I will never forget her face. En route to the Manila airport, from a billboard high in the smog-bloated sky, a Filipina squinted down at me. Deep lines etched her dry, sun-weathered face. She stood in front of the lush Banaue Rice Terraces that Philippine Islanders call the Eighth Wonder of the World. The billboard’s caption read something like, “The average age of the Filipino farmer is 57. In 10 years, who will farm the land?”
Reading the inflight magazine aboard the plane, my eyes fell upon yet another picture of the Banaue Rice Terraces in the Ifugao Mountains. This caption read, “While rice and vegetables are still planted there [like they have been for 2,000 years], the growing disinterest among young Ifugaos means the terrace steppes are facing increasing neglect, leading to its gradual erosion” (Hemispheres). In my heart the question stirred, “In 10 years, who will farm the land?”
Do today’s apostolic youths mirror the attitude of young Ifugaos? In our forties, when we began our overseas service, my husband and I were the youngest appointed missionaries in the Pacific Region. Fast-forward fifteen years. The Lee Sherrys, Richard Carvers, Chester Terrys, Bennie Blunts, John Cogans, Rodger Whites and David Brotts have retired from their work in the fields of Australia, Fiji, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu. Who will fill the voids left by at least seven retired missionary units?
The Pacific Region-appointed career missionaries currently on the field are on average in their mid-50s as well. Indeed, “In 10 years, who will farm the land?” Following their first deputations, the Jonathan Parkers will replace the John Cogans in the South Philippines, and Brandon Borders will take up the torch for New Zealand that his paternal grandfather, veteran missionary Floyd Borders, carried two generations ago. Two couples in their late-twenties willingly declared like the prophet Isaiah, “Here am I; send me” (Isaiah 6:8). Others are stepping forward going on AIM and making application for missionary appointment. The future is bright.
What, then, of a “disinterested young” generation? The ideal scenario portrays an older farmer teaching a younger farmer, an aged missionary training a new missionary, side by side, asking and answering questions, explaining how-to, when, where and why. Jesus said in Luke 10:2, “…The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest.” In 10 years, who will farm the land?
Challenging, sober thought.