A responsible strategy for effective presence amongst a community of need is paramount. Too often people rush into a program area, bypassing cultural, political and social realities to further their cause. We recognize that in order to have a meaningful presence, these realities cannot be bypassed, and must be considered.
Approaches to Presence
By not shortcutting the cultural, political and social realities of people we hope to serve, we have come up with three categories of consideration to have an effective approach for permanent presence amongst people where we would be considered foreigners. It's important to note that local leadership is very aware of colonial history, and that the foreigner's presence, accompanied with wealth and advanced technology, has had a detrimental impact on their resources, health and identity. Sensitivity to this reality is a major consideration in these approaches.
Jesus said the watching world would know we are his disciples by the love we have for each other. So often, teams involved in development work barely know one another, or have so much conflict that the watching world has a hard time thinking that the group could ever bring any harmony to their world, let alone reconcile that such people are disciples of Jesus.
In approaching presence amongst people who don't know us, we recognize our responsibility to God, and to those people, to ensure that our team is ready to demonstrate the kind of harmony that should exist amongst people who claim to love God.
It's not that our teams do not anticipate conflict, but our teams have developed a relational confidence, including the tools to ensure resolution takes place, and quickly. Learning to tell the truth, and to build one another up in love, is an essential skill for any society and must be embodied in the group hoping to bring transformation to people in need.
Not only that, but an effective team is aware of each other's giftedness and are not jealous when someone excels. In fact, our service to these communities of need depends upon both the individual's intra-personal awareness and the team's interpersonal collaboration.
A healthy team dynamic allows for every person to have individual responsibility within a group effort in order to meet the needs in the program area. With so many diverse needs, a diverse team is necessary.
We have selected seven overarching categories of service of which team members are divided and responsible to be proficient within. They are 1) Theology/Moral Development, 2) Education, 3) Public Health, 4) Ecology, 5) Sociology, 6) Organizational Management, and 7) Political Science.
There are subcategories beneath these overarching categories, including an area of speciality where the individual has a specific skill. An example would be a team member who serves in the area of Education, specifically Primary School, with a specialty in informal education for kids who have to work their family's farm.
With everyone on the team responsible for an area of service, an incredible quilt emerges that can cover the wounds of a society in need of healing. Such a team dynamic is paramount.
Identifying Communities of Need
Needs in the 3rd world can be so absolutely overwhelming that it can get totally disorienting and very difficult to begin to sub-divide the issues and implement a plan to help.
In addition, once you're lucid enough to identify the issues, you return to the state of being overwhelmed because the needs are so diverse and require such different areas of expertise, that you often resolve there's "little you can do."
In the section called "Systemic Issues & Categories of Response," we discuss in some detail how we've subdivided the needs into digestible considerations as to appropriately respond.
Here, we recognize that our effectiveness in service is limited to what capacity our team has to respond to the need.
For example, we could be introduced to a very prevalent issue of leprosy amongst a group of villagers. However, we would have to concede that our lack of personnel (who would have a specific knowledge on the issue), limits our ability to help. Otherwise, we would be experimenting on people, considering them expendable to our learning curve.
In this case, it would be our duty to disclose our inability to resolve the issue, and at best refer the issue to those who had the capacity to handle the problem.
You can see that initially, there are very few communities of need that a group could responsibly address. This is until the team has developed an array of competencies capable of being responsible for the many issues that exist in a 3rd world setting.
So, identifying a community of need responsibly requires an evaluation of whether or not you could address the issue(s), based upon whether or not your team has the competency to implement a solution.
Of course, when it comes to 3rd world development, long-term implementation is required for any sustainable solution.
So on the one hand, you are able to address a community of need by evaluating your team dynamic. But on the other hand, once a community has been identified and taken responsibility for, it becomes the duty of the team to now create capacity for what other issues emerge in the process of the project.
This means that the team has to be flexible enough to allow for some to expand, or specify their capacities, but also to recruit new personnel to take responsibility for those emerging needs.
In the end, identifying a community of need takes into consideration whether or not your agency can be responsible for the many individuals like Lazarus, that will be placed at your "gate" (Lk. 16).
Cooperatives / Liaison Development
Cooperatives and Liaisons are selected locals who have grown up in the region and are keys to developing a cultural, political, and social understanding of the program area.
As much as one could research these topics at the library, on the internet, or at a university, the person who has experienced those things for themselves is best equipped to help others gain a beneficial understanding.
However, this process isn't as simple as finding a local and hiring them for reference. Like all human relationships, they must be developed, and that takes time.
Because our cooperatives and liaisons are often key informants to major decisions, who we choose to serve in this capacity is very important. The bible gives some practical advice that such people should be integrous, sober, not greedy for gain, and respected in their community.
Becoming a cooperative or liaison for our agency is a process that takes place over about three-five years.
The process includes helping the local to understand 1) the project goals, 2) the culture of the agency and its agents, 3) the vernacular of the agency for clear communication, and most importantly, 4) the biblical values/principles that drive the "how" of the agency and program.
Once a cooperative/liaison is developed, our ability to navigate the cultural, political, and social issues of the program area are greatly enhanced. The cooperative or liaison becomes an invaluable asset to the the team, and a safeguard against unintentional, inappropriate behavior that could damage the reputation of the agency, and more importantly, Jesus.