I remember visiting an orphanage in Haiti about 18 years ago. This was my first real cross-cultural experience so everything was intriguing and I asked hundreds of questions. One afternoon I was walking around the compound where we were staying and I saw a Haitian lady doing laundry. She was scrubbing the clothes by hand on an old washboard. I sat for a moment from a distance and watched her. As intriguing as it was to watch her scrub the clothes against a wooden washboard the most compelling question was “Why isn’t she using the washing machine located 10 feet behind her?” The work time would be cut in half not to mention how much less labor intensive the washing would be. In my mind I thought:
“Surely she sees it right? Maybe she isn’t the normal washer and she doesn’t know how to use it. Maybe it is just broken and they are waiting for a part.”
Many questions came to mind. Puzzled I asked our Haitian leader and found out this: The washing machine had been donated two years before by a group that had visited, but hadn’t been used in over a year and a half. While the machine worked properly the Haitian staff had never really understood how to use it and didn’t want to take the time to try, leaving the machine to rust in the Haitian heat. At first I was appalled by the fact that the staff would squander such a wonderful gift! I realize now, many years later, that maybe there was a bigger issue at play in this scenario. Whether it is the “rusting washing machine behind the Haitian orphanage” or the “western toilets in Swaziland being used as storage closets” (another similar experience I encountered) the role of development, resources and western aid is a big one that needs to be tackled.
The church is the best method for community transformation and development?
As an organization we believe that the church is the bride of Christ and will always be the best partner for transformation in any community. Westerners can play a role and aid can be a blessing but the church is the answer.
There is something about home that always draws us. Whether it is the food, the people or the experiences “home is often where our heart is.” (I think my grandma had that saying cross-stitched and hanging in her bathroom if I remember correctly.)
In other words we all have an affinity for the place we call home. Therefore, when it comes to wanting to make a community improved, there is no better place to start than with the very people who call it home. Nobody will love the community and desire to see it developed quite like the people who live in it day in and day out. It seems simple, but how often do “we” (westerners) come into a community seeking to do development and never really involve the very people who care about the community the most? Huge mistake.
However the people themselves are only a portion of the answer; the reality is God is central to any true transformation efforts in the community. Therefore the best place to find local people who care about the community and want to see it improved, accompanied by truth and a biblical perspective on poverty, loving God and loving others is in the local church. With all its flaws, issues and failings the local church, through the power of God, is the answer to community transformation.
Here are four quick reasons why partnering with the church to bring community transformation is vital.
1. While organizations come and go the church will stand the test of time.
Most churches are invested in the community where they are planted. Unlike an NGO a church will be in the community for years to come. By partnering with the church you have built in “lifers.” People who will work hard and care about the work being done for years to come. Community transformation does not happen quickly so planning for the long term is important.
2. The Church knows its community.
I think I am pretty smart, but I am the first to admit that a rural village community in Malawi is going to know it’s needs better than me. The church knows where the community has been, where it is now, and where it needs to go. They live there! Give them the opportunity to speak into what needs to change! By partnering with the church you are partnering with community experts.
3. Churches are full of resources
Churches bring three essentials to any effort of development: prayer, people and resources. Unlike most community partners, the church understands the power of prayer. In most cases they have already learned to listen to God and to walk in obedience to Him. They confront challenges and problems with prayer. The people in the church are often extraordinary. They have compassion and willingness to sacrifice that isn’t seen in other organizations. They’ve been given gifts and talents to bring change to their communities. The resources are abounding!
4. Utilizing the church uses God’s model!
God created the church to be a reflection of his wisdom, love and power. (Eph. 3:10, 4:15-16) While blemished, the church still carries the call to share the love of Christ in word and deed to the world around it, therefore leveraging this incredible call is necessary and essential. The church is Christ’s body and bride and we shouldn’t forget to partner with it!
Finally, by using the church you are creating opportunities to share the love of God in the process. Each small act of kindness and generosity by the church towards its community can be an act of God’s love. When the community sees that the church cares they will be much more open to the message the church has to share.
The church: God’s model for community transformation.
It is impossible to totally prevent the rusty washing machine situations, they sometimes just happen. But the best first step to true development and transformation in a community starts in our humble partnership with a local church. Communities need truth, love and resources and the church is the built in answer. It will not come without challenges but what in our spiritual journey is guaranteed to be easy? If you are in the process of working locally or globally to bring transformation take a moment to consider how you are working with the local church. It’s vital and important; remember churches make the best partnerships!
While we are still learning, Reconciled World is committed to partnering with the local church in each of our programs. For more information about what this may look like local and globally please refer to our website or contact us directly.