Saturday, May 2, 2009

Missionary Affluence and a Crucified King

One of the interns gave a seminar based upon Jonathan Bonk's book "Missions and Money," which addresses the issue of missionary affluence overseas. Bonk points out that most missionaries are believed to be making huge sacrifices by their peers from their home country. Missionaries give up much in terms of what "could have been" if they had stayed home. Most missionaries, however, still live in incredible affluence compared to the poor people they live among. Affluence doesn't have to look like TV's and vacations in Spain; in some contexts, affluence is a tin roof. Affluence is access to hospitalization, or the ability to leave the country if things get hot politically.

How exactly are we, as representatives of Christ, called to model him who "though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor?" How do we witness to a Jesus who asks us to die with him that we may live, and commands us to give to all who ask of us, and yet still do so faithfully from within the walls of a missionary complex? How do we find the proper balance between living wisely and caring for our families, and yet still exemplifying the kind of self-denying life that Christ calls us to when we take up our crosses and follow him?

I don't have easy answers to these questions (perhaps because there are not easy answers to these questions). It is good to be challenged though, and to prayerfully reflect.

I'm beginning the process of seeking out next steps. I still have no idea where I'll go when I finish here at ECHO, but I am excited to find out. There are so many organization working overseas, and so many potential countries and programs, that it is very difficult to narrow down my options with any confidence. Things would be much easier if I was given a clear calling to a particular place, but until then I must learn to prayerfully discern his will in each decision, and trust that he will guide my steps at the proper times.

I'm going to Chattanooga next weekend for Heather's graduation, and I couldn't be more excited. I only wish I had longer. I'll be in Marietta next in early July, and I'm hoping to have an entire week to catch up with people who I won't have seen for several months.

Friday, February 20, 2009

What season is it again?

Time seems to be unusually short here at ECHO right now, which means that a lot has been happening. Here are some highlights...


In January we had a number of sub-freezing nights, which for our farm is pretty bad news. Here in North Fort Myers we are technically a sub-tropical environment, but many of our trees are native to very tropical areas. Our distance from the equator means that any temperature below about 30 degrees F is potentially devastating for many of our plants (mangoes, avocadoes, lychees, longans, etc.). Of course, the tomatoes don't care for freezing temperatures either (this is veggie season here, you recall).

Each night there was a freeze, interns stay up in shifts, monitoring thermometers around the campus. When temperatures plummet, we turn on overhead sprinklers and coat every plant in a thick layer of ice. For scientific reasons that completely evade me (even after explanation), constantly freezing a plant keeps the temperature constant, and so protects it from the sub-freezing air. A lot of things still died, but the farm looked pretty cool in the morning!

Farm Challenge

For one week earlier this month, all the interns participated in something called the "Farm Challenge," which means we were only allowed to eat food off of the farm (plus water, salt, and oil). Consequently, eating became a much more premeditated act. Veggies were harvested daily, corn was ground for cornmeal, and people got unusually creative with their recipes.

In the end, we all ate pretty well. Here's an example of some of our meals...

Goat meat, dry rubbed with citrus, fresh herbs, and olive oil. Goat and Rabbit sausage on a bed of cooked greens and onions. Rice with ginger stir-fried brocolli, sugar peas, green beans and carrots. Fried green tomatoes. Corn bread with farm honey, peanut butter or molasses. Fresh squeezed orange juice and lemonade. Ginger, lemon, and honey tea. Mmm.

Tech Request

On Tuesday and Thursday mornings this month I have been on Tech Request, which means I joined the team of staff responsible for answering technical questions sent to ECHO from missionaries and development workers in the field. In addition to being a good deal of fun, being on Tech Request was a great opportunity to become more involved with ECHO's international ministry. The questions are varied and often unusual. What are some potential forages for horses in Haiti? What is the best way to germinate Dragon Fruit seeds? Is it possible to feed rabbits (for meat) completely off of foraged greens? If I build a tree house in my Jackfruit tree, will the tree survive???

Being on Tech Request has helped to remind me of why I am here to begin with (and what ECHO exists for). I find it all too easy to become caught up in the busy schedule of plantings and trainings, and forget the overarching mission.

Pray that God would make me passionate about the things that He is passionate about, and that he would teach me to listen for his guidance over and above my own. I think I have a lot of weaknesses for his strength to be made perfect in.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

New year, new lessons

And so ends a year of surprises. Certainly, I would never have guessed in January '08 that January '09 would find me working a farm, blanching broccoli and butchering chickens.

Here at ECHO, vegetable season is in full swing. While the rest of the nation shovels snow, we who straddle the border of temperate and tropic are harvesting bright red strawberries, filling buckets with sugar snap peas, and hand-pollinating pumpkins. I must confess that the tropical abnegation of seasons still strikes me as bizarre, but who can complain in the face of vine-ripe tomatoes? Though temperature highs never broached 60 on Thursday (the southwest Florida equivalent of a blizzard), most days hover around the upper 70's to lower 80's. Don't be jealous... I'll have to pay off my climatological debt when the summer hits!

What has happened since the last update (November!)...

- ECHO Agricultural Conference - Missionaries, development workers and nationals from developing countries converged on Fort Myers for a week long conference in December. Speakers discussed a number of issues: the global food crisis; underutilized food crops; cultural land tenure problems in Indonesia. Perhaps more importantly, opportunities were given for people to network together, sharing struggles and solutions they've faced while working overseas.

- Responsibility overload - As of December I completely took over stewardship of the Monsoon garden from Heidi, my predecessor. The agricultural complexity of managing crops, animals, and trees is still a little overwhelming for this city boy. When is the proper stage for harvesting broccoli? Who knew that Okra becomes unedible if not picked young (aka near-daily)? What is Jicama?

I think I'm coming to enjoy the labor of seed, transplant, cultivate, harvest, weed, weed, weed, weed, weed. The cultivation of food is a lifestyle that transforms daily patterns, as you slowly become tied to the land on which you live. Chickens need daily care, plants need water, crops must be harvested or else lost. It reminds me that every piece of food that passes my lips was once alive in one form or another, and that 99.9% of it was intentionally cultivated by someone, somewhere.

I inspect my thumb periodically for any green pigmentation. So far I haven't noticed any, but I take comfort in the surprising resilience of young plants, and the vigorous abundance of God's creation in general. Perhaps the green thumb will come one day.

- Christmas - The Christmas season was made brilliant by my family's week-long visit to the ECHO farm. It was strange not being in Atlanta; strange to not see friends; strange to miss the flickering candles at ECPC's Eve service; strange to step outside from Christmas dinner into 80 degree sun. But there was still family, food, and singing. And those alone are luxuries beyond belief. And we reflected on Glory, incarnated in weakness. On Love, submitting to persecution in order to redeem the persecutors.

With the rest of my time I've read a lot, and spent time with the community here on the farm. I've been thinking a lot about the future, wondering what God has planned. It would be nice to be given a glimpse of one's future, but He knows best.

I miss all of you from Marietta and Chattanooga. I'm a terrible distance communicator, but please feel free to call or email.