A Response to Valdir Steuernagel’s ‘More Partners at the Table‘
We hear that partnership in mission is much more complex today because it is global and the people taking part are so diverse. I don’t believe that. Our relationships to each other are not a question of rich and poor, they are not a question of culture or race or nationality. They are a question of the heart. If we bring it down to basics, it is just you, the Lord, and the other person. Together you stand before the Lord.
I appreciate Valdir Steuernagel’s emphasis on God’s call to community, and the importance of listening if we want to experience partnership. If anything, I would want to state the case more strongly.
My organization, the Center for Community Transformation, works with the poorest of the poor in the Philippines. When you work with the poor, prejudice and stereotypes come easily, often because of a lack of experience and a lack of relationships. You hear that the poor are not capable, the poor cannot manage work, the poor will take advantage of you, the poor will vandalize you, the poor smell. And so the poor become an object of charity.
Instead, we have to grasp that the poor are created in the image of God. They are not only our co-equals, they are our co-creators. Understanding that, we enter their community with humility, and we take each person at face value. We understand that we are there not on behalf of our plans, but as part of God’s plan. We take on the attitude of a servant.
Once we have the right perspective and attitude, we must also have a clear sense of purpose. When I started out in development work, I was there to deliver services and report on outcomes. I was essentially a technician. As I grew in maturity and in my relationship to the Lord, that changed. My purpose became to build the community—a community that reflects the new heavens and the new earth. Ultimately this is a covenant, not a partnership. It starts with a covenant with the Lord.
In that covenant, you go from being a technician to being a servant. As you grow you may become a servant leader. As you are given even more responsibilities you may become a servant leader-visionary. But you are not a servant of certain outcomes. You are a servant of the community, and most of all a servant of the Lord. You are nameless because the only name you have is the name of Jesus.
When building the community becomes your purpose, you understand the process will take time. You are freed from being driven by what the world calls results.
I am not suggesting any lack of accountability. You have to be accountable for the resources that are invested in you. But these include not only financial resources, so that you report how you spend money. More important are the people God puts in your path. Are they becoming better people? Are they growing more intimate in relationship with the Lord, with other people, and with the rest of creation?
You are also accountable before God for your humanitarian or mission organization. Is it anchored in the Word of God? Are the structures and policies biblically anchored? This goes far beyond the accountability of professionalism. It goes beyond questions about whether you delivered services efficiently.
Recently I saw a woman who had just given birth begging on the street. I wanted to invite her to come and stay in our center, where she could be helped, but I could see that she was very frightened. She probably thought that the authorities might take her child away. She may have feared being abused or used.
In that situation, the best thing is to sit beside her until she breaks the silence. I find it very difficult to do that because I have so many important priorities. But I ask myself, what is more important than sitting with her on that pavement? Sometimes we have to wait in silence. Do our accountability structures account for that?
Ultimately what we bring is ourselves. We bring our gifts and our personalities. We bring our iniquities too. We bring all this before the Lord.
I think of my experience when I first began attending international meetings. I was a woman from a poor country. I was short. I didn’t speak the kind of English that is understood and respected. I wasn’t known.
I experienced a lot of prejudice and stereotyping about what I could not and should not do. But I have transcended all this. It doesn’t really matter how others see me. It matters who God is and what he wants me to be. If I am mistreated, it is part of God’s own journey. It hurts a little, but I understand. And my dignity is not borrowed from what other people say about me.
I mean to say that the problems we face when trying to build community don’t just come from the rich and the powerful. To build the community is the responsibility of everyone, rich and poor. We are co-equals and co-creators. We are called to be servants together. And wealth is not the problem, any more than money is the solution. The problem and the solution are in the heart.
Ruth Callanta founded and leads the Center for Community Transformation, a Christian ministry to the poor in the Philippines.
This article was a part of a special series called ‘The Global Conversation’ jointly published by Christianity Today International and the Lausanne Movement in the months leading up to Cape Town 2010: The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization to help prepare the global church for the issues to be addressed at the Congress. Each lead article had several commissioned responses, and was published by dozens of publications around the world. (View all Articles)