At the farm one of our interns was from Papua New Guinea (PNG). She had certain rants that she would go off on from time to time. The idea of development was one of them. “You come into our country and tell us we need education. You tell this farmer that his children have to go to school. Now he has to work harder and earn less in order to pay the school fees. Is that development? Is that farmer better off than before? Who decides what development is?”

I’ve been listening to some Speaking of Faith episodes lately in a series called The Ethics of Aid that explore what development means and important questions about the implications of foreign aid and intervention. A while back we had a conversation with some farm folks about the development philosophy of our organization. What is it that makes us unique? This is not at all an official WHRI statement, but there were three areas that we discussed.

Our View of the Good News of Jesus- Proclamation of the Lordship of Christ and social involvement are inseparable.

This is the theological component of the development philosophy. This is essential to understand why Christians should be involved in development work and what that development should look like. In the past and in many organizations/denominations today, Christians view their main task in this world as converting non-Christians to become Christian. If they participate in development work it is with the goal of conversion. This has led to some shoddy development work because that work is not valued in and of itself.

There have also been movements within Christianity that emphasized that social justice was an integral part of the gospel message. However, in their zeal to connect to the world and meet the real needs of people suffering and in poverty, Jesus has been left behind. There are lots of good people doing secular development work. We should be willing to partner with them and encourage their work. There is something unique about the vision for development from a Christian perspective.

The Micah Network sums up the tension this way,

It is not simply that evangelism and social involvement are to be done alongside each other. Rather, in integral mission our proclamation has social consequences as we call people to love and repentance in all areas of life. And our social involvement has evangelistic consequences as we bear witness to the transforming grace of Jesus Christ. If we ignore the world we betray the word of God which sends us out to serve the world. If we ignore the word of God we have nothing to bring to the world. Justice and justification by faith, worship and political action, the spiritual and the material, personal change and structural change belong together. As in the life of Jesus, being, doing and saying are at the heart of our integral task. Micah Declaration on Integral Mission

It is not that these are two separate things that need to be balanced. It is that these are two sides of the same coin. If you study Acts, in particular, the verbal proclamation of the gospel message is always accompanied by the witness of a community that embodies that message in the life of its members and life together.

Our Development Philosophy- Our role is to help people help themselves.

This is the pedagogical leg of our development stool. In the past and in many ways today “development” has been a tool for one part of the world to impose its values and goals on other parts of the world. It has sometimes been shrouded in language and ideas that claimed to have the best interest of indigenous, “savage” people at heart. Looking back we can see that even with the best of intentions we have often done more damage than good, because of our ethnocentrism.

Instead, we hope to reorient our perspectives around local solutions to local problems. All of our attempts to solve hunger, poverty or problems in other countries should be filtered through the lenses of those we are trying to help. Well-drilling is an excellent example.

Many Christian aid organizations use expensive drilling rigs to drill wells and provide access to clean safe drinking water. This is highly dependent on wealthy countries and the knowledge and expertise required to use and maintain these complex machines. This is not sustainable for local people.

Contrast that with the low-tech technique developed by a farm alum, Terry Waller, and his organization Water For All. Using almost entirely local resources and labor, they have drilled over 2,000 wells around the world. More than that, they have trained some local entrepreneurs in the technique who have then created a business drilling wells in their local communities. This is what helping people help themselves look like.

Our Global Perspective- Local solutions and global action are both critical elements in bringing justice to the poor.

This is the political piece of the picture. You’ve probably heard the catchphrase, “Think Globally. Act Locally.” It’s not a bad sentiment, but it might be incomplete. Global policies concerning trade, agriculture, financial institutions, etc. affect local communities. If we only act locally, we will never overcome the problematic policies that continue to create the needs and problems we’re trying to solve at the local level. I remain skeptical of the ability of large-scale policy changes to ultimately result in real change on the ground. However, if it is true that these policies have real effects at the local level, then the opposite should also be true. Therefore, we need to act and think both at global and local levels and recognize the connectedness of the two.

2 comments on “What is Development?

  1. Hi L. j.Fowler over at Sustainable Traditions suggested I contact you about republishing your “Gospel of Urban Gardening” post. I’m the Seed Sampler editor for Mustard Seed Associates and this fits really well into this month’s topic, food justice and sustainability. You can contact me at msa.andrew AT Gmail dot com
    I like your blog and looking forward to poking around in it a bit more.


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