Thursday, May 08, 2008

I've Been Doing Some Reading

One of the strange changes I've encountered here in Haiti after be away for five years (besides the overnight proliferation of brand new Honda motor scooters on the streets of Cap) is the availability of wireless internet signals. I'm sitting now outside of the door of the office at Living Hope Mission (in a hallway the directors are now semi-jokingly calling my "the office annex") typing this thanks to a wireless internet transmitter and a huge diesel generator. All the hotels now have wireless in Cap, and even in a remote village like Grand River (where I visited a hospital yesterday), a satellite dish created a que of docs waiting to transmit data to Port Au Prince via email. Cyber cafes are everywhere, even in the remotest villages. Considering that a Haitian pastor friend of mine, Marius Turrenne, cried with joy when I told him we were getting him a new laptop, certainly broadband via satellite is changing the world communicates, and is altering the way that people in the underdeveloped world connect beyond the limited opportunity which exists here.

For example, since the Christophe Hotel serves the best Pepper Steak in the world, and I happened to briefly be there yesterday afternoon, I bought dinner for (and and heavily tipped) one of the drivers who had driven our group around in the morning, as a means of convincing him to stay a little later to drive me back to Living Hope Mission. As I talked with Patrick, I discovered that a) his wife is a seamstress who buys much of her material and exports some of wares on-line), b) that he loves American action movies (especially Sylvester Stallone's) which he downloads off the internet, and c) that he has a Skype account that enables him to speak with family members in Boston almost weekly. And this all from a guy who makes $10-15 (American) per day by working as a driver for Ryder Rentals. You can't underestimate how this kind of electronic, digital medium is changing the playing field, and its going to alter the way not only commerce and communication, but other ventures - like ministry - is going to change.

To some degree, I think the missionaries from multiple organizations I've been talking to down here are a little perplexed as to what the future will hold for church support as relationships can be created directly by Haitian pastors with American pastors and laypeople. The kind of control the missionaries used to have when it came to monitoring resources is now beginning to diminish as entrepreneurial church leaders get a cell phone or open up an email address at the local cyber cafe. While on the one hand this will open up opportunities for mission work in ways we've never seen before, it will also afford many more opportunities for con men ready to exploit Haitian misery for their own gain. Churches like ours, too, will now be able to demand more concrete information from church partners, more frequently, as we try to help our Haitian partners set goals, and dream futures for themselves.

Also, the proliferation of communication options, and funding from organizations like "One" and the "The Global Fund" are creating new partnerships among NGO's that previously would never have existed. This ability to communicate has enabled NGO's to get a handle on "who" is doing "what" across the country, helping them in the process begin cooperating together as services like health care and drilling wells for clean water take root in multiple partnerships across this country, and the world. As these organizations, which are primarily secular, begin to become more effective in meeting the needs of people in underdeveloped nations, I believe pressure will grow on missions organizations and churches - which have a track record of territorialism and mutual competition - to not only cooperate together, but with these secular organizations. That will test the theological boundaries of missions boards everywhere as they weigh the benefits the poor will enjoy out of this collaboration, versus the strain this is going to put on them as their supporters begin to question whether or not theology and witness are being compromised in the process.

Much to (and old high school friend, and now blog reader) John Rex's chagrin, I am an unabashed fan of NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman. Friedman, I believe, was really the first to get a sense of how digital communication (either by satellite or trans-ocean fiber optic cable) was changing the world, both good and bad. In the Times this week, he's got two great articles. The first one examines the reality of what it means to be a super-power that has to borrow money from Singapore and Indonesia in order to bail out its nation's banks. The second article talks a little about how the world's dependence on oil is not only slowing democracy's growth, but contributing to its recession. Just as a quick excerpt from the second article:

“There are 23 countries in the world that derive at least 60 percent of their exports from oil and gas and not a single one is a real democracy,” explains Diamond. “Russia, Venezuela, Iran and Nigeria are the poster children” for this trend, where leaders grab the oil tap to ensconce themselves in power.

Pretty troubling development when filling up your mini-van is dependent upon totalitarian regimes or corrupt democracies maintaining control by brute force as a means of keeping oil in the pipelines.

On another note, I also read a fascinating article by a reporter for Rolling Stone magazine. "Jesus Made Me Puke" is the experience of one Matt Taibbi, who for the purposes of understanding the Christian Right (and to write a book), started regularly attending John Hagee's church, Cornerstone Church, in San Antonio, Texas. Before you get the wrong idea, while Taibbi does do a little Christian bashing in the article, the title makes it sound far, far more negative than it actually is. The whole "puking" thing is actually an allusion to part of the experience he had going on a spiritual retreat weekend where people were literally "puking" as a part of the retreat directors experience (which sounds pretty weird to me, and I'm a Christian).

Hagee's whole philosophy is that the Christian church needs to become a staunch supporter of Israel so that we can speed up the timeline for the rapture to occur. The ministry is charismatic (meaning there is speaking in tongues - an experience Taibbi is invited to participate in, much as I was at Holy Trinity-Brompton last year... needless to say his response to the invitation was far more creative than my own) and built also on the idea that God wants to bless those who financially to him with good health and wealth in this life (the result being that the church is very well financially supported, and the pastor well-compensated for his work). While Taibbi is no friend of Christianity, I do think it's important for us to get a sense of how people who are not connected and skeptics of the church, see us. Needless to say, Taibbi is both repulsed, but also I think becomes a little more understanding of what people are looking for when they end up at Hagee's doorstep. In any event, is worth the time reading (if you aren't easily offended).

In any event, I'll be back from Haiti late tomorrow night. I look forward to getting back home, seeing my wife, playing with my kids, and pondering God's place and will in this crazy little world of ours.

I'm not preaching Sunday, so there will be no pre-sermon (as if that happens weekly). See you next week.

No comments: