It’s the inability to “rouse yourself to give a damn.” That’s how Kathleen Norris defines the sin of acedia in her book, Acedia & Me. Identifying our many inabilities is part of what Lent is about: forty days of self-denial to lay bare our sins as we work to rouse ourselves for the new life that comes with Easter.
For many of us, acedia, at least as Norris has defined it, summarizes this past year quite well. It has been hard to care about much more than surviving another day of virtual school or the next Zoom meeting. That is unless you were chasing down toilet paper, hand sanitizer, face masks, or more recently, the vaccine. But beyond a pandemic, it often takes the form of being unaware or even uninterested in dealing with the many challenges of our world. The needs are so overwhelming, both close to home and abroad, that it can be difficult to rouse ourselves to care for them. It can paralyze us so we never find those causes where our efforts can make a difference.
That is part of why the church supports missionaries. They are tasked with following God’s call to care for peoples and places that most of us never would consider.
Many conceptions of missionaries focus on the Great Commission, the teaching of the Christian Scriptures and faith, and truth be told, quite a bit of colonialist baggage. Missionaries I have known live out the Great Commission and the Great Commandment by both showing and telling God’s love. They can spend years learning the needs of the people and place they serve and additional years finding the best way to meet them.
And this missionary work has roused a number of scientists and engineers, which is why it interests us at Science for the Church.
The Turks’ Work in Madagascar
Without my church supporting Dan and Elizabeth Turk, I may never have learned of the plight in Madagascar. The Turks attended our church some years ago while Dan completed a Ph.D. in forestry from NC State University and Elizabeth earned a Masters of Public Health from that sky blue rival over in Chapel Hill. Afterwards, they followed a call to bring their love of God and their scientific skills to serve the people of Madagascar.
The needs in Madagascar are significant. The island is rich in biodiversity, but much of that has been lost due to deforestation. The trees have been cleared in an attempt to meet the needs of a population that has more than doubled since they arrived in 1997. And then there is the poverty. In 2019, 75% of the population lived below the international poverty line with per capita income around $250 per year. This results in the fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world. Nearly half of children between the age of two and five suffers from stunting. You can see now why the skills of Dan and Elizabeth work so well in service to FJKM, the Church for Jesus Christ in Madagascar!
Dan has been part of a movement to recognize the importance of fruit trees in Madagascar. They create a sustainable and healthy food supply for subsistence farmers; in orchards, they can create work and stimulate economic growth; and they reforest barren landscapes. These benefits have been seen in regions with enough water to grow fruit like tangerines. But most of the country is too dry which brings us to the mangoes.
With international support, the FJKM opened a tree center in 2016 that has been dubbed The Mango Palace. It is a central part of their Fruits, Vegetables, and Environmental Education Project that Dan helped create. The Mango Palace grows over 20 varieties of mangoes and through seminaries and churches, they are teaching others how to graft and grow them as they seek to reproduce the most successful plants. Why? Because grafted trees, unlike seedlings, can begin to fruit in just a few years. Those skills then create income, feed a hungry population, and translate to other fruit trees that can reforest the landscape.
...The World Bank details why the Turks’ work is so important in Madagascar.
...Learn all about grafting from Dan’s alma mater.
...Great Jesuits like https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/b09yhj36 have leveraged science in missions for centuries.
Roused By the Great Commission
My point here is not only about Madagascar. It certainly deserves more attention, but there is great need everywhere. Instead, as we head into Holy Week, bound by the promise of new life given to each of us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, my point is to draw attention to the many ways scientists, engineers, and health professionals follow Christ’s call and proclaim God’s saving love through both word and scientific deed.
I know about the work of the Turks, but you likely know of others with equally interesting and compelling stories of bringing both the Gospel and new life through food, water, health, and education to people in other places. If you do, please reply to this newsletter and let us know about them. We want to find more remarkable stories of scientists roused by the Great Commission. We want to find others using their God-given skills, like Dan and Elizabeth, to find simple solutions that address more than one problem.
We know that poor health, hunger, dirty water, and poverty are all linked to environmental degradation. As such, creation care is actually care for all of life—the plants and trees of every kind, the creatures that swarm in the waters and the winged birds of every kind, the cattle and creeping things and wild animals, and the humans that God instructed to steward over them.
The head of FJKM proclaimed, as he consecrated the land for the tree center (and Dan’s initiative behind it), “God’s blessings bring many solutions here in Madagascar.” That is certainly true of the mangoes.
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Strengthening the church through engaging with science
We believe that churches are strengthened by engaging with science. Science for the Church looks to a day when science accompanies Scripture as a tool for discipleship, catalyzes expressions of worship, illustrates sermons, elucidates biblical teachings, and supplements theological wisdom for the life of the world. We even wonder if wrestling with science might draw some of the “nones” (those who affiliate with no religion) and the “dones” (those who have left the church) to Christian communities once again.