(A guest blog post from our friend Kurt Kandler of The 410 Bridge)
[This is the third in a series of blog posts that might just change the way you think about poverty and engaging the poor.]
Every good story has a hero.
The bad news…? It’s not any of us.
Allow me to share a true story illustrating what I’m talking about.
A few years ago I was invited to a small rural community in Haiti by a safe water organization. The purpose of the visit was to evaluate the leadership and determine if our model of Christ-centered, community-initiated development would be welcome. I was accompanied by a couple donors that wanted to see how we vetted communities and leadership.
It was a typical rural Haitian community. The community was very poor with no school, no economic activity, and little hope or opportunity. It did, however, have a small safe-water project recently completed by the organization that invited us.
While walking through the community, we visited the home of a middle-aged man named Bernard. He lived with his wife and three children in a ramshackle home with a dirt floor and a curtain separating its two rooms. Bernard welcomed us into his home. Our conversation centered around his family and his community. I love to find out what people like about living in their community. What strengths and gifts do they have? Is there anything that they do so well that they could teach others? These conversations help them, and us, see beyond the obvious needs and focus on their strengths and gifting.
During the conversation we learned that Bernard was the custodian of the local water project. Although the water project paid him to oversee it, the gap between Bernard and the poorest members of his community was not very wide.
After a warm and friendly visit we thanked Bernard and his wife for their hospitality and we continued our walking tour of the community.
Later that night, I was talking with the two donors that accompanied me and one of them confessed.
“I know you’re not going to like this, but I gave Bernard twenty bucks.”
“Really? Why?” I replied, struggling not to show my displeasure.
“Yeah, well, I know what you’re going to say, but he needed it. It was just 20 bucks!”
The tragedy here has multiple levels:
Other than the very real possibility that the next blanc (white) to visit the community may likely be asked for a handout, a mere (“mere” to us) twenty dollars provided yet another reason to see the affluent North American as the provider. And, still more insidious, another reason for a husband and father to feel emasculated in front of his family.
I explained to my well-intentioned friend that there is a healthy way to help, and an unhealthy way to help. It starts with separating what we give and how we give it from our desire to feel good about ourselves. In this particular case, he missed a priceless opportunity to allow the Church to be the Church. Instead of an “Andrew Jackson” handshake, he could have found out where Bernard attends church. We could have talked to the leaders and the pastor of that church and allowed them to navigate help for Bernard’s family.
Another important point here: Bernard had a job! He wasn’t the neediest in the community and the local church knows that better than anyone. He was being paid by the community to manage the water project — a place Americans commonly visit. How will the community feel when (not if) they learn that Bernard accepted money from people visiting his home and the water project?
In all we do, we should insist on making the local Church the hero whenever possible. Notice I said “Church” (big-C). In our context, walking alongside a single church in a community can create division and jealousy. That’s why we work hard to unify the local churches through pastor fellowships, participation in leadership councils, and integrating church-led discipleship into the humanitarian programs.
The results are incredibly encouraging, and in some cases amazing. Pastors and Christian leaders put aside their differences and work together. Imagine that! Churches fundraise for each other. Pastors teach in each other’s churches. Churches become — collectively — the hub of the development effort and the voice of the people.
It’s a beautiful thing. We should all try it.
The next time you want to give, are you willing to pause and think about the unintended consequences of that gift?
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 www.StupidPoverty.org.