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Is having a lot of ‘stuff’ better than having very little?

Editor’s Note: This is the first of six stories to run on the Faith page from the “Faith, Spirituality and Environmental Stewardship” conference held recently at Catawba College.
By Kathy Chaffin
kchaffin@salisburypost.com
As a lay missionary in Peru, Gary Gardner said his assignment was to learn about Christ through the eyes of the poor.
It would have a profound effect on his life.
Gardner ó one of the keynote speakers at the “Faith, Spirituality and Environmental Stewardship” conference held May 29-31 at Catawba College ó recalled watching the Peruvian women washing clothes by hand.
“It was really, really hard work,” he said. “Day after day, they would scrub and scrub.”
Inspired to help make their lives easier, Gardner set out to build a pedal-powered washing machine for his host family.
“They were intrigued by it,” he recalled at one of the conference workshops sponsored by the Center for the Environment. “They thought, ‘What is the gringo up to now?’ ”
When he had finished with the washing machine, Gardner said, “They used it once.”
At first, he didn’t understand why they wouldn’t use it again, but found out later it was because the washing machine required soap. “And it just wasn’t affordable for them to do that,” he said.
One of about 60 people at the workshop, many of them from area churches, commented, “We have a lot of stuff, but is it better?”
A woman from a church which sponsors missionary trips to Cambodia had similar thoughts. Members of the church women’s group realized at one point, she said, that the paper and plastics they were taking with them for Bible school craft projects with the children were just polluting the land.
Gardner ó the senior researcher at Worldwatch Institute, a leading source on interactions among key environmental, social and economic trends ó said he wanted to use the 75 minutes allotted for the workshop as a brainstorming session on the topic: “What Churches Can Do to Make a Difference Globally.”
The Internet is a powerful tool, he said, with such features as the YouTube Web site and the MySpace and Facebook social networking sites. Gardner said these were extremely effective in raising money for the Barack Obama campaign, much of it from small donations generated by online supporter groups.
“Wow, this is a new world,” he said. “This is really powerful. How can we use these kinds of tools …?”
Videos promoting environmental causes are among the offerings on YouTube. One man at the workshop encouraged others to watch Annie Leonard’s “The Story of Stuff,” which examines America’s consumer-driven culture.
Another workshop participant mentioned the Earth Cinema Circle, a DVD club dedicated to increasing social and environmental awareness through entertaining films.
Gardner, the author of “Inspiring Progress: Religions’ Contributions to Sustainable Development,” said some churches have purchased computers for mission congregations in Third World countries so members can communicate with each other via e-mail and/or Skype.
One woman said this is not possible in areas with limited electricity. “They do good to just have a light in the middle of the room,” she said.
Gardner said solar-powered computers are now available and are being used in church mission projects.
Another workshop participant told about a group of Third World children that gave concerts in nine cities along the East Coast. Members of the group used only primitive instruments, and yet “they just blew everybody away,” she said. “That was an amazing lesson in itself.”
Gardner quoted an environmentalist who said that people will not fight to save what they don’t love, and that in order for them to love the earth, they have to know it.
Church-sponsored field trips is one way to reintroduce children to the great outdoors, one participant said.
Gardening projects can also help connect children with the earth and its resources, she said.

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