The recent efforts of the Evangelical Climate Initiative
have done much to raise awareness about global warming
amongst Evangelicals in the United States, challenging us
to take action
on this important issue. This initiative, of course, is fully consistent with the objectives of International Ministries' Go Global Strategic Plan
One of the core mission principles emphasized in the Go Global Strategic Plan
is Christ-like ministry, which is described as follows:
We believe that Jesus met human need with a holistic salvation, one that touched all aspects of life. Therefore, our witness to Jesus Christ also integrates verbal proclamation of the gospel with response to human need and care for the creation (p.8, italics mine).
Based on this principle, IM has developed the following vision for Christ-like mission:
Jesus preached the good news of salvation and demonstrated it with actions, and God's work of salvation will ultimately embrace not only persons but creation itself (Romans 8:19-21; Revelation 21:1). International Ministries serves as one of God's agents to make real the redeeming love of Christ in a world of personal sin, social injustice and ecological destruction. International Ministries focuses especially on ministry to and with the poor, seeking together with them the coming fullness of God's Reign (Luke 4:18-19) (p.12, italics mine).
Not surprisingly, one of several strategies that IM has derived from this vision is to:
Promote effective stewardship, economic self-sufficiency and the sustainable use of the earth's resources (p.12, italics mine).
So with these things in mind, I have been giving a lot of thought over the past several months as to what global warming means for me as a missionary. In particular, I have been challenged by two different op-eds (see here
) that have raised serious concerns about the contributions of airline travel to global warming. The first
Carbon emissions from aircraft into the higher atmosphere are thrice as potent as those rising from ground level, (Ian) Jack writes. To slow the coming debacle, "because all we can do now is to modify the severity of the inevitable," he makes a radical proposal that we go virtually nowhere: "We would need to ration the carbon dioxide produced by traveling to an allowance of no more than half a ton a year for every human being alive today." That translates to 2,200 kilometers (1,320 miles) by car a year, with no air travel, or 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) by car a year with a round-trip international flight once every 15 years.
op-ed notes that:
Now two factors are conspiring to make airline travel a hot topic in the global-warming debate: If current trends continue, the number of airline tickets sold per year will double to more than 9 billion by 2025, according to a new study by the Airports Council International. At the same time, experts see no viable jet-fuel alternative to kerosene. While some modest fuel-conservation measures still can be taken, more and more people are concluding that fewer flights may be the only way to cut airline emissions significantly.
Assuming that this data is accurate, the implications for missionaries should be fairly obvious as we are highly dependent on air travel to do our jobs. At minimum, missionary families must fly round-trip internationally about once every five years or so as we rotate back and forth between home assignment and overseas assignment. But for a variety of reasons, these round trips often occur with greater frequency. During deputation, most of us are typically required to fly on a regular basis--sometimes several times per month. And back in our countries of service, many of us routinely host short-term mission teams that, for the most part, rely on air travel to reach us.
So as missionaries who are committed to the Go Global
mandate for creation care and, more specifically, the recommendations of the Evangelical Climate Initiative, what can we do? I would suggest that we follow two basic strategies: First, we should ask members of our support networks to help offset the ecological impact of any travel we are required to do as missionaries. Indeed, we might even suggest that IM require
that we do this as part of the clearance process before approving our work-related travel plans. Likewise, we should encourage short-term mission teams visiting our host countries to do the same. Evangelical author and speaker Shane Claiborne
of the Simple Way
offers some suggestions
as to how this might be done:
Being mindful of the impact that our hyper-mobile pace and fuel use have on Creation, and of the fragility of the current patterns of consumption that have led to wars over natural resources and the degradation of God’s earth, Shane has a commitment to offset the ecological impact of his travel. There are two ways a group hosting Shane to speak can participate: either have a group of folks fast (go without) oil for a day the week Shane visits (a good guideline would be, at least one person go without fuel one day for every 100 miles Shane travels) -- this may mean something as simple as carpooling or biking to work or as imaginative as converting your car to run off used veggie oil (awip.us) –OR- (less exciting) you can add an additional $100 to the honorarium and Shane will donate that to a group dedicated to erasing the footprint his travel has on the environment. For more information on this, check out demotorize.org.
Secondly, we need to work to reduce the level of travel we do as missionaries, period. Amongst other things, that means trying to reduce unnecessary travel between our host countries and the U.S. and Puerto Rico in between home assignments. Likewise, we might suggest that IM consider increasing the average length of an overseas term of service from four years to five, or even six, as a means of reducing the overall amount of international travel that we as missionaries must do. When we are serving on home assignment, we should work hard to schedule the bulk of our deputation assignments in geographically contiguous areas, thus minimizing the necessity for air travel. And when deputation assignments must be done in more geographically distant locales, perhaps we as missionaries should request additional travel time in between speaking engagements so that we can utilize alternative forms of transportation such as buses or trains.
These suggestions, of course, are just a start and I am certain that most missionaries will be creative in thinking of others. At the same time, I expect that there will probably be many objections as well. Indeed, even as I write these words my own inner self is voicing a multitude of excuses as to why I should just forget about all of this and avoid making my life more complicated than it all ready is. But then, I am reminded of the reality of our situation
Just a few decades from now, people may look back at the early 21st century with both fondness and horror as the Era of the Cheap Airline Flight. They may wax nostalgic for the days when visiting distant relatives and taking vacations in exotic locales were easily affordable for the masses. But they also may be alarmed at how long it took the world to realize the havoc that unfettered air travel was wreaking on the world's climate.
Air travel was unheard of back when the modern missions movement began in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Pioneer missionaries such as William and Dorothy Carey and Ann and Adoniram Judson traveled for months by boat in order to reach their countries of service and, in many instances, spent years or decades abroad before returning home if
they ever returned home at all. By the time air travel began to change the face of the modern missions movement in the mid-twentieth century, the earlier generations of missionaries had already succeeded in raising up strong national churches on every inhabited continent of the world. The challenges of global warming and the need to significantly reduce our air travel will undoubtedly change the face of the modern missions movement once again. The question is this: Are we going to fight that change? Or are we going to pioneer new ways to do mission in spite of those changes?
If our history as a mission society is any guide to the future, then my guess is that IM will figure out how to retool our methods so that we can stay on the cutting edge of mission even in the midst of the changes brought about by global warming. But more importantly, I hope that IM would not be alone in its efforts. Following the lead of the Evangelical Climate Initiative, I hope that other missions agencies would give their own use of air travel a long hard look in light of the realities of global warming and that, ultimately, they too would adopt specific policies and strategies on creation care. By the grace of God, may we all find new ways to continue advancing the kingdom for his glory!
Labels: creation care, deputation, short-term missions, travel