This blog post opens a big topic in short order. As others have written good books on aspects of this issue, I cite a few with the aim of starting an interdisciplinary and international conversation. Why? My aim is to wake the Church at large and major players in mission—whether they go, give, send, or serve—to make a paradigm shift that could shake the earth with global impact.

There are three parts to this post. Firstly, we will consider a massive social problem that cross-border international programs and giving often unknowingly or inadvertently create. Let’s call it dependency. Secondly, we will look into the Scriptures at a key text that suggests a biblical solution. Because it is the pathway Jesus called us to follow, I refer to it as discipleship. Thirdly, a global opportunity comes into view for us, but we must make the decision to chart a new course in conversation and service together.

  1. Addressing a Massive Social Problem – Move from Dependency!In his book, The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good, economist William Easterly states, “Poor people die not only because of the world’s indifference to their poverty, but also because of ineffective efforts by those who do care” (7). He explains that cross-border efforts driven by “planners” who are outsiders often fail or create more problems, including dependency. His research suggests instead that outsiders should engage “searchers” or insiders who grasp the challenges in a local context and can effect change when collaboration includes “feedback and accountability” (15).

    Professors Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert depict how dependency surfaces in well-meaning efforts, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself. “We often project our own ideas of what is an acceptable standard of living onto the situation and are quick to take a relief approach, doling out money in ways that the local people would consider unwise and dependence-creating” (103). In so doing, our helping hurts. What should we do? Let’s take this huge problem to Jesus.

  2. Revisiting an Important Biblical Mandate – Shift to Discipleship!When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment in Luke 10:25-37, He responded that disciples must love God and love their neighbor. From there, He illustrated love of neighbor with the story of the Good Samaritan. Please read the text in your Bible and then consider with me how moving from dependency to discipleship is actually the path Jesus marked out for us.

    Firstly, we need to move toward our neighbor with love. While the priest and Levite steered clear, the Samaritan went to the suffering person and gave personal help. It took effort and sacrifice. Secondly, we must engage others in the community. By bringing the innkeeper into the story, he became part of a movement of showing love and restoration. Thirdly, we invest in building local capacity. The Samaritan’s giving, coupled with his promise to provide more funds as needed, built local capacity. It resourced the collective loving effort. It appeared not as a handout that would create a dependency, but as a hand up that would form a disciple. Jesus concluded with a command for all disciples to “go and do likewise” because how we help people forms them into helpers.

  3. Building Capacity is Today’s Global Opportunity – Make the Decision!In her work, Rise Up & Walk: Religion and Culture in Empowering the Poor, social anthropologist Melba Padilla Maggay challenges us to enter the story of the poor to discern the “worldviews and the cultural roots of development failure” (228). As outsiders, we have to keep our thoughts captive because our plans often create problems rather than offering solutions. Instead, in collaboration with insiders, we can confront powers and implement empowerment strategies while attending to the unseen. She adds a warning, “In this study, we see how our own local efforts to assist communities in their own transformation can also do more harm than good” (202-203). In her words, if we don’t choose the “torturous task of capacity building,” we are “disabling a people” (203).

    Journalist Rob Martin concurs and calls us to decide together to build local capacity. In his book, When Money Goes on Mission: Fundraising and Giving in the 21st Century, he calls for “a true and equal partnership in a cross-cultural and international setting, where each offers the others what they need in pursuit of their mutual callings. When this happens, the partnership goes beyond mere financial transactions and lays the foundation for a transformative communion of giving and receiving across cultures and vast financial gaps” (51). Too often, development efforts have been neither true nor equal partnerships, which have resulted in dependency rather than building local, sustainable movements of disciples. Whether we go, give, send, or serve, we must make the decision to shift from dependency to discipleship. If we do, instead of handicapping people, we will see the kingdom come.

Email me at president@gtp.org if you are interested in joining future global conversations on this topic both online and onsite.

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