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The Life of Jesus in Our Organizations, by Kent Hotaling

In 1994 someone mentioned that there were 1,400 Christian organizations based in Nairobi, Kenya. There may be more or less today, but whatever the number that is a huge number of people who are doing good in Africa. However, anyone who is serious about the work of thee Kingdom in Africa has observed that often the organizational thinking and structures inhibit the free flow of the Spirit and the love of Jesus. What are some of the issues that we need to address to stay on target with what God wants to do through us?

  • Jim Peterson points out how the growth of an institution often creates a system that stifles the life of Jesus: “Function calls for form. Form is the pattern an action assumes. We need forms. But once forms are created, they tend to become virtually indestructible. They live on and on. Functions are easily lost. When forms survive their intended function, they acquire new meanings of their own. They become a part of the tradition of a culture. They acquire an authority of their own. Then it becomes heretical to even question an established form. Jesus repudiated the Tradition of the Elders. He had no other choice.”[1]
  • Another difficulty is that the leaders of these organizations have a special temptation. They are the ones who bring vision and they are the ones who rally people to the cause. The organizational structure of most Christian organizations is a pyramid rather than the leadership circle that is described in the New Testament – a circle in which all in the Body are equal and they are free to exercise their God-given gifts irrespective of role or gender. In our current systems the very best leaders lean against the temptation that rests in the system – to become narcissistic. But the danger always lies there to want to fulfill their “God-given vision”, even if it means manipulation and various means of controlling others. The prayer of Ruth Haley Barton gives a helpful perspective on how to combat this personal and organizational narcissism: “My prayer: God, help us to live within the limits of what you have called us to do. Help us live within the limits of who we are—both as individuals and as an organization. Help us give our very best in the field that we have been given to work and to trust you to enlarge our sphere of action if and when you know we are ready. Help us know the difference between being driven by grandiose visions and responding faithfully to the expansion of your work in and through us.”[2]
  • Several years ago I was introduced to another concept that has helped me put in focus what brings life inside a structure. We look at our groups from one of two perspectives: Boundary-set or center-set. If we are boundary set we define who we are by our external boundaries, e.g. what people have to believe or do in order to be inside the boundary of our group. This also identifies who is not in our group. People don’t qualify because they haven’t believed or done the right things. This might be okay if the boundaries were ones established by God, but we set up ones different from other believers because of the differences in our theology, our cultural biases, and our different insecurities. Thus we are often not living within God’s boundaries that are spacious and inclusive but within much smaller ones that make us feel comfortable and secure – but isolate us from others.

The center-set group is one who hears Jesus say, “Follow me.” and as they follow they find that Jesus is the center of their group. The attention is on the person of Jesus rather than on the rules or structures that define people as “in” or “out”. All who are focused on Jesus are connected no matter where they are in their journey. None of us can exclude any others based on the boundaries that make us feel comfortable.

The issue is one of control. We all want to be in control of our lives because of the sense of security this brings us. But if we are to control what is in our boundaries we have to include less and less – our lives and our organizations are constantly becoming narrower. However, if we give the control of our lives to Jesus, who is at the center of our thinking and our actions, we can include all that Jesus wants us to include because we don’t have to control it. We then live expanding lives and our fellowships become more loving and inclusive.

This does not mean that there are no standards of excellence in a center-set fellowship. If we are following Jesus we certainly encounter the way he lived and wants us to live; we encounter his death and resurrection. His commands to love and his commission to reach out become foundational in our lives. But the identifiers of our boundaries are no longer the issue – the issue is obedience to Jesus and this brings all into the circle of Jesus who are on that journey.

  • Then there is the cultural misunderstandings that come because so many of our organizations working in Africa have their origin in the United States, Canada, or Europe and we let our culture shape how we relate rather than let Jesus live and function in an African culture in ways that are right for them.

At heart we seek to discover a few who love Jesus, love each other, and who listen to, and be obedient to, what the Lord reveals to them. This approach produces Kingdom life that shapes the organization rather than the organization becoming an inhibitor of Kingdom life.


[1] Church Without Walls by Jim Peterson, NAV Press, 1992, p. 158

[2] Ruth Haley Barton in Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2012 in Posts from the Group

 

Africa Journey Meetings: What do we talk about?

We provide these meeting notes so that our blog readers can catch a glimpse inside our regular face to face meetings, learn what kinds of topics we address, and what ideas come from the the prayers and discussions.

About 20 people gathered recently at a home in Portland, Oregon to discuss their support roles to God’s movement in Africa.  Two discussions arose that presented ideas that might be helpful to others who are also involved in loving and supporting African friends. 

The first issue came up as we thought about the way we humans often stray from what the Lord has begun.  This raised the question: 

How do we help an organization or a fellowship to stay on track with what the Lord wants for them?  Some of our reflections were:

  • Probably the first question to consider is whether or not the original vision was something that came from God or was something people thought up and have used to control others or to raise finances for the organization.
  • Given the sense that the original vision was God-given then it is important to watch for the first step or two that takes us off track.  Down the road this will be a large divergence from the original objectives.
  • A discerning process is important because God is not bound by the original vision.  The Holy Spirit clearly sent Paul and Barnabas to Asia Minor, but when Paul thought they were to go back to that part of the world he discovered God closing doors and sending the team to Europe via the “Macedonian vision.”
  • Often the personal needs of those in leadership cause them to move off as they seek affirmation and importance by promoting themselves and/or their organization.  Those in leadership need to seek to experience transformed lives.
  • In any group those in leadership need to have the gifts of pastors/shepherds who care for the needs of those in their group even if that is not their primary responsibility.
  • When nudging people back on track it is important to know that no one wants to go “back” so the original objectives should be stated in ways that they become future goals.
  • Ownership of these ideas must belong to those in leadership and not one of us as an outside consultant.
  • To make any lasting changes it has to be done relationally rather than institutionally.  Rules and procedures of an organization can bring immediate changes but they won’t last.

 We also discussed another question that is important to all of us as we involve our friends in Africa.  How can we take people to Africa on short term missions that will be helpful to them and to what God is doing in Africa?  The books we have recommended in the past: When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert and Giving Wisely by Jonathan Martin are basic to understanding these issues.  And some of the ideas surfaced in our discussions

  • Go to be with people who are deeply connected to their communities so whatever gifts of love and encouragement you bring will be giving through those who already have the relationships.  We want our presence and our gifts to build good things for those we know who are ministering to others.
  • It is important that those going see themselves as going to learn – not to contribute out of their financial surplus or their “wealth of knowledge”.
  • If there are no relationships well established with those in Africa then it is best to not have the trip be project centered.  In that case, we need to go to be with the people to relate, to watch, and to cheer what God is using them to do.  Projects can come after the relationships are well established
  • Hopefully those who go are walking together in a close fellowship so those they meet in Africa are invited to “join with us in the fellowship that we have with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.”

Notes by Kent Hotaling

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2011 in Posts from the Group

 

I’m not leaving. Carl Wilkens finally tells his story.

A Review of book,

I’m not leaving., by Carl Wilkens

Carl Wilkens was the only American to remain in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide.  He sent his family out of the country when evacuation orders came, and remained to stay by the side of his household employees who had Tutsi identity cards.    

The book title hints at the heroic themes to follow.  When I consider the legacy of abandonment that the United States left in the genocide, even the title of Carl’s book, feels like cool water on a painfully burning issue. 

I love this book.  It’s short (only 165 pages), self-published and gets straight to storytelling.  Carl does not try to extend the book with political background or much reflective philosophy.   He explains his reasons for refusing orders to evacuate, and then goes on to tell countless unbelievable stories of day by day survival and his efforts to protect orphans located in various orphanages around Kigali.  He makes simple but poignant observations throughout his book about faith, love and humanity, that knock you over with power of truth.

For me, the largest truth that I drew from Carl’s story, is the high value of individual relationship; the power of one to one humanity, over ideals, institutions or causes.

One passage drawing out this truth was letter exchange between Carl and the President of the Seventh Day Adventist World Wide Church, who ordered him to leave Rwanda by appealing to the greater good of the cause:

“Dear Carl,

I have tried various means to communicate with you personally and orally, but it has not been possible under the present conditions.

Thus I must resort to the written word.  Your total commitment and dedication is both heroic and exemplary.  Needless to say, I, and my fellow leaders appreciate you, and what you have accomplished.  However, it is for this very reason that I am “asking” you to depart Kigali as soon as possible.

It goes against my very nature to use the word “order” in this context; however, that is the word that most accurately describes the sense that I must convey.  I am aware that most of the UN personnel have left the area, and therefore expect you to determine a reasonably safe method of evacuation.

We must use your skills and knowledge to define future work in Rwanda.  Therefore we are asking that you immediately relocate to Nairobi to work with others there in the vital look-ahead plans.

Your remaining in Kigali would deny the church and ADRA the input which you could provide, and can be counterproductive.  For the greater good of the cause, (emphasis added) I want you to lay down the good work you have been doing in Kigali in order to become part of the larger task ahead.

This directive is given after much prayer and consultation.  It is a decision, not a request.  Please contact us immediately upon reaching Nairobi.  Our prayer is that Christ will be with you and protect you as you relocate.

Yours in Christ

Robert S. Folkenberg.

President of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.”

Here is Carl’s reply:

“Dear Elder Folkenberg,

Thank you very much for your letter.  I am not refusing to obey your directive, but I need your help with two things before I can comply.

First, I need your help telling my friends and Rwandan coworkers that God will be with them and protect them, and explain to them why I can’t stay and rely on that same presence and protection.

Secondly, I need your help in making arrangements for the safeguarding of the two young people in my home who have Tutsi ID cards that will surely lead to them being killed.

As soon as you are able to help me with these two things I will be glad to join my family in Nairobi.

Sincerely,

Carl Wilkens”

Let us follow Carl’s example of releasing our cause, for the sake of one or two souls!  He disregarded any opportunity to “define future work in Rwanda” in order to save the life of two household employees.

There is no doubt that ADRA had done great work in Rwanda.  But too often, we put the value of a great human institution, before the value of one person.  Jesus radically showed us the reverse.  Jesus told the parable of the lost sheep, of the shepherd’s willingness to leave the many, to rescue one desperate person. 

Carl’s story goes on to describe very many unbelievable moments of decisions that lead to life or death.  While he initially stayed to protect his household employees (who did indeed survive), he ended up saving the lives of hundreds of others, working alongside many Rwandans who sacrificed themselves to protect their fellow Rwandans.  He describes how he learned to relate to the killers as human beings, and elicit their cooperation, in order to protect many orphans and people under his care.   

I also realized by reading Carl’s story that I think about justice and fighting against evil in black and white ideals.  Carl’s story teaches me that fighting for justice is a messy job that we shouldn’t judge.  A person’s desperate fight to survive or to save others, confuses the distinction between good and evil, removing clear paths to justice.

Read Carl’s book.  He will ground you back to one-to-one relationship, and simple truths of love and faith.

By Serena Morones

 

Carl’s book can be purchased from his website http://worldoutsidemyshoes.org, or here on Amazon.com.   http://amzn.com/1450780806  

 

 

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2011 in Posts from the Group

 

Kent Hotaling’s Selections from Giving Wisely, by Jonathan Martin

An Author who has underscored insights that many of us have learned the hard way is Jonathan Martin.  I have selected a few of his thoughts as a tease for those who might be willing to read more.   ~Kent Hotaling

 

Giving Wisely by Jonathan Martin

             “We often unknowingly have a condescending attitude towards those in the third world.  That attitude is reflected in this thought: These people cannot spread the gospel without my money.  The fact is, Christians did it in the first century, and they can do it now.  They’re very capable, intelligent, hardworking, gifted people, and their desire to please God is often greater than ours.  Their psychological well-being is often far superior to that of our own people in this culture.” 38

            “We have, as well-intentioned generous Americans, sewn the first seeds of dependency, and thus have almost guaranteed that their church can grow only as big as our western bucks can take it.” 41

            “We need to be concerned about those who cannot take care of themselves—the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the dying, those who are alone.” 44

            “Any time we can empower locals to take care of locals and make this sustainable, our dollar has been invested for the greatest return.  Never underestimate a people’s ability to care for their own—after all, they have the knowledge needed to make it in that culture, and we don’t.  They want to make it – they often just need help to get off the ground; when they get that help—watch them fly.” 49

                        “The Foundational Big Four RAISE

Relationship First

            A working and viable relationship is the foundation for wise giving.

Accountability

            To give to an individual rather than through a financially accountable organization is not a sound practice and has led to the ruin of many believers.”

Indigenous Sustainability

            Our giving shouldn’t create dependency, and it should work toward developing full indigenous sustainability.

Equity

            The financial gift should not create economic inequities in the place it is given.  Often pastors receiving western funds live at a standard high above those around them.  Ask yourself:  Does the money I give allow this man to live at a standard high above the rest of those he seeks to serve?  Does this money elevate one child high above his next door neighbor?  Find out how much someone with an equivalent education and responsibilities makes in this man’s or woman’s country, and give accordingly.”  62-65

Note taker’s note:  The rest of the book is made up of illustrations and practical issues in giving according to this RAISE principle.  I will select a portion of those thoughts to encourage you to read the book.

            “Send the cash with a trustworthy person with other trustworthy persons assuring the delivery of the gift, fellowshipping with the recipients from other cultures, seeing God work in wonderful ways, returning home as changed people and sharing with everyone in the church.” 68

            “It is far better for money to follow a good relationship than to start with money and then try to develop a relationship.  The least desirable of all is that money is given apart from any real relationship.” 75

      “I have seen too many wonderful brothers and sisters in third world countries corrupted by money that we, well-intentioned Americans, give to them when we hear of their need.  The truth is that they have never had to learn what fiscal responsibility is – for they have never had any money to speak of.  We need to do all we can to make sure we are not setting a trap for them.” 85

 “Our means for funding full-time ministry are also very foreign.  Since this is a completely unknown concept, the locals have no vision for it, and there aren’t enough believers in the local community to support them.  The foreign ministry raises the support for the national in America.  So you have the national working for a foreign paycheck and is perceived to be foreign by his own people and thus loses local credibility.” 95

 “China, by contrast:  No full-time staff?  No building?  No money? No academic institutions for formal theological training?  These are the four things we in the West deem as most important, and yet it was in the absence of these things that the greatest church growth in history has taken place.  China’s one million believers turned into forty million by the late 1980s and now perhaps to as many as 100 million.” 95

 “Money should never be used to create initiative; it should come alongside and empower those who are already taking the initiative.  When we partner with someone who’s already in motion, our money can serve to empower the already active ministry.” 103

 “This is one of the reasons it’s important for relationships to precede giving.  Without relationship, it’s impossible to know the effects of our giving—whether it is helpful or harmful.” 121

 “Who is an expert?

“Missionary kids who grew up playing with the locals, then spent time back in the U.S., then ended up back on the field as adults have always impressed me as the greatest experts.  They know the language, and they know the hearts of the people on both sides of the ocean.  They tend to love the people around them because they’ve grown up with them.” 126

 “Look at the inequities we’re creating in this village.  What damage is being done to the very fabric of these communal villages by such sponsorship that chooses one child and doesn’t choose the child next door?” 139

 “It’s best to work with the community as a whole rather than singling out individuals for sponsorship.  Unfortunately, sponsoring a village isn’t as personal as sponsoring a child.  One possible solution is to financially sponsor an entire village and the projects, which include health and education improvements, but then you sponsor a family in this village with your prayers and encouragement.  While the whole village learns to work together to take care of and provide for each other, they’re all in touch by writing letters and sending pictures with a family that is praying for them individually.”139,140

“There’s a simple rule:  If you want a person to reach his or her own culture, don’t take them out of it.  Don’t take someone out of a relatively impoverished country, show him the glitter and comfort and material excess of the U.S., and then expect him to want to go back.” 165

 “Good books are empowering and really never create dependency.  Getting whole libraries into the hands of schools, seminaries, and churches that will last and be used for years to come is a gift that keeps on giving.”  169

Visit our Amazon Reading list here http://astore.amazon.com/africajourney-20 that includes Giving Wisely and other books we highly recommend.

 
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Posted by on July 22, 2011 in Posts from the Group

 

We are Wealthy

By Enric Sifa 
 
On TV, in newspapers, on the radio, even from missionaries: when it comes to Africa, we hear negative things from all sorts of media. We hear about the wars, hate, malnutrition, disasters, and poverty of Africa. But are those really the only things Africa… has?
 
 I remember, in Africa, when I was growing up, I never even thought about the things mentioned above. I thought Africa was the only place people should live. I loved the animals, the sun, the butterflies, the hills, and the valleys. I remember how beautiful the lakes and the rivers were. I remember how delicious the meat was, I remember the smiles of people, the parties every Friday, all the colors, and the rest of the beautiful things that Africa has. That’s what I remember of Africa.
 
 African people are the happiest people you can ever find. One man may not even have salt in his food, but before he eats it, he says a prayer of praise to God for providing that food. He eats with a smile on his face and after he is done, he sleeps on a matt on the floor- with happiness. If a person gets a stomachache, he goes into the wild and chews a special kind of leaf that makes the stomachache go away. Another person doesn’t have any shoes, but you will still see him dancing on the hard dusty floor. He doesn’t care about shoes because he lives in paradise. He loves his life. You will see him playing soccer for ninety minutes straight with no shoes. He feels no pain. After soccer, he goes to take a bath. When he takes his bath, he may only have a bucket to use, but he is happy. That’s what I remember of Africa.
 
 I loved to play with flowers in the streets. I loved the smell of the tall grasses beside the small roads. I loved the river that was only a mile away from my house. I loved the hills on the other side. I loved the party people who came to my house every friday. Life in Africa is so beautiful. People work hard, but they don’t let work and money determine who they are as people. The community is awesome, and you won’t find a single person who lacks friends. People are friendly and they like to include everyone: strangers, tall, short, fat, white, black…everyone.
 
The music is amazing. Everyone, even a disabled person, has a beat. Everyone shakes the booty, man or a woman. If you can walk, you can dance; and if you can talk, you can sing. That’s what every African thinks, and it works well.  
 
 It’s frustrating that people don’t spend time talking about the beauty of Africa. It seems like they only focus on the negative. There is suffering everywhere. It’s good to help, but if we only talk about what Africa doesn’t have, Africa will always feel inferior. They won’t have the courage to achieve bigger dreams. I love Africa. I know the struggle. But I never knew the struggle until I left Africa. The thing is, we try to compare our lives with other people’s lives and then we come to the conclusion that if a person doesn’t have what we have, he must be suffering. Money and wealth do not make us people. We are people because we have life, and life comes freely to everyone. The president lives because of the free gift of life, just as the homeless person lives because of the free gift of life-neither live because of MONEY. Life is beautiful. Therefore, let us recognize the beauty in it and appreciate the ART of God.
By Enric Sifa
 
Enric Sifa was born in and grew up in Rwanda.  He is a singer/songwriter and is currently attending Warner Pacific College in Portland, Oregon.  To learn more about Enric and his music, visit www.enricsifa.com
 
 
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Posted by on July 1, 2011 in Guest Posts

 

When Helping Hurts; Insights to Consider

A Review of the book When Helping Hurts

By Kent Hotaling

This book, written by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert, gives insight into our efforts to help meet physical needs in Africa.  Reading it I kept thinking, “Oh, so that’s why that did (or did not) prove helpful to our African Friends.  Probably the best way to encourage you to read this work for yourself is to tantalize you with several insights from the authors. Kent Hotaling

                “Poor people typically talk in terms of shame, inferiority, powerlessness, humiliation, fear, hopelessness, depression, social isolation, and voicelessness.  North Americans tend to emphasize a lack of material things such as food, money, clean water, medicine, housing, etc.  This mismatch between many outsiders’ perceptions of poverty and the perceptions of poor people themselves can have devastating consequences for poverty-alleviation efforts.” 53

                “We are not bringing Christ to poor communities.  He has been active in these communities since the creation of the world, sustaining them by his powerful word.  Hence a significant part of working in poor communities involves discovering and appreciating what God has been doing there for a long time?  This should give us a sense of humility and awe as we enter poor communities.” 60

                “Shame – a poverty of being – is a major part of the brokenness that low income people experience in their relationship with themselves.  At the same time the economically rich also suffer from a poverty of being.  They often have ‘god-complexes’, a subtle and unconscious sense of superiority in which they believe they have achieved their wealth through their own efforts and that they have been anointed to decide what is best for low-income people, whom they view as inferior to themselves.  Until we embrace our mutual brokenness our work with low-income people is likely to do far more harm than good.” 64, 65

           “Poverty alleviation is the ministry of reconciliation: moving people closer to glorifying God

by living in right relationship with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation.  The goal is not to make the materially poor all over the world into middle-to-upper-class North Americans, a group characterized by high rates of divorce, sexual addiction, substance abuse and mental illness.  The goal is to restore people to a

full expression of humanness, to being what God created us all to be.” 78

“Defining poverty alleviation as the reconciliation of relationships shapes the methods our churches

 or ministries should use to achieve that goal.  Our perspective should be less about how we are going to fix the materially poor and more about how we can walk together, asking God to fix both of us.” 79

 “A first step in thinking about working with the poor in any context is to discern whether the situation calls for relief, rehabilitation, or development.  In fact, the failure to distinguish among these situations is one of the most common reasons that poverty-alleviation efforts often do harm.” 104

 “Relief needs to be immediate and in order to provide timely relief, it is important to engage in disaster preparedness. Relief is also temporary, provided only during the time that people are unable to help themselves.  Unfortunately, determining when to stop relief is never easy.” 110

“Once relief efforts have stopped the bleeding, it is time to move quickly into rehabilitation, working with, not for, people to help them return to the positive elements of their precrisis conditions. 110

 “Do not do things for people that they can do for themselves.  Memorize this; recite it under your breath all day long.  Every time you are engaged in poverty alleviation keep this at the forefront of your mind for it can keep you from doing all sorts of harm.” 115

Development experts have discovered the benefits of using ‘asset based community development’ because it is consistent with the perspective that God has blessed every individual and community with a host of gifts, including such diverse things as land, social networks, knowledge, animals, savings, intelligence, schools, creativity, production equipment, etc.  The very nature of the question, “What gifts do you have?” affirms people’s dignity and contributes to the process of overcoming their poverty of being.  And as they tell us of their gifts and abilities, we can start to see them as God does.” 126

“Very few Short Term Mission trips are done in situations in which relief is the appropriate intervention.  Most of the time they go to communities experiencing chronic problems that need long-term development.  Unfortunately, they rarely diagnose the situation and pursue a relief approach which does more harm than good.”  166

Suggestions on ways to improve the missions

                “Make sure the host organization receiving the team understands the nature of poverty and practices the basic principles of appropriate poverty alleviation.  Design the trip to be about ‘being’ and ‘learning’ as much as about ‘doing’.  Stay in community members’ homes and create time to talk and to interact with them.  Ask local believers to share their insights with team members about who God is and how He works in their lives; have team members share the weaknesses in their own lives and churches, and have the local believers pray for them.  Ensure that the ‘doing’ portion of the trip avoids paternalism.  Do not do for people what they can do for themselves.  The goal is for the work to be done primarily by the community members with the team in a helping role.  Keep the number of team members small.  This will promote more learning and interaction with the host environment and will lessen the damage from Elephant’s foot!” 175

 

Wholeness of Mission: Meeting Donald K. Smith

Donald K. Smith attended our last meeting of the Africa Journey Fellowship, and a whole new world of resources opened up to me. I have much to learn from this man and I’m diving right in!

Don is an expert in cross cultural communication, having served as a missionary and business developer in Africa for more than 30 years, and founder of Daystar University in Kenya, The International Institute for Christian Communication and the WorldView Center.  Don gave quite a few insights on the questions we raised about our Africa partnerships and our plans for missions projects.

Don is working on a revision of a previous book called Make Haste Slowly. In his book he asks questions such as; How do we develop wholeness of mission? How can we learn to communicate in ways that make wholeness of mission possible?

Here is short excerpt from Chapter 2: Chapter Two MAPPING THE JOURNEY

 Introducing fundamental change into another group or society is complex. It is easiest to do only a small part of what needs to be done, and pretend that is all that really matters. So a little part of the need is met by this group of specialists, another part by a band of enthusiasts, new programs are introduced, and still other parts are left untouched. Even when the Christian Message is the central concern, that Message is too often left undemonstrated and thus unheard.

Wholeness in mission is essential. The spiritual must be confirmed by meeting health needs, by encouraging the dignity of self-respect. Fighting famine must not squeeze out the feeding of hearts and minds. All of it must be done together, each part inseparable from all other parts. Wholeness in mission is more than each specialist adding his concerns to the total list of activities, then pasting it together under one administrator. It is very different from aid and advice lavishly dispensed by a skilled and powerful organization of professional development people.

Wholeness in mission only happens when the group itself is a participant in the change process. It doesn’t matter if the change desired is spiritual, social or physical. Without trust and full participation between “helped and helper,” the “best” efforts will result only in superficial change. It is unlikely to be permanent or spread very far in the society. It may, in fact, simply be rejected.

People are not a blackboard on which we draw our designs, but participants in change. They must be involved in determining priorities, choosing personnel, and carrying out programs jointly planned and accepted. How we develop communication that makes possible wholeness in mission is the purpose of this small book.

This book is for the many who are putting their lives into the effort to communicate with very different people. It is useful to the medical worker, the agriculturalist, the teacher, and the Christian evangelist. Whether short term or for a lifetime, following these basic principles will smooth friction at the meeting point of cultures.

 I eagerly await the re-release of this book, Make Haste Slowly and am hungry to glean more from Don’s 30+ years of wisdom.

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Power Pressure

Americans exert power, whether we realize it or not.  Church members go on mission trips to  visit the poor, with a wide open heart to help and give.  I believe that in the process, we unknowingly pressure the people of other cultures with our power.  Jesus was most critical of the powerful, and most merciful to the weak.  Let us examine our approach to helping the poor, and learn to love without applying power pressure.

We have difficulty sensing our power pressure, because we have never lived in a community of severe insecurity.  We have options. We have money to complete a project, or we can figure out where to get it.  We can get a job and rent an apartment.  We feel confident to speak openly.  We criticize with impunity.  We believe in the American dream, where any idea is free to grow.

Our natural self confidence causes us to advocate ideas, to ask direct questions, to take action to provide a solution, such as donating money to complete a critical project.  All of these behaviors feel intuitive to us, and don’t feel the least bit inappropriate.

We have never endured great loss from speaking openly.  We’ve never lost a loved one for not complying.  We’ve never coped with a total lack of options.  We are not self-aware, that we naturally speak and act from a position of personal security and power, and that much of the rest of the world does not.  Other cultures that have suffered under ruthless political regimes, war and extreme poverty, relate from histories of insecurity, and that’s an entirely different paradigm.

After ten years of engaging in African-Western relationships, I am starting to feel great respect for my African brothers and sisters who have learned deeper personal skills of flexibility than me.   They know how to patiently endure power, how to humbly and respectfully go with the flow. They know how to give up for the sake of peace, or win by waiting.  They cope with a lack of options and money.  I have no idea how to do that. 

I speak my mind, and make my case to defend my plans, because I can.  My peers respect me for it.  American culture is a mutual power exerting culture, whereas many other cultures are mutual submissive cultures; a patient wait and see approach.  It’s critical for us to realize that our natural first response is to step forward, whereas in many other cultures, a first natural response is to yield and step back.  We need to realize this difference, so that we don’t incorrectly assume that people agree with us when in fact they don’t.

When I first travelled to Rwanda, all sorts of creative, helpful ideas bubbled up within me.  My solutions to extreme poverty ranged from very grandiose, like building a world class high school, to very small, such as donating chickens to our orphanage home.  My ideas met with enthusiastic affirmation, and I started to believe that I possessed exceptional creativity and even entrepreneurial genius.  Rwanda felt like a magical land where every idea has merit.   But as my projects unfolded, I started to see glimpses that some of my ideas were not that culturally appropriate or actually wanted.  The chicken coop only got half built, and the money invested was lost.  Other projects led to even greater painful results.

My helpful ideas met with initial agreement but not actual consensus. My friends yielded to me out of respect for my position as a visitor and person of wealth.  There is a huge difference between consensus and yielding that is lost on most Westerners.  Lack of consensus will require a great cost to be paid on the back end of a project, and of a relationship.

Jesus’ love is radical.  Jesus’ love does not seek its own way.  How can I release my power pressure, and live in mutual submission with those of other cultures? How do I truly gain consensus?  To start, I will be willing to spend time, without seeking to bring an idea.  I will also let ideas take a very long time to percolate, and gain consensus before moving forward.  I may wait to be asked to help, instead of asking if I can help.   And I will look for opportunities to respectfully go with the flow.

Serena Morones

March 19, 2011

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2011 in Posts from the Group

 

The Single Story

If you care about Africa, or developing countries, this speech is excellent, and foundational to understanding full relationship.

The speaker talks about the danger of hearing and believing a single kind of story about our African friends. To truly know those you are care about, you must learn several interconnected stories.

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.html

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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The Myth of the Blank Canvas

Africa inspires me to feel unlimited hope for life change.  When I first met Rwandan orphans who had bright eyes, wide smiles showing perfect white teeth, and surprising plans for the future, I was jolted into a swirling dance of ideas, hope and action.  I’ve lived this energizing journey for more than ten years now.  It’s a thrilling but difficult place.  Along my journey, I’ve come to discover an odd behavior in myself, and others like me.  I call it the myth of the blank canvas. 

We look at the African orphan (or widow, or poor person) as a blank canvas, ready for us to splash brilliantly colored paint that will fill out the emptiness of their life.  By blank canvas, I mean we forget to imagine what or who came before us.  We don’t realize the values, priorities and relationships that constitute the deeply ingrained identity of the person we want to help.

In 2007, I had the good luck of meeting a group of business entrepreneurs at Bourbon Coffee in Kigali.  A friend connected me because he thought I would benefit from collaborating with ambitious American businessmen working in Rwanda.  I sat within the circle of dreamers and thinkers, all of whom had become successful and wealthy in America.  They talked of founding a high quality university in Kigali, with just the right educational programs that would fill the deficit of skills in Rwanda, as well as starting business enterprises to employ the students.  The plan was enormous, and sounded perfect in every way.  They expected their plan to be one of the most pivotal events in Rwanda’s development.  Then, in the midst of the euphoria, one of the guys said, “It’s so exciting to be here in this moment today.  I feel like I am eavesdropping, as the founding fathers discuss the plans that will establish the country.”

Founding fathers?  Who do we think we are?  At least one of these men saw Rwanda as a blank canvas, ready for their big splashes of paint, that would make everything beautiful.   I have come to see this is really how many of us westerners think.   Why do we disregard what is already?  When we want to help someone, why do we not honor and learn about the other relationships in that person’s life?  Is it because we see the past as being too broken to be significant? 

I’ve helped many Rwandans over the years, and looking back I can see that in early days, I did not adequately regard the identities of those I helped.  I viewed the youth of Rwanda as enormous opportunities for growth and life change, and thought they would be open to any idea I had for helping.  In fact, I believed so strongly in the wisdom of my own ideas, I declined to follow advice from older Rwandans.   Of course, pain resulted.

As time passed, I realized that my simplistic view was a myth, especially when I saw other Americans behaving as if nothing and no one had come before them.

My husband and I brought a group of Rwandan singers on music tours for three years in row.  As we toured around the West Coast, we noticed that host families seemed very intent on imparting their knowledge and interests onto the guys.  They treated the guys like molds ready to be imprinted.  One person gave a violin and insisted that the Rwandan youth learn it.  People gave them books, CDs, art, gadgets and hobby tools,  and insisted that they adopt it all.  The guys would hear all sorts of strong advice that was wholly  impractical for their situations. This pattern was ridiculously common to the extent that my husband and I joked about it.   But the jokes pricked me into awareness of my own self-absorbed perspective.   

One of the most emotional moments of realizing the myth came a few years back when I asked my friend Angie if she would open her home to host Eric, one of the young musicians I had helped for many years, to be able to attend school in America.   Angie had been to Rwanda and had started to think about adoption, so her heart was ready and open to welcome a Rwandan youth into her home.   Several months after Eric joined her family, Angie wrote a wonderful, heartfelt blog about her adoption of Eric, and what it meant to her to have Eric like a son in her family.  Angie is a great friend (and gave me permission to tell this story), but her blog struck me oddly and made me feel empty.  The blog made me feel as if Angie wasn’t considering  the long journey Eric had travelled to get to her home, or  the other families, including my own, who had sacrificed to bring him that far. 

When we don’t know what is already there, or who has come before, we are not learning the identity of the person we are trying to love.  We are loving our ideas of how to change a person, more than loving  the person. 

There was certainly nothing negative about Angie’s high commitment to parent Eric, just as there is nothing negative about our desires to help the poor, orphaned and widowed.  Angie and her family remain one of the most important, life giving relationships to Eric.   But this kind of parenting is very different, because while Eric is an orphan, he came to her home with a huge world of relationships, experiences and identity; a beautiful and complex picture.    The best outcome for Angie, me and others like us will come after a long time of patient listening and learning how to best fit into a complex story.

Many short-term mission and humanitarian projects fail.  I believe failure is partly due to the speed at which the idea came together.  We don’t take time to listen and learn how to best fit into what is  already there.  Jean Hatzfield, author of the “The Antelope Strategy,” translated the word Muzungu as “usurper.”  I felt shocked to read such strongly negative translation of the word for white person.  But as I reflect, I realize that it’s true that our ambitious world changing plans often  usurp what was already in process, either in one person’s life or in a community.   Wouldn’t it be better to weave our efforts to help into what already is in process, than to launch a whole new initiative?[1] 

Why do we try to make people into copies of ourselves, instead of first understanding the person we are trying to help?  I don’t think it’s because we are bad people.  I believe it’s because we all deeply yearn for significance.  We want to imprint our identity on needy people, because we want to feel valuable, smart and capable of changing the world.  But our desire for significance cannot be gratified by helping others.  Our need for significance will only be filled when we live in eternity in the presence of God.

By Serena Morones

February, 2011


[1] A major thesis of the book, When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett, is that poverty alleviation projects should build upon the existing assets in a community.  Start with the strengths of a community and slowly build from there.  Bringing in outside technology and resources doesn’t have long term impact.

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2011 in Posts from the Group

 
 
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