I went to the mailbox today and pulled out two envelopes designed to end human suffering. Interestingly, as I studied both vastly different appeals, I realized that neither was providing a long-term solution to this human dilemma. The first appeal was to my “need” for a respite from my own pain. A 3-D mailer, a cruise ship literally popped out of the water as I unfolded it. It promised “delights in every detail,” the opportunity to see “wondrous parts of the world” and experience the “the exhilarating allure and bold adventure” of a world-class cruise. For ten thousand dollars I can “get away” from it all for a week, ignore my problems and the hassles of life and experience decadent pleasures beyond belief. Oh, if only it could last!
In sharp contrast, the second mailer didn’t even need you to open it to capture your emotions. “On the verge of extinction. No Food. No Water. How Long Can They Survive?” was the tagline on the front of the envelope. The back had a photo of a suffering child and the phrase, “Imagine your body is so hungry IT STARTS TO EAT ITSELF.” Motivated by a heart of compassion, this organization claims that your gift of just $27 will be multiplied 5X and will help bring children back from the “brink of starvation.” Who wouldn’t be compelled to answer this bold, gut-wrenching appeal to save poor, helpless children from certain destruction? Oh, if only it could last!
The problem with both appeals is that neither one offers a sustainable solution to human suffering. After seven days of being pampered with the finest food, entertainment and scenery, I will return to the reality of my challenging life. On the other hand, a bag of rice can only stave off hunger for a day or a week. What happens when that is consumed? Another mailer goes out. More money is raised, and more rice is handed out.
The way an outside organization enters a community will determine the way the local people respond. If the organization brings money or goods, the locals will see them as providers of aid and will simply wait for the next hand out. If an outsider enters in order to discuss ways to help the local people become self-supporting, the locals will see them as trainers and coaches encouraging them to develop sustainable solutions. The reality is these are creative, resourceful people who have survived thousands of years in their particular environments without the charity of Western donors. What they really need is to be given the opportunity and the incentive to become change agents right where they have been uniquely planted as “the display of God’s splendor” (Isaiah 61:4).
During a crisis, immediate aid and relief are definitely needed. But to keep people in perpetual crisis by taking away their incentive to discover solutions to their own problems is nothing short of criminal. The amount of aid flowing from Western nations to developing nations is shrinking dramatically as the Global economic crisis deepens. More aid is not the answer! They must be reminded that they too bear the image of a living God; the world needs their strength and dignity as contributors not charity cases. Their own leaders must be given the incentive to lead and the tools and training to maximize their potential to advance the Kingdom of God in every segment of their society. Their soil is rich and needs their stewardship to maximize its yield. The long-term sustainable solution to their suffering can only come from an inside-out approach led by capable, visionary local leadership.
Please feel free to respond to these bi-monthly Breakthroughs in Missional Thinking, we need your voice in this ongoing dialogue about how the Christian Church engages in missions in this rapidly changing world and culture.
Director of Global Leadership Development