Monday, September 1, 2014

Sustainability for Advent, Madison

Throughout my years as a student at Furman I was active in several religious groups and hung out in the chaplain’s office.  My classmates will agree with me that Eugenia Cantrell’s “Russian tea” was often more therapeutic than any meeting with L.D. or Jim, the chaplains.  
My junior year I was elected president of the Chaplain’s Religious Council, the gathering of leaders from each of the student campus ministries.  It was our job to oversee the funding of each of the groups.  We also had our own budget for events and programs unavailable to those bound by denominational differences. 
We were aware mostly through our own involvement of the Collegiate Educational Service Corps, a student volunteer organization that directed more than half of the Furman community into Greenville area projects and programs.  Fellow student now Bishop Stacy Sauls, Chief Operating Officer for the Episcopal Church and his then girlfriend now wife Ginger headed up that massive effort. 
With me the Council decided that a campus–wide effort to make a difference somewhere else in the world was a perfect “foreign” balance to CESC’s “local” mission.  There was a severe drought in sub-Saharan Africa in those years and so we linked ourselves to the work being done through OxFam in Ethiopia.  What guided our decision-making was the writing of E. F. Schumacher.  The author of “Small is Beautiful” articulated for us the best way for mostly white, mostly southern, people of faith to attempt a “non-evangelicalized foreign mission.” 
We didn’t want to promote an Ethiopian dependency on western technology that could not be sustained by the locals.  We had seen the pictures of fairly new tractors and combines left to rust without western petrol. We also didn’t want to fund a one shot airdrop with bags of rice or millet then to be black-marketed by corrupt officials.   
Thanks to Schumacher and OxFam (and some Quakers) we found a way to help fund the construction of windmills from local supplies that could pump some of the water from the aquifers below the drought dried land.  We did some really cool fund-raising.  We had a T-shirt swap.  Students paid $1 per shirt and donated from their own closets.  We did the same with LP’s.  Then L.D. and I were interviewed on the local news and within a week we had raised over $30,000! 
The windmills, 30 of them, were built.  We had corroboration through pictures and reports from the Southern Baptist missionary parents of some of our students.  Little Furman made a big difference.  What we learned was irreplaceable.  And we know now that Schumacher was onto something much more “macro” than our little effort.  Then and now “small (I’d rather say “contextually-sized”) IS beautiful.”

What we have before us in this local movement, this becoming a parish in Madison, GA with a full-time rector doesn’t need to be small but it definitely needs to be a “contexually-sized” effort.  I imagine that it will be a almost entirely a local enterprise but how we scale our work so that time moves to our side and our results last longer than a single season or two will require the same sort of careful resourcing and shared effort used to fund and build those windmills 40 years ago in Ethiopia. 

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