If we lose the ship? (Part 1)

My recent experience of presenting the Our Father’s World seminar material in Manila, Philippines, triggered the following thoughts…

There is a story – a parable, really – that I use at the end of my Our Father’s World seminar presentations.  It goes something like this:

Let’s pretend that we’re on a refugee ship of some kind.  We’re part of a Christian ministry, and we’re taking a ship load of refugees to a new land, where they can start their lives over again.  The ship is crowded, and we have a lot of work to do to care for the passengers and to keep things running smoothly during the three week voyage.

We have organized ourselves in to work-teams:  Food service, sanitation, medical, children, and so on.  And to we are in the habit of holding a meeting every morning in the Captain’s conference room to coordinate activities and to minimize confusion.  These meetings are usually pretty routine (Sanitation: “We have two bathrooms out of order today, so please let people know…”; Medical: “Vaccination of under-5’s this afternoon on Deck B…”) but one day we have a new person in the circle.

The Captain introduces him:  “This is Mr. Smith, our ship’s engineer.  He has something that you will all need to listen to.”  And Mr. Smith makes his announcement: “We started to take on water during the night.  As of now, we do not know what is causing the leak, but we do know that it is bad enough that if we can’t get it fixed, we will not make it to port.”

Remember – I’m telling this story to a live seminar audience.  I usually stop at this point and say something like this:  “Okay, let’s hit the pause button.  How does Mr. Smith’s announcement change the conversation around the table?”

The answer that is expected is this:  It changes nothing, but it changes everything.  All of the normal activities of the work-teams have to go on.  People still need to eat.  Bathrooms still need to be cleaned and repaired.  Sick people need to be cared for.  But there is now a bigger, overriding concern – the ship is in danger of sinking.  If the leak isn’t found and fixed, nothing else will matter.

This is obviously a parable:  The ship represents the church, or a church.  The work teams represent all of the many different kinds of ministries that churches participate in, from soup kitchens to prison ministry to youth programming.  And the leak in the ship represents the environmental crisis.

The point of the parable (in case you haven’t got it yet) is really quite simple:  Creation care is different from every other ministry a church (your church) might be involved in, because when the environment is destroyed, other ministries cease.  If we lose the ship, nothing else will matter.

Hurricane damage in Haiti
Hurricane damage in Haiti

Case in point:  Haiti.  Most of Haiti’s problems, and they are many, arise from an environment that has been damaged beyond the point of recovery.  Population growth has led to massive deforestation, agricultural decline, incredible poverty, relocation from rural areas to the city, and political unrest and general violence.  Haiti used to be a common destination for summer ministry teams from the US.  Not so much anymore – it’s too dangerous.  ‘Normal ministry’ has had to be suspended because the environment has been destroyed.  If we lose the ship, nothing else matters.

That is how I usually tell this story, and how the talk usually ends.  However, it occurred to me recently that it is possible to imagine another response to Mr. Smith’s report of a leak in the ship.  And that is the subject of our next post.  Stay tuned.

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