Addressing Cultural Desperation

I would like to share with you some of my thoughts about our work and how we would endeavor to address the third world desperation that is still reality in the remote villages of the Amazon Basin today.

The Bible is full of references to the lost state of man living without wisdom and understanding. The Bible is also very clear in that wisdom and understanding cannot be found apart from a relationship with God, the author of the same. In our work in communities in the developing world, we want to recognize that the impoverished state of the people is related to both a lack of an intimate relationship with the only One who can heal any person or culture, as well as a lack of practical earthly wisdom and understanding. We desire to first love these people, as they are and where they are, and, in that context, equip them with tools that will allow them to live healthier lives. We also want to do this in a way that will be “self-sustaining” and reproducible (between villages), without creating dependence on us.

Life is a series of choices and decisions. All decisions and nondecisions have consequences. The people we meet, and the generations before them, have made certain choices that contribute to their current desperate state. A simplistic, linear world-view would say that good choices lead to good consequences and so on. I don’t believe life is that simple, but I see our ministry as one in which we equip people to make sound life decisions about their spiritual, emotional, relational, and physical health. The two keys in our ministry model will be, 1) teaching, encouraging, and modeling good life choices and, 2) teaching the value of developing an intimate relationship with the One who made us and who cares for every detail of our lives.

Our teaching model will be one of community and personal development. This is in contrast to providing “help” or “relief”. Though relief work is beautiful, especially in crisis, it can lead to unhealthy dependence if continued beyond the crisis. The harm of chronic relief work can be seen in many places but the most obvious would be the welfare state that occurs after years of government assistance. This can be seen in the States as well as in many third world countries where with the best of intentions, people are given “assistance” without an emphasis on their personal and community development. This causes harm because, when the assistance is withdrawn, the community or individual simply does not know how to live without it. Development, on the other hand, endeavors to equip individuals and communities to live in a state of good health without aid.

The development model in contrast to the “relief” model can be illustrated in the following example. A nursing mother in an impoverished region becomes ill and begins to have seizures. She seeks help from an outside medical community and is prescribed a medicine for her seizures that helps greatly and without which she wouldn’t survive. Because she’s taking this medicine, however, she cannot nurse her infant and without the mother’s milk, the baby will not survive. In a relief work model, this mother seeks out a visiting health worker who, seeking a solution independently, purchases powdered formula and gives it to the mother. The visiting health worker feels good about helping and “solving” the problem but dependency is created because this woman cannot afford to buy the formula until the baby can remain healthy on regular food. The help provided is real, temporary, costly, and from outside the community.

In a community development model, the visiting health worker puts the problem before the community, rather than “helping” independently. The community addresses problem, and the health care worker encourages them to find a solution. Three nursing women step forward, suggesting that they can share the nursing of this woman’s infant as long as needed.

This illustration provides several positive effects of an emphasis on community development: 1) The community gains confidence in their ability to problem-solve together, 2) The community has a solution for the next time something similar occurs, 3) The problem has become a stimulus for the development of more relational community among those living in this village, as they realize the benefits of sacrificial giving and humble receiving, 4) The relationship between both the mother and her baby with these women will be at a place of shared intimacy that they would not have experienced in the “relief” model, and 5) There is no dependency created on the health care worker and her outside resources, which likely will not be available in the future.

This is the model we will practice in our work among the poor, rural communities in the Amazon Basin. I recently attended a conference put on by Life Wind International with a community health education model that reinforced this perspective in me. I have renewed enthusiasm about our work here and look forward to equipping the people in these communities with the tools to seek God, live healthier lives, and to teach others to do the same … without me.

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