Consider Kyrgyzstan or Honduras or Kenya: On finding something significant to do with the rest of our life

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

“I want to do something significant with the rest of my life.” That’s what a former parishioner at an international church said to me in a recent conversation.

Not that he hasn’t already accomplished a lot: a high-profile job assisting his government afforded him comforts such as time for family vacations and travel. There was time for playing with his son. And to think.

I referred him to missionnext.org, a web site designed to help people focus on the last third of their life and use it to the glory of the Lord.

Certainly there are significant needs out there. Missionary Doug Nichols recently wrote, “Statistics say there are at least two billion people in the world with no near neighbor Christian to tell them of Christ (and salvation only through Him). So, if your church sent a missionary to serve with 10,000 of these unreached people (street children, prisoners, etc.), there would be a need for 200,000 additional missionaries now.”

Dr. Nichols added, “Perhaps you will seriously consider this desperate need (whether your church is 75 people or 3000) to pray, work, train, and trust God to send one or two missionaries from your church yearly. Yes yearly!

Women missionaries, ages 25-55, are needed to work with the 153 million orphans worldwide and the 100 million street children.

Mature, godly couples, ages 45-75, are needed to encourage and help train over three million undertrained, needy pastors throughout the world.

Evangelical men and women, all ages but especially older evangelicals, are needed to work in and outside the jails and prisons of the world with prisoners and their families. Some jail cells in Asia made for 12 prisoners are crowed with 50.”

One or two missionaries from our church yearly? Certainly he must be kidding.

But, why not? When was the last time that we prayed, individually or as a congregation, that the Lord would raise up pastors and missionaries from our church? When was the last time that we suggested to our young people or adults seeking a career change that being a Christian counselor, a seminary professor, a Christian education worker or a pastor was a worthy occupational goal? When did we recently encourage someone to become a career missionary?

I was very moved by what a Kyrgyz friend living in India where her husband is a pastor wrote to me a few weeks ago. She said,Please, whenever you have chance, share about Kyrgyzstan. We still need missionaries there. Does your church send missionaries out? Do you have outreach trips?

Despite all of the missionaries who have served since the early church, there is still a desperate need for more. In Romans 10 we read, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?

As my Kyrgyz friend says, “We still need missionaries” in Kyrgyzstan and that applies elsewhere as well.

In his book Life Together, the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote these challenging words: “We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.”

Whether you are 21 years old and completing your education; in your 30s starting your family; in your 40s grappling with mid-life crisis; 50s or 60s looking forward to retirement; or 70s wondering what you can do “to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24), consider the needs of those around you and in other parts of the world, consider Kyrgyzstan or Honduras or Kenya, check out missionnext.org (it’s a good place to start no matter your age) and find something very significant to do with the rest of the life God has given to you.

Please feel free to leave comments on this site. Those comments posted through the button on this page will be posted if appropriate. Comments sent directly to me are welcome and I will respond, but they will not be posted. Also please forward this link to others who might be interested in this blog. To receive notification of future posts, please click on the “follow” button at the top of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com. If you no longer wish to receive these announcements, please let me know at that same email address.

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In the midst of a tragedy, Who was Marjory Stoneman Douglas?

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

It should not be surprising in the light of the events at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida that most of us missed the irony of the tragedy occurring at that facility.

The school was named after an outstanding writer and social activist who is given much of the credit for establishing the Everglades National Park and saving the vast “river of grass” from development and destruction. In fact, the school is located less than two miles from the park boundary.

On the park’s website Mrs. Douglas is described as being “ahead of her time” in recognizing the value of preserving the Everglades. Many have compared the influence of her book, The Everglades: River of Glass, to that of Rachel Carson’s seminal Silent Spring which warned of the dangers to all natural systems from the misuse of chemical pesticides such as DDT.

Douglas worked at the Miami Herald, first as a society reporter, then as an editorial page columnist. Later she took on the fight for feminism, racial justice, and conservation long before those causes became popular.

Her book, published in 1947 — the year Everglades National Park was established, developed public awareness of the natural and touristic value of the area.  A revised edition was published in 1987 to draw attention to the continuing threats to the vast waterway even though it had become a national park.

Although she herself found the Everglades “too buggy, too wet, too generally inhospitable” for frequent visits, she soon became the public voice of the effort.

Following the development of a complex system of canals, levees, dams, and pump stations to provide protection from seasonal flooding in former marsh land that was being used for agriculture and real estate development, Mrs. Douglas criticized officials for destroying wetlands, eliminating the sheetflow of water, and upsetting the natural cycles upon which the entire system depends.

Mrs. Douglas taught that the Everglades was more than just a swamp, but instead was a vast, grassy river through which water from Lake Okeechobee flowed through a wide swath of southern Florida stretching from the western suburbs of Miami to the outskirts of Naples and Fort Myers. Some scientists say that water leaving Lake Okeechobee may require months or years to reach its final destination, Florida Bay.

“There are no other Everglades in the world,” she wrote. “they are unique…in the simplicity, the diversity, the related harmony of the forms of life they enclose. The miracle of the light pours over the green and brown expanse of saw grass and of water, shining and slow-moving below, the grass and water that is the meaning and the central fact of the Everglades of Florida.”

Today the park is home to 120 different types of trees, 100 seed bearings plants, and a plethora of animal and bird life including alligators and crocodiles, raccoons, skunks, opossums, bobcats, foxes, white-tail deer and panthers.

In her book, Douglas described the historic nature of the Everglades: “The shores that surround the Everglades were the first on this continent known to white men. The interior was almost the last.”

Her work did not end with the creation of Everglades National Park. She continued to fight against efforts by the Army Corps of Engineers to divert the natural flow of the waters and in 1970, she founded Friends of the Everglades to broaden the constituency for its protection.

After the Stoneman Douglas schools were named for Mrs. Douglas, officials chose wildlife from the Everglades as mascots The Anhinga as was chosen as the mascot of the elementary school while the Eagle became the symbol of the high school.

The Bald Eagle can be found in virtually any kind of American wetland habitat including seacoasts, rivers, large lakes or marshes and other open bodies of water. Meanwhile, the Anhinga is a freshwater bird, sometimes called the “snake bird” in that it has the ability to swim with its body submerged so that only its long neck protrudes out of the water, looking like a snake.

Douglas lived to 108, working until nearly the end of her life for Everglades restoration. Upon her death, an obituary in The Independent in London stated, “In the history of the American environmental movement, there have been few more remarkable figures than Marjory Stoneman Douglas.”

Her ashes were spread in the Everglades National Park.

In the light of the spontaneous activism in the wake of the mass shooting it is altogether appropriate for students from her namesake high school to exhibit the same type of civic engagement in response to this current tragedy.

This article was published in the Times-Georgian newspaper of Carrollton, GA.

Please feel free to leave comments on this site. Those comments posted through the button on this page will be posted if appropriate. Comments sent directly to me are welcome and I will respond, but they will not be posted. Also please forward this link to others who might be interested in this blog. To receive notification of future posts, please click on the “follow” button at the top of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com. If you no longer wish to receive these announcements, please let me know at that same email address.

Pop theologians and the real meaning of Christmas

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

It’s the Christmas season again, the time for pop-theologians to take to their computers and churn out articles that at best distort the biblical meaning of Christmas. These good-hearted but often uninformed people latch on to a spurious interpretation of the meaning of the holiday and purport to know the theological significance whether they have ever studied it or not.

Take the recent column in an out-of-town newspaper. After skewering those who wish her a “Merry Christmas” or whistle a piece of (secular or not) Christmas music on their way to the water cooler, she offers what she calls “this little…girl’s recommendations on how to really promote the true message of Christmas, ‘Peace on earth, goodwill towards all.’” (The ellipse is the name of her faith, the underlined emphasis is mine.)

Let’s take another look at this from the biblical view—a good starting point. When we do, we can more easily ascertain the “true message of Christmas.”

Yes, the story in Luke 2 does contain the line “Peace on earth, goodwill to those on whom his favor rests.”

But, that phrase provides a deeper understanding of the central point of this passage–that the birth of Jesus, the Son of God, the savior of the world has been born. It means that the focus of the Christmas story is on the birth of the baby Jesus. Peace and goodwill flow out of that act and, as a footnote in the New King James Version Study Bible comments, “the promise of peace and goodwill would come to those who welcome God’s only Son.” (My emphasis)

Here is the complete passage:  “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

 Do you see the focus of this narrative and the message of the angels? It is on the Savior “who has been born to you. He is the Messiah, the Lord”

 The long-anticipated Messiah, forecast throughout what we Christians call the Old Testament, has, at last, been born. That is what is celebrated by the messengers from God, what is proclaimed in their message, that is what has been celebrated by believers in Him throughout the past two-centuries.

As one statement of faith puts it:

In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Lord,
he has come to us
and shared our common lot,
conquering sin and death
and reconciling the world to himself.

And, as it later confirms

     He promises to all who trust him
forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace,
courage in the struggle for justice and peace,
his presence in trial and rejoicing,
and eternal life in his kingdom which has no end.

There it is…the affirmation that for those who trust in Christ, there is peace and goodwill.

Professional theologians and every-day readers of God’s Word, the Bible, will see that all of it is in God’s promise, but the exact message of Christmas is the birth of His son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Please feel free to leave comments on this site. Those comments posted through the button on this page will be posted if appropriate. Comments sent directly to me are welcome and I will respond, but they will not be posted. Also please forward this link to others who might be interested in this blog. To receive notification of future posts, please click on the “follow” button at the top of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com. If you no longer wish to receive these announcements, please let me know at that same email address.

Serving in retirement; how to stay active later in life

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

Much attention has been given in recent years to the idea of living abroad in retirement. Americans by the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, have chosen such countries as Mexico, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama and the Dominican Republic as their new residence.

According to numerous newspaper and on-line reports, expat seniors find those locales to offer good health care, low costs of living, warm weather year-round and a strong social community for friendship and support.

(While figures vary from one report to another, Mexico is reported to house at least one million Americans with second homes or retirement property while Costa Rica hosts upwards of 70,000, Ecuador around 10,000, Panama 25,000 and the Dominican Republic 200,000).

While that prospect is inviting it isn’t for everyone. Issues ranging from health concerns (including insurance) to family ties and property in the home country discourage many from selling all and making a permanent move.

My wife and I considered retiring abroad after having lived in three Latin American countries during our work career. However with two grown children and three grandchildren in the United States we decided that settling in our home country was preferable.

But, still, we craved the expat life and the benefits of living in another culture, being immersed in an expat community and the desire to keep working on at least a part-time basis.

Enter the exciting and fulfilling world of temporary, international, volunteer work. It turns out that there is a wealth of international service opportunities in various countries that offer the lure of meaningful work combined with getting to know more about the culture, politics and daily life of another land.

Living abroad for a portion of the first decade of retirement allowed us to experience shopping in local grocery stores and open street markets or ferias. It led us to concerts of all sorts in Central Asia, Latin America and some of the grand concert halls of Europe. It provided summer-long berries in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, tasty Pupusas in Honduras and Gallo Pinto in Costa Rica.

We were also able to learn culture (and a little language) as we volunteered to teach English, worked in a woman’s craft center and visited inmates at local prisons.

And, we learned about day-to-day shopping, entertainment and living in a variety of cultures.

Finding such opportunities isn’t as hard as one might think. First, consider your own career, training and experience. I’m a retired pastor/missionary and there are over 2,000 international, English-language protestant churches serving expatriates and third-culture people worldwide with at least one in almost every country. At any given moment several dozen are without a pastor and need someone to come for a limited, interim term, either full or part-time.

Thus, in the first nine years after our official retirement my wife and I served for a portion of almost every year in such churches. The average length of service was from four to six months, though one was for a year and another invited us for portions of three years adding up to 14 months total in that country.

While many Christian missionary organizations recruit retired people for limited terms from six months to two years, one need not be an ordained pastor or commissioned missionary to serve outside of their home country.

Volunteer positions exist in a host of other fields as well including teaching in expat, English-language schools or universities, working on environmental projects or archeological digs, serving with relief and development agencies (including the Peace Corps), assisting in orphanages, teaching English—the list is endless.

Some such positions are fulltime; others offer flex-time opportunities according to the desire or capability of the volunteer.

Hundreds of English-language schools dot the landscape in international capital cities. While some are privately hire only full-time teachers, others are not-for-profit institutions that are more than happy to receive volunteer teachers for a semester or the entire school year.

Dozens of such opportunities can be found here, here and here

Speaking of languages, there must be hundreds if not thousands of opportunities for teaching English as a second language around the world. Ranging from mom and pop storefront institutions, to accredited schools and universities, one can find a myriad of opportunities on line or, conversely, walk into any one of these schools in major cities and start teaching the next morning. The pay isn’t always the best (and the quality of teaching is often hit and miss), but these are opportunities for service abroad and the meeting of local people. A web search for “teach English abroad” will point to numerous opportunities.

Environmental and archeological organizations seem to relish the help of volunteers in their various projects around the world. Whether testing water and air purity or cataloging bones and other artifacts, these types of positions can take a retired volunteer or employee to places where the lifestyle is different, the food exotic and the expat colleagues are fascinating.

Then there is the Peace Corps which now offers volunteers more of a say as to where they will live and what they will do. Check out their page for those over 50  and their list of available opportunities.

A word of caution: While many places offer a lower cost of living compared to a home country, there are costs which must be considered. Some organizations may pay your out-of-pocket expenses, but most will not. So you need to factor in airfare, housing, expat medical insurance and other expenses during your time abroad.

In addition, some voluntary organizations may actually charge you to work for them. While that may sound odd, one must remember that they have expenses  including administration, housing, transportation, insurance and other fees.

Be aware also of visa requirements. While most countries offer an initial visa for thirty to ninety days, getting one to stay longer can be a bit more complicated and costly. Also, getting one for volunteer work will most likely be easier than requesting a visa for a paying job. 

So, if your heart flutters at the idea of living overseas during retirement but circumstances are working against it, consider the short-term work or volunteer openings that are available. There is a world of opportunities available for the asking.

 

Sidebar

Some additional resources for working or volunteering abroad in retirement

Mission Next (formerly Finishers) is a source for those seeking a second career in Christian service or retirement volunteer opportunities. 

Projects Abroad provides links and guidelines to voluntary assignments around the world. 

Go Overseas provides guidance and links to senior volunteer opportunities.  

Action Without Borders, offers an interactive site where people and organizations can locate opportunities and supporters.

Samaritan’s Purse, related to the Billy Graham organization, offers numerous volunteer and paid positions around the world, especially for medical personnel. 

Religious Opportunities Your religious tradition may offer paid or volunteer opportunities for seniors beyond the traditional ten day mission trip. One of the largest programs is offered by the Southern Baptist denomination. . Opportunities with Roman Catholic organizations can be accessed here

Relief and Development opportunities   Check out this website for information and guidance in helping out with disaster and development issues. . A listing of volunteer and paid opportunities through Reliefweb is here: 

www.volunteerforever.com offers links to a wide variety of opportunities.

(A version of this article with the links in the text may be acquired by writing to missionaryjournalist@gmail.com.) 

Please feel free to leave comments on this site. Those comments posted through the button on this page will be posted if appropriate. Comments sent directly to me are welcome and I will respond, but they will not be posted. Also please forward this link to others who might be interested in this blog. To receive notification of future posts, please click on the “follow” button at the top of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com. If you no longer wish to receive these announcements, please let me know at that same email address.

A Word to the Amish: Be Careful

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

I was sitting in a doctor’s waiting room recently reading that morning’s newspaper when a woman suddenly spoke up.

“You know,” she said. “I haven’t seen someone reading an actual, printed newspaper in years.”

She sure knows how to make a guy feel old.

Then there was the article in The Wall Street Journal about the dilemma of young adults in Australia. 

It seems that the country is holding a national mail-in referendum. The dynamic is that while 80% of millennial-age voters support the proposal, they don’t know how to mail a letter.

“Australians don’t do postal votes,” according to Tiernan Brady who runs the Equality campaign. “The last one was in 1917, so we can safely say no one alive remembers it.”

The reality is that most people don’t mail much these days. Australia Post says that business and government mail account for 95% of all letters.

One head of an advocacy group said “There’s a whole younger demographic who don’t know what those big red (mail) boxes on the street are.”

“No one really checks the mail at our share house,” said one 29 year old. “It winds up piled up somewhere in the house. It’s an object of curiosity.”

He said he would do a google search to find a mailbox where he can mail in his ballot. Meanwhile, he reported that he prefers communicating over WhatsApp and other instant-messaging platforms.

He doesn’t text much he told the Wall Street Journal, “unless it’s for my parents.”

Ouch!

Then there was the New York Times article about the slow drift of the nation’s Amish communities to the use of computers and cellphones for business purposes while continuing to shun the entrance of electricity and communication devices into their homes.

“A young woman, wearing a traditional full-length Amish dress and white bonnet, stepped away from a farmer’s market, opened her palm and revealed a smartphone,” the newspaper reported. “She began to scroll through screens, seemingly oblivious to the activity around her.

“Not far away, a man in his late 60s with a silvery beard, wide-brimmed straw hat and suspenders adjusted the settings on a computer-driven crosscut saw. He was soon cutting pieces for gazebos that are sold online and delivered around the country.

“The Amish have not given up on horse-drawn buggies. Their rigid abstinence from many kinds of technology has left parts of their lifestyle frozen since the 19th century: no cars, TVs or connections to electric utilities, for example.

“But computers and cellphones are making their way into some Amish communities, pushing them — sometimes willingly, often not — into the 21st century.”

There are limits, however, and some disagreement about these trends, even in the workplace.

“If you can just look it up on the internet, you’re not thinking,” said Levi, another woodworker. “The more people rely on technology, the more we want to sit behind a desk. But you can’t build a house sitting behind a desk.”

“My concern for our future, for our own children,” he said, “is that they lose their work ethic.”

Some young people do not agree.

Marylin, 18, said that when she and her friends gather for church activities, their youth leaders ask them to respect that they’re together and not use the phones, “so we only check our messages and the time and stuff.”

But she insisted that some changes are necessary.

“We can’t live like we did 50 years ago because so much has changed,” she said. “You can’t expect us to stay the same way. We love our way of life, but a bit of change is good.”

While using some modern equipment for work, some Amish are concerned about how far to go with changes.

John said he has his worries about where technology is taking the Amish community.

“We’re not supposed to have computers; we’re not supposed to have cellphones,” he said. “We’re allowed to have a phone, but not in the house. But to do business, you need a computer, or access to one, and that phone moves into the house. So how do you balance that?”

Lizzie said she was upset by how people had become so attached to their phones.

“People are treating those phones like they are gods,” she said. “They’re bowing down to it at the table, bowing down to it when they’re walking. Here we say we don’t bow down to idols, and that’s getting dangerously close, I think.”

Contrast, then, that changing social pattern with some strong caution in a recent special “Cybersecurity” section of The Wall Street Journal.

“As vehicles fill up with more digital controls and internet-connected devices, they’re becoming more vulnerable to cybercriminals, who can hack into those systems just like they can attack computers. Almost any digitally connected device in a car could become an entry point to the vehicle’s central communications network, opening a door for hackers to potentially take control by, for instance, disabling the engine or brakes.”

“Security experts paint a grim picture of what might lie ahead. They see a growing threat from malicious hackers who access cars remotely and keep their doors locked until a ransom is paid. Cybercriminals also could steal personal and financial data that cars are starting to collect about owners.”

And the problem isn’t limited just to automobiles. Another WSJ article reported, “A growing number of devices in our homes, such as refrigerators, vacuum cleaners and toasters, are connected to the internet….They also pose security challengers for consumers.

“Last year, thousands of internet-connected devices such as cameras and digital video recorders were infected with malware.”

It’s all very thought-provoking and concerning.

Perhaps we and the Amish should be careful before we dive too much deeper into total dependency on our technological society.

 

Please feel free to leave comments on this site. Those comments posted through the button on this page will be posted if appropriate. Comments sent directly to me are welcome and I will respond, but they will not be posted. Also please forward this link to others who might be interested in this blog. To receive notification of future posts, please click on the “follow” button at the top of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com. If you no longer wish to receive these announcements, please let me know at that same email address.

 

The last one standing? Can it be that Howard Johnson’s will disappear completely?

A BBC feature on the last Howard Johnson’s restaurant still standing drew my attention. After all, my generation grew up with those restaurants (and hotels) and, most importantly, with their fantastic ice cream.

Which reminds me of a story….

Back in 1974, around the time of our first Christmas in the Panama Canal Zone (where I was the pastor of the Margarita Union Church) I discovered that I had a problem. For almost every year of our marriage to that point I bought Polly some Howard Johnson’s Peppermint Stick ice cream. In those days that brand was about the best you could buy.

When we went to Panama I realized that there were no HJ’s there and getting the ice cream would be difficult if not impossible.

So, I wrote to an HJ restaurant in New Orleans and asked if they could arrange to ship me some on the Panama Canal ship, the SS Cristobal sailing from New Orleans on the last sailing before Christmas. I assured them that I would send them a check for the ice cream and for their trouble.

Imagine my surprise when I received a letter from them saying that they had never been asked to send ice cream anywhere before, let alone to the CZ, but they were happy to tell me (and I was happy to hear) that not only would they send me two containers with three gallons each of the ice cream but they would not charge.

What excitement. On the day that the ship arrived, our son Brian and I went down to the docks at Cristobal to obtain our shipment.

Upon inquiring at the front office I was told that there was nothing on the manifest for me. However, they suggested that I go on board the ship to inquire with the purser about it. Brian and I went up the ramp on to the ship and talked to the purser. No, she knew nothing about it.

Just then a sailor sitting at a nearby table spoke up and asked if this had anything to do with ice cream for some preacher!

It turns out that the hotel had shipped the ice cream through the ship’s kitchen and that’s why it wasn’t on the manifest. It also meant that it was shipped to us for free.

Brian and I walked out to our car, in the heat and humidity, and prepared to take the ice cream home.

Our next challenge was at the gate to the docks. I had no papers to show that the ice cream was mine or that I was authorized to have it. Since it had been shipped for free I also had nothing to prove that I hadn’t stolen it.

So, we sat in the hot car with the melting ice cream. The guard looked at me, at my IP (Panama Canal Identification Privilege) card and asked, “Are you sure there isn’t anything in there except ice cream?” When we assured him that there was nothing else, he waved us through. Imagine getting away with that in this day and age of security!

We took it home, but the story didn’t end there.

Word got around, as it will in such a small community. You see, ice cream in Panama in those days was terrible. It was reconstituted from some sort of powder and the texture and flavor weren’t good.

So people learned that we had real ice cream. And, as soon as Christmas was over, they started dropping by. First a trickle of people we knew, and then folks we hardly knew or had never met.

Soon the conversation turned to the purpose of their trip. “I hear you have some ice cream from the United States.”

“Indeed we do. Would you like some?” Of course they would, so we got out some dishes and happily shared our good bounty with our guests.

I decided another year that I couldn’t pull that trick again, so we went without the ice cream for those remaining Christmases in Panama.

Oh, yes, one more thing. In about February our good friend, Greg Seeber, who was the pastor at the nearby Gatun Union Church, called one day and said, “I’m going to read you something. Don’t interrupt me, just listen.”

Then he proceeded to read an article from the New Orleans newspaper about how some pastor in the Canal Zone had ordered Howard Johnson’s Ice Cream for his wife for Christmas. A neat ending to the story and a good PR piece for Howard Johnson’s!

Please feel free to leave comments on this site. Those comments posted through the button on this page will be posted if appropriate. Comments sent directly to me are welcome and I will respond, but they will not be posted. Also please forward this link to others who might be interested in this blog. To receive notification of future posts, please click on the “follow” button at the top of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com. If you no longer wish to receive these announcements, please let me know at that same email address.

“This Religion Thing;” An opportunity to be seized

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

The image of Christians, particularly evangelical Christians, has been tarnished in the last decade or so, primarily through the divisive culture wars.

Not that those issues aren’t important–they need to be addressed. But, they have been approached by violence on the street, hate mail and articles and a general ambience of fighting an issue while forgetting the cause—Jesus Christ.

The result is that many in our society and around the world have disowned Christianity or just plain been turned off from any consideration of the claims of Jesus Christ.

Meanwhile, all of the heat generated by these battles has distorted and damaged the message of the Good News and the ministry of those who reach out to the hurting in Christ’s name.

In the midst of all this, there has been some hopeful news and a renewed focus on the healing and serving nature of Christians (and people of other faiths) in a world of such pain.

I was greatly encouraged to read this fascinating article from IPS News about a new openness by development officials and relief groups to the great contribution that religions in general (and, by implication Christians in specific) can make to alleviate human suffering, violence and abuse.

In it Dr. Azza Karam, Senior Advisor for The United Nations Population Fund and Coordinator of the UN Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development says, “The arguments used… to generate positive interest in the role of religious NGOs in international multilateral fora were relatively straightforward. Today they are almost a cliché: religious institutions are the oldest social service providers known to humankind, and several basic health and educational institutions of today are administered or influenced to some extent by religious entities.”

Recognizing that some secular and government agencies have been reluctant to partner with or recognize religious activity, she affirms that now many recognize this work as a valid segment of international developments efforts.

However, she suggests that this recognition is late coming. She writes, “It was only when migrants appeared to ‘flood’ European shores (albeit in numbers which are only a fraction of those ending up in developing countries), that there was a noticeable surge of keen interest by several western governments in ‘this religion thing’.”

Christian efforts to serve others in relief and development work, in hospitals and health care, in the nurture of orphans, the rescue of slaves along with assisting the homeless, caring for the widows and victims of violence were, in fact, part of the reason that the early church grew so quickly and widely.

In his book The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World’s Largest Religion, Dr. Rodney Stark, the distinguished professor of sociology at Southern Baptist-related Baylor University, described the living conditions where early Christian communities developed as a “remarkably filthy existence.”

Stark notes that “the smell of urine, feces, and decay permeated everything.” He added, “A recent analysis of decayed human fecal remains in an ancient Jerusalem cesspool found an abundance of tapeworm and whipworm eggs, indicating that almost everyone had them.”

Stark noted that the followers of Jesus initially appeared to be just another cult emerging in the society. But, it soon became evident in the midst of abject poverty, filth and illness, that Christians became a blessing to their communities not only spiritually but also physically. The simple provision of food and water to severely weakened people often allowed them to recover. Nursing by Christians may have cut mortality by two-thirds.

Stark indicates that the low mortality rates among Christians combined with the influence of Christians on non-believers, (i.e. their social work) attracted many of the early converts to the church.

Or as Marvin Olasky, the editor-in-chief of World magazine wrote: “Christianity grew both numerically and proportionately through the plagues that swept the empire in the first few centuries after Christ. There was martyrdom here as well: for while many were heading for the hills for safety…Christians stayed to care for the sick, exposing themselves and sometimes succumbing to the danger. Through their care many survived, for in many cases what was required was simple nutrition, water, and shelter. This, too, led many to follow Christ. Christianity’s proportion of the population increased also in that they cared for each other, meaning that their relative survival rate was higher than the pagans.”

There have been other recent indications that Christian ministries are having an impact on addressing many of society’s ills and are being recognized for that.

The excellent book Not For Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade–and How We Can Fight It, by Dr. David Batstone, a professor of ethics at the University of San Francisco highlights many organizations that fight slavery worldwide. Most of those that he cites have strong Christian roots.

Then, in a recent article by award-winning New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof,  we find a reference to Cure, a Christian organization working in 29 developing countries to alleviate the problems of children born with clubfeet. 

While we cannot and should not become too self-congratulatory, we must be encouraged by a wider, secular recognition that Christians, as well as those of other faiths, are ministering to those with debilitating needs around the world.

Dr. Karam summarizes her recent article by saying, “…(I)f we are serious about strengthening health systems and universal access to healthcare, enhancing educational institutions, content and accessibility, protecting our environment, safeguarding the rights of marginlised and vulnerable populations, countering social exclusion and ensuring human dignity, then – the argument is – we have to work with those who influence minds, hearts, and continue to provide and manage significant amounts of social services in most countries.”

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Another article by Dr. Karam on a similar topic can be found here:

 

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