Building Relationships, Breaking Barriers
Posted on September 13th, 2013 at 10:46AM
It is a collection of ramshackle huts made out of wood, cardboard and plastic sheeting. There is no electricity or running water. Living here is uncomfortable in the scorching heat of summer and almost unbearable in the bitter cold and torrential rain of winter. Unemployment is high. Poverty and suffering is rife. This is a place where, deprived of an education in local schools, the children head to the nearby town to beg for small change, or sweets, from sympathetic passers-by.
This is community that we assumed would welcome our offer to provide a safe place, an education, and a daily meal to its children.
In the case of many of these households we were wrong. Our offer was regarded with widespread suspicion. Many parents, although polite, declined to send their children to "that charity project".
As we considered the cool response we were receiving, we identified two problems. The first was that these families had no expectations of their children receiving an education. Therefore they placed little value on it.
The other thing we realised was that the people in this community did not want to be viewed as objects of pity, or simply recipients of "charity". It made them feel devalued. Fathers were embarrassed that a local organisation was offering to help their children in ways that they could not offer themselves. It added to their own sense of inadequacy and lack of self-worth. As we explored this, we learned that "poverty" was not just about meeting this community's obvious material needs. We also needed to address another aspect of "poverty" - the sense of shame, inferiority, isolation and powerlessness that had become so pervasive in people's lives.
So we changed tack. We started to focus on building relationship with the people in the community. Visiting the families regularly. Getting to know them. Talking with them about their problems and fears. Laughing with them. Drinking lots of coffee! And, as relationships were built, so walls were broken down. We were no longer seen as simply workers from "that charity project". We became friends.
Today, 25 children from this community attend our education program. The care centre has great support from the community. Many parents have embraced the value of education - and the children are thriving.
Jesus connected personally with those that he helped. He had compassion. He demonstrated love towards those that, to the rest of society, seemed to be unlovable. In doing so he did far more than meet people's outward material or physical needs. He gave them a new purpose, a sense of value, and hope.
We should follow his example whenever we are able to do so. Giving can often be far more than providing a service or meeting a specific need. It is about relationship. Giving hope. And demonstrating the love and compassion of Jesus.
Matt Parker works with Kids Alive International (www.kidsalive.org) in the role of Executive Vice President. He has also worked with Kids Alive as its Director in Lebanon, and has also overseen the development of programmes caring for orphans and vulnerable children in Kenya, Zambia, Sudan and South Sudan.