I spent almost seven years in the aid and development sector. My role there demanded me to think biblically about good community development in poverty-stricken places around the world. I came to the conclusion that good community development work and poverty reduction projects must involve faithful embodiment of Christ’s life, suffering, death, and resurrection. This can take many forms. But invariably it cannot be measured in terms of short-term success stories. Importantly, it cannot be measures in terms of what we in the West call “success.”
Much can be said about this. But Matthew Maury’s comments below provide us with a timely reminder of what good community development looks like.
Over the past 25 years, I have regularly been reminded that community development is not a predictable and linear process. This is something I find to be particularly true in communities struggling to overcome the worst forms of poverty and oppression. Development is typically complicated and often messy work, with progress at times hidden from immediate sight. Our work often epitomises the saying “two steps forward and one (or two) steps back”. To achieve lasting positive change requires long-term commitment and can take many, many years.
The challenge . . . is to tell the true story of “messy development”. This is particularly true in context in which development agencies try to “sell” their successes in order to convince donors to fund their work. Australian donors — the church included — have become addicted to (and demanding of) a narrative of easy and quick success for the cost of just a few dollars per month . . . While I also want to see my donations used as effectively and successfully as possible, I fear that our sector has created an unhealthy (and unrealistic) expectation about the core work that we do — messy development.
As Christians, we know that God doesn’t call us to prioritise worldly success but rather to pursue lives of faithfulness. I believe this is equally true for . . . the essence of good development work. We are called to be faithful to the commands of Scripture. Commands which tell us to put all we have towards loving God and loving our neighbour. We are to pursue justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our Lord (Micah 6:8). Commands which do not have easy-to-achieve three-year project proposals tied to them.
The title of this blog post is: As Christians, where should our support go to when it comes to poverty alleviation? I actually don’t have a simply answer to this question. (In fact, I don’t claim to be an expert in the field at all.) To do justice to the complexity of poverty and community development, we must not resort to simple answers. But what is clear, I think, is that we should not uncritically support organisations that major on selling simple success stories without explaining the complexity of poverty reduction. Instead, it is those people and agencies that honestly share their struggles in “messy development” that deserve our attention.
Source of citations above: Target Magazine, Issue 1, 2016 (TEAR Australia), page 2.