First, let me say that it is difficult to pull an adequate quote from an entire book, because of course, the quote comes from an entire book, and the book expounds and explains and develops full ideas. If you are interested, challenged, agree or disagree with a single quote…I always recommend you read the entire book (or at least longer excerpts) in order to be able to more fully interact with the ideas put forth in a book…but of course, quotes are also useful discussion starters…such a quandary, but a good one. I don’t think it’s a surprise to any of you that Pete and I love reading…more reading is a good problem to have!
I have been going back and re-reading some of the books that we read before coming to Mexico, and I am finding them so much more helpful at this point in my life than they previously were! Toxic Charity, When Helping Hurts, Walking with the Poor, Forgotten Ways, among others…
Today’s quote (I’ll get to it eventually) comes from Walking with the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development by Bryant L. Myers. It is rather dense, but I appreciate reading the social science research behind the various theories of community development (the other development books on my list above would be considered to be based on the existing research, but they do not cite the research too much in the books in the effort to keep them readable, i.e., not dense and difficult).
I firmly and unapologetically believe that we are called to research and implement best practice as Christians, no matter the field we are in. I think people would agree that it would be irresponsible for a Christian medical doctor to ignore the most current research in his or her field…so why is it that we think we can excuse practices in community development that have been shown over and over again to be more harmful than helpful? Obviously, we all make mistakes, none of us is perfect (i.e. no perfect practitioners OR perfect theories OR perfect projects…thank our Lord for grace), and there are “grey” areas in best practice…but those should not be excuses to ignore research and best practice. We should at least try to learn and grow and practice with excellence because God is God…all holy, powerful, beautiful, good. We are His creations and so are the people we work with. We honor Him by doing our best and being humble and willing to learn and grow through our mistakes. But it’s not easy. I deeply struggle with feeling inadequate in the face of the ministry we have here. I will confess, sometimes reading the books above make me feel more inadequate. But I am not afraid of my inadequacy because I trust in an unfailing God who is always and ever present…with me, and with all those with whom we work. At the same time, I refuse to use my feelings of inadequacy as an excuse to just do whatever feels “right” to me without learning more; I feel that would be selfish of me, focusing more on my feelings than on God’s will. When I get overwhelmed, I try to simplify my thought processes.
Seek God. Seek wisdom.
Ask questions. Read. Learn. Try something.
Fail. Make mistakes.
Learn some more. Try again. Repeat.
Not so complicated. But I hate making mistakes and I especially hate failure. I think we need to learn to get over our fear of those things. (Outside of Jesus, of course, I can’t think of a single Bible person who didn’t FAIL, and most of them failed BIG).
Trust God and His power and grace and mercy. And ask Him to give us grace for others!
I want to write a bit (in more than one post…this is getting LONG) about what we’re learning and experiencing so we can all process together and learn and grow. Essentially, posts that unpack what we have seen here “on the field” that support various research findings; where we’ve succeeded, where we’ve failed, and what we’re learning to change. But before all the theories, social research, and tools for community development in upcoming posts, below is an important reminder that I appreciated reading in Walking with the Poor that directly challenges me not to be swayed by feeling inadequate or fearful of failure.
The wisdom of the cross offers a different basis for hope. The cross teaches us that salvation does not come from right thinking or right technique, but by divine action making right what we cannot make right ourselves. We are told the “the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength” (1 Cor 1:25). Foolishness and weakness are the message of the cross, “the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18). The development worker must never forget this basic truth about who can save. The claims of modernity are seductive, and we encounter them every day in the things we read, listen to, and study. Our professional training as development specialists is predicated on the idea that the stories of the market, science, and technology can save others. This is not true, and we must guard against this deception. These things are tools and they can help, but they cannot save.” (p. 151, Walking with the Poor by Bryant Myers)