Math and Mission

Any gift we’re given is meant to be of service — to be a blessing to the masses, and to ultimately to meet needs of others and not simply their wants and expectations.

~ Josh Garrels, on why he has given away so much of his music for free

As I’ve mentioned here before, I am a big fan of Josh Garrels. I spent four years in seminary and I don’t think I can teach theology as well as he does – and he does it through music. I was reading a recent interview with him and came across the quote above. “Any gift we are given is meant to be of service.” It is one thing to say this, it is another thing to live it out, and if you do any research on Josh Garrels you’ll find that he truly tries to embody this statement.

It is my hope that we will come to see the community of mathematics educators (and really all educators in general) commit themselves to this mantra: the gift of mathematics is meant to be of service. When I say “gift of mathematics” I’m not referring to just those people who have a natural inclination toward the subject. When I say “gift of mathematics” I simply mean the capacity to do mathematics and to think mathematically and this is gift that God instills into EVERY human being.

Over the past month or so I’ve hear several talks by people who truly understand that the church’s job is not retreat from culture but to engage it, and to engage it in a way that is distinctly Christian. Redemption doesn’t just happen at the individual spiritual level, it happens at a broader cultural level. The church’s job is to go out and get its hands dirty doing the work of service, and we accomplish this through the gifts that God has blessed us with.

One of the talks I heard was by Brian Thomas, an engineering professor at Baylor and faculty sponsor of Engineers with a Mission. His interests include developing simple, low cost, technologically appropriate ways to provide light and electricity to the poor of the majority world. He gave an excellent message on how engineering (which he defined as using math and science to solve problems for people) can be used as a missional gift and is an invaluable skill for doing ministry in the service of God and others. He has graciously allowed me to post the slides of his presentation below (all photos are copyrighted by Brian Thomas).

The second talk I heard was by Steve Vinton of Village Schools International. The purpose of Village Schools International is to “send missionary teachers to small villages in Africa to get involved in the lives of their students, that sharing the Gospel is the natural result of loving them.” While this is not a math-specific ministry, it does view education (of which mathematics is a large part) as a basic human need that the church can aid in meeting. I encourage you to follow the link above to read more about Village Schools International and to keep this ministry in your prayers. Specifically you can be praying for more workers, more open doors, and discernment for their leaders.

My goal as a math teacher is to instill within my students this same appreciation for how the gift of education (and mathematics more specifically) is not just for their own betterment in life, but it should be used in service of others. I’ve posted before on service-learning projects that I’ve implemented and when this semester comes to a close I’ll update you on the projects students completed this year (including my geometry class designing housing for a homeless ministry called Mobile Loaves and Fishes). I’ll also be serving on a panel for service-learning in mathematics at the ACMS conference this June and this summer I will completing an independent study collecting and analyzing the research that is out there on the benefits of incorporating service into the mathematics classroom. So look for updates in the coming months on practical ways to cultivate a desire within students to use their gifts (be it in math or any other subject) to “be a blessing to the masses.”

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