Friday, February 19, 2010

A Taste of Tending to Eden

The following excerpt is from pages 26 to 28 in Tending to Eden: Environmental Stewardship for God's People by our Executive Director, Scott Sabin.

This book helps connect the dots between poverty and the environment, and makes the biblical case for how as Christians it is our job to care for the earth. Tending to Eden also comes with a creation care Bible study, so you and your congregation or Bible study can more deeply explore and apply this concept.

You can purchase the book through our website here:

For every purchase that is made through our website, will donate a portion of the proceeds to Plant With Purpose, which will go toward directly benefiting the rural poor. Thank you, faithful readers, for your support! And stay tuned for more "tastes" of Tending to Eden.

"One evening in the early days of our work in Haiti, several of

us sat on the front porch of a guesthouse in Grand Colline, [Haiti]

exchanging stories and watching fireflies. Pere Albert, the Haitian

Episcopal priest with whom we partnered, came up the path from

the vocational school building, where he lived, to join us.

The conversation turned to his testimony. He told us how

happy he was that God had given him a task to do. “God gives

each of us something to do for him,” he said. “It’s as if a boss gathered

together a group of his workers, and he turned to each one

and said, ‘I have a very important job for you.’” With childlike

glee he exclaimed, “It makes me happy that God wants to work

with me. I feel excited!”

Then he asked, “Can you imagine how you’d feel if, when the

boss got to you, he skipped you because he had nothing for you

to do?”

For the first time, it dawned on me how terrible it must feel to

believe you have nothing to contribute, to feel you are and always

will be completely dependent on the goodwill of outsiders. The

good news, implicit in the Mathew 25 parable, is that everyone

has been given talents they can work with. We all have something

to contribute to the kingdom of God. Each of us has an important

role to play. This is news we need to hear for ourselves and share

with others, because it is significant and too often neglected.

The lie of the world, reinforced by the media and believed by

millions, is that the poor are worthless. The global economic system

measures worth in dollars—you are paid according to how

society values your contribution. The message is that as a Haitian

farmer, no matter how bright you are, and no matter how hard

you work, you will never be worth more than a few hundred dollars

a year.

We need to defeat the lie that says worth is measured in dollars.

Sadly, the poor and many of those who try to help them have

unknowingly bought into this lie. For the poor, it is manifested in

a lack of self-confidence, self-esteem, and initiative. For those

seeking to help, it manifests itself in condescension and patronizing

attitudes. Unfortunately, when outsiders offer help, whether through foreign

aid, short-term missions, or donations, we often reinforce this

lie. We bring used clothes that put local tailors out of business and

give away free food that undercuts the local farmers. We construct

buildings for people, putting local masons and carpenters out of

work and implicitly sending the message that it takes outsiders to

get things done. We may even encourage small businesses based

on models that work in the United States, but because we don’t

understand the culture and local economics, these businesses fail.

And that failure reinforces the lie that the local people are incapable

of succeeding.

The elders from an evangelical church in a small village in Mexico

approached me about the construction of a new church building.

A concrete foundation had been poured, and had been sitting

there for years. When I asked why they’d not started building it,

one of the elders told me, “We have been waiting for you to come

do it for us.”

I don’t mean to disparage anyone who gives to the poor. We

are commanded to do so. There are times when a handout is the

most important thing a person can receive. People need assistance

when they are sick, or after a disaster, or helpless. Children who

have no families clearly need someone to care for them.

But if we do for others what they can and should do for themselves,

we rob them of their dignity and reinforce the lie that they

have nothing to offer. We create dependency.

A story is told of travelers who come into a community during

a famine and ask for something to eat. They are told there is nothing.

The travelers take out a pot and begin to make soup by boiling

some stones. When asked about it, they explain that they are

making “stone soup” and only need a bit of garnish to improve it.

One by one everyone in the village brings something to contribute.

In the end a fine stew is made, with everyone eating their fill.

Similarly, the members of a community often have the materials

and resources needed to change their situation. Sometimes people

just need a catalyst and a little organization to create something far

better than any of them could have imagined."

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