One of the most significant influences that directed me into missionary service (my family served with ReachGlobal—the international mission of the Evangelical Free Church of America—from 2002 to 2008) was when we purchased a copy of Operation World back in the early days of our marriage. This book is a day-by-day prayer guide to the nations. For example, April 4 is Chile, and June 19-July 4 is India. This book helped open our eyes to both the needs and opportunities to advance the Kingdom of God through evangelism and related ministries around the globe.
The 7th edition of Operation World came out just a few months ago, and God is using it to get me thinking more about missions.
The first section (January 1-11) contains an overview of what is going on in the entire world. As on the pages for individual countries, the section on the world begins with answers to prayer:
- “The unprecedented harvest of new believers continues across Africa, Asia and Latin America, in contrast to the relative stagnation or decline in the rest of the world.”
- “The concept of Christianity as a European ‘White-man’s religion’ is demonstrably a myth. Though sometimes small in number, all but concealed, or mostly members of a minority people group, there are now Christians living and fellowshipping in every country on earth.”
- “Evangelical Christianity grew at a rate faster than any other world religion or global religious movement.”
- “The gospel took root within hundreds of the world’s least reached people groups.”
- “Give thanks for… A more holistic understanding of evangelical mission within the Church. Ministry that cares for orphans and widows, uplifts the poor, brings liberty to the oppressed and sets captives free reflects the heart of God.”
- And many other answers to prayer: the growth of non-western missions, cooperation between missionaries from different countries and denominations, Bible translation (95% of the world has access to the Bible in a language they know).
Being that this is “The GeoChristian,” I want to draw attention to some ways that Christian ministry around the world is affected by the Earth and environmental sciences (and thus how Christian Earth and environmental scientists can minister to the world). Here are some Earth and environment-related quotes:
Increased levels of consumption, especially when adopted by the billions of people in Asia, may push the already-stretched resources of the world over the brink. The world must be weaned off its reliance upon fossil fuels and extraction economies (mining, logging, fishing, others), and more sustainable alternatives must be developed, especially as massive new economies in the Majority World push hard to catch up to the West.
Threats to human health, including disease. HIV/AIDS has been the high profile disease of the past 20 years, but treatments, increasing awareness and changing behaviour patterns see infection rates declining. Cancer continues to take many lives all over the world. New, resistant strains of old diseases, such as malaria and tuberculosis, are spreading. HIV, SARS and H5N1 are examples of recent pandemics; fears abound of new ones, more virulent and deadly. Less glamorously, diseases associated with malnutrition, poverty, unclean water supplies and lack of sanitation are even greater threats to children—pneumonia, diarrhoea, TB and others. Included in this is malaria, which kills as many people globally as AIDS and has a similarly devastating effect on economies. Air and water pollution probably contribute to as many deaths annually as all of these diseases combined.
Energy research is possibly the highest profile and most globally important area needing technological progress. Fossil fuels are highly polluting, nuclear power dangerous and alternative energies—such as bio-fuels, solar, wind and wave—are as yet inefficient and inadequate. More than ever before, finding efficient, safe, non-polluting, renewable energy sources is attracting greater research and investment. A breakthrough in energy technology would transform the world’s economy and ecology.
Water will be among the world’s most crucial issues in the future. Given that sufficient fresh water exists globally to sustain humanity (even if the locations of water sources and human population do not match up well), the salient issues on a global level are more about ethics, equity, distribution and consumption.
a) Access to clean water. Already, around one in six people lacks access to safe drinking water; by 2025, it is estimated that three billion will lack access to fresh water. Additionally, nearly one in three lacks access to adequate sanitation, and this in turn contributes greatly to disease, malnutrition and mortality, especially among children.
b) Current wastefulness. The developed world uses more than 30 times more water per person than the developing world. And the vast bulk of water waste is through inefficient agricultural systems, which account for 70% of humanity’s use of fresh water. Even diets (such as high consumption of red meat) that require much more water are a source of inequitable water use; the aspirations of most of the world to Western lifestyles, consumption levels and industrial output will generate even more waste and place even greater stresses on water supplies.
c) Future societal and demographic changes. The large majority of future population growth will be in areas where safe water is in short supply. This, combined with ever greater industrialization (greater demands for water) and urbanization (population moving further from clean water sources), means that demands on water supplies will be even more intense in the future.
d) Over-exploitation of limited water resources is poised to become a serious problem in the USA, Australia, southern Europe, South Asia, China and much of Africa. Aquifers are overtapped and rivers are running dry. Water-rich countries such as Canada and Russia are moving to secure their own vast supplies of fresh water. Tension and even conflict already exist over:
i. The Amu Darya/Oxus of Central Asia.
ii. The Tigris-Euphrates (Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran).
iii. The Jordan (Israel, Syria, Jordan).
iv. The Nile (Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia).
v. The nations to the north and south of the Sahara Desert.
These factors combined spell out the inevitability of increasing tensions over limited water supplies, of greater pressure to reduce waste and make desalinization more efficient and of the drive behind massive levels of migration
Demands for other natural resources, when combined with population growth and increasing levels of consumption, are at the core of what will make or break human civilization’s progress in the 21st century.
a) Energy consumption is still vastly dominated by non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels. Until greener and more renewable sources can be developed to a level that makes them feasible alternatives, nuclear power might be the only other alternative.
b) Food production is another area where great changes are afoot. Genetically modified crops, the environmental impact of current agricultural systems and current trends in global dietary patterns all raise serious economic, environmental and ethical questions—from organic foods to raising cattle to fishing. The existence of food is not a problem for the world’s masses; at the heart of most problems are the amount of waste and the cost and difficulty of production and distribution. Growing crops for fuel, rather than food, intensifies these troubles.
c) Other natural resources are also being rapidly depleted. Some resources, such as old-growth hardwood trees, can be renewed, though not nearly at the speed demanded by consumption. Others, such as minerals, are non-renewable, yet they are being extracted and used at increasing rates.
Climate change is now generally accepted as having a human causal component. Population growth, rapid industrialization and increasing consumption have an undeniable environmental/ecological impact. The negative implications of possible global warming are: desertification, soil exhaustion, greater frequency of natural disasters such as flooding and drought, water table salinization, flooding in low-lying coastal systems, massive loss of habitat for millions of species and unprecedented human migration. The staggering scale of waste and pollution—from plastics to pesticides to hormones and more—affects our water systems, our climate and even our biology. Despite the fact that humans still know little about these complex dynamics, green ethics have almost become a religion in themselves, the adherence to which is demanded in much of the developed world. However, it has also fostered in the Church the rightful and necessary development of a theology of Creation stewardship and compelled Christians to reconsider how biblical our lifestyles are.
Water, energy, food production, climate change. These are critical subjects that will effect the church and the entire world in the 21st century. Will Christians be right in the thick of research, action, and advocacy, or will we leave that to someone else (while billions suffer)?
Operation World can be purchased from Amazon.com and many other places. Buy it and pray for the nations.
Grace and Peace