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Community Forum: In praise of those meddling missionaries
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A letter writer recently characterized evangelicals as "those meddlers who send missionaries here and yon to disrupt other people's lives, scare their children with visions of hell and generally mess with people unlike them."

My experience differs greatly. In fact, this letter is in praise of so-called "meddlers." First, all Christians are "evangelical" in the most basic sense of the word; second, missionaries -- Christians of all stripes, including evangelicals in the sense political commentators mean -- are relieving human suffering around the world, offering people opportunities for a better life.

I know missionaries working around the world and many who travel with them or support their efforts financially. A number live in Gainesville and Hall County. In fact a group of medical people representing several congregations in Gainesville returned from the Dominican Republic last Saturday, including some of the city's leading physicians.

These missionaries, and those who help them, have immunized children along the San Kuru River in the Congo and other major rivers. They treat river blindness, leprosy and TB. They teach the basics of health care. And yes, they distribute Bibles and preach the good news of God's redemptive love and grace.

Other missionaries and missions I know have, during the past three decades, built schools to serve the poor in rural Haiti. Frances Landers of El Dorado, Ark., still active at 91, has built 40 elementary schools, 10 high schools and a vocational school. She also built a church beside each school. She is educating 14,000 of the poorest children in Haiti. First Presbyterian Church in Gainesville built one of those schools and we are paying for the education of 400 children who attend.

We at First Presbyterian aid and abet such "meddling" every year. A focus of our efforts is our World Mission Conference, held this weekend. The conference raises money to support efforts I've alluded to. This year, we seek $90,000 to equip a medical school in the Congo Protestant University, assist medical missions with River of The World, educate children in Haiti, and yes, take the good news of God's love to remote villages.

The writer who spoke of "meddlers" admitted that, yes, "school and clinics sometimes get built, but always as an afterthought to preaching.

Two points: First, the suffering that is relieved, the reading and writing taught and the health care delivered might be the most important thing that happens to improve the health and material condition of many individuals. Such efforts might easily be dismissed by a cynic with a full stomach living in a comfortable home, with excellent health care and education and no fear of violence from rebels soldiers.

It is not so easily dismissed by one who has looked into the eyes of those suffering hunger and disease, or who has seen the joy of a child reading, or walking for the first time because of surgery to correct a birth defect.

Second, the love shown in providing these services is itself a "preaching," an expression of the Word and love of Jesus Christ through action. People "hear" this preaching of love just as they hear the spoken word of a sermon.

Unlike what the writer suggested, schools and clinics are not an afterthought. Action prompted by love flows naturally from preaching the word. They go together, intertwined as tightly as the two strands of the DNA helix. The cross has both a vertical and a horizontal. The upright (preaching) supports the horizontal (social service), both are essential parts of the Christian mission.

Thank God these "meddlers" are willing to serve others.

Dr. Matt McGowan
First Presbyterian Church, Gainesville

Negative attitudes impede our progress
I read the papers and wonder why we have the attitude that we do! Where did we go wrong? Negativism is so rampant in our society, it is a wonder we want to get out of bed in the morning. If you do something, count on criticism. If you don't do something, count on criticism. Nothing is half full, everything is half empty.

Now if you combine this attitude with the political toy of polarization, you have a formula for self-destruction. We as voters, need to get rid of the doom-and-gloomers and substitute a positive, can-do philosophy.

There is no one plan that can or will make everyone happy. But we try to get there by playing one against the other. At jeopardy with a give-give attitude is incentive. Give too much and you destroy the incentive to work. That is a worry because self-preservation is one of the basic drives of man.

Then if you take away too much, you destroy the incentive to earn. Why should I continue to earn when it is going to someone else? And, even if I did, the money won't go to someone on a dollar for dollar basis. That dollar will be whittled down by the bureaucratic system.

Back to the original thought, negativism. From a recent paper, "Lanier's 8-inch rise is useless" you can't overcome a deficit until you take the first step. The real headline should be "Lanier's 8-inch gain is not the answer," it is only the first step.

Now where? The answer is a mutual program. Planning by the government and sacrifice by the users. It starts with the government! Just like budgets, you shouldn't spend what you don't have. Constant building and expansion must be studied and based on raw material. You must control what you can control or the part you can't control will eat you up. Plan for the worst-case scenario and let the surprises be pleasant ones, not the likes of draught and rationing.

Anyone can be a hero by bringing in dollars and jobs, but with each of those wants there is something to be paid downstream. And we don't look enough downstream.

Another note from the papers in the same edition was a discussion about doing away with the death penalty. The second article said we don't have enough money to properly care for the incarcerated. That sort of tells me we have a problem downstream.

OK, legislature, get busy. What do you want? Watch negativism chew this one up.

George Koesters

Empty flagpoles at GHS are a sad sight to see
Driving on Pearl Nix the other day a weird feeling of sorrow and shame came over me as I was passing the naked flagpoles at Gainesville High School. These poles with flags once were outstanding. The shafts now bore nondescript limp red rags. Even the wind wasn't interested in them and they hung limp.
I felt the pole unit was expressing distress and embarrassment over being forced to this lowly condition.

Gone is their showing of America as a strong proud nation without fear, wanting to live in peace with others. Proud of the American heritage of weaving cultures from all over the world into the national fabric of our country, the American flag is still beautiful on its high pole, but not as outstanding as it did when the other flags were beneath it and emphasized its majesty.

I don't know the story of what caused the international flags to be removed, but I'm sure the person or group that caused its removal didn't consider the significance of the message created by removing them in this land of the free.

Perhaps we should ask the students. They can be trusted to give an intelligent response of whether the flags should be put back and why or why not.

Lee S. Bowers