by Buzz Maxey
Dear Chris, Thanks for your e-mail and your interest in development on the mission field. That excites me. You asked about our philosophy on development. I have to admit that most of my development philosophy comes from my fiascos rather than my successes.
Thanks for your e-mail and your interest in development on the mission field. That excites me.
You asked about our philosophy on development. I have to admit that most of my development philosophy comes from my fiascos rather than my successes. When I was getting my feet wet in 1989, I came back to Indonesia as a development consultant with exciting ideas and plans. I envisioned churches in Papua’s interior involved in development projects that would support their pastors and church programs.
When the village of Arogolik requested help purchasing a rice-hulling machine, I jumped at the chance. The villagers were growing great rice that they carried on their backs for over an hour to a road where a truck picked it up. They took their rice to a businessman who processed and polished it. As payment, the villagers had to give up to fifteen percent of their rice to him. The businessman also kept the rich bran that was produced when he polished the rice.
These farmers were getting ripped off and obviously needed my help. I was eager to assist, especially since a large non-Christian community surrounded the village. I reasoned that the church people would profit financially and be able to help their neighbors. As their economic status increased they would have many opportunities for ministry.
Because the farmers were poor, I only required them to pay a portion of the US $8,000 machinery cost. We made an agreement that at each harvest they would repay a small amount of the remaining loan. The government built a road into the village and a shed to store their new equipment. Within weeks we had installed the machinery and set up a committee to run the project. The village began to produce some of the valley’s best rice. Customers were actually driving to their village to purchase fresh rice. The Arogolik villagers began to prosper and were able to buy some of the things they had always wanted. I stopped regularly at the village to show guests the achievements. Other villages processed their rice there and Arogolik charged ten percent for the service. I was feeling good about the project’s success, especially when an international television company came to do a documentary on the Arogolik story.
However, within a year some disturbing things began to happen. I noticed that the people were not getting along as well. In fact one day a fistfight broke out among a few of the project leaders. I eventually had to lock a man in the shed to keep him from hurting another villager. The committee running the project was “losing” money somewhere and it seemed that the pastor was not getting any financial support as had been agreed. Nothing was being spent on evangelism or to help poor neighbors. After a few years a major division arose in the church.
This well-intentioned development project that was supposed to strengthen the Christian community’s hands, had actually weakened the church and split the village into several factions. The sudden influx of money made people greedy and deceitful. As of this letter, the rice huller is a broken down playground for rats. Relationships have also broken down, and those kinds of breaks are harder to repair. I was discouraged.
From this initial project I learned that good development is LEAN—careful with money; MEAN—requiring sacrifice by the community; EXTREME—needing long-term involvement; and UNSEEN—because real development is what goes on inside a person.
You know, Chris, some development workers think that large amounts of money are required to make a project successful. I think the opposite is true—good development should be LEAN. In my experience, development has been more successful when less money is spent—giving out less and accepting less from donors. Large sums of money kill community initiative, which means a feeling of ownership seldom exists. As I discovered with the rice project, it can lead to divisiveness too.
When we have large amounts of money to dispense, the danger exists that communities will implement our money-backed projects even when they don’t believe in or need them. People become empowered by the force of money rather than conviction.
A great example of a community empowered by conviction is a private school that evangelists started at Suru-Suru, one of the remote jungle evangelism posts. The evangelists felt a need to educate their kids and the local people. They built a school and hired one of their own sixth grade graduates to teach. My only involvement has been to donate a sack of rice and occasional small honorarium. The people pay the teacher themselves. Most teachers in Papau’s remote areas are rarely at their post teaching, but this village-hired teacher has never left his post in three years. Because the villagers initiated the school themselves, they are eager to maintain their own program and building. The school is a success and only costs three bags of rice, a couple money gifts, some notebooks, chalk and encouragement.
Chris, I’ve noticed that when outsiders pay for everything it often builds resentment rather than dignity in the community. The Suru-Suru people are proud of their school because they made it happen by the sweat of their brows. Honestly, I have never been to a hotter place in my life, so there are certainly plenty of sweaty brows! When people pay for something and work hard to make a project successful, it belongs to them. We want to build pride and dignity.
Unfortunately, too often we rob people of their dignity by making things too easy for them. When we accept “big money” from funders it can cause us to break our own development rules, which in turn causes “reverse development.” Not long ago we turned down US $20,000 because the donor expected us to complete our project in a year’s time. This meant we couldn’t spend valuable time building relationships and waiting for local initiative. What I did in “helping” the Arogolik rice project was in fact hurting them. I wasn’t doing development at all, but reverse development.
When you get to the mission field, Chris, you might also need to be a little MEAN. That’s hyperbole for loving the people so much that you require sacrifice on their part. Roland Bunch in his great book, Two Ears Of Corn, says, “Don’t do for people what they can do for themselves.” Our tribe has a saying “You pull the trail, I’ll follow.” This simply means, “When you take the lead, I’ll come from behind,” a concept that’s a good development principle.
In the Arogolik fiasco, I was the one who took the lead. I didn’t require much sacrifice so there was little feeling of ownership. If the community had paid, worked and sacrificed more, maybe the project would have been more sustainable. However, we’ve learned the most by our mistakes.
When another village called Siepkosih requested help processing their rice, we were much harder on them. We insisted they fulfill the following requirements:
1. Complete one year of discipleship and training. During this year we thoroughly discussed issues such as choosing leaders, use of profits, bookkeeping principles, responsibility for their pastors, evangelism, and care for the poor, widows and orphans.
2. Build a storage shed and a road to their village. This meant that the whole village was required to participate in the project.
3. Raise half of the money for the rice-hulling equipment in advance and payback a percentage of the loan at each harvest. They accomplished this in a little more than a year.
A dedication feast was held when Siepkosih paid the final loan. At that time they testified that God had blessed them because they had honored him and put his work first. They continue to give faithfully to the church district. They have bank accounts for the poor, missions, education for their kids, and are supporting their own pastors and widows. They have also been able to save enough money for when their machine eventually breaks down. I continue to meet with the leadership team and am helping them to understand banking issues such as interest, term deposits and money transfers. Of the five rice-hulling machines in the valley, theirs is the only one that is running and the only village where community relations are stable.
I’m convinced that the Siepkosih project is self-sustaining today because “they pulled the trail and we followed.” At first, they weren’t happy about doing everything. Once one of the leaders said, “Maxey hasn’t really done anything for us. We’ve done this all on our own.” That stung a bit at first, but after a while I realized that was exactly what I wanted to hear. When people have done it on their own, they know the project doesn’t belong to me—it’s theirs!
Another reason the Siepkosi project succeeded was because the project was slowed down. This is what I mean by EXTREME, being involved for the long haul. We always have to remember that in development it’s the process and not the final outcome that matters. Most cultures don’t do the “instant” thing well. They like long, drawn out meetings around a fire that finally lead to consensus. They get excited about plans that are carried out slowly, with networking and relationships at the core.
Even though I grew up here and know the culture, sometimes I still want to hurry a project. That seldom works. If I were you, Chris, I would plan on coming for a significant amount of time so that you can develop relationships, learn the language well, plan with the people, fail and try again. You will go crazy if you view everything through a westerner’s eyes. You’ll need to gain the local people’s respect and grow to love them.
My friend, don’t be led to believe anyone who says you can come and work yourself out of a job in six months. You won’t even have started building friendships yet. A good friend once said, “Good development is time expensive and money cheap.” In my thirteen years in the field I have watched many development projects and consultants come and go. They all had great ideas and were able to get things going, but shortly after the turn over, the project died. Many projects look good in a proposal, but they fail because the time investment is so short.
Chris, effective development is also UNSEEN. Development is about what happens inside people, it’s not about things or the transfer of goods. It’s intangible. It’s about people’s knowledge and character.
E.F. Shumacher says in his book, Small Is Beautiful, “The tendency is to see and become conscious of only the visible and to forget the invisible things that are making the visible possible and keep it going” (1993). True development is not the implementation of a rice huller that the BBC does a story on. Development is the investment that goes into building leaders, unity, self-confidence, integrity, compassion and many other things in God’s Word.
Arogolik was a fiasco because we did little unseen development. Siepkosi was a success because we spent a lot of time on discipleship and leadership training. I learned just as much from those villagers as they learned from me. It’s been five years and I still meet with them regularly. A couple months ago I met with them to talk about a relationship problem they were having. I listened, we discussed and prayed, we ate lunch together, but in the end they went and solved their own problem. That’s unseen development, Chris.
Development is investing in leaders whose godly characters become the moving forces in their communities. It’s empowering people to become the ones who are developing their own communities. Of course, a need for economic development exists, but I think the best development, and certainly the more sustainable, is intangible or UNSEEN.
It’s getting late, so I’ve got to run. Finally, Chris, let me say that we aren’t doing development to “hold a carrot out,” although I hope that people “see our good works and give praise to our Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Development is not about trying to “get a foot in the door” either. We’re involved in development to bring glory to the name of Jesus and because this is what he commanded us to do.
Remember the Great Commandment where Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind and your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37, 39). That’s what development is all about.
There it is, Chris, LEAN, MEAN, EXTREME and UNSEEN. Though I can’t make it rhyme, you’ll find it to be one of the most rewarding endeavors in the world.—Buzz
Shumacher, E. F. 1993. Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered. London: Vintage.
Buzz Maxey was raised in Papua, Indonesia, and has worked with the C&MA for fifteen years. “Some of my best development ideas come while listening in the men’s hut and walking the trails with people.”
EMQ, Jul 1994 Vol 30 No 3 pp 348-353 Copyright © 2004 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ.
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