Seeing the world a bit differently...

It's amazing to me that at the ripe old age of 48, there is still so much to learn.  Maybe I'm a bit slow...I don't know.
Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids, MI

Last week I was invited by a dear friend to meet for lunch at the Meijer Gardens.  To be honest, in my heart I grumbled a bit.  I already have a difficult time carving out time for lunch, let alone add in a walk in a garden.  Plus I knew that Meijer Gardens is expensive and in twelve years of working in Africa, almost everything is weighed in terms of "is it stewardly in light of what the people I know and love have?"  But I hadn't seen this friend for a while, so I agreed to go.  As I pulled up and saw the packed-out parking lot, at $15/person, my heart became agitated, thinking of all the money spent to look at flowers.  Had I been there by myself (which wouldn't have happened of course), I would have cruised through that place in a few minutes, thought about how it was nice but definitely something for the middle to upper class people, and shook my head in a judgmental way at American consumerism.

But the friend I went with was the perfect partner for me that day.  As we entered one of the gardens, she stopped for quite some time to look at three very different plants that were placed in proximity to each other, and wondered out loud about why they decided to put those together.  She noted the differences in the leaves.  Trying to not check my watch, I joined her in wondering out loud.  But as that happened, I found myself beginning to relax.  I began to see through her eyes, and very soon, began to see through my own eyes.  I was struck by the creativity of man to take resources made by the Creator, to put them together in a way that could evoke wonder, allow for deep breaths, and slip out of the darkness of the world, into the beauty that I believe the Creator meant for us to enjoy.  I wondered whether people I know who love plants so much will be making gardens like this for us to enjoy in the new earth.  I realized that just because many can't enjoy this type of beauty, it doesn't make it bad for those who can.  I get so caught up in the tragedy of poverty sometimes that I miss the beauty that God created this world to be - a reflection of Himself.

Our view in Antigua
As I write this blog, I am in Antigua, Guatemala.  There is a volcano in front of me (!), flowers around me, birds singing.  Yesterday, Michael and I walked around the city and saw the ruins from four thousand years ago, the beauty of vegetables and fruit that were unknown to me, and a colorful and beautiful people busy with their work of being fruitful and multiplying.  They experience a natural beauty carved out by volcanoes all around, a lushness of vegetation, and a rich, long history.   We walked through a large outdoor market and while Antigua is a tourist area (declared a preserved city by UNESCO), there were very few tourists in there, which made me feel like we were enjoying some authentic Guatemalan life.  We have been blessed by a colleague to have a couple of days to enjoy Guatemalan culture before beginning two weeks of non-stop workshops.  It is very helpful to have this time before teaching to create a deeper understanding and passion for the people. 
Market in Antigua

We serve an amazingly creative God.  He created us in His image to be creative like Him.  He told us to be fruitful (creative) and multiply (the work part of it).  Some of us are more creative and some of us are better at multiplying (replicating the creations).  But He declared it good before the fall, and sin did not wash all of the good away.  His idea of the promised land, the land flowing in milk and honey (Deuteronomy 8), involved work and creativity.  But He also wants us to enjoy what we see and give praise to Him when we see it.

It seems I should know that by now.  It's very likely I will forget again as I get "too busy."  I love how God made me but also know that while my eyes are open to some things, they remain closed to others. 

Nance, a fruit of prehispanic Guatemala.
This week we begin trainings for pastors and church leaders in the ministry of Discipling Marketplace Leaders.  We will then have a training for trainers (two from the US and a number of Guatemalans) who will take this material to other churches.  We will then spend time with successful business people who want to help with poverty alleviation to learn about "Asset-Based Community Development" so that the work of poverty alleviation can be done "with" people rather than "to" people.  Next week, we will travel to a different part of Guatemala and do a training with pastors and church leaders there, and then do a three day microbusiness training for a number of entrepreneurs from the churches.  Please pray for these days together, that the Holy Spirit may join us, and that the previous months of laying the foundation may produce solid opportunities to build and grow!
Vegetable that looks like corn, called "pacaya."


Overlooking Antigua

This is one of three active volcanoes in Guatemala.  We saw it smoking and belching.  We were able to roast marshmallows from the hot rocks.  It last erupted in 2014.

Beautiful mountains and volcanoes in the distance - Guatemala is a lovely country.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Remittances - Who Really is Funding Development?

Since I have been involved in poverty alleviation and development for the past 20 years (20th anniversary this year!), I continue to be fascinated by how development works in various contexts.  I remember when we lived in Liberia that we were told the biggest business was Western Union, the company people use to send money into the country.  That was back in 2005, just after the Liberian civil war ended.  Today, 31% of the GDP in Liberia is still made up from remittances.  "Remittance" is the term used for money that immigrants send back to their home country.  While exact numbers are not known, the World Bank Group studies the patterns of migration and development, and publishes a report on remittances.

There has been a lot of concern recently by some about immigrants and the net effect on a country (especially the US).  [Interestingly, while the number of immigrants has gone up in the past number of years, the percentage remains just above 3% of the world population for the past fifteen years.] I think this information about remittances puts immigration in a different light.

In 2015, the total amount of remittances sent worldwide was 601 billion US dollars ($601,000,000, 000.00 - looks much more impressive when seen with all the zeroes).  The top three countries that receive remittances are 1. Mexico, 2. China, and 3. India (the rest of the top ten might surprise you:  4. Philippines, 5. Nigeria, 6. France, 7. Egypt, 8. Germany, 9. Pakistan, 10. Bangladesh.  I have no idea why France and Germany are in the top ten.).  Of the amount sent worldwide, 441 billion ($441,000,000,000.00) are sent to developing countries; 133.5 billion dollars was sent from the US in 2015.  Money that flows to Africa from remittances is 40 billion dollars.

The amount of aid that went to developing countries in 2015 was 131 Billion. According to the World Bank, remittances are three times the amount of aid and can make up to 10% of a nation's GDP. 


So who is supporting development work?  Immigrants or Aid Donors? What do these statistics tell us?

It certainly seems that immigrants are the main people supporting development work.  And of course they are supporting people that they love and trust, they understand the culture, they aren't tripped up by paternalism or condescension, things that continue to plague the aid community. 

Researchers believe that these remittances are a good thing.  They are a lifeline for many families, contributing to basic needs, education, health, and local businesses.  They however do go for personal needs and not for a country's infrastructure.  Taxes are not paid on this money so the country roads, education, health systems, etc, are not supported by these funds.

Some countries complain about the amount of money that is sent out of their country, however migrants on average only send 10-15% of earnings, so they still are making a larger contribution on the local economy.  They also often take the jobs that many others do not want, make a valuable contribution in terms of their work, as well as pay taxes.  If there is anything I have seen from living and working in developing countries is that many people take 1 Timothy 5:8 very seriously:  But those who won’t care for their relatives, especially those in their own household, have denied the true faith.  These immigrants, who often work low paying jobs in high-income countries, are sacrificing much of the little that they make, to send money back home, to care for their families.


[Source:  http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2016/04/13/474105981/who-gives-more-to-the-developing-world-aid-donors-or-migrant-workers]

So by and large, it seems that many more people in the world would be suffering without the remittances being sent by the diaspora to their home countries.  As Christians, we believe that it is important to take care of our families and we also believe that we are called upon to help the poor.  Remittances seems to address both of these challenges with solutions that may surpass the issues of aid that we have been seeing in the past number of years. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Development Malpractice in Ghana

There are times I read articles like this and it gets me so frustrated that I have to repost it.  I just came from staying for two weeks at a mission guest house in Ethiopia that had short-term groups coming and going the whole time I was there, some with similarly questionable approaches as you can read about below.  Christians have good hearts and good intentions and a desire to serve the poor.  BUT this compassion must be coupled with wisdom, good sound thinking, and proven techniques to have long-term sustainable positive changes.  What I often see reminds me of what a former mentor, Earl James, once told me:  "Much of the good work that Christians do is working out their own salvation."  We must go beyond that to truly doing what helps and not what may lead to death for those we seek to serve. 

Please read this article by Kevin Starr and if you or your church are involved in working with developing countries anywhere in the world please forward this to them.  It's a little crass in a couple of places but hear it from the heart of someone who is likewise frustrated.  At the end of the article, I have an "Oath for Helpers" that I would encourage all of us to take and review regularly.

Development Malpractice in Ghana (https://ssir.org/articles/entry/development_malpractice_in_ghana)

~How stuff that doesn't work can screw up stuff that does.

Last week, I went to see a water organization called Saha in northern Ghana. Saha works in hot, flat country where hard seasonal rains are followed by long dry spells. There are few year-round streams, and underground water is impossibly deep, so villages collect and store rainwater in big, open ponds known as dugouts. These ponds are unprotected, and the water people take home is liberally seasoned with the excreta of various two- and four-legged animals. It starts out bad and gets
worse as the dry season goes on.

Saha has a great fix. They find entrepreneurial women in local villages, and set them up with a chlorinating business that uses simple materials and simple procedures. The women collect water in a barrel and add alum, a cheap and easy-to-get chemical that binds with sediment and clarifies the water. The clear water goes into a big plastic tank. When the tank is full, the owner drops in a precise number of chlorine tablets—available in nearby markets—and opens for business. Saha provides every household in the village with a 20-liter plastic bucket equipped with a lid and a tap, and customers pay a little more than two cents to fill it. At four liters per person per day, two days of clean water for a family of five costs about a nickel.

Saha makes it really easy to get clean water that will stay clean. The water is affordable even for the very poor, and the business sits right next to the dugout. Pairing the residual effects of chlorine with the protection of a well-designed container prevents recontamination. The fact that these are profitable businesses using local materials keeps the whole ball rolling. 

And Saha does rigorous ongoing monitoring, with systematic collection and analysis of random water samples from business and homes. They’ve set up businesses in a hundred villages so far, and all are still running. In random checks of all businesses, 99 percent of the water coming out of the tap is clean—free of bacteria—and 98 percent of the Saha home containers have clean water in them. Those are the best numbers I’ve ever heard of in the industry, but the Saha team is not satisfied; they believe they can—and should—do better.

Saha is a not-for-profit. They realized a long time ago that to hit a price that all can afford, they would have to subsidize the cost of the initial business set-up and the ongoing monitoring support. Here’s the thing, though: That subsidy works out to about 13 bucks per person for 10 years of clean water. Jaw-dropping.

When we went out to see the work, the first few Saha businesses looked great: lots of customers, decent profits, equipment in good order, homes with full containers of clean water. Then we got to a village called Kulaa, where the business was on the verge of failing after two years of struggle. I thought we were going to hear about the difficulties of overcoming long-held customs or the challenges of running a business when you’re barely literate, but instead we sat under a tree talking to a slightly dazed-looking woman who told us of an exhausting uphill battle against the forces of good intentions. 

She’d gotten off to a reasonably good start—she’d mastered the business, every household in the village had a Saha container, and her customer base was growing. So far, so good. Then people from the government came through (that’s who people thought they were, anyway) and distributed ceramic filters—a sort of bowl mounted on top of a 50 liter plastic bucket—for free to every household. Everybody started using those filters instead of buying Saha water, but by about six months in, most of the filters had either broken or clogged. The filters could be cleaned, but nobody knew how, and of course there was no way to replace ones that broke. (The buckets remained useful, though—we saw one serving as a nice little clothes hamper.) 

The ceramic filter episode killed Saha’s initial momentum, but the business survived, and things were starting to look up when some American church group blew into town with a truckload of LifeStraw Family gravity filters.  Distribution was hit or miss, but most households managed to get one. The LifeStraw Family filter is a bit fiddly and slow, and the filter must cleaned just so, but villagers seem to have made an effort to use it (“What the hell, it’s free!”). Who knows how much the church group did to train people to use and clean the filter, but it wasn’t enough (it never is).  We managed to find three of them, only one of which was in use. Two had broken and no one had any idea how to get them fixed or find another one.  The one that was still in use had clogged and the owner didn’t know how to clean the filter element.  Somehow he was still getting water through it, though, and while the water was still turbid, he – reasonably – figured it must be clean enough to drink. It wasn’t. We tested the water in the lab – it was positive for E. coli and coliforms, which means there was shit in it.

Then—then—some other NGO came through and gave the village a “backpack” water filtration thingy. It’s a big blue plastic box with carrying straps, a hose coming in from the pond, and a little tap coming out. I think there is a sand filter inside. We trooped out to the pond to see it. The water coming out of the tap was clear, but it came out slowly. It took a full minute to fill a 1500 cc container. That translates to about 13 minutes to supply the 20 liters one family needs to get through the day. That means that the hundred or so households in the village would need about 22 hours to fill their containers, even if they were willing and able to wait in line around the clock. Absurd. Oh, and we tested the water; it was clean coming out of the tap, but when we tested it in the homes, it was contaminated. 

In sum, this village has seen four water interventions. The last three didn’t work, and each of them managed to screw the one that would have. It’s a tawdry story that does all-too-good of a job illustrating some basic principles of development, namely:
  1. There is a huge opportunity cost to failure. When you do something stupid, you either a) wreck something that is working or could have worked, or b) or blow the people’s one chance to get anything ever. Once a well is drilled, a clinic built, or a program delivered, an NGO or government official checks a box, and future resources go somewhere else. Failure is worse than nothing.
  2. Most “training” for end users is useless. Some guy came by my house the other day to teach me how to keep the wifi up and running. The next day, I screwed it up. So it is for things like water filters. If a product or technology intended for consumers requires “training,” it’s probably going to fail. 
  3. It’s all about follow-up. If you can’t provide repair and replacement, if you can’t monitor performance over time, don’t do it. If you can’t make a strong case that, say, two years from now, things will still be working—and in a way that inspires confidence that it will work over the long haul—don’t do it. Stuff breaks in ways you can’t even imagine, people use things in completely unpredictable ways, and unintended consequences rule supreme. The devastation of lake ecosystems in Africa from fishers repurposing fine-mesh mosquito nets is a fine example of the kind of debacle that could be avoided with some decent monitoring over time. 
I could go on, but these are the big rules that were violated in poor Kulaa. This is development malpractice: Kids died because of a series of ill-conceived projects. If you designed them, you’re responsible. If you implemented them, you’re responsible. If you were part of another organization, recognized this was bad, and said nothing, you’re responsible. And perhaps most of all, if you fund crap projects like this, you’re responsible, whether you’re a church group, a foundation, a development agency, or the government. We can’t keep doing this.

So. If you see something, say something. If you become aware of someone planning/doing/funding stuff like this, talk to them, educate them, dissuade them. Do it respectfully and thoughtfully. If that doesn’t work, call them out in whatever forum you can. If they work for you, fire them. Make them accountable. Don’t let these things happen. Don’t let yourself become cynical. Do something.
In the end, what really set Kulaa up for failure was its proximity to Tamale, the biggest town in north-central Ghana, and one where NGOs are the primary growth industry. Kulaa is poor, but it’s easy to get to—you can do your ineffective training and be back for a refreshing Coke by early afternoon. The villages where Saha thrives are the ones farthest out, beyond the reach of other development NGOs. That pretty much says it all.

Kevin_Starr Kevin Starr (@mulagostarr) directs the Mulago Foundation and the Rainer Arnhold Fellows Program.



Monday, April 17, 2017

Disembodied Soul? I don't think so.

"He is risen.  He is risen indeed."  Our church resounded over and again with this phrase on Easter morning, as did many churches around the world.  It is indeed a glorious thing.  But it can also be a confusing thing.  What does it mean to be resurrected and to live with Jesus for eternity? 

Yesterday at our Easter service, I heard the worship leader say this, following the end of singing a favorite hymn:  "Can you imagine the day when that is all you will hear?"

I shuddered and involuntarily shook my head.  I remembered when my daughter Hannah told me at a young age that she was afraid of going to heaven.  I was surprised (as most people are afraid of going to hell not heaven), and when I asked her why she said, "I can't stand to think of a worship service that lasts an eternity - an eternity of sitting on a cloud, playing a harp, and singing worship songs."  In response to her comment, our family had many discussions of what the new heavens and new earth would look like, and we ended up painting a mural on one of the walls in our home reflecting Isaiah 65, regarding the new heavens and the new earth.  I wish I had a picture of that wall.

This is a discussion that I often get into in my work with Discipling Marketplace Leaders as well:  what is the purpose of work and is there any relevance to the afterlife regarding the work that we now do?  We often reflect on the meaning of the Lord's prayer where Jesus says, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."  I ask, "What do we know of what it will be like in heaven?  What does this phrase really mean?"  For that, we can go to Isaiah 65 which says the following in reference to the new heavens and new earth:
  • "I will create Jerusalem to be a delight." (v.18)  God starts with a garden but ends with a city.  A city with all of its systems and complexities.  In the parable of the minas (Luke 19) the reward for those who use their talents well is to be governor over many cities.  Cities seem to be in our future.
  • "They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.  No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat." (v. 21) Sounds like we will be building and farming and enjoying the fruit of our own labor. 
  • "My chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands.  They will not labor in vain."  (v. 22b-23a)  We will do what we were created to do, as seen in Genesis 1 and 2 in a redeemed earth.  And we will enjoy it!
This past week I started reading N.T. Wright's book Surprised by Hope.  He has a great section in which he says that if we are only saved to be disembodied souls floating on clouds in heaven, then there really is no point.  He says, "To snatch saved souls away to a disembodied heaven would destroy the whole point."  The redemption has to involve what was created in the first place.  God is to become King of the whole world at last.  He isn't going to give up on the original idea of creation and mandate of work.  He doesn't want to rescue us from His creation - creation was not a mistake or a failure.  He wants to (and is able to) redeem all things.  When we work and reflect His image and His glory, it gives Him great delight.

N.T. Wright says this:
This brings us back to 1 Corinthians 15:58 once more:  what you do in the Lord is not in vain.  You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that is about to roll over a cliff.  You are not restoring a great painting that's shortly going to be thrown on the fire.  You are not planting roses in a garden that's about to be dug up for a building site.  You are - strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself - accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God's new world.  Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one's fellow human beings and for that matter one's fellow nonhuman creators; and of course every prayer, al Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the word - all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make.  That is the logic of the mission of God.  (pg. 208)
He goes on to say, "I have no idea what precisely this will mean in practice.  I am putting up a signpost, not offering a photograph of what we shall find once we get to there the signpost is
pointing."

What we do now matters.  And eternity will be spent in joyous celebration of what we have been created to do.  The Hebrew word "Avodah" means both work and worship.  We will spend eternity in worship, but not as many think (or maybe fear, as Hannah did).  It will the act of worship that we were uniquely created to do, made in the image of an incredibly creative God, where we will reflect that creativity through our work.  Some of us may be governors.  Some of us may be farmers.  Some of us may be builders.  Some of us may be song-writers and musicians.  Some of us may be artists.  Just as we are here. 

It is believed that Martin Luther said this:  "If I knew that the world would end tomorrow, I would plant a tree today."  Something to think about.  And something to rejoice in, in light of the resurrection. 

He is risen.  He is risen indeed.  "And behold, I am making everything new."  (Revelation 21:5)