*This is a guest blog post by Mercy Hill covenant member Barry Evans.
For those of you who might not know me very well, I am something of a geek (for those who do, the correct response is, “Duh”). I happily throw myself into geeky pursuits like comic books, video games, and discussions over the nuances of which superpower is best (I like flight and super speed, myself) or whether Lord of the Rings is a better film trilogy than the original Star Wars (it’s not, but it’s still pretty incredible). For me, it’s a much bigger concern what movies get spots that air during the Superbowl than who actually wins the game, and I think fiction (in virtually any form) trumps “reality” TV pretty much any day of the week.
(It may not seem like it so far, but I promise you this is a post on our personal need to be involved in international missions, following Pastor Andrew’s excellent sermon on the subject from Psalm 67 from a couple weeks back. Bear with my weirdness for just a few moments more, and it will all make sense.)
Like many of the more geeky-minded among us, one of my hobbies is action figure collecting. I don’t do much of it these days, as frankly, it’s just too expensive. Action figures aimed at collectors (read: adults) tend to be even more expensive than the ones aimed at the prepubescent set, which have been steadily on the rise along with the price of petroleum used to make and transport the little plastic men. Since many collectors have more money than sense, they pay the high prices, and so those go up even higher. These days, my biggest entry into the whole toy collecting world is chatting about various topics (honestly, there are more posts about politics than plastic men in a given week) with friends of mine on a small internet toy forum. Recently, a friend of mine (and fellow believer) posted a news story from Business Insider‘s website that caught my eye:
The article chronicles, through photos by German photographer Michael Wolf, the terrible conditions in the factories in China that pump out the vast majority of toys in the west. Once upon a time, toys were made all over the world. Now, as companies try to cut down on cost, China is an affordable locale for factory labor that has aggressively sought the business of western companies. As such, these days, the Chinese dominate the production lines. (Seriously, if you have kids, just grab any one of their toys at random and check to see the “Made in” stamp or tag. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Happy Meal toy, a Barbie, or a $300 Hot Toys Michael Keaton Batman, chances are it was made in China.) The friend that posted the article is like me in that the high cost of toy collecting has brought his habit largely to a standstill, but he posted the piece as a way of asking, in essence, “If this is how the people who manufacture toys are exploited, should we be buying them at all?
It’s a fair question and one I could not ignore, but before some of you tune out and say, “Well, this has nothing to do with me. I don’t have kids, and I don’t collect toys,” consider: Last year, Pamela Engel, the same reporter who posted this piece at Business Insider, put up another photo essay on the conditions of garment workers in Bangladesh. Their life situation is not much better than that of the Chinese toy makers. If anything, their plight is even more desperate, with nearly 2,000 workers having actually DIED in Bangladeshi clothing factories over the last decade or so, including 1,129 killed in a garment factory collapse in April 2013. You may not buy toys, but I daresay you do wear clothes (at least, I certainly hope you do; this is a church blog, after all).
So what’s my point? We shouldn’t buy things because of the horrible conditions that those who make them live under and how little they personally profit from them?
Well no, of course not. That would be impractical in the extreme, and completely taking away the livelihood of those overseas doesn’t really help the issue either. But if you look hard enough, you’ll see something about our consumer-driven culture (and about missions) in the faces and stories of those who work in those factories making the things we buy and use. First, these stories should make us long–and pray–for the gospel to change the lives and the culture of people overseas, just as we learned in Pastor Andrew’s sermon happened with the slaves in the Belgian Congo. Second, we should speak into our own western culture about the neglect those overseas face and the lifestyle we live that helps fuel it.
As important–even necessary–as those lessons are, there’s something else tied deeply to what Pastor Andrew showed us from Psalm 67 that I think is at the heart of what we as believers should take from these stories and pictures.
The first point in Andrew’s sermon was, “God blesses us to bless the nations.” God has blessed and continues to bless us beyond measure. None of us can deny that. We need only breathe in the air or feel the sun on our face, and we’re reminded of His blessings. More than that, He loves to bless us. He desires to bless us. He gave all He could give in Christ to bless us with the hope of salvation, the same hope He calls us to bring to the far corners of the world. The Father loves for His children to enjoy His blessings, as any loving father would. But He wants us to love the Giver of the blessing rather than the gift and turn to Him in love, gratitude, and worship. His ultimate goal is for those blessings to be passed on beyond us, flowing out from us into a world of people that He has created to worship and glorify Himself (that is, after all, the ultimate application of His two greatest commands to us in Scripture). We simply were not designed to sit idly by and horde God’s blessings onto ourselves as if the gifts are more important than the heart of the One who gave them to us, or as if people dying and bound for an eternity separated from Him here or, yes, overseas are not our problem.
There’s nothing wrong with buying something we like just because we like it every now and again. There’s nothing wrong with wearing something fashionable. But when we make our lives about spending our time and resources primarily on ourselves, heaping things into our closets and garages, we shouldn’t be surprised when others in need of the gospel suffer hard lives to accommodate our own lives of ease.
So yes, missions is our problem. It’s each of our own personal issue, every one of us who call on the name of Jesus, wherever we find ourselves and in the lands beyond our vision from which the Father seeks worshipers. Will our lives be marked by “working for the weekend”–spending our lives in pursuit of cash we can spend on ourselves and conveniences we don’t particularly need–or will they be marked by a desire to give of our time, talents, and treasure to bring Christ to the nations?
And if all of this sounds very convicting to you, just imagine how it sounds to a man who collects action figures!