Leveraging great ideas for missions

In the big scheme of things, I don't know much about missions. That's something that I'm working on-- but my lack of knowledge doesn't keep me from thinking about it, especially when I see opportunities.

One of the big areas that has emerged as a theme in my ever-vigilant watch of technology is the development of new concepts and technologies to supply water and other resources to third-world communities. Allow me to point you to a few examples:
  • Martin Fisher wins the Lemelson-MIT award for sustainability for the SuperMoneyMaker Pump. Fisher has devised a $100 water pump that can pull water from a 30-foot well to irrigate up to 2 acres of land. (He's also developed a $35 tool called the "Hip Pump" that uses a farmer's body weight to operate it.)
  • The PlayPump System is an utterly brilliant concept that links a well pump and cistern to a kids' merry-go-round toy, so that as they play on the merry-go-round they are actually supplying water for their community from the well (which is stored in the cistern). The whole system costs $14,000, and can supply 2,500 people with water for 10 years. (PlayPumps International gets extra props for setting up a system where you can donate as little as $6 toward the installation of these-- and that $6 will supply one child with clean water for 10 years.)
  • Dean Kamen has built the Vapor Compression Distiller, which is a chemical, membrane, and filter-free water purifier (meaning it doesn't require substantial maintenance and consumable goods to continue filtering). Kamen believes this could eradicate a huge amount of disease worldwide.
  • The Hippo Water Roller is designed to alleviate the difficulty and physical stress required for a human body to retrieve and transport water from long distances. It allows 200 pounds of water to be reduced to an effective weight of only 22 pounds for easier transportation, even over difficult terrain.
  • Daniel Sheridan has won three separate awards for developing a see-saw designed to provide enough electricity to power a classroom for several hours through 10 minutes of play.

All by themselves, each of these is a very good idea. It strikes me, though, that the missing piece for all of them is the infrastructure to distribute and install these.

Sure, the Peace Corps and similar secular groups are all over the place doing this kind of work. But why not missionaries? Why couldn't some of the many missions boards with teams of people in third-world countries send short-term teams that would bring and install these as a support and extension of the existing ministry?

One thing I DO know about missions is this: it is almost universally agreed that long-term sustainability of Gospel ministry depends on developing local, indigenous leaders to take over the ministry. That sort of sustainability, it seems to me, demands that stability of resources also be in place-- so water supply, irrigation, agriculture, medical care, and education must become immediate concerns for pastors and missionaries in a third-world context.

All of the above projects seem to offer affordable solutions for exactly that: stabilizing resources. It seems like a no-brainer to me. Am I missing something? What do you think?

Re-thinking "poor-ness"

Two ideas I've recently encountered that might get some discussion going about what it means to be "poor."

First, Jeff White of New Song Community Church in New York city recently spoke at a conference called
A Conversation on Denominational Renewal in St. Louis (click here to find audio for all of the talks from that conference). All of Jeff's talk was great (as were the rest of them), but one thing he said stood out as an interesting idea: Jeff said he would like to expunge the church of the term "mercy ministry" because to extend mercy in a biblical sense means to give someone a second chance even though they don't deserve it, and this does not apply to poor people in most ways.

Second, the humor blog
Stuff White People Like did an interesting post called, "#62: Knowing what's best for poor people." A big idea from the post: "It is a poorly guarded secret that, deep down, white people believe if given money and education that all poor people would be EXACTLY like them. In fact, the only reason that poor people make the choices they do is because they have not been given the means to make the right choices and care about the right things." And, as is apparent to these bloggers, making "the right choices" and caring "about the right things" are, in white people's minds, always identical to what white people (in this case, upper-middle class white people) choose and care about.

Both of these ideas, in their own way, represent challenges to the way I think about the poor and those in need. What do you think about these quotes and ideas?

Women in church leadership

One of the more difficult questions facing many churches (and I say "many" because some churches have answered the question for themselves, not because it isn't a question for them) is, what is the role of women in leadership in the church?

The PCA has, since its inception, proclaimed a "complementarian" position on women in leadership. The "complementarian" view stands squarely between the egalitarian (with unequivocal removal of distinction between men and women in terms of leadership and/or authority) and the patriarchal (with unequivocal denial of any sort of leadership or authority to any woman). How to implement this has frequently been in dispute: at worst, the complementarian position appears little different from the patriarchal position, with perhaps the exception of allowing women to minister to other women (and usually children); at best, applying the complementarian view is summed up in the idea that a woman may perform any act of service or leadership (apart from preaching in public worship) that a non-ordained man may also perform.

One complicating factor in applying the complementarian position has been that the PCA's Book of Church Order (BCO) does not
currently allow for women to be "ordained" to any leadership office-- Elder or Deacon. An overture for the upcoming General Assembly, from the Philadelphia Presbytery, may bring some modification to this, or at least clarification for how it is to be implemented. I appreciate the spirit of this overture, and how it asks for clarification even if the "status quo" is maintained. Should the BCO be amended to allow women to serve as Deacons, it might actually make the issue more complex-- but in this case simplicity hasn't historically proven to be beneficial, when it comes to the application of seemingly simple ideas. Simplicity in this issue usually results in either denying women opportunity or ignoring biblical guidance.

Another complicating factor, ironically, is the difference between leadership and authority. Ironically, because for years (centuries? millennia?) this has been the argument that I have heard tossed back at women who argue that they are denied opportunity for service and the exercise of their gifts. Yet more recently confusion on this point has been the justification for relegating women to only teaching children or perhaps other women. Why is granting women a role of leadership a tacit breech of biblical distinctions for authority?

As a counterexample: if leadership somehow equals authority to the point where biblical boundaries are crossed, why have a two-office view (Elders and Deacons) in the first place? Isn't the granting of authority to
male Deacons at least raising the possibility that the boundaries will be crossed? Of course it is-- and sometimes those boundaries ARE crossed. Yet we don't eliminate the office of Deacon to protect the authority of the Elder. We don't eliminate the organization of a presbytery to protect the authority of the local congregation, either. Thus, we shouldn't prevent women from having a role of leadership simply to limit their authority.

I'm glad for the Philadelphia Presbytery overture, and I look forward to seeing the PCA mature through this discussion. What do you think?

A new view on waste disposal

Here's an interesting set of artwork that depicts quantities of waste created in the U.S., with statistics. While some of this is fairly heavy-handed rhetoric, a good bit of it is illustrative in ways that just seeing numbers alone cannot accomplish.

It certainly brings us back to the question: what sort of stewardship are we exercising with regard to our world?

A new (to me) take on global warming

George Will argues that the human cost of global warming is "cheaper" than the cost of maintaining or improving the global temperature. By cheaper, I mean that the threat to humanity and to our ability to survive and thrive as a society. As Will says, an important question is: "How much are they willing to pay—in direct expenditures, forgone economic growth, inefficiencies and constricted freedom—in order to have a negligible effect on climate change?"

Will approaches the problems of environmental concern with a quite pragmatic vantage point, but I think what he underscores (indirectly) is helpful: there are things that we fail to consider when we look at such problems. Often, our solutions appear to be what is best for now, only to create new problems down the line.

Think, for example, of the problem of our reliance on fossil fuels for so many parts of life, but especially transportation. For many, the obvious solution is hybrid and all-electric technology to power cars. But the long-term effects of this may be even worse than depleting fossil fuels: such vehicles require enormous batteries that will, eventually, be disposed of; where will we put them? Is there a clear plan in place to efficiently recycle them so that we don't end up with even more waste (and fairly hazardous waste, at that) in our landfills?

It may be better, instead, to focus on utilizing natural gas (another fossil fuel, ironically) as the next step for fueling our cars and trucks-- it burns very cleanly, and we have it in abundance-- the main issue is one of distribution. Meanwhile, batteries can continue to reduce in size and our ability to recycle them will also improve.

A similar concern is with regard to electrical power: for years, environmental activists have asserted that our current (primarily coal-powered) power grid is a threat to our ecosystem, especially with more than 35% of our CO
2 emissions coming from them, causing harm to our atmosphere. Yet, the same activists have long maintained that nuclear power-- which has the unique ability to create incredibly large amounts of electricity without atmospheric repercussions-- is equally as dangerous in other ways.

However, Patrick Moore, one of the founders of Greenpeace (one of the loudest voices about such concerns) has recently made
a bold statement reversing his position on the matter. Moore's argument is that we need to give a second look to nuclear as a truly viable alternative to burning coal.

Still, the long-term costs must be accounted for: though nuclear power plants are not the threat to the well-being of those around them they once were feared to be, an increase of nuclear power plants represents a corresponding increase of nuclear waste that must be disposed of carefully and safely. The question of what sort of legacy we are leaving for our children and grandchildren is
one that we must consider. With continuing improvements in realms such as wind, hydroelectric, and solar power (the Japanese have made substantial advances with solar, in particular), there are better long-term alternatives.

And I have to wonder (and as a Pastor, feel compelled to wonder aloud): is the stewardship we are called to exercise as Christians best understood as simply improving our technology? How about simply reducing our demand for it? Driving less, riding in carpools when possible, and implementing alternative means of transportation come to mind when gas prices are up-- why not at other times? Using space heaters, efficient gas logs, and other forms of more localized heating during winter are great alternatives to simply turning up the thermostat. And there are surely other ways to reduce our collective demand for local, national, and global use of energy and fuels.

What are some ways that you can think of to reduce demand and improve stewardship?