Things I Learned: March 5, 2020

1. “Why Afghanistan became an invisible war” is a fascinating look at factors that caused the war to be “out of sight and out of mind”: (1) fewer soldiers = fewer veterans (living veterans are a potent lobbying force); (2) minimizing deaths has been great for soldiers and their families—but ironically means there are fewer traumatic stories weighing on people’s minds; (3) less money being spent on the war. All of this contributes to fewer headlines in the national press. This is instructive for missions because it tells us a little about why the unreached are likewise “out of sight and mind.” (1) no/few missionaries amongst the unreached means no one to tell their stories. (2) there are few deaths/martyrs today (think of the rallying cry of “He is no fool…”)—and the deaths/martyrs today are treated very differently (think of the reaction to Chau’s martyrdom). (3) Little money is being spent on the unreached, and its difficult to make it into a “career.”

2. … we often turn to stories about missionaries (e.g. #1 above) because stories about the plight of other people and peoples don’t tend to move us to care—as this testimony so passionately shows. Missionary bios move us to care; people group profiles, not so much. (Or, people group profiles move fewer people, and those people tend to be missionaries?)

3. “Behind the steep decline in church attendance among women”: I’m still digesting this piece by Ryan Burge. It concerns me: there are far more single women than single men who apply to mission agencies—and I think that is driven in large part by the fact that in any given church, there are more single women than single men. (As an aside, Rodney Stark produces evidence in some of his works that single women are the biggest factor drawing single men to church, in the long run.) I think this decline needs significant consideration.

4. “Why the coronavirus death rate is plunging in China” is a hopeful look at the long arc. It reminds me that an initially “bad” view of something can inspire change which prevents the long-term “bad” view from happening. I don’t really understand why American culture seems to love apocalypse and disaster, but we have this tendency to spin the worst scenario and then be disappointed when it doesn’t happen—but fortunately spinning the worst tends to inspire people to act against it.

5. Something we talked about in church this last Sunday: Revelation 7:9 suggests we will retain our ethnicity in heaven. (Some on Twitter have pushed back against that, but it seems a realistic possibility/expectation to me.) I’ve often thought people who learn second and third languages will be in a better position in eternity (at least at the start) than I will be. I also thought it’s unrealistic to expect to walk up to Moses or Noah and ask them questions—they’re not likely to speak English. (Well, maybe they will, if they’ve learned it in the intervening period from the people who have gone before me.)

6. The crux of the coronavirus problem:

In countries where hospital beds are insufficient, a significant problem is faced. It is made worse when those countries don’t acknowledge the breadth of the health challenge or monitor the spread of the virus.

7. “Witnessing the hell that a migrant can face” surveys the path from Ethiopia, through Djibouti and Yemen, to Saudi Arabia. Despite the terrible journey, “every day 2,000 people gather along the waters of the Gulf of Aden looking for boats to carry them to Yemen.” Unfortunately, I am again reminded that this sort of story rarely seems to moves people. “We weep over a single dying beast, but whistle past a slaughterhouse,” wrote Calvin Miller. (In fact, these sorts of stories are often Rorshach tests for whether a person would be pre-disposed to mission or not.)

8. “The Plague Year” in the Atlantic: we can and must face a virus with science and rationality, but in order to engage with people affected by the virus, we must grapple with our and their emotions, particularly fear. A lot of reactions to the virus are driven by fear, hysteria, uncertainty, etc.

9. “The world’s refugee system is broken.”: “The leaders who created international refugee policy never envisioned people like Rose, a middle-class 39-year-old woman desperate for safety from a conflict the rest of the world isn’t paying attention to. Violent flash points rooted in all kinds of new phenomena—police corruption, climate change, gang warfare—now dot the Earth, creating the conditions for the worst protracted migration crisis since World War II. The pull to more stable corners of the planet is more potent now, too, given social-media postings from cousins and friends abroad who amplify (and often inflate) newfound opportunity. And given relatively affordable airline travel, plus the ubiquity of smartphones—which ease language, navigation, and homesickness challenges—moving is logistically easier now. This has all turned Japan into an unlikely destination for asylum seekers.”