Embracing Relationships and Tapping Ideas & Resources

Note to leaders: In the latest PDF version of the training manual, the content below is split into two sessions, #4 and #5. The lesson plans for both of those sessions refer to the content on this page.

“You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”—2 Corinthians 9:11

We’ve addressed poverty’s definition and how poverty came to impact our world from a biblical perspective. Now we want to examine the vehicles of transformation that Food for the Hungry is using as we minister in communities around the world. Since poverty is not simply a lack of material possessions, our approach to ending poverty cannot simply be focused on providing material resources. FH sees relationships, ideas and resources as the primary tools for transformation within a community. The configuration of these efforts will look different in each community, but the strategy of ministry is always founded on these three principles.

Relationships

For many, when they think about missions and going on a short-term team, they think about what they can bring to the field. Some think of suitcases filled with medical supplies or Bibles translated into the local language. Others think of bringing biblical and theological knowledge to share with the pastors and leaders. Some want to share their talents and technical skills with the community.

For more insight into how we should approach ministry, let’s examine Mark 2:1-12. This is a familiar story of a group of friends who had faith that Jesus could meet the needs of their paralytic friend. With no room in the doorway, they made an opening in the roof and lowered their paralyzed friend down to Christ. Seeing the situation and their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

It is interesting how Christ responds by telling the paralytic man that his sins are forgiven. Knowing that Jesus had healed others, the group of friends probably hoped that Jesus would demonstrate His healing touch on this man’s life. However, Jesus speaks to the greater need first: relationship. Although not ignoring the physical poverty (Jesus did heal the paralytic man), Jesus initially seeks to restore the severed relationship between this man and God through forgiving his sins.

To approach missions with a “distribution mentality” will prevent you from seeing the forest for the trees. God certainly wants us to share with others what He has blessed us with (2 Corinthians 9:11). Bringing these resources, gifts and talents to the field has great potential to produce a change in a community. However, if done outside the context of relationship, the results will likely lack long-term fruit. As Chapter 3 indicated, if poverty started with broken relationships, our ministry efforts need to acknowledge the healing and reconciliation of these relationships.

Impact of Relational Approach

FH’s vision of responding to physical and spiritual hungers starts at the root level of relationship. This applies to how teams serve the community as well. It also applies to how team members relate to each other. As stated in Chapter 1, if a team is unable to model healthy relationships, the words and message of your ministry program will not matter. The community may not speak English and understand your sarcastic remarks, but they can read body language, perceive attitudes and observe how you care for one another. This is critical for building strong and healthy relationships and giving your ministry a good foothold.

Love the people in the community for who they are. This may seem elementary, but it is truly critical. There is a temptation to see missions as a task to be accomplished rather than a lifestyle of loving others and sharing hope. God is asking us to enter into their stories and discover how He sees them. The world may have labeled them poor, backwards and worthless, but in God’s eyes they have priceless value and are fearfully and wonderfully made.

During His time on earth, Jesus frequently demonstrated His love for people. He acknowledged the lowly, ate with the sinners and associated with the broken.  These intentional relationships drew people to Christ. There was no need to make His message hip and trendy. People were open to His words because of the authentic community that He sought to create wherever He traveled.  In the same way that Christ invested relational time in the 12 disciples during His time on earth, FH encourages each team to spend time and energy getting to know the community through relationship.  As the community sees the team’s concern and interest in the families, opportunities for meaningful and lasting ministry will start to form.

Making Changes in the Context of Relationship

Like any new relationship, there are always plenty of immediate observations and reactions.  As the team gets to know the people and culture, questions and suggestions will arise among the team.  As Chapter 2 already mentioned, the team will see behaviors, customs and lifestyles that may be different from their home. As an outsider, it is natural to notice visual surface problems and wonder why they haven’t made simple changes. FH encourages team members to ask helpful questions and learn more about the challenges faced by the community.  It is important to know that FH seeks to create sustainable change not from a position of authority but through the open door of relationship.

We do not want to urge immediate change without the community fully understanding why we are suggesting the change. Because Food for the Hungry views development more as a change in worldview than a change in infrastructure, it is important to be patient and allow the process to run its course.  We may know what needs to happen, but we need to let the community come to the same conclusion, not simply tell them what to do.  If we tell them what they should do, they will probably follow, but they will likely go back to their old ways once we leave the community.

Power of Presence

If building relationships are so important, how is a short-term trip an effective tool of ministry?  This question is important to consider as you prepare for the trip.  Your team does not simply arrive as a one-time event in the community, but you are serving alongside our long-term staff.  They are the long-term relationship holders in the community, and your team is standing on the “relationship bridge” that they have already built.  The team you are a part of is not defined by the skills you bring or the length of time you are there, but who you are representing.  You are not tourists that got lost on the way to the beach, but ambassadors that are called by God to serve.

As teams come into remote and rural communities, they bring real hope.  Their presence in the community dispels any wrong assumption by community members that they have been forgotten by the world and by God.  By simply going to the community and spending time building relationships with people, you, as a team member, are showing the love of Christ.  Your team has power to speak life into the community and encourage the long-term FH staff.  Our field staff provide an ideal complement to the ongoing work.  And as they work alongside the people of the community, the life-changing power of the Gospel also transforms their hearts and minds.

Ideas

As God opens up doors for relationship between FH, the community and the team, we want to do more than just become friends with the community.  In our commitment to serve the poor wholistically, we desire to impart the life-changing ideas and truths that come from the Gospel.

Although unintentional, teams occasionally project “American” values and ideas onto the biblical principles that we are trying to communicate.  Some American values do reflect biblical values, but many represent extreme positions, and others are direct contradictions of God’s Word.

Teams are not about traveling thousands of miles to share personal ideas or exchange philosophies of life.  We don’t go to the communities to convince people that democracy, capitalism or driving automatic transmission cars is good or bad. The purpose of the team is to share the power, truth and ideas of the Gospel in a relational and practical manner.

The Whole Person as Described in Scripture

The Old Testament Law expressed God’s concern for all facets of life – our relationship with Him, with one another and with His creation. It gave specific instruction for how to worship, how to resolve conflicts, and how to treat the land and animals. It revealed God’s interest in both our private life and our community life. God’s desire for us is His shalom, a Hebrew word that we translate as “peace,” but which means much more than our typical understanding of peace.  Shalom means wholeness: being in right relationship to oneself, to God, to family and society, and to the environment.

In the New Testament, Jesus ministered wholistically. For example, His compassion led Him not only to feed the 5,000, but also to exhort them to seek the Bread of Life (John 6:1-13, 25-38).  He understands both our material and spiritual needs. He physically healed the hemorrhaging woman (Mark 5:25-34), but also encouraged her emotionally. Given her medical problem, she would have been considered perpetually unclean.  Ashamed, she’s someone who wanted to remain unnoticed. Yet Jesus insisted that she tell her story, and then publicly praised her for her faith.  Jesus also set people free from demons, thus putting them “in their right minds” (Mark 5:1-20).  Jesus healed the blind and lame and forgave their sins.  And He was concerned about rightly ordered family relationships, chastising the Pharisees for their hypocritical neglect of their elderly parents (Matthew 15:1-9).

In short, Jesus deals with people as whole persons who are embedded in spiritual and social relationships. Likewise, our ministry to the poor must touch people’s hearts, minds, bodies and souls. And just as Jesus’ approach varied based upon the needs of the people He ministered to, Food for the Hungry also takes a unique approach in each community where we work.

Unfortunately, sometimes short-term teams focus on only one aspect of the person.  This narrow focus can be seen when a team either wants to do construction projects only or when a team only wants to share the Gospel verbally with the community.  Through teams, FH desires to communicate that the Gospel is relevant to every part of life.

More than Projects

Programs are great and projects can truly be a blessing to a community; however, it takes more than meeting physical needs to break the cycle of poverty in a community. True transformation happens when community members and leaders embrace a biblical worldview.  Biblical worldview is a major area of focus for Food for the Hungry. Worldview can be defined as a perspective from which one sees and understands the world around them.  Everyone has a worldview, and it is shaped by family, friends, history, culture, and religion, among other things. Simply put, FH invites community leaders to see community life through the lens of Scripture.

We are reminded in Psalm 139 that we are created in the image of God, and we are fearfully and wonderfully made. God created us individually in our mother’s womb, and He has a purpose for our lives. This knowledge can change how we see ourselves and how we see each other.  We are not a mistake or just a random creation, but we were carefully crafted by our heavenly Father.  When embraced, this truth leads communities to value their children and invest in their future. It leads parents to see their children not as helpers to assist with chores, but as precious people with dreams and goals of their own.

Seeing relationships through the lens of Scripture also impacts how we treat one another. Matthew 22:39 urges us to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Everyone wants to be treated with love, respect, dignity and compassion.  As we embrace this new worldview, we no longer see our neighbors as threats and competitors, but as people we ought to love just as Christ loves us. This understanding brings people to work together to solve problems and develop their communities.

One common problem in many developing communities around the world is the lack of access to education.  Many communities don’t have a school building, and many children are not able to complete elementary school. After a quick assessment, you might say, “Well, we should build more schools and hire more teachers.” Good idea, but often we forget to find the root of the problem. How would a biblical worldview change the community’s view of education?  For one, it would change the way parents view their children. Knowing that children are gifts from God, parents would desire to invest in their children by providing them with an education. Leaders would realize that to solve the problems in their community, they need to help create sharper minds and encourage creative ideas.  Providing children access to good education gives the community hope that their young people will grow up with new ideas and a greater vision for their community.  They need to see these children as the future of their community, and they need to invest in them.

Similarly, as the church embraces a biblical worldview, they would also take interest in education. The Bible is a simple yet complex book, and for young people to understand it, they need to be able to read and write. The analytical thinking skills acquired in school enable students to better understand God’s Word and apply it in their lives.  If we are to be stewards of God’s creation and solve the problems that our communities face, children and adults need to continue learning and pursuing knowledge.

The problem is not the lack of schools but the need to help parents and leaders understand the value and importance of education. If we build schools but don’t teach people the value of education, the building will go unused.  The real challenge is providing an environment wherein churches, leaders and families can embrace a biblical worldview and watch this worldview change their perspective on education.

While projects are an important part of community development, it is important to recognize that the project alone is not sufficient.  Any one of us could walk through a community and within minutes identify multiple projects which could be pursued; however, a project in and of itself will rarely, if ever, result in lasting transformation.  It is important that projects be pursued within the context of the broader work being done within the community.

Becoming Unemployed

Food for the Hungry equips and empowers community members so they can take responsibility for their own development. We work ourselves out of our job, so to speak. From the moment we begin working in a community, we are already planning our exit strategy. Our goal is to help people reach their full potential as human beings created in God’s image, not to make them dependent upon our assistance.

This idea brings us to a very important issue in relief and development: dependency.  It occurs when the person being assisted becomes addicted or dependent upon the help they are receiving. Let’s say a soup kitchen opens up in a struggling urban neighborhood. They are initially welcomed with open arms as a great help to the community by providing three meals a day to the poor. Things are looking good as the soup kitchen is meeting a real need in the community. However, this situation can have some adverse impact. Some parents who are looking for work to feed their families may lose their motivation since their kids can now eat free at the soup kitchen.  Those who have poorly paying jobs might consider quitting because they can now get food without working at all.  Instead of helping the community get on their feet, the soup kitchen is potentially preventing the community from experiencing real growth and transformation. If the soup kitchen were to leave, the community might actually be worse off. (That’s why, in recent years, leaders of many soup kitchens have supplemented their feeding programs with programs that give families opportunities to become self-sustaining.)

If we are not careful and don’t plan appropriately, this same scenario could happen in the communities that Food for the Hungry works in. That’s why FH doesn’t focus solely on physical projects and economic factors. One of the most valuable and transformative tools we have is training. We don’t tell a community what to do – we help them think for themselves. The training that we provide brings a biblical worldview to the community, and its impact is sustainable. The work continues without us.

Teams need to be careful that they don’t contribute to this problem of dependency. It can be our nature to want to help and meet the obvious needs immediately; however, this could likely impede the process of sustainable development.  You may see a need and think it is a priority; however, you have only been in the community a few days and are likely unaware of the less obvious priorities that the community is working on. Please don’t give money while in the community.  This might encourage the community to think that visitors are simply “cash cows” and they might expect them to bring extravagant gifts from now on.  This could greatly impact the effectiveness of future teams that arrive in the country.  If you want to help out financially, please talk to your team leader. Upon your team’s return to the United States, your team leader can connect with a Food for the Hungry U.S. staff and they will direct the funds to the appropriate project and need in the community.  Where culturally appropriate, small gifts may be allowed during a home visit, but please verify that the gift is okay with your team leader or the FH Team Coordinator before giving it.  Remember, your presence in the community is more important than giving a gift.

Our goal as an organization is to convey God’s transforming love as we walk alongside community members, helping them to develop ideas and plans and move forward on their own. The church is the long-term change agent within the community, and we help empower churches so that they can continue to strengthen every generation’s understanding of God’s purpose for their lives. Depending on the community and the challenges they are facing, Food for the Hungry usually stays in a community for eight to 15 years.

So, if you ask a Food for the Hungry staff what their role is in the community, they might just say that they are trying to work themselves out of a job!

Developing Resources

As Food for the Hungry builds healthy relationships and seeks to help the community develop a biblical worldview, resources are necessary to help jumpstart these initiatives. Although FH wants to see communities work creatively and use their own resources, many of these communities are so impoverished that it is necessary to infuse appropriate financial assistance to help them meet basic needs.  These are difficult communities to live in, and meals do not come easy.  It is difficult to get people to think about “biblical worldview” while their children are hungry.

Many communities where we work are located outside their home government’s “area of interest.”  In addressing the exploitation and oppression of our broken world, Proverbs and other books of Scripture communicate the need to be generous and share with those that have little.  Although we don’t want to overwhelm the communities with material resources, there are appropriate instances when FH can assist in a tangible way and make a significant difference in the community.  This could mean building latrines, implementing agricultural endeavors, providing technical expertise for business ideas, donating medical supplies, and other similar projects for community development.

The project must be a priority that the community leaders and FH staff have agreed to address.  The leaders need to find ways for the community to contribute towards the project, whether through providing funds, labor or land.  Food for the Hungry then donates supplemental assistance to complete the project.  The more the community puts towards the project, the more ownership they have over the process.  There also must be a maintenance plan to ensure that the project is sustainable.

Human Resources: God Uses People, Not Stuff

Material resources are necessary, but the most essential resource for effective ministry is the FH staff living and working in the community.   They are year-round messengers of the Gospel. With their “jack of all trade” personalities, they are able to connect with people and take them on a journey toward the Gospel. They are influencers and listeners. Rain or shine, they visit families in homes and look for opportunities to effect change in people’s hearts. They bring to the table a special ability to build relationships with community members, which is a key tool for community transformation. They are God’s bearers of hope, shining the light of Jesus in dark, desperate places.

They provide technical assistance to families, teachers, farmers, community groups and pastors.  You’ll find them working on construction projects, training youth volunteers about HIV/AIDS prevention, coordinating pastors’ meetings, organizing health trainings, leading Bible studies, and helping community leaders learn how to partner with their local government to address needs in their community.  They are a sounding board for leaders as they figure out solutions for the problems in their community.  Without the commitment of these individuals, Food for the Hungry could not function as an agent of transformation.

Opportunities for Projects

Building a relationship in a vacuum can be a challenge.  Walking up to a stranger and making conversation is difficult enough in our own culture, let alone in a community in a foreign country.  This is where hands-on, practical ministry can become a critical tool in developing relationships.

The project location or ministry activity provides a safe place for team members to build relationships with the community.  As the community watches the team engage in activities and projects that they are passionate about, they will begin to approach the team in a desire to connect.  Working side-by-side with the community helps to level the playing field and allows team members and the community to feel more comfortable together.  The project doesn’t exist solely to meet the need in the community, but also to provide a venue for relationships to grow and develop.

It has been said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  In the context of doing ministry in the developing world, communities will become more interested in what you are saying if you are communicating compassion and love in what you are doing.  When you sincerely care about the struggles of the community – and it shows in your actions – opportunities to serve will open and the community will likely be more receptive toward Gospel-centered worldview discussions.

Letting the Community Lead

It is perfectly appropriate for the team to be excited about the project or ministry in which they are involved.  However, this enthusiasm should not displace the community as the leaders in the project.  This is their community and they should be the ones owning the project.  This can be a tough reality for those who like to control the process.  With the community in the driver’s seat, it means that the process might go a little slower.   As stated in Chapter 2, the project may not be approached or done in a way that is most intuitive to you.  You might not always agree or understand the selected methodology and best practices.  However, overstepping your bounds in leadership goes against the principles that Food for the Hungry is trying to communicate in the community.  We want the churches, leaders and families to see their own God-given potential in addressing the struggles and challenges in their community.  Although the community may look impoverished and without means, each community does possess incredible resources.  We desire that the leaders see these resources and begin to cultivate their potential to harness these resources so they can solve their problems.

It has been said that development work is more art than science.  In science, the same action will always cause the same reaction.  If you hold this book over your head and let go, the scientific laws of gravity say this book will fall and likely hit you in the head.  We don’t have these same guarantees in development work.  A program or strategy that works wonderfully in one community could completely fail in a community only one mile away.  While FH staff look to use the tools of appropriate relationships, ideas and resources, we recognize that our work is not “cookie cutter” and needs to be adapted to the context of the community.  Your short-term team can play a valuable role in the work being done as you follow the lead of FH staff in the community.

For Further Thought…

1. In light of this discussion about relationships, how would you respond to the following question, “Wouldn’t it be better just to give money rather than spend all this money on traveling over there?”

2. In examining your own community, how could building healthy relationships contribute toward ending all forms of poverty in your own backyard?

3. Read and think about the quotes from FH field staff on embracing relationships and tapping ideas and resources.

Going Deeper

1. Read When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett.  This book tackles the issues that lead to bad development and how to approach development with a healthy, God-honoring posture.

2. Listen to Three Mistakes to Avoid on Short-term Missions, an interview with Steve Corbett.

3. Read “The Best Big Sister in the Whole Wide World”, a story about dependency.

4. Read Generous Justice by Tim Keller. In it, Keller explores a life of justice empowered by an experience of grace: a generous, gracious justice.

5. Read Krista’s Story, which tells about a short-term team member and how she advocated on behalf of Uganda when she returned to the U.S.

Chapter 6: Going Home >>

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