April 2012

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Before the early 1970’s, visitors to Yellowstone National Park were enthralled at the opportunity to feed the bears who sat on the side of the road waiting patiently for handouts of food and sugary snacks.  After a busy summer season the Park closed, the cars vanished, and the bears continued to sit, waiting for the snack-bearing visitors who would not come again for several long winter months.  Despite being uniquely created to provide for their own needs, the months of dependency on temporary outside help and empty calories had robbed them of their desire and natural abilities to forage.  With no fat reserves stored up for the winter, they now faced a slow yet relentless foe that their claws and formidable strength had no defense against, starvation.

In our most compassionate responses to the vast needs of our world, particularly as we see the hollow eyes and protracted stomachs of starving children in the evening news or the late night aid or sponsorship appeal, we are driven to help.  We give our money, ship our consumer goods, and build wells; all good things, unless this relentless focus on pain alleviation provides no means for finding a real cure.  Like the park visitors who fed the hungry bears, we can feel really good about our contributions with little to no thought about the long-term consequences of our actions.  Although some catastrophic circumstances do merit immediate aid and relief, very quickly we must turn our best efforts to helping the local community develop sustainable solutions to the crisis in order to prevent a debilitating dependency from becoming established in the people we seek to help.  God has uniquely created these people to thrive in their own environments and we need to help them develop systemic solutions that will meet their own long-term needs without continual outside intervention.

As you consider your own ministry or missional context, ask yourself, “Is our methodology or mechanism of providing aid, social services, or training creating long-term dependency or independence?”  “If we completely pulled out of our current ministry context would the local indigenous people be able to carry on without any future intervention on our part?”  Why or Why not? “What systemic changes might we make to our current approach that will help the indigenous leadership foster creative, sustainable solutions to their own endemic problems?”

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.


Mark Mielbrecht

Director of Global Leadership Development