We all want to help people. We all want to make a positive impact in someone else’s life, especially if that person is hurting physically, emotionally, or spiritually. The danger is that sometimes this desire to help others can manifest itself in a way that has come to be known as ‘the savior mentality.’ It’s the idea that people who are vulnerable need another person to save them from their situation, because they cannot do it themselves.
This mentality is damaging to communities. It gives those in the community the impression that they have nothing to give, that they cannot help themselves because you have more education, knowledge, and expertise. But how can someone who doesn’t know and understand the community know what is best? Those who live in the communities are the ones who are best equipped to lift themselves, their family, friends, and neighbors out of poverty. In Chapter 6 Keller writes,
Mark Gornik makes it clear that if we are talking of community development, it must mean that the people of the community are “the primary agents of action.” the community residents themselves must be the main “locus of analysis and planning” and they must be in control of the type and pace of change that will affect their families, lives, and economic life. Any other kind of “help” usually keeps residents in dependency…
There is so much truth in this statement. If locals cannot take ownership and understand the importance of what is happening in their community how can the development last? As an outsider I can go in and build latrines for every home in a village, but if the people in those homes don’t understand the basics of proper health and hygiene why would they use it? It’s an extra area to keep clean, and it’s not so convenient when you’re out working in your field.
As an organization, Reconciled World is committed to Mobilizing Local Resources. We have seen again and again how powerful it is when locals take the initiative to bring change to their own villages. Here is one example.
We noticed that the primary school where our children go is very rundown and it will not be safe in rainy season. So, during summer break we decided to repair the school. Each family contributed their labor and 2-3 bamboo stems or tree trunks to make the building frame as well as palm leaves to make the roof. Because it was a small project we were able to finish in just a few days. When the teachers arrived, they were surprised to see the completely new school. Because they knew it was the church that rebuilt the school, they brought us some gifts to show their appreciation. They said to us, “Only Christians would do these good deeds, we promise that we will teach your children better and will start coming to your church.” As a church we were very encouraged and want to do more small things like this so that God’s name will be glorified.
This may have been a small task to complete, but it was a big step towards developing their entire community. The church saw the need of rebuilding the school and by stepping in to fix it they were helping to ensure the future of their children’s education and leading by example. As the Church continues to performs small acts of love that help the community, other members may begin to follow that example and help themselves rather than waiting for someone from the outside to come and leave a handout.