Are We Invited or Just Crashing a Party?

(A guest blog post from our friend Kurt Kandler of The 410 Bridge)

[This is the fourth in a series of blogs that might just change the way you think about poverty and engage the poor.]

It’s one thing for a development organization to say that relationships are paramount. It’s another thing to carry out this principle effectively.

As one of their core principles, The ACCORD Network — an association of faith-based relief and development organizations — states that we should enter as guests, co-labor as partners, and continue as friends.

Unfortunately, many well-intentioned do-gooders, loaded down with their limited resources, a sense of urgency, and overflowing emotions, have a hard time applying this principle when boots hit the ground. More often than not, we think we are friends because the people we meet are friendly and gracious. We think we are co-laboring because a few people work with us on our projects.

The first thing to understand is that projects, no matter how large or small, are the fruit of the relationship, not vice versa. Do we use projects in hopes of building a relationship or do we build a relationship, learn about the people, their vision for their future, their strengths & needs, and then follow their lead into a project? This takes time and patience; something our culture doesn’t always value as much as other cultures.

It’s the “enter as guests” part of the ACCORD principle that we tend to ignore. We’ll give lip-service to it, of course. We’ll say things like, “Of course we’re invited. We’re here to help, and who wouldn’t want our help?”

But if we’re brutally honest, we don’t think of ourselves as guests. The opposite is actually more likely. We see ourselves as saviors — the cavalry charging over the hill to save the day. That’s probably true in times of a catastrophe like a flood, earthquake, conflict, etc., but in a development context, leadership and community participation lay the foundation for indigenous sustainability.

Guests are invited. And oh, by the way, a list of needs or projects that they want you to undertake is not an invitation.

At The 410 Bridge, an invitation is a formal written request to visit a community and get to know one another. We learn if they have a vision for their future, what they’re doing to accomplish that vision, and their commitment to mobilize and unify their community. They learn what it means to be a 410 Bridge community; what we will and will not do. But it doesn’t end with the first invitation. After that initial meeting, if they want us to come back, they must formally invite us again.

When we assess communities, it’s only after they’ve asked us to do so. The assessments are a highly interactive process where we learn about their strengths, their gifts, and their skills. We want to know the positives before we ever start talking about needs. For example,

  • What do they love about living in their community?
  • What do they do so well that they could teach others?
  • How are they organized?

There are healthy and unhealthy questions.

Healthy: Imagine your community at some point in the future as completely transformed. What do you see?

Unhealthy: How can we help you?

At The 410 Bridge, it’s our desire to take the “Ask, don’t tell approach.” Listen more and talk less.

What about short-term trips? The same principle applies.

Are teams invited, or are we just crashing the party? One of the ways to verify this is to be honest about the itinerary. Who created it? Is the community asking you to participate in what they already have going on, or are you telling them what you want to do when you’re there? If it’s the latter, you’re a party crasher.

Over the years, we’ve learned that entering as an invited guest takes time. It starts with a conversation — questions, not answers, and a bunch of listening. In the end, those questions ensure that our work together is the fruit of the relationship, not the result of some State-side solution to give a bunch of well-intentioned Westerners: A life changing experience helping the poor with stuff they don’t really need or want.

Take the time to get to know one another. When you show up uninvited, you crash the party. But when you’re invited, you’re welcomed and wanted — and on your way to a healthy, fruitful partnership.

The 2017 Stupid Poverty Challenge is designed to mobilize youth to impact the lives of poor communities, especially in hurricane-ravaged Haiti. The Stupid Poverty Challenge campaign begins January 1, 2017 and culminates with a “Stupid Bowl Party” on February 5. We’d love your church or school to get onboard.

Register and/or get more information at

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