Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Wise Man Once Said...

On Sunday we had a guest speaker at church, a missionary to Mexico who has been home on sabbatical for the last several months. He and his family went back to Mexico on Monday. He was talking about their work there, how he has recently turned the pastoral duties of his church over to a Mexican pastor, and how he and his wife are now focusing on teaching local pastors how to teach, how to lead a Bible study, how to counsel, etc. He said many of the pastors in central Mexico are young men who have traveled to "the big city" in search of work, were introduced to the Gospel while there, and felt called to return to their hometowns to bring the Gospel to their family and neighbors. But most of these young men have very limited education, the equivalent to having finished elementary school, and even reading the Bible can be challenging for them. So the missionaries are now working on training the pastors.

The missionary made a comment that really struck me. He said that here in the States, he would be considered an average teacher, just another teacher. But in Mexico, where the majority of people are deprived of what most Americans would consider a basic education, his teaching is phenomenal. The new Christians in central Mexico are so hungry for knowledge of God, for education of any kind, that the missionary's willingness to teach basic reading, basic Bible classes, and basic leadership skills makes a tremendous impact.

So that got me thinking about the United States. I started to think about how saturated our culture is. We are so saturated with education, knowledge, skill. Resources that are normal here would save lives elsewhere. Food, water, medical care. A nurse who gives 25 vaccinations in the United States does valuable work, to be sure. A nurse who gives 25 vaccinations in Congo saves 25 people from imminent death. We are so wealthy. Do we know how wealthy we are? We have virtually unlimited resources available to us. I can see seven Bibles in five different versions on my bookshelf right now, and that does not even include the two that I use most often, which are elsewhere in the house right now. Seven. Not only that, but with just a few keystrokes and clicks, I can access biblical commentaries written by noteworthy scholars. I know of at least half a dozen Christian colleges within driving distance of my house. Finding a church here means trying church after church after church until finding one that makes you comfortable; it does not mean literally searching for a group of people, any group of people, who worship God. If I devoted my life to it, I still would not have enough time on this earth to read all the Christian books that are available to me for free through the local library system.

I think education is very important. I think we should "transform ourselves by the renewing of our minds", as Paul instructed us to do. And I don't really think that education is ever wasted, at least not in the way that that phrase is usually used. For example, I don't believe that I am wasting my education by being a stay-at-home mom. I think education is pretty much always worth pursuing, not necessarily in a formal sense, but definitely in a lifelong learning sense. But I wonder...are we making the best use of the tremendous blessings we've been given? Our missionary friend saw that he could make a bigger impact with his gifts in Mexico than he could here. I don't think that we all are supposed to up and move to Mexico or Africa or India, but I do think that those of us who remain in overdeveloped countries should look hard for opportunities to put our gifts and resources to good use. I guess I just mean that here in the U.S., we have so much that we have become numb to the immensity of it all. We take it for granted and even belittle it.

A favorite professor of mine once asked his students to consider "what is in your hands?" In other words, what opportunities are right here, right where you are? What gifts have you been given that can benefit another person right now? I think about that sometimes. It's easy to deceive myself into thinking that by belittling the gifts I have been given, I am showing humility. (Note: I think it's pretty safe to assume that whenever I think I am being humble, I most definitely am not.) Seattle is the most educated city in the country. My formal education is small fry here. Does that mean it is worthless? Because there are so many people, millions of people, around me who have greater knowledge, greater education, who are better suited to tackle the problems of our area....does that mean I don't have to? No. Ignorance doesn't let me off the hook. My efforts here in western Washington may not have the impact that the same efforts would have in central Mexico, but that doesn't give me the right to simply not expend the effort.

I know I'm rambling, and that is because I haven't really sorted through all of my thoughts on this subject. I've just been thinking a lot about using the gifts we've been given, being good stewards and all. Sometimes it's hard to know where to help, since I can't help everywhere. How are we to choose? But I guess one of the most important things is that we are helping. Somewhere. Anywhere. It would be wrong to not help at all simply because we don't know where to start.

I almost don't want to post this because I feel like I'm not making sense. But I'll post it anyway, and you can read it if you want, and you can think, "Gee, that post totally didn't make sense", and that will be that.

7 comments:

lindiepindie said...

I think you make complete sense! Someone has said something that has made you start to see things in a different light. How cool is that? People in this country change churches at the drop of a hat. What if there were only one church in a village? You'd have to make it work with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Which way is better? Just something that's been on my mind lately.

So even though we are educated at-home moms we have so much influence over our own children! I want to raise God-fearing children, but also want them to be AWARE. Aware of what they are doing and why...not just do what everyone else is doing. I could ramble on and on here and make a mini-post of my own, but I'll stop. :o)

Thanks for a thoughtful post.

Bob said...

Let me play devil's advocate for a minute. Is so much education really good? Perhaps not.

Did not Christ say that the church should be one? With all of our time and wealth and education, have we not set back the cause of Christian unity and evangelism?

Consider:

Christ enjoined the church not to be attached to material things. Things of this world increase the difficulty of gaining heaven. The earliest church was poor, persecuted and harassed. It also grew like a weed, was unified and spread across the world with astonishing rapidity.

Then Christianity became the dominant state religion and began to be associated with money, power, education and politics. The result was a falling away from the teachings of Christ and the return of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Even with Luther and the Reformation, despite the great learning and power wielded by men of God unity was lost (never to this day having been regained) and the church merely fractured further and schism became widespread.

Fast forward to today, when by any measure we are materially better off than medieval Christians by orders of magnitude and the differences between ourselves and the early church in our earthly situations could not be any greater. Has not most of the traditionally Christian world turned away from Christ on a day to day basis? Are not the wealthiest, most powerful and most educated countries in the world less Christian than they were before they increased in wealth, power and education?

We profess our belief in God with our mouths and deny him with our actions, thoughts and hearts. Where are the most vibrant and unified churches to be found? In the Third World amid low education, material want and among the most powerless people in the world.

As you and I both learned from our sociology courses, correlation is not causation, but the strong correlation between the increase in wealth, education and power and the decrease in Christian faith is most striking, no? Perhaps our education and the temporal benefits it brings may end up hurting us in eternity?

Linda said...

I certainly agree that far too many of us in the US (and other more developed nations as well) take what we have for granted far too often. I've been to Myanmar (Burma) and I have been to Central America and I have seen it with my own eyes. But I also believe that we have been blessed for a reason and that reason is to share what we have with those less fortunate than ourselves. Give generously when the plate goes by for special offering, find an organization to volunteer with, go yourself (I guarantee you will be changed), send food or supplies where they are needed. Find some way, whatever it is to share what you have with others.

However, that said, take into consideration what the TRUE needs are in a situation. I was in Honduras in July. It was 106* with 95% humidity. We were handing out clothing to children in need that another group had sent to them. It was all turtlenecks. They were happy to receive them, but I thought to myself "someone missed the boat here, this isn't exactly what they need, they need summer clothes, they don't really even HAVE winter here." It made me sad to think that most of them probably would end up not wearing them or have to alter them to wear them or would wear them as they were and be hot and uncomfortable.

Anyway,,, that is my two cents worth on the subject.

Holly said...

lindiepindie:
Thanks for commenting! You are so right about our influence on our own children.

I think it was G.K. Chesteron who commented that society considers raising and teaching children to be an admirable profession...unless you are raising and teaching your own children, in which case society considers it lowly. He thought that attitude was absurd, and of course I agree!

I agree wholeheartedly with your thoughts about raising your children to be aware of their actions and the reasons behind them. I want my kids to learn how to think. And you're right, this topic could be its own post! (I've deleted several sentences already because my comment is getting too long!)

I love your blog, by the way.

Holly said...

Bob:

Quite right, as usual. I think this trend holds true even at a more local level as well. Individual congregations seem to follow the more money/less faith correlation. In my own experience, it seems that churches with a lot of money tend to have more petty disagreements (carpet color, etc.) than those churches for whom money is in short supply. Wealthier churches also seem to have a lot more turnover than poorer churches. Less dedication, people moving in and out on a whim, that sort of thing. It's frustrating and it's sad.

Your points are very thought-provoking. So how do we live in our modern culture without falling into this trap? The vow of poverty taken by members of contemplative Catholic orders is looking better and better. This all makes me think of Paul's statement that he had lived in plenty and in want, and had learned to be content no matter the circumstance. I hadn't thought of it before, but I suspect that learning to be content in plenty is the more difficult lesson.

Holly said...

Linda,

I entirely agree with your sentiment that we should do something. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the enormous needs of the world, and I believe that overwhelmingness is one of the most effective ploys of immobilizing Christians. I have to frequently remind myself that just because my efforts are insufficient to solving the whole problem, that does not mean I shouldn't expend the effort. Mother Theresa said, "If you can't feed a hundred people, then just feed one." Do what you can.

You make an interesting point about meeting the true needs of the population you are trying to help. Turtlenecks in Honduras? This goes back to lindiepindie's comment about being AWARE.

autum said...

It makes sense to me, it also speaks to me in a personal way. Thanks for giving me food for thought. I am guilty of not helping sometimes because I don't know where to start.