Sunday, July 01, 2007

Miracles and Missions

Last Tuesday morning I went with my family to the groundbreaking for the new "community center" at the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). I've mentioned DJJ on here before; my dad is heavily involved with volunteer efforts out there, and apparently he was building coordinator for this multi-million entirely-donated dollar effort. The idea behind the community center is that, compared to once they re-enter the real world, it's relatively easy to get an incarcerated kid back on track while they are still behind bars. But in the real world, normal high schools—let alone colleges—don't want these kids in their halls. It's harder to get a job, to become a fully functioning member of society... and so they slip back into old habits. If I understand it correctly, the idea behind the community center, which is being built for cost on the DJJ campus, is to serve as a place where kids can become more integrated into the community before their release date. I can't keep track of how many years have been spent on this project to get it this far, and I have only the vaguest sense of how much effort and work it has taken. As such, I was completely taken aback when speaker after speaker at the little ceremony talked about how this is "a miracle from God." Seriously? It's one thing if you don't give yourself any credit for all of your hard work, but what about your coworkers and those who have donated money? Wouldn't a true miracle have been having this building just show up five years ago so that it could have benefited all the kids who have gone through DJJ during that time? I understand that these people think that God works miracles through people—I don't understand why they think this, but I understand that they do—but wouldn't it be a more positive message to send to people trying to put their lives back together before they've barely started that if you work really hard for something you can achieve it, rather than saying if you work really hard for something, that's nice and all, but it's not your accomplishment in any case?

So then Tuesday afternoon, the girl I was best friends with growing up got into town, and I got to hang out with her for the rest of the day. (Our parents lived two houses apart since I was five.) In July, she's off to Nicaragua for three years to teach at a school for children of missionaries. She'll be making barely enough to live off of, and since the school doesn't have a large influx of money (the kids have to pay tuition, but you can imagine how much spare money missionaries have in the first place), they want for the teachers to donate a good chunk of their salary back to the school. The solution? "Stateside" support, i.e., have your church, friends, and family back home "donate" money for you to live off of for three years. While I am worried about some aspects of this venture, I do think it will be a good experience for her, especially since she wants travel and adventure and has been trying to get a job teaching elementary school for the last year and a half. But this whole thing has gotten me thinking a lot about mission work; Nicaragua is an officially Roman Catholic country, but more and more people are becoming protestant. Why a christian country needs missionaries is a little bit beyond me, but over lunch on Tuesday, my uncle was explaining to me how his kids have been involved in mission projects in Mexico. These projects are to build a house for a family in a short time frame, free of cost. In the meantime, the kids get to learn about poverty, form a bond amongst themselves, and learn the personal benefit of helping others—all good things independent of any religious motivation. (Again, Mexico is extremely Catholic ... why would they need evangelizing to?) It seems that Chad over at Uncertain Principles has been thinking along these same lines this past week (see here and here, and be sure to read the comments): are there any atheist/non-religious charity organizations that provide both this kind of charitable work and such an enriching experience for the people involved? Values and religion are not the same thing, of course, and it is important for children—regardless of the religion or lack thereof of their parents—to learn values (whatever that might mean) and the importance of hard work and the power of people in action instead of praying that some god is going to miraculously fix the world in his own sweet time.