by John Steward
Do we offer run of the mill development, or transformational programs?
An antique dealer heard about a peasant up country who possessed a saucer decorated with a golden crown. The dealer traveled by plane and jeep and, finally, for several miles on foot until he came to the right village. The villagers directed him to the peasant’s hut, where he was made welcome. His eyes immediately lit upon a sleek black cat lapping milk from a saucer. As the cat licked up the last drops, the dealer could see the golden crown marked on the saucer, so he knew it to be valuable.
He sat talking with the peasant, and after a while remarked upon what a fine cat the peasant owned. They chatted further, and the dealer said he thought the cat was so fine that he would like to purchase it. The peasant demurred at first, but after several minutes of haggling, finally agreed to sell the cat. Delighted, the dealer concealed his pleasure.
As he was about to depart, the dealer said casually, "I shall need something to give the cat its milk. So if you don’t mind, I’ll take that old saucer as well."
"You can have the cat," replied the peasant, "but not the saucer. We need that saucer to sell cats."
CATS OR IMPERIAL SAUCERS?
Christian development agencies need to ask the question, "What is it that we offer-cats or imperial saucers?" Run-of-the-mill development, or transformation? There’s no doubt that we would like the latter. We say this is our goal, and we have mission statements to prove it. But do we really achieve it? Or, like the antique dealer, are our partners left holding a common cat, while we lament that gaining the saucer is out of their reach?
Back in 1989, I visited several community meetings in West Africa and discovered two things-that the people enjoyed stories, and that they were open when Christians spoke about their faith. In two of those meetings, the discussion reached a critical point. The community, which was Muslim, faced a problem and had to decide what to do. Each time I thought of a story from the Gospels with an idea that could have helped resolve the issue. But I didn’t speak, and those opportunities were lost. By my silence I withheld the imperial saucer.
What is the good news that we bring? What makes our work Christian? How do we differ from other organizations in the quality of our work? Can we be openly Christian without being patronizing, manipulative, or imperialistic? Can we be sensitive to the people’s beliefs and culture and yet share our faith with them? Do we settle for the cat, or is it nothing less than the imperial saucer?
I have found many examples that suggest we can move beyond selling cats. We get a hint of this in Frances O’Gorman’s book Down to Earth, in which she interviewed 101 rural Brazilian women about how the Bible changed their thinking and helped them escape traditional male repression. Said one, Antonia: "The Bible has many passages that touch on people’s life today. Without God’s Word opening the way, one can’t manage to change women’s thinking. We hold meetings out in chapels in the fields. We keep on reflecting and talking to our companions."
Something similar is happening in our work in the Philippines. World Vision now begins development projects by forming a core group of people who care about change in their community. The key action they take is to study the Bible, which provides direction for the problems they face and uncovers Christian values to bind them together.
The process, which we call Scripture Search, is based on the belief that stories from the Bible build vision and illustrate principles that help form values. People from oral societies particularly, in which much of our work is done, respond to stories and genealogies. Scripture Search allows people to face development problems armed with insights from God’s Word.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
We use a four-step method in the Philippines.
1. Read/hear the text—Read cripture or tell story—point of openness—in particular a value is under discussion e.g. the value of taking responsibility, of cooperation, of sharing.
2. Identify community problems in the story—What light does the text/story throw on the community situation?—point of discovery.
3. Relating God to the problems—What is God telling us about our problem? Includes quietness to hear God speak.—point of realization.
4. Decide on what action is needed—How does God want us to deal with this?—point of commitment.
The text is initially chosen by the community development worker (CDW), based upon his or her prior reflection. But as the core group members begin to see the relevance of Scripture and read their Bibles, they begin to find their own passages. When the CDW leaves the community, usually after a year or a year and a half, then the group is entirely responsible, although it usually looks to two or three of the more mature members for guidance.
Although we put a lot of emphasis on Jesus because we want to demonstrate that he is a credible person to follow, the focus is not entirely on the Lord; the didactic passages can equally be used. In the Philippines, we use the whole Bible.
Traditional biblical teaching complements this approach. As issues of sin, salvation, and right living arise, they are addressed by whoever is equipped to do it, provided the people are open to listen to and study God’s Word. Often Scripture Search becomes Bible study.
A Scripture Search is not a devotional. It is a learning process based on an actual situation; its goal is behavior change. Let’s look at some examples.
EXAMPLES OF SCRIPTURE SEARCH
1. Genesis 1 models the importance of planning. A new core group was uncertain about the process of development. Members struggled with the idea of making plans, because they did not yet value the idea of planning. So they spent an hour studying Genesis 1, seeing how God planned his own development project: the creation of the world.
Before reading the passage, members drew pictures of how they thought God had done it. Then they compared their ideas with the story. The discussion was humorous, but it helped them see the value of planning.
They saw that God began with a baseline, as the earth was without form and void; God started with the simplest and worked toward the complex; God created people only after the necessary resources (light and dry land, for example) were available. They also noted that God monitored every step of the process and at the end evaluated the results and celebrated his success. In development terms, the Scripture Search reinforced the principles of starting with a baseline, planning, implementing, monitoring, evaluating, and celebrating.
2. 1 Corinthians 12 models proper relationships. Members of another group were uncertain about their relationships with others in the project. Their Scripture Search reflected on 1 Corinthians 12’s teaching on one body but many parts. The members related the various stakeholders in the project to parts of the body. (See Figure below.)
EYES—CORE GROUP: look at the activities, see what is happening
HANDS & FEET—WORKING GROUP: the implementors, involved in the doing
STOMACH—COMMUNITY: receive the results, enjoy the benefits
FOOD—WORLD VISION: provides funding, shares its resources
3. Ephesians 3 offers encouragement. Often Scripture Search lays the foundation for years of change. Two Manila office staff interviewed seven members of a group making fish sauce. As the seven shared their dreams, one of the visitors responded with a brief reflection on Ephesians 3:20-21-God is able to do more than you ask or imagine, which strengthened the group and encouraged them to be united and pray more for one another.
Scripture Search is unique; it brings something of the essentials of the kingdom of God to communities. It brings hope to feudalistic, nominal Christian communities and leads them to a hunger for God’s Word. It delivers life-changing values on an imperial saucer.
USEFUL IN NON-CHRISTIAN AREAS, TOO
With hard work and sensitivity, Scripture Search acts as an avenue for pre-evangelistic contact within non-Christian societies, such as the one among tribal people in northeastern Thailand where Jim Gustafson, who has his own foundation, works. In the community projects there, practical Bible study is held weekly, as the study leader facilitates a group problem-solving process. The team also expresses Scriptural principles through appropriate cultural practices such as dance, music, and ceremonies of covenant and forgiveness. These things bring the Word of God into the center of the development process, and they have createdgreatinterestamong thepeople.
Tonyand Liz Rinaudo work among African Muslim farmers. By day Tony works alongside them in the fields; at night they camp out together. After the evening meal, Tony sets aside time for worship. The farmers sit quietly until he has finished. Then the questions fly: "What was your God saying to you?" "Tell us about your holy book." "What does it all mean?" In this way Muslim farmers hear how Scripture relates to the daily life of one person. As they see practical Christianity in action, they ask more questions.
This also works with spirit worshipers. A friend who serves among Indonesian animists has used a Scripture Search approach to help them form values. For each problem the people face, he looks for a biblical principle to guide them.
Scripture Search is effective even among Hindus, perhaps the group least open to hearing from Christians. Dave and Ange Andrews worked in India for 10 years. Dave developed an approach to community change much like Scripture Search, which he discusses in his book Can You Hear the Heartbeat? Here are some of his insights.
1. We need to feel sure about the essential, visionary insights of the prophetic tradition. Prophets call on people to settle their problems in light of what God wants for the world. But since history is the record of the silencing of the voice of the prophet, decisions are made for short-term selfish gain, leading to long-term community loss.
Dave points out that the visionary insights of the prophetic tradition are based on an agenda of love and justice, and lead to actions producing just, sustainable change. He uses the contrasting examples of Zacchaeus and the rich young ruler to make his point. Zacchaeus followed Jesus’ advice, to his own short-term loss but to the community’s long-term gain. The rich young ruler, by contrast, ignored his advice, to his own short-term gain but to the community’s long-term detriment. Dave says he is "convinced that genuine, sustainable transformation can only be facilitated by enabling people to solve their problems together, in the light of the prophetic tradition-personified in Jesus of Nazareth."
2. Facilitating this change requires that we encourage people to share problems and search the Scriptures for applicable stories.
3. Among people who are not followers of Jesus, use common sense and consensus. Although common sense leads us only so far, and consensus can be misled unless based on Scripture, God is the source of truth, and that truth is written on the hearts of all people (Rom. 2:14-15) and lives in their hearts (John 1:9). Thus many groups act in sympathy with the heart of God, which is not surprising, since-despite our sinfulness-we are all made in the image of God. Here is how this works:
- Base decisions on common sense and consensus
- Agree to solve problems together
- After resolution explain the connection between the decision and the prophetic tradition
- Success depended on taking the kind of action advocated by Jesus
- Repeat the process again and again
- God’s agenda becomes credible
- Eventually the one point of view by which others are compared
- The question about God’s agenda is asked before the decision to act
- The process of conversion to Jesus has begun
Dave says that once we have resolved a problem, the CDW explicitly makes the connection between the decision and the prophetic tradition personified in Jesus. The people see that success depends on taking the kind of action advocated by Jesus. In time God’s agenda becomes a credible point of view, and eventually the one point of view by which all others are judged. We know this time has arrived when people ask about God’s agenda before they make a decision.
For example, a Hindu slum community in Delhi was being harassed by the police. One day the group decided something had to be done.
"Somewantedto attackthe policestation immediately with bricks," Dave says. "Bricks were a common means of settling disputes in the slum. As a conflict resolution technique, the people considered it a knockout."
After Dave encouraged the people to envisage what the results of such a course of action might be, they started to have doubts and began discussing other possible responses. Someone suggested inviting the police over for a cup of tea to discuss the matter, and with our support, eventually the idea won the day and the police were invited. Both sides called a truce; the squatters agreed not to cause trouble, and the police agreed not to beat them up.
"After the police had gone, we had a talk about how the problem had been resolved," Dave says. "One of us mentioned that the problem had been resolved exactly how Jesus of Nazareth had suggested such problems be resolved."
"They were embarrassed that they had done anything remotely religious, even unintentionally," Dave continues. "But the squatters remembered the way they had solved the problem with the police, and they also remembered that it was the way Jesus suggested that problem be resolved."
When Dave and Ange Andrews left India, all kinds of changes had taken place-and there were 70 people from that slum community who were following in the way of Jesus.
IT’S A GOOD IDEA
Scripture Search establishes our credentials, because we are using our holy book, and people of other faiths will respect this. Scripture Search gives us wisdom beyond our own words, and when we leave, this source of wisdom stays. It also encourages dependence on God, not on us. Scripture Search provides practical wisdom people need for their daily lives; it is not the banking approach of Bible study ("You’ll need this information some day.") With it, kingdom values are generated in the community, and the Bible is seen as relevant to the context. Scripture Search is holistic and developmental.
But if we don’t use this approach, our work has a secularizing effect, and we deceive ourselves that transformation is possible. We deny the people a source of outside wisdom and consign them to superstition, magic, and the demonic. Without Scripture Search, we either seem to be imposing our culture as superiors, or affirming their values as adequate. Without this spiritual dimension, we are not holistic, and cannot be. There is no good news.
JUSTIFYING APPROACH TO NON-CHRISTIANS
How do we justify this approach to government and non-Christian donors? First, it is an expression of our core values; we are being true to who we are. It’s also good to point out that other faiths can contribute to the process. It is not exclusionary, and we don’t force anyone to convert. Also, many people are more comfortable than we are with the spiritual dimension of life, and are in fact uncomfortable when it is excluded. Further, it is a critical factor in development, and it works.
When two Canadian government officials traveled to northeastern Thailand to review Jim Gustafson’s work for possible continued future funding, they were impressed by what they saw, but uncomfortable with the Christian component. Couldn’t he have development, but divorce it from the Christian faith?
Jim replied, "Have you seen similar results of development work anywhere else in Thailand?"
"No," they admitted, "we have not seen anything as clear or as effective elsewhere."
Jim then explained how Christian values radically impacted the people, while affirming and deepening many traditional practices that were in danger of being lost. He said, "We cannot have the kind of community change you are approving of without the value changes."
The visitors did not raise the issue again-and the future funding was approved. Ultimately we justify this approach because it works and releases human potential.
My thesis is that God’s Spirit is always at work, preparing people with a hunger for reality. Scripture Search is a valid and necessary part of Christian expression in the transformation process. The sooner we bring it into any project, the better will be the outcome. If possible, use it right from day one.
If we withhold the Scripture, then we will never adorn the saucer with the golden crown of lives transformed and communities uplifted. God’s grace, which is offered to all people, is known only by those who hear about it. Scripture Search gives us the chance to explain that grace.
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