I truly was a spectator. I did not know the culture. And I could not understand the language. But even if I could have, I am confident I could not have understood the topics being discussed. I mean, I grew up around vehicles, but I sure lack a robust understanding of their mechanics. So, in every way I was out of my element. Here I was in a sub-Saharan city in a West African country spending the day with a missionary, and all he was doing was traveling from dusty lot to dusty lot helping his African mechanic friends diagnose issues on their clients’ vehicles. It was evident that the hours upon hours spent with these men, teaching them the ins and outs of the new-fangled diagnostic equipment, tracking down an elusive electrical issue, etc., was lighting up their world. It was holy work. The pious, well-dressed imams sitting on the steps of their mosques had no idea what was happening right under their noses. This missionary’s dream of using vehicle diagnostics as a vehicle into people’s lives had become a reality, and the seeds of the Kingdom were patiently being sowed with prayer and anticipation of a bountiful crop.
Community Development is a rather ambiguous title and maybe even a little intimidating. But it doesn't need to be that way. Billy North, director of ADAPTech, gives it this simple description, "Doing good practical things for unconverted people who need help." Or as we describe it here at All-Nations, "We serve the community by teaching them to develop and use their skills and resources, and not to depend on what we do and bring." The different areas that Community development facilitators can serve are broad and beyond the scope of this article, however, here are just a few: Savings groups, Agriculture, Health, Economics, ESL, Literacy.
What I saw my missionary friend doing, was simply being the hands and feet of Jesus. He was taking the knowledge and expertise he had gained at home on the job (something most African mechanics do not have the privilege of acquiring) and was now stewarding that practical knowledge not only for these Africans’ material good but also for their spiritual good.
-Because that is what Jesus wants us to do. The dichotomy between the spiritual and the physical is absent from the life and teachings of Jesus. I do not think we need to look any further than the parable of the good Samaritan. Here was a man that was needy and the hero of this parable, the Samaritan, had compassion, went over to him, and by stewarding the "talents" that he had, impacted this man's life significantly! Jesus' instructs us to "go and do likewise."
-Because there are huge needs in our world. So many people are living under centuries of injustice and we know that God is calling us to go and serve these dear souls. However, coming in with a Bible probably won’t be the answer in most situations. They might not have the Bible in their language or even be able to read for that matter! Filling the role of community development enables us to walk along side of the ones we are serving and show them that Jesus cares about them, even the small day-to-day struggles. Billy North puts it so well, “We are left with the reality that Jesus cared about all the problems of a person. He cares about what people care about and He wants us to care about it too.”
What if my friend would be doing his work as another missionary in Africa once said, “We don’t do that humanitarian aid stuff, we just do church work”? I don’t even want to think about that.
One quality that is a necessity for anyone serving in community development is exercising the gift of imagination. We need to start dreaming again! What would it look like for God’s way to be followed in this culture or situation? We need to starting asking questions and listening closely. To courageously make other people’s problems our problems, we first need to allow the irrational ways of Jesus and His Kingdom to transform our own thoughts and ways, before we reach outside of ourselves. As Americans, we are naturally proud, we see everything that is wrong in this new culture, and sadly, too often we think that if they would become like us, their lives would be transformed. Rather than saying, “Too bad you are not like me,” let’s take on the mind of Christ and ask, “What would it be like to be you?”—and enter into their world long before we begin to bring solutions to the table.
My missionary friend and his team live by this motto, “It will be our love, not our opinions, which will make our largest contribution to the world.” And God is using this way of life to open up doors into people’s hearts that have long been resistant to the Gospel.
Let us go and do likewise.