Shaunti Feldhahn is the founder and president of the Joseph Project 2000, a Christian nonprofit organization urging preparedness for the Year 2000 computer problem by churches, businesses, charities, and communities. She holds a Master of Public Policy degree, with a concentration in business, from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School. Prior to founding the Joseph Project 2000, she was a financial analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and founding director of the Pacific Institute for Business Management. Shaunti is the author of the book Y2K: The Millennium Bug – A Balanced Christian Response, scheduled for release this month.
SBC LIFE Describe the goals of the book as you envision them.
Shaunti I have three goals for the book. The first is to generate awareness and preparedness in the Christian community for the Year 2000 problem. The second is to call Christians to active leadership and service on this issue, much like the example of Joseph in Egypt. When Joseph was warned about the coming famine, he prepared for it by storing the supplies that would be threatened by the famine. As a result, when the famine hit, he was able not only to save his adopted country, Egypt, but all the surrounding countries as well. That is a wonderful model for how we as Christians might impact our communities during a time of potential turmoil.
The third goal is to call for reflection on the meaning and message of this event in history. It may be that God has a message for us and is issuing a call for repentance. We have become so accustomed to our modern conveniences, our technology, our good economy, our self-sufficiency. These are all great things, but it becomes a problem when we begin to trust in them functionally, day to day, rather than on God. And, as we all know, God is a jealous God. If people have begun putting their trust in a false god, perhaps the best way for God to get our attention is to bring those false gods down. So we need to consider whether this event in history actually has a message for us greater than just a few inconveniences or a potential need to prepare for some technological glitches – whether the Lord is actually bringing this about.
SBC LIFE I'd like to probe one of those goals a little more. What do you think the average Christian can do to assist in the preparedness efforts?
Shaunti There are things that we as individuals and as communities can do to help fix the problem, things like just becoming involved. For example, you may not be able to impact the course of the major regional hospital in your area, but maybe you can help a local community nursing home that has never heard of Y2K. If your elderly mother or father is in a nursing home, it's a good idea to talk to the management of the nursing home. Take articles on the subject to them. There's plenty of information on the Internet explaining how small businesses and medium size businesses can address this issue. Christians should be the first to partner with community institutions. We can actually help fix the problem, just by increasing awareness.
As to individual preparedness – what we can do in our own families – there are two kinds of preparation: spiritual preparedness and physical preparedness. On a spiritual level I think it is really important for us realize this is not a surprise to God. As Ronald Blue said when I interviewed him, "He's not wringing His hands and wondering how Y2K is going to turn out, and how His people are going to handle it." We need to be spiritually prepared by turning our trust back to Him, not panicking, not being fearful, trusting that He'll help us, and depositing our first love back in Him. The most important thing by far is that our relationship with the Lord is right.
As far as physical preparedness, we can do several things. Individually, there are very important things that we should all do. Perhaps we should follow Joseph's example and store up anything that might be threatened by a potential Y2K famine. All the Y2K experts agree that it is necessary to store food, drinking water, and such. What happens if the power goes out? What happens if some of the utilities don't work, or if your telephone service is disrupted? What happens if you're unable to get gasoline for your car out of the pumps for a few days or a few weeks? We need to think through all of our vulnerabilities as a household and identify the things we depend on, those things we need in order to operate normally, and make preparations accordingly.
It sounds very strange to some people. We really need to get back to the thought that biblically we're supposed to be ready for anything. In the last ten or twenty years we've lost that focus, but there are people all over the world who do this just as a matter of course. If you live in the northwest and don't have a couple of weeks supply of food, people consider you foolish because you could get socked-in by a blizzard very easily. It's much the same thing.
The problem in this case is that no one knows how long these disruptions are going to last. They could be a matter of days, or weeks, or months. Some people even say a year or more. Now I don't know – nobody knows. Only God knows exactly what the outcome of this is going to be. But prudently, it's better to prepare for worse rather than assume it will be better. So those are some steps that individuals can take to prepare.
Incidentally, an analogy I use in the book is that statistically the probability of disruptions in water supply and telephone service is far greater than the things we normally buy insurance for. We don't think anything about insuring our car or our house or our health. This is simply something else that we should insure against, and the probability of this is much higher, and we know exactly when it's going to happen.
SBC LIFE What is the Christian dimension of this issue?
Shaunti We are told in the Bible that we are His ambassadors to this world until He returns. And as such, we should be care-takers, under-shepherds. We are supposed to look out for His sheep. He said feed His sheep, to tend His lambs.
It is easy to think of Y2K as purely a technical issue, but it's not. It's really a resource issue because we don't have enough time to resolve it. With all the resources we have at our disposal right now, we just don't have enough time or enough computer programmers. Because of the resource issue, it is a policy issue. Therefore, because it affects people's lives, it is a Christian issue. We just cannot stand back and wait for "those" guys to solve it, to wait for Bill Gates to solve it. They're not going to solve it. It is too big. There will be disruptions.
Now, nobody knows exactly how big those disruptions are going to be. I'm not an alarmist or a doomsayer, because I think that God has His hand on this country and He's going to be doing what He wants to do through this event in history. We need to be watching where He's working so we can join Him, rather than being taken by surprise.
The analogy of a natural disaster demonstrates this as a Christian issue. All the Y2K experts agree, even the optimists, that Y2K will cause disruptions similar to what happens when a natural disaster occurs. What happens when a tornado strikes your town? The first people into the stricken areas are usually the Red Cross and the churches. Churches come in with blankets, food, water, and a shoulder to cry on. Months later they're still helping victims, filling out insurance papers and such. That is something that we do as Christians in response to crisis.
But the churches are relatively unaware of the potential problems of Y2K. Therefore, they're not preparing and so in this analogy they would be at risk of being destroyed by the tornado. Also, in this case it's not just one city that is struck, it's every city around the world at the same time, so other churches won't be able to send help.
One of my main concerns is that so many pastors think this is just a simple problem, a computer issue. That's not the case. It's a bigger problem than that and churches need to prepare for it.
SBC LIFE How does your approach differ from that of the survivalists?
Shaunti There are very, very large differences between how we as believers in Jesus Christ should respond to this issue and a typical survivalist response. Survivalists see the problem and do everything they can to protect themselves. They grab the dog and the shotgun and move to a bunker somewhere. They think there will be a huge global economic crisis that will lead to rioting in the streets, food riots, and martial law. They will find a farm in Arkansas or Montana or somewhere, dig a well, and hold up for a couple of years until the crisis passes. You can find them on some Internet sites and in some survivalist resources.
Unfortunately, that is also the advice that even some Christians are giving. What I'm proposing is that Christians have a completely opposite response. Nowhere in the Bible do I see a model for removing ourselves from need. Our ultimate model is Jesus who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but instead came into the muck and the mire of earth, taking the form of a servant. Christians may have an incredible opportunity to be a shining city on a hill here – to be light, to be salt. Jesus said salt isn't worth anything if it loses its saltiness. Light does no good if it's under a basket somewhere.
I don't wish to denigrate people who sincerely feel that the Lord is calling them to remove themselves. There are some sincere Christians who really, truly feel they are being called to move out of the city to a farm, dig a well, and so forth. But biblically, I think the expectation and the norm is exactly the opposite.
There's a great example in the Puritans of London in the late 1660s. The Puritans were reviled, driven underground, and kicked out of universities and out of the pulpits. Some were killed because they wouldn't proclaim that the king was the head of the church. They would only acknowledge Christ as head of the church. They were reviled by the high church, the Anglican officials, and the aristocracy.
When the plague swept through London in the late 1600s and early 1700s, everyone who could left London because it was a death trap. People were dying in the streets. All the high church officials, the aristocracy, the educated, those had the money and power to leave, left London – and that, of course, included all the doctors.
The Puritans, however, stayed. Those from the countryside came in to minister to the sick and the dying, to hold their hands, to provide simple personal treatment. They did simple things like feeding them, giving them water, holding their hand, and trying to keep their temperature down. The Puritans who did that knew it meant that they would also die. They poured themselves out on behalf of the society that tried to exterminate them.
As a result, they gained so much popular support and love from the people of England, of London particularly, that when the plague was over and the aristocracy came back in, the persecution stopped. They were restored to their former positions and allowed to start their own denominations. Many people came to know the Lord because they had seen His love in true believers. This led to the first great awakening in the early 1700s. Slavery was abolished, Christian orphanages sprang up, and the poor gained free access to hospitals. All of those things sprang from the sacrifice of this group of believers. The world didn't see a group of nice, happy people who left when times got bad, they saw Christ and that, I think, is our calling here.
The main concern I have with the survivalist movement and the reason we are to be the opposite of survivalists, is that this world is not our home. We have a heavenly eternal home so why do we try to hold on tightly to a world that is not our true home? It just doesn't make any sense. This is providing us the opportunity to live our own theology, to live what we say we already believe.
SBC LIFE Do you see a message from God in this? And, will we learn the message?
Shaunti Well, what does this event threaten? It threatens our technology, modern conveniences, and self-made security. This is not a surprise to God.
I have been interviewing various Christian leaders across the nation for their insight and wisdom on this. Every single one of the people I've interviewed has felt very strongly that God is trying to tell us that we have made idols out of the works of our hands.
Isaiah 2 and 3 are actually very powerful passages when you read them in light of the Y2K problem. The Lord said to Israel "Your land is filled with idols, with silver and gold. You are worshipping the works of your hands". Essentially He said, "Because you are worshipping the work of your hands, I have to break down your pride and turn you back to me. You have begun to depend on all these other things rather than upon Me." An idol is anything that we put our trust in other than God. Technology is not bad, it's neutral, and a good economy is fine. But the Lord tells us to use the gifts He gave us, but not to trust in them instead of the Lord. The Christian leaders I've interviewed have emphasized that God is a jealous God. He will not let our hearts go far astray without doing something to pull us back, to focus our eyes back on Him. The best way of doing that is to show us that we really cannot depend on anything other than Him.
When the Lord says in Isaiah 2, "I will tear down your high towers and walls and break down your great trading ships and the small boats in the harbor," He's talking about undercutting their financial security. He's tearing down everything that they're depending on other than Him. The more sobering part is that He's judging them. If the Lord is bringing judgment upon us and we don't repent, He may persist in His judging because we are blind and deaf to His message. We must not ignore it. He may not only be calling us to serve our neighbors, but He may also be calling us to true repentance.
Some may think this is a message just for the heathen. But as Christians we share some responsibility for the sins of this nation – the divorce, abortion, glorification of homosexuality, the base things in movies and on TV. One Christian leader pointed out that forty years ago the Christians of this country would have been on their face before the Lord, pleading with the Lord for His mercy to fall and for Him to not judge the country. We've really gotten away from that kind of leadership. As we go, so goes the world.
This may not be a judgment on the non-believer, as much as specifically on the people of God. All of these very well respected men and women that I've interviewed for this book have this concern.
SBC LIFE To sum up, you see this as a once in a generation opportunity for Christians to become more centered on God and His sovereignty, and to be more other-directed so that they do ministry to those in great need.
Y2K: What You Can Do
• Offer to organize a general awareness meeting for the members of your church. Bring in a speaker or an instructional video on the subject … to help the average congregant understand the issues, learn how to prepare themselves, and become invested in the vision of the church for Y2K.
• Offer to develop and lead one part of your church's internal Y2K project, such as storing food or water, researching and purchasing a generator, acquiring alternate sources of heat, etc.
• Plan how to spiritually and physically reach out to your own physical neighborhood and your church's neighborhood, in the event gasoline distribution is disrupted and people must walk or bike to their destinations. Offer to help your local pastors develop a 'neighborhood church' concept, whereby churches are ready to welcome those who are unable to get to their regular house of worship.
• Provide important articles and factual material on the subject to your church newsletter, to keep congregants up-to-date.
• Offer to help your church hold sessions to renew members on how to witness and serve.
• Develop a strategy for partnering 'sister churches' in different neighborhoods NOW, whereby communities that eventually encounter problems can 'lean on' those who are less affected. This can be particularly useful if a wealthier church already has a 'sister church' relationship in a less well-off community.
Similarly, develop a strategy to partner higher-risk households within or even outside your church (such as the elderly, a family with many children, or a family in a higher-risk neighborhood) with those who might be at lower risk, so that these families can receive help and even safe shelter in the event of an emergency.
Note that every one of the planning items needs to be done now, so that the plan is accepted by all involved, refined and able to be activated in the event that the contingency does in fact occur.
Reprinted with permission from Y2K: The Millennium Bug – A Balanced Christian Response.
From a Christian Perspective
www.josephproject2000.org – website of Joseph Project 2000, which organizes community events and seminars with the Christian Community
www.cfcministry.org – website of Larry Burkett's financial ministry, Christian Financial Concepts
www.y2kinsights.com – Y2K website of Christian Broadcasting Network
http://www.senate.gov/~bennett/y2k.html – website of Senator Bob Bennett, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Y2K Committee
http://www.itpolicy.gsa.gov/mks/yr2000/usgovt.htm – links to U.S. Government Y2K sites
http://www.house.gov/reform/gmit/y2k/ – up-dates on Federal Y2K compliance progress by Representative Stephen Horn, R-CA, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information, and Technology
www.sba.gov/y2k – by the Small Business Administration, offers practical assistance for business and organizational Y2K compliance
General Y2K Information
www.year2000.com – extensive information and updates. Generally recognized as the best all around Y2K website
www.y2ktimebomb.com – columns by recognized industry experts on telecommunications, power, banking, etc.
Y2K and the Economy
www.yardeni.com – by Ed Yardeni, chief economist for Deutsche Bank Securities, widely respected on Wall Street for accuracy in economic forecasting
Individual & Community Y2K Preparation
www.millennia-bcs.com – by the Cassandra Project
Y2K: The Millennium Bug – A Balanced Christian Response by Shaunti Feldhahn, published by Multnomah Publishers. Scheduled for release in November.