Sustainability

 

I don’t mean sustainable environmental policies. As important as they are, that is not what this article is addressing. I mean the expectation that charity should be sustainable. Somehow this seems to be a contradiction.

A good place to start is with Paul’s definition of love. Love gives and keeps giving of itself. It empties itself, as Paul said Jesus did in his incarnation and on the cross. (Phil 2:5-11) “Love is patient, it does not seek its own.” Love keeps loving, keeps giving. (1 Cor 13:4-8) It’s like Jesus said, “Give to those from whom you don’t expect a return.” God doesn’t want us to give back to him what he gave to us. He wants us to give to others what he has given to us. When we give charity, it’s so people can spread that charity to others. It’s to start a new culture.

In church yesterday, someone took my chair as I slipped out to a brief meeting. I jokingly complained about the loss of my chair when I came back and found another seat. Referring to the incident, a friend told me that the song they were singing in the Hausa language is translated, “All I have Lord belongs to you.” I replied jokingly, “I wasn’t singing the song.” Songs are easy to sing, harder to live out.

We get the concept of sustainable financial practices from our business culture. You don’t apply this to charity. When I was young, every morning as I ran for the train, I passed by a Salvation Army officer standing on the platform receiving donations. Their charity wasn’t sustainable. It required generosity of people every day. It required a continual generous culture from people grateful for God’s blessing in their own lives. It required a godliness in the heart of our culture. The only way to end the need for charity would be to heal the imbalanced world we live in. This hasn’t been achieved yet.

Our lives are possible because a lot of people live charitable lives. Their charity is unsustainable, in the sense that these people keep giving, year after year, without ever receiving the due for what they give. Their proper level of income for their services is never realised. I am speaking about people like parents, teachers, nurses, those working in the emergency sectors, volunteers and caregivers. There are many others I haven’t thought of here. They have foregone lucrative opportunities in other fields, so they can serve the weakest, the sickest, the most vulnerable of our societies. This is a charitable life.

All our lives in an interdependent society are sustained by the “non-sustainable” giving of others. Those in lucrative professions, the professions our culture rewards the most, must remember this. They have a duty of care to the less fortunate, rather than to reward themselves. That is, we are all carers of others. Our career is not for self-reward. Our career is so we can be a care-er. If we are a doctor, it is to serve the poorest. If we are a lawyer, it is to advocate for the oppressed. If we are in business, it’s so we can pour profits into giving back to community.

My wife, Ruth, is constantly making applications for charity funding. It’s laborious work. It’s so far largely unsuccessful, except in the few areas where people we know develop connections and stand in for us. It’s typical in the application process for the donor bodies to ask about plans for sustainability. When you think about, this is a funny question when we are building schools to educate children who have had their homes and townships destroyed by terrorism, have lost their parents, and their relative’s businesses have been destroyed by ongoing destabilisation.

Nigeria has over 10.5 million children out of school, and millions more in “school” sit on floors, on stones under trees, with no learning resources, no books and no pencils, no toilets for girls. This is just one nation. The donor agencies understand the predicament. One said to us, “We understand that the S-word (sustainability) is nonsense given the situation. But the application process requires the word is used. So, show some attempts towards sustainability, which is all we require. We know the volume of need that you are facing makes true sustainability untenable.”

Over the years we have planted fruit trees, raised animals, fish, farmed crops, started businesses, all to supplement ongoing sustainability. But the return from these endeavours towards real charitable support is minimal, given the capital required for larger returns. One possible view towards long-term sustainability, in terms of the structurers we build, is that these structures would serve self-sustained operations eventually, but without a charitable component. The schools would run, but with fee levels required from the children’s families to pay costs that only the wealthier sectors of society could afford. The charitable aims of serving those who most need it would be lost.

The problem with running a school without a charitable culture to help the neediest, is that this would be the real unsustainable approach to life. A nation cannot be sustained without the poorest receiving charity. If we only educate the people who can afford it, a nation will break apart at the seams, with marginalisation, separation and eventual violence. That’s why Russia and France had a revolution. That’s why there is so much terrorism today. We must include each other to grow a sustainable culture and a nation of peace.

Recently we have started to build a local program that will raise support for excluded children within Nigeria. It will take time for it to provide enough funds, but we hope in the future this will help. In recent years this has not been possible, given the level of terrorism and destruction all around us. Help must come from other sources. Currently there are few viable businesses around us making profits that could sustain this. But as peace grows, a peace largely made possible through gracious externally sourced charity towards the suffering on all sides of the conflict, then local businesses should begin to take root and funds begin to flow to those who need it the most.

But also, for this to happen, there needs to be a significant shift within the culture of our churches. We still largely see our finances as God’s reward for ourselves and don’t give much towards those who need it the most. This especially happens when we think of those who suffer the most. We often think they are our enemies. It has become unusual for many Christians to support those who suffer outside our own circles. This means that rebuilding peace becomes impossible. Our hearts need to change, so that we love and share with those who are our enemies, just as God died for us while we were his enemies.

Going back to Ruth’s applications to donor agencies, and their request for a strategy on sustainability, I repeat that this is a funny request to make. They are asking us to achieve sustainable education levels, with quality education and quality care, during a decade of terrorism and another decade needed to rebuild the broken lives. Think about this. Sustainable education has not been achieved in any nation, even in times of prosperity and peace. There is no such thing as sustainable education for children in our communities.

No school in prosperous nations is self-sustainable. They are all sustained by very high levels of government support. If we said to those schools that they had to be self-sustaining, then you would have to forget about a proper education for the children. We know in our prosperous nations, that for our culture to succeed into the future, education of children must be heavily funded by a continual charity that never ceases, forever.

Not just the government funding the schools receive, but as mentioned above, the charity the schools receive through the relatively low wages paid to the teachers, must continue if schools are to be viable. This means ongoing “non-sustainable” charity. Education of all our children, generation after generation, is impossible without it. What makes education sustainable, is the outcome of changed lives the system produces and their impact on the building of the nation, if their education instilled the right values of community care. What makes education in war-torn nations sustainable, is the peace it produces, and the new nation is creates, if that education delivers the right kind of values we see in the cross.

Thank God we had churches that recognized this in previous British history, who insisted on and brought education to all. School education began in “Sunday schools.” They spread this free education all over the world through missions. However, these mission schools were largely taken over by national governments and run down. The aim of education for all has been adopted by international bodies and some nation’s political parties, learning from the church, made free education part of their platform.

Now, what do we do if we are in a nation that doesn’t have this government support? And what if even the schools the local churches run are largely non-charitable? What if these Christian run schools raise fees to the level needed to pay the costs and make a profit as well? In such a nation, when millions of children are left out, should we stand back and say the country needs to get their act together and fix things? That may be true, but what about the innocent children who suffer the costs of this brokenness in the meantime? How are they going to get the help they need?

In addition to this, the brokenness of any nation today isn’t just the fault of that nation. It is also due to the global economics that brings this suffering on others. We all share the blame, especially due to our cultures of individualism. This concept of sharing the blame isn’t new to us as Christians. Paul started his main letter on this note in Romans 1-3, so he could build us together in grace, as an interdependent family of care. This is God’s good-news plan to heal the world.

This is one reason for my recent book called Biblical Economics. It shows us some of the wider reasons for the global education problems. All our nations are party to the suffering of others. That means charity must be without borders. It’s like Paul said, “If one part of the body is sick, the whole body is affected.” If any part of the world is broken and not cared for, trodden down in some ways by the bigger world powers, then that will affect all of us.

What does this mean? It means that when so many innocent children suffer, those who have the power to help ought to do so. It is the innocent and vulnerable who pay the price, a huge price. These embittered children without hope or care become tomorrow’s terrorists. Yes, other governments should be helping. But if, for many complex reasons, that isn’t happening yet, then how can we step in to help the innocent until that does happen? Continual charity is needed from some sector. And, as usual, it’s the church, the true church, that must take up the cross here for the sake of the vulnerable, until the world powers finally become renewed.

With the rise of nationalism today, governments are far less inclined to help the suffering abroad, unless it bolsters their national strategic interests in some way. Some of these nations have completely stopped aid in many nations today, despite growing levels of prosperity at home. Christians can’t think like this. We must see all the world as one humanity, as God saw us when he died for all. We cannot capitulate to the current global pollical trends. We must transform them.

This is just touching the one area of the education of children. We haven’t spoken about the need for medical care, which is just as serious for so many millions of people. And how can this be sustainable? Medical care is not sustainable in any nation. In America, unless you have expensive insurance you to go bankrupt if you get seriously sick or die without treatment. In most other Western nations, medical care is heavily subsided. Without constant charitable injections from the government, the medical systems would break down. Again, there is no such thing as sustainable medical care.

And it is right for government to support medical care, which should be provided to people without discrimination. Some years ago, I walked into one of the best tropical medicine hospitals in the world. I wrote my name and address on a piece of paper, provided no proof of identity and was given free treatment over the next month, just because I was human. If such services are reduced, it isn’t truly because our nations can’t afford it, it is because our policies of care change.

Our head doctor here at Wurin Alheri was trained in a top university and for years by a medical graduate of the Mayo Clinic in USA, one of the best training hospitals in the world. Our doctor is wanted everywhere today, but he agreed to take a half cut in his pay and come to work with us in a semi-rural area to care for many who can’t afford medical care. He could get a job anywhere in the world. This is how charity work is sustained. The doctor has done this because he sees the leaders of the ministry team living this way, making the same kind of choices to serve those in need. He can see in these people that this is the calling of God.

If a Western oil company buys an oil field through a corrupt foreign official, for far below the market value, such that the short fall in revenue for the developing nation would cover the nation’s whole medical budget, and then hundreds of thousands of people die without treatment, what would you call that? It’s close to murder. So, if many innocent people are dying, and we can’t significantly influence global economic or political powers, but we do have the ability to use charity to care for the sick, shouldn’t we do it? Shouldn’t we start where the Sunday Schools of old started from, by making worship real by doing it ourselves? We could try our best to make part of this outreach sustainable, charging people what they could pay, but what if many people needed help to save their lives? Should we keep helping?

Once again, it was missions that spearheaded medical care in Western and in foreign nations. It has always been churches that spearheaded care for every person. The church can’t back off now. We should continue to be at the front of charitable care, whether at home or in other nations, giving up our life (or at least some of our comfort) so millions of others can share in our life. Charity means love, which comes from grace and these two words are the footing of our Christian lives, the air we breathe and the design-plan for building a new world. If we forget these words, we forget the charity and grace given to us, by which we live.

I was speaking to one of our staff leaders in charge of our buildings. We are putting up a four-room class block for a children’s school. A potential donor agency asked for video footage of community members helping in such projects, working on the building site, to show that the children’s parents and guardians are contributing. This is part of their standard of “sustainability,” that shows that all people are contributors. So, we asked our staff to take video footage, with interviews from the guardians helping in the building work, making the mud bricks. We don’t have agency support for this project, but we still need to try.

I shared with the staff how I visited a recent meeting of the teachers of one of our schools. There were 80 staff there. There were no cars parked outside owned by staff members. Yet these are qualified staff, teaching at an excellent level, getting the best results with 1,200 children. Why is our school a top-quality school, although it includes children who are terrorist victims and other orphans who missed years of education? Because the staff support the charitable work every day with low wages, so the school can help every child who comes to us.

We train 700 children free and 500 more heavily subsidised every year, due in part to this daily contribution from the staff team. They help with the sustainability, making this ministry a loving, caring charity. Our monthly wages bill for the whole ministry is currently A$28,000 per month and growing, but with the 230 staff we have, serving the thousands of people they do in all kinds of ways, the wages bill should be A$120,000 per month. A$120,000 per month is still only $130 per week for one staff. Not even this supports a family here. In sweatshops this would be considered abuse, but here it is the charitable contribution that every team member gives, including our leaders. And it is done so the less fortunate can get an opportunity at life.

Not just the wages, but these staff served in very dangerous areas, in continual terrorist conflict regions… so they could serve the wounded, succour the families of the deceased, help care for those left in desolation, or whose loved ones have been kidnapped, and daily serve displaced people in large numbers. Our provost was killed on the job, martyred. Their serving in these regions has helped to defeat the terror coming from several different sources and restore Christian peace to the region. They have done this with their children. Sustainability would be impossible without this kind of self-giving, including the giving up of their homes and privacy daily.

The staff I was speaking with about this was himself seriously wounded and left for dead in an attack that killed many of his university friends. He survived the terrorism that today he is helping to defeat. Terrorism arose because of our separation from the need of others, a separation we all live out locally and globally today. Charity is about turning this separation around, to heal our local and global communities, to win the peace. Peace comes through the gospel and the gospel comes as we live it in dangerous areas.

Our mission outreach stations operate similarly. Projects are undertaken to improve education and living conditions in these rural areas, by the contribution of the staff and the local people in the communities. They contribute money, labour, materials from their local environment, in building their communities into places of care for all people, no matter their ethnic nor religious background. Our ministry support contributes a little in wages and in other cash support just to help where needed. Such efforts are bringing the gospel and bringing peace to every environment in which these groups serve. They are transforming regions.

What about other charitable works, like training pastors for grassroots areas, who have no educational background, who are persecuted and can’t get support? How else would we get the gospel into these regions, without such people? What government agencies are going to support this? We could go on talking about vocational education for the youth, peace-making between ethnicities and youth of different faiths, essential for a climate in which the gospel and enterprise can flourish.

Our team are working on building sustainability into different sectors of the work of this ministry. It’s slow as we are building from scratch, so much capital expenditure is required at this stage, in tools, rebuilding computers, printing books for children, building classrooms, providing transport, building and equipping clinics, and in weekly maintenance. But there are areas where we can charge fees, raise support from locals. Even if this doesn’t yet meet the main need, it means that we build a culture of contribution, of partnership with everyone at a local level. This is necessary for our growth as mature believers.

As the country heals and as the main capital expenditure in this ministry is complete, such local sustainability becomes more significant. Ultimately, we want to build a supportive culture within the country that overcomes division and hatred with care for others. This culture can build and sustain peace. The final aim is not to just to be a charity but to teach charity, so charity spreads.

When a country is falling apart, there is an urgency about such matters. We can’t wait for businesses to be able to sustain such essential recovery services. Peace is an essential, and as quickly as possible, before millions perish. The ways of building peace are proven to work. And after peace begins to grow, you can’t let up, allowing former conditions to return.

There are so many ways in which charity in our world is required, and our schools in Western nations are just one example that shows this. Charity is essential for the wellbeing of our societies. It is a constant need, and the Salvation Army officer on the railway platform should never be passed by. Our culture should never tire of charity. And in our days of growing nationalism, a heart and practice of charity is more essential for peace and our interdependent prosperity than it ever has been before.

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.” (1 Cor 12:26) Paul’s principle of peace.

The dictum of pragmatism is often the reverse, “If one suffers, why should both?” The dictum of nationalism is, “If one nation suffers, then keep it away from us.” Paul’s principle of care for others, even those different to us, is the path of peace. Healing the sick part of the body heals the whole body.