Monday, July 06, 2009

Taking the harder road

One of the ongoing points of discussion here at The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada is how we can transition from being a mission that primarily responds to persecution to one that equips persecuted Christians to respond to incidents of religious violence with limited or no outside assistance.  How can we move from being perceived as being like the knight who rides in on a white horse with dollar bills flying out his pockets rescuing the downtrodden to being a servant who assists the local church to meet local needs of persecuted believers as locally as possible?  Reliance on outside aid inevitably delays response, may not always be appropriate, is liable to be abused or duplicated, can create an unhealthy dependency, and can actually increase persecution as persecutors resent what they perceive to be outside interference.

The problem is, for many organizations like The Voice of the Martyrs, being primarily a reactive ministry is far easier to do and hence, if there is no underlying philosophical drive to do otherwise, it will almost always be the fallback position that we will take and where we will place our focus. 

But why is it easier?   Why is it easier to be reactive rather than proactive in serving the persecuted?  First of all, relief aid is far easier to raise money for. Aid is easy to describe and donors can see the need and as they give, they are able to see results.  That brings us the second reason why relief aid is easier - there are immediate, measurable results. You can see the results and you can tell your donors what you have used their donations for. You can easily take pictures and videos of people receiving the aid. Hence, the third reason of taking the easier path – relief aid is easier to depict pictorially.  How do you take pictures for your donors of how you have motivated or equipped Indian Christians to provide assistance to other Indian Christians? Pictures of training sessions are boring. Much better to have a picture of a doe-eyes little girl clutching a bowl of rice gracing the cover of your magazine.

The fourth reason organizations gravitate towards aid rather than development is that relief aid is typically easier to plan and implement, especially if you are not overly concerned about involving local Christians in the process, many of whom are probably just glad that you are doing something.  With relief program, the western mission can call the shots and implement programs that have worked in other countries and which you already have resources for and expertise in. Of course, mistakes can be made. I recently was reading the comments section of a website in Pakistan where a local Christian mentioned that her village had just received a shipment of used clothing from a western mission. Unfortunately, she complained, the clothing they received was heavy winter wear received just as the heat of summer was arriving.  The clothing was of no value to them.  She wondered why this organization thought that winter clothing would be an appropriate response to their immediate need. 

Lastly, relief aid requires far less expertise and specially trained personnel. Equipping local believers to respond to persecution effectively and biblically takes a different set of skills and training than the logistics of providing relief aid.  The scramble for donations and the pressure to be seen “doing something” makes the development and/or training of such personnel less of a priority than it should be. It is far easier just to react. 

Please pray for us as we continue these vital discussions. We want to be an organization that is not only seen to be doing good but actually does good both in the short and long term.  This is the harder road to take but it is one we believe we need to take.


Ron and Jeanette said...

This is a dilemma many are struggling with right now - and I don't think you would be able to stop reponding to the situations as they occur, so you really need twice the funds at first - some for relief and some for development. I will be praying for you!

Anonymous said...

That is tough but seems very wise. In a sense it is how we should train our children. They need to learn how to make wise decisions. So often as parents we become rescuers when things don't go well. As a mission it seems to me there would be times to train and times to rescue. That takes discernment. Eunice

Glenn Penner said...

I would hesitant, though, to think of the persecuted as children, Eunice. It has more to do with training ourselves to stop acting like children. Yes, I agree that there will always be a place for relief aid; our concern is to move beyond it being the primary focus of our ministry