Monday, February 24, 2020

Knowing what I know, what will I do?

On the plane to Cameroon this weekend, I read a book called Visions of Vocation by Steven Garber. It is one of about twenty books that I have stacked on my desk, mostly gifts from my thoughtful husband who picks up any and every book he can find for me on the subject matter. As I read so many books like this, I honestly didn't expect many more new things to be revealed.  But I was pleasantly surprised.

He asks this key question throughout the book:  Knowing what I know, what will I do?

He takes a close at Adolph Eichmann, a Nazi official, who maintained that all he was doing was his job, following the rules, obeying commands.  He didn't kill a single Jew, nor did he give orders for Jews to be killed.  He asked, "How can that be wrong?  I simply did my duty."  Yet it was concluded that he saw enough to be fully informed and therefore he was morally responsible.

He contrasts that story with the founder of International Justice Missions, Gary Haugen, who was working for the US government with the Department of Justice when he was sent to Rwanda following the genocide in 1994.  What he saw upset him to the point that he had to take action and IJM was born.  It now advocates for justice and addresses many legal issues in many countries in the world.  He could have helped Rwanda and left that country, feeling satisfied, and continuing to work for the Department of Justice.  But instead, he left a good-paying job to start IJM where he would have to raise a lot of money, and where his life and the lives of the lawyers that work for IJM are threatened and (some have been) taken.

Two men witnessing a genocide.  Two very different responses.  It begs the question:

Knowing what I know, what will I do?

Or, once you see what is going on in the world, can you still love the world?  Can we know and love the world at the same time?

It is the most difficult dilemma facing every human being to figure out what you will do with what you know.  In large part, it is what makes us human.

The Good Samaritan is an example of this need to love our neighbor by paying attention to the details that matter the most.  But Garber suggests paraphrasing from Walker Percy, "The Man who got all A's and still flunked life" for a new title of the Good Samaritan parable.  The lawyer who was asking the question was obeying the law but not morally serious about the question.  Justice is about following the letter of the law whereas righteousness is about doing what is right regardless of the law.  You can get all A's and completely miss the point.

Garber says,
Good societies anywhere require people with a similar sense of calling, folk who see into the messes and horrors and complexities of human history and decide to enter in for justice's sake, for mercy's sake.
I see things that you don't see.  I see messes and horrors and complexities.  There are people beaten down on the path I take and I have to decide when to enter in for justice's sake, for mercy's sake.

You see things that I don't see.  You see messes and horrors and complexities.  There are people beaten down on the path you take and you have to decide when to enter in for justice's sake, for mercy's sake.

I don't know how you respond to what you see.  I don't know how you struggle to "do with what you know."  I know how I struggle.  Yet I believe that there is much more going on than what we hear about in the news.  I get glimpses of it daily from fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, glimpses that are beautiful and encouraging.  Heroes who are loving their neighbors by paying attention to the details that matter most.

But I believe there could be even more going on if each person was encouraged and equipped to be a change agent in their specific circumstances.  How many of us say "I can't" or "I don't know how to start" or "Someone else can do it better" or "I'm just...".  How many of us are indifferent, living in a climate of "whatever" and "to each his own" or "I don't have time."

Each of us has a piece of knowledge of this world that is different from another.  Our unique personalities and upbringings and cultures all play into that.  And as Christians, we all have been made in the image of God, given gifts and talents, and have the same Holy Spirit.

The call is to do something.  Eichmann did nothing.  We can't all be like Gary Haugen, but we can figure out how to do something with what we know.

This question is good enough by itself and I want to stop here.  But there is more that we need to consider with this question and that will be a future blog.

May you have good and deep considerations this day on this question:  Knowing what I know, what will I do?

Monday, February 17, 2020

Environmental Racism and Environmental Missions

Despite the growth and busyness of Discipling Marketplace Leaders, I continue to try to find time to plug away at my dissertation.  Thankfully the subject matter is very much tied to my work, passion, and ministry, so as I read...and read...and read...and read...I continue to find ways to insert what I'm learning into the ministry.

The terms "environmental racism" and "environmental missions" are two terms that I have recently run across and have resonated deeply with me.

But before I get into those, let me back up a bit.

In the year 2000, sociologist Kurt Alan ver Beek declared that religion was "a development taboo."  In his research, he found that development organizations, including Christian ones, consciously and deliberately avoided the topic of religion, faith, spirituality in their work, saying it wasn't a "development focus."  Ten years later, that narrative changed significantly mostly because earlier research that declared that religion would decrease in importance in the world was found to be wrong.  Religion was found to be "persistent" and had actually increased in importance worldwide.
The second reason that development has turned to include faith-based organizations (FBOs) is that major donors and NGOs began seeing that their way of doing development wasn't working.  The inclusion of faith in development has significantly increased since that time.  Today as much as 50% of all health and education services given in Sub-Saharan Africa are from faith-based organizations!

And this shouldn't be too much of a surprise to us as Christians.  Medical missions and missions for Christian education is something we hear a lot about.

Which is what brings me then to the title of this blog - Environmental Missions.  We don't hear much about this.  And it is often because we don't hear about the first part of the title - environmental racism.

What is environmental racism?  Research is showing an increase of toxic dumping by governments and corporations in communities that disproportionately negatively impact minorities.  The amount of shipping of hazardous waste from developed countries to developing countries has significantly increased, in large part because regulations tend to be expensive and more intense in developed countries, making it cheaper to pack up and send to developing countries.  Rev. Dr. Chavis defined environmental racism as this:
"Racial discrimination in environmental policy-making.  It is racial discrimination in the enforcement of regulations and laws.  It is racial discrimination in the deliberate targeting of communities of color for toxic waste disposal and the siting of polluting industries.  It is racial discrimination in the official sanctioning of the life-threatening presence of poisons and pollutants in communities of color.  And, it is racial discrimination in the history of excluding people of color from the mainstream environmental groups, decision-making boards, commission, and regulatory bodies."
Environmental missions is a response to this that is growing in some churches and faiths. Bringing the gospel addresses both physical and spiritual needs, and environmental issues negatively impact many of the poor around the world.

The Lausanne Commission addressed this in 2012 and formulated the Jamaica Call to Action.  I encourage you to read the whole call to action if this subject matter is of interest to you (

In their study, they came to two main conclusions:
1.  Creation care is indeed a 'gospel issue within the lordship of Christ."  Informed and inspirted by our sutdy of the Scripture - the original intent, plan, and command to care for creation, the resuurection narratives, and the profound truth that in Christ all things have been reconciled to God - we reaffirm that creation care is an issue that must be included in our response to the gospel, proclaiming and acting upon the good news of what God has done and will complete for the salvation of the world.  This is not only biblically justified, but an integral part of our mission and an expression of our worship to God for his wonderful plan of redemption through Jesus Christ.  Therefore, our ministry of reconciliation is a matter of great joy and hope and we would care for creation even if it were not in crisis.
2.  We are faced with a crisis that is pressing, urgent, and that must be resolved in our generation.  Many of the world's poorest people, ecosystems, and species of flora and fauna are being devastated by violence against the environment in multiple ways, of which global climate change, deforestation, biodiversity loss, water stress, and pollution are but a part.  We can no longer afford complacency and endless debate.  Love for God, our neighbors, and the wider creation, as well as our passion for justice, compel us to "urgent and prophetic ecological responsibility."
Environmental missions.  It used to be that missions was for pastors and evangelists.  Then it grew to include doctors, nurses, and teachers.  Recently the Church has begun to recognize the need for business people to be on mission and the need for their expertise in poor communities.  And now those who are passionate about creation care are also being recognized.

And it should be no surprise.  We are all on mission, whatever our gifts, passion, or talents, God can use us to help the world flourish.  Christopher Wright says this:
"It is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world, as that God has a church for his mission in the world.  Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission - God's mission." 

Monday, February 10, 2020

A Plague of Locusts in East Africa

Over history, there are times when solitary locusts undergo what the BBC calls a "Jekyll and Hyde" transformation and become very sociable, forming huge flying swarms.  Of course, we remember the plague that God sent to Egypt when Moses was seeking to convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites go.  But the chart below from the FAO shows that this type of plague is not uncommon.

These plagues can have up to 10 million (10,000,000) locusts and can cover 120 miles (200 km) in a day, eating enough crops which would comparatively feed 2500 people for a year.  The last swarm in West Africa cost 2.5 billion in harvest losses in the years 2003-2005.
The worst swarms in decades are now crossing the Horn of Africa, causing significant damage in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia.  They eat 1.8 million tons of vegetation over 135 miles (350 km) every day, affecting more than 20 million people.

The FAO said that this swarm is breeding so fast, it could grow 500 times by June.  There are efforts being made to spray chemicals but the area is so large that the cost is prohibitive (and also has other side effects).

Please pray for East Africa and for swift responses by the UN and others involved in emergency aid to combat this issue.  Please pray for the smallholder farmer, the families that will be impacted both in terms of food and income.

Monday, February 3, 2020

"Teaching a man to fish" does NOT go far enough.

For years, many people have used the Chinese proverb, "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day.  Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime."

The first sentence is clear and true.  If you give a man a fish, his hunger will be alleviated for that day.  The next day he will be hungry again.

For years, I've been hedging on the second sentence.  To help me hedge, I've added a third sentence:  For a man to eat for a lifetime, he needs more than knowhow, he needs access to the pond, a fishing net, and other resources.

But I think I'm to the point of saying flat-out that the second sentence is not complete and we should probably stop saying it because it is misleading.

Groups run training courses all over in developing countries on soap-making, tie and dye, baking, etc. But that does not mean that they will eat for a lifetime.

I would say this:  Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day.  Teach him to fish, help him develop his capacity, connect him to networks, and he MAY eat for a lifetime.

I returned from Kenya last week where I had spent time with business people who have been trained and given loans through DML.  While I heard good success and growth stories, I also heard plenty of stories of frustration, sin, and corruption.

Most of the time, we want to tell and hear the good stories - the stories that make us feel like we are making a difference and that the world is becoming a better place.  But anyone who has been involved in development knows the stories are not always good.  And we need to hear the good with the bad.  We need to know the struggles that people go through and understand reality from their perspective.  We need to have our hearts broken because of the sin in this world that is not only outside the church but inside the church.  And we need to let those messages shape how we work and move tomorrow.  Those experiences become part of the wisdom of moving people towards being able to eat independently for a lifetime.

Some stories that I heard went like this:
  • A widow received a loan but her son was in the hospital at the time.  She asked her pastor to take the loan money and buy her goods for her.  He instead spent it on himself.  He admitted this and said he would pay it back but never paid a dime back, leaving this woman responsible to pay the loan (and ultimately leave his church).  Today she is selling bananas, making $1.50 every two days, struggling to survive.  Heartbreaking.  
  • A businessman (carpenter) took a loan but rather than use it in business (as he had been trained), he used it to pay the back rent owed on his shop, the back rent owed on his house, his children's school fees which were in arrears, as well as other debts.  He is living from loan to loan, juggling quite a number of loans at one time, robbing Peter to pay Paul, and living hand to mouth.  He doesn't see a way out and can't get out from the pressure of people coming to him, constantly looking for their money.  He is in bondage - a slave to those whom he owes.  The Bible warns about this and that is why we spend time teaching about not using loans for consumption.  We prayed for wisdom and freedom for this man.
  • Death threats, lawsuit threats, lack of transparency and accountability among the leaders of the groups that we lent to, and other ugly stories.  We expect things to be different among Christians but we are also very well aware that people do not become perfect when they give their lives to Christ and the church is made up of 100% sinful people.  How we need constant discipleship on how to be ambassadors of reconciliation in the Marketplace!
Our teams are working hard to help the churches build in the necessary best practices to help their members be successful.  But it is not a simple fix or a direct line to success.  The path is often circular (with two steps forward, one step back) and is almost never simple.

While there are occasional needs to give a man a fish, it can ultimately strip a person of dignity and self-worth.  While there are needs to teach a man to fish, the number of training programs in developing countries is high, as are the sky-rocketing numbers of people graduating from universities across Africa.  What we don't have are groups who are helping people to do business as Marketplace Ministers, with ongoing discipleship, creating jobs for those who need work.  We need job makers not job seekers, but jobs who are designed to allow the image of God to be revealed in each person.

It's not fast.  It's not always pretty.  But it is necessary.