Amongst the various relics of bygone ages in my household is a ‘Missionary Box’. It’s a small, quaint mud hut, perhaps made of something a bit like papier maché, with a slot in the top to put coins in, which would then finance the ‘mission’ of our western churches to romantically faraway places, where people lived, as indeed millions still do, in houses that looked, to western eyes, a bit like the missionary box.
Much good was done, much compassion expressed through this medium. A kind response to problems far away can be an encouragement in our lives here and now.
By the time I was reaching my teens, it was recognised that donor-recipient aid interventions didn’t quite tell the whole story. ‘Mission IS partnership’ began to be the watchword, and this is very much reinforced by the developing global strategy of Christian Aid and other expressions of ‘good news’ arising out of Christian faithfulness.
Not so much ‘giving’ but doing our part. And where Christian giving is involved, of course, it is giving that you do happily or not at all. It can be its own reward, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
You’re more likely to keep on doing things that make you happy, and give meaning. And the world benefits too.
As encouragement, we do now have the advantage of widespread and excellent communications: we can see and hear via various media, of the experiences of our sisters and brothers in Christ (and everyone else God loves) in places which can nonetheless still seem conveniently far away.
In these situations, thank God, myths can and must be busted.
Firstly, the romantic picture of innocence or naivety of people far away in difficult situations is unsustainable. A worker from the Scottish Government who has spent time observing climate mitigation strategies in Malawi assured me that the people he encountered were fully ‘climate literate’, well aware both of the alarming changes confronting them, and their causes. As well as that that these developments were not, primarily, their own doing. Having accepted the evolution of their environment, their ingenuity and conscientiousness in adapting to circumstance is impressively set free.
A visiting speaker from Christian Aid Sierra Leone confirmed a similar situation, from a country where the annual dry season is all but disappearing, with resultant impact on agriculture.
Friends in Southern Africa cry out to us to get on with action in solidarity: to make the changes that fall to us, which we are not yet grasping with urgency. Putting our money where our mouth is.
Secondly, and with accelerating rapidity, the overheating of the globe is impacting directly our own weather. As I write, people are sweating in the streets of Edinburgh, having dressed for February, but encountered not just winter sunshine but a temperature above the average for May. The disquieting disruption of the rhythm of the seasons, one begins to suspect, will have ramifications beyond what we can see today.
So familiar and nearby animals and birds, and of course, our own agriculture begin to bear the brunt of what human activity is doing to the planet that we all share. Not so much ‘poor stewardship’ as deficient partnership, and this not just with human neighbours, but with the living planet of which we ourselves are part.
And, having just now reviewed the book ‘God so loved the world, and so what?’ by Nigerian Presbyterian George O Kalu, I’m wondering with him, whether even the cherished image of ‘steward’, which has sustained and encouraged environmental action and commitment, belongs with the missionary box as something whose time has come and gone.
The parable of the ‘Steward of unjust wealth’( Luke 16:1-13) has much to say to us, but maybe it belongs together with Jesus’ comments in John 10:12-13 about the uncommitted, stand-in shepherd. The world belongs to God, but we nonetheless need to ‘own’ our heartfelt commitment to it and responsibility for its welfare. Which is our own good, too.
We’re not the 'hired hands’: we’re part of the family business!
God, help us take notice;
God, help us change before it is taken out of our hands;
God, wake us up.
For it is late.
Though you are with us.