How Long is Development Work Going to Take?

A lot can happen in two years. For example, I have gotten married, made new friends, lived in five different homes on three different islands (all of which have have their own dialect). I’ve also learned how to cook Filipino food, speak some of their language. I welcomed a daughter and watched her turn one. To people only familiar with short-term missions, this could seem like a fair amount of time and experience in a foreign culture. However, any development worker knows that I’ve barely even crossed the starting line.

The longevity and investment of this work is part of the cost one must consider before venturing into such a task. It is inevitable that we won’t get to see the end result of all that we are working towards. To bring the kind of social change that we are striving for takes a lot of work, and thus, requires patience.

The Kingdom of God is a social reality. It requires us to slow down, not speed up--to learn people's names and stories, and actually become a trusted member of their social network. 

Unfortunately, this is something very few people understand. In wanting to see the fruit of their labor quickly, people rush to more calculable accomplishments, such as building structures, distributing clothes, or providing financial loans.  But all too often the social bond is lacking. While these things are beneficial and necessary, the effectiveness of such tangible gifts is dependent upon the relationships behind these transactions. Is it possible to bring social change through unsocial means?

The kingdom of God is a social reality, and to experience it, change has to happen socially. This is why development work takes a great amount of time and effort. Good relationships can take years to build, especially when one must navigate through culture and linguistic differences. Relationships take more than casual interactions and trite conversations to develop. When the aim is to cultivate emotional, moral, and educational maturity, you must give more than gifts--you must give yourself. Patience is required.

Patience that is always tied to faith. Doing development work takes faith, because you can’t always see the immediate results. When Abraham received the promise to be the father of many nations, yet had yet to even produce a single son, he had to display patience that if continued responding in faith, God would likewise be faithful to keep his promise. Paul says he ‘hoped against hope,' that is, he didn’t allow the present circumstances to keep him from believing that what he was doing today mattered for far more than today.

‘For in hope we are saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.’ (Rom. 8:24-25)

Everyone is trying to end poverty now. But I’m not sure they are changing a social reality. It takes time for people to trust one another, to believe that another life is possible, to engage the Lord, to find solutions for their problems that are sustainable. We cannot allow the desire to reach the finish line blind us from passing the baton to other runners; they are the ones who will continue running the race.  It’s a marathon, not a sprint. 

By Clark Miller 
Regional Correspondent
South East Asia, The Philippines