Welcome to the June 2016 edition of #UpForJustice – a monthly news and prayer letter from the International Social Justice Commission (ISJC) based in New York City, USA.
We continue using the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework for prayer and reflection. There are 17 goals, which all 193 United Nations (UN) member states endorsed at the UN General Assembly in September 2015. The SDGs will shape the development agendas in all countries until 2030. Read more about the SDGs by visiting www.salvationarmy.org/isjc/SDGs.
This month, Dr James Read, a member of the ISJC staff since 2008, reflects on the ninth SDG – ‘Build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation’
Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
The ninth SDG uses some big words—infrastructure, industrialization and innovation. Behind the big words are big ideas and big ambitions.
While I don’t find any of these big words in the Bible, the ideas behind them certainly are there. Christians are invited to pray for wisdom and courage so that the ambitious ideas are not just the ideas of mankind, but ideas that promote God’s vision of social justice.
It is no mystery why the nations of the world have made industrialisation a goal. Industrialisation has created the unmatched material prosperity that is now experienced by people in the ‘more developed’ world. And until the ‘less developed’ nations experience growth in the industrialisation of their economies, they will lag further and further behind.
On the other hand, industrialisation causes massive changes in work. For example, industrialised agriculture uses machinery for planting, irrigating and harvesting, and in the process forces farm labourers out of work. What are they to do instead? And where will they do it? The ‘darkest England’ in which William Booth ministered was in turmoil because masses of people had moved from the country to the city in search of work. And too often the work they found nourished neither their bodies nor their souls. The leaders of industry became phenomenally wealthy – the workers destitute. When William Blake wrote of England’s ‘dark satanic mills’, he wrote about the impact of industrialisation. What happened in Blake and Booth’s 19th century could happen in our 21st century. We need to pray and work intelligently to see that it doesn’t.
Infrastructure refers to the roads, bridges, railway lines and airports that make the movement of people and goods possible. It refers to the supply of water and electricity and the safe disposal of waste that makes a country liveable. Nowadays it refers also to the ‘information superhighway’ (Internet) and telecommunications systems.
I once heard an inspiring story that linked innovation with infrastructure. In 2001, famine had left Malawian William Kamkwamba’s family eating only one meal a day. Without money for school, William found books on science. The illustration of a windmill intrigued him. The words said that windmills could create electricity and pump water. With fortitude and ingenuity, William scrounged materials from the junkyard – a discarded tractor fan, old bicycle frame, shock absorber, melted plastic piping and a used dynamo. Eventually, his family extended their days with four small lights powered by the windmill-generator his labours had created. Then he built a second windmill that pulled water from a small well near his home to irrigate his family’s farm. As a result, they began growing two crops of maize a year. (Learn more at his TED talk and the ISJC’s resource "Think on These Things".)
The Bible doesn’t talk about the Internet or wind-generated electricity, but it actually speaks about the concept of infrastructure. One of the things that makes the picture we are given of the New Jerusalem a delight is that it is solidly built, well-watered and superbly lit; roads from north, south, east and west point towards it, and people from everywhere can travel them without fear. There is no better portrayal of ‘resilient infrastructure’ than this.
But the Bible also shows us infrastructure being used for unjust purposes. Ephesians chapter 2 describes how Christ came to tear down and destroy the walls of hostility that had been erected for the purpose of keeping people apart. This reminds us that resilient infrastructures – such as iron curtains, bamboo curtains and razor-wired borders – are not necessarily good or just or in keeping with God’s vision.
When the apostle Paul described Jesus Christ as the ‘cornerstone’, he used material infrastructure as an analogy for spiritual infrastructure. But when the Book of Nehemiah describes the rebuilding of Jerusalem, it uses the language of infrastructure straightforwardly. It’s an informative story of repairing walls and buildings and securing points of border-crossing after Jerusalem’s fall to the Babylonians. One thing that makes it informative is the various ways in which it reminds us that being a ‘Restorer of Streets’ (Isaiah 58:12) matters materially and spiritually. The two are connected. The material conditions of human life impact the spiritual conditions; and the spiritual health of a people impacts its infrastructure.
The interplay is not simple or always the same, but it is real. God has made people to be embodied souls and ensouled bodies. As we pray about SDG 9, and about resilient infrastructure, industrialisation and innovation, we need to pray that the economic and political leaders of the world will realise the connection.
‘In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’
As we reflect on the challenge of SDG 9, let us pray:
- In reverence and thanksgiving to God, the Creator, Preserver and Governor of all things. ‘For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything’ (Hebrews 3:4).
- For all those who are engaged in the work of rebuilding what has been destroyed by war and animosity, thereby making it harder for people to experience the good things of life. ‘They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. Strangers will shepherd your flocks; foreigners will work your fields and vineyards. And you will be called priests of the Lord, you will be named ministers of our God. You will feed on the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast’ (Isaiah 61:4-6).
- For the persistent resolve of national leaders who have pledged to pursue SDG 9. They have acknowledged that ‘Sustained investment in infrastructure and innovation are crucial drivers of economic growth and development. With over half the world population now living in cities, mass transport and renewable energy are becoming ever more important, as are the growth of new industries and information and communication technologies.’ (source)
- For Captain Kathy Crombie who has recently moved from the ISJC to help rebuild the infrastructure in Nepal after the earthquakes last year. For her safety and for the Spirit to guide her as she leads The Salvation Army teams in that area.
- For Robert Docter, an intern at the ISJC who has now finished his placement and is building resilience into Californian youth as part of the programme leadership team at Camp Mount Crags and Gilmore. For grace over his transition and blessings over his future plans.
- For the process of recruiting a new ISJC senior research analyst. That we may make a wise decision in who to employ and that they may find a home in the team.
- For Commissioner Christine MacMillan, the first director of the ISJC, who is suffering from poor health. May the Lord’s healing hand rest on her.