ED. NOTE: I met Neil through the Marketing Scavenger Hunt hosted by Firepole Marketing. Incidentally you can learn about your personality from their latest post (click here). Anyway, back to Neil. first a bio (in italics) then the piece.
A graduate in languages from Bradford University, Neil Rees came to Christ whilst living in Paris, then worked as a teacher in Bradford before joining World Horizons in 1984. Most of his ministry life was spent in Spain (1985-2012), being involved in evangelism and church-planting, establishing the WH training base in Spain, and overseeing the development of World Horizons teams in Spain, Portugal and, for a few years, North Africa. He now lives in the UK, where he leads CLM church, Ormskirk. Married to Lynn, they have two children aged 18 and 16.
Receiving and training Latin American missionaries in Spain led to a growing involvement in Latin America, particularly in the area of training. Neil’s teaching focuses largely on biblical interpretation, team work, cultural adaptation and language learning, and he is a regular speaker at missions congresses. With an M.A. in international development, Neil’s first book “Not Everything in Our Bibles Is Inspired by God” was published in 2007.
Neil Rees was World Horizons International Director from January 2004 until 2012. His role involved him with World Horizons teams across the world, as well as new and growing churches and mission movements, and unreached peoples. He has a particular interest in the training of new missionaries, in which he is actively involved, and the adequate preparation of new cross-cultural workers from the nations of “southern Christianity”.
It all started with 9-11 when fundamentalist Islamic terrorism reached deep into the heart of the West. Spain also saw its on dose of terror with the 3-11 March trains attacks in Madrid, as did Britain with the 7-7 bombings in London. (A word of clarification is in order here. Both Britian and Spain had experienced their own versions of terrorism at the hands of the IRA and ETA, but here we are talking about Islamic terrorism. Although it causes just the same suffering, it seems that home-grown terror somehow is less of a menace. As they say, better the devil you know…)
With the end of the Cold War many saw a new era of global peace descending on us, ushering in an up until now unknown level of colaboration between the nations of the world. Even retired hippies began to think that that just maybe their collective meditation for world peace in the Age of Aquarius was beginning to bear fruit. But it didn’t last. As the reknowned late political scientist Samuel P. Huntington pointed out, the world was leaving one particular species of global polarization to enter another. In other words, out of the frying pan into the fire.
And how has the West responded to these violent Islamist revindications? Well, essentially by showing complete bafflement and demonstrating how very, very little we understand an Islamic mentality. It’s not that the Taliban regime in Afghanistan did not need stopping, or that we should not try to prevent nuclear warheads falling into the hands of a few madmen. That’s not the point. But a response to terror cannot be based on absurdity.
The Taliban, for example, are not extraterrestrials. They didn’t arrive in an “Independence Day” style invasion; they came to power with the support of the United States. Many of the training centres for guerrilla warfare and suicide bomb attacks in the mountains of Afghanistan were financed by Washington to strengthen local resistance to the Russian occupation of the 1980s. First we pay Bin Laden to get rid of the Russians, and then… well, you know the rest of the story.
And what about Irak? We return in 2003 to complete what had been left half-finished in 1991, that is, get rid of Saddam Hussein. And here we run into more absurdity. And I am not referring to the sudden disappearance of those famous weapons of mass destruction, the immediate motive for the “Allied” occupation of Irak. We need to go back a few more years. Irak is a country which was only able to exist by the will of a dictatorship which maintained opposite and irreconcilable factions together. As a nation-state, it was born of the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and the resulting British protectorate which had the brilliant idea of uniting Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis in a new country. Years later Bush’s and Blair’s troops had little alternative but to return, trying to keep this artificial country together at all costs.
But at least the people have been freed from a terrible dictatorship and have been brought into the democratic fold, or almost. More absurdity. Without going that far from Irak, Saudi Arabia doesn’t exactly have an exemplary democracy, but no one speaks about a coalition to overthrow the royal family, or at least, not when anyone else is listening. Maybe the West is not actually that concerned about dictatorships after all. And anyway, why do we suppose that democracy is the only legitimate form of government, with a divine seal of approval? It doesn’t crop up very often in Jesus’ teaching. We are also not paragons of democratic virtue here in the West. Did you know that it was only in 1971 that women only obtained the vote in Switzerland? And the canton of Apenzell refused women the right to vote until 1991, giving way only under pressure from central government. Maybe they were beginning to get worried that troops returning from the first Gulf war might call in on their way home…
It’s true, terrorism affects many lives, but the war on terror even more. We certainly feel it deeply when “our people” lose their lives through terrorist action. But those who die in the mountains of Afghanistan, well, they just don’t affect us in the same way. We know that God has no favourites, but it certainly seems that the life of a Westerner is worth more than one “of them”.
And here we run into more absurdity. On 9-11 four commercial planes were crashed into carefully chosen targets causing a total of 2.996 deaths. Terrible, and in no way do I underestimate this. But in the United States more than one hundred thousand people die each year due to mistakes in drugs prescribed by their doctors, not to mention some 45,000 in road accidents. Life must be kept in perspective.
On average, some two thousand people lose their lives across the world each year as a result of terrorist action in all its forms. These are not statistics, they are two thousand people, precious in the eyes of their Creator. But 25,000, mostly children, die each day – yes, you read that correctly, each day – as a result of not having access to a source of clean water. 24,000 die of hunger, and another 2,000 of malaria. Each and every day. 15 million people each year, dying of preventible causes. And it doesn’t really seem to matter that much to us.
Let’s talk money too. War on terror doesn’t come cheap. In 2011 the United States spent $159 billion (that’s billion with “B”) on the war in Irak and Afghanistan alone, a large slice of the $718 billion spent on “defence and international security assistance”1. All that could be done with that money… Three years’ worth of Afghan / Irak war expenses would cover the cost of primary education, clean water, sanitation, basic health care and adequate nutrition for the poorest of the poor across the whole world.
How should our governments’ priorities be determined? Of course, measures need to be taken against international terrorism, a plague that seems to be destined to accompany us through the first half of this century at the very least. But it cannot become the “one and only” priority of Western civilizations. God gives in abundance for us to share with those who are less fortunate and the West cannot shirk its responsibility to use its wealth and technological advances to bring welfare to a world in need. To refuse to do this denies one of the most basic principles of the gospel: we are blessed to be a blessing. In the light of God’s extravagant love for us, any other response is, quite simply, absurd.
Neil’s blog can be found at eatingwithsinners.wordpress.