Partnership or bust

Written by on October 17, 2010 in Helping Without Hurting, Notes By The Way with 0 Comments

We love to use the words “partner” and “partnership” in cross-cultural and development work, but do people on the other side feel like partners or means to an end? Do we really want partners, or do we want locals to help translate and implement our ideas and projects? We need to honestly ask.

If that catches your attention, see what Vinoth Ramachandra wrote this week.  He’s writing about Christian mission,  but it’s a short step to apply these thoughts to development work as well. Here’s something to wet your taste.

It is troubling that mission has been reduced to what we (the relatively well-off) do in other cultures and places, and does not seem to apply to what the poor can do for us and what we can do for them where we are. Those who live in the poorer South are constantly at the receiving end of “packaged” gospels, discipleship courses, leadership seminars, church-growth “gurus”, even sermons and “worship” DVDs from rich churches abroad. The latter have no desire to learn from others and, ironically, have little impact in their own societies…..

“Partnership” has been a buzz-word…cynics will say that it is simply a disguise for neo-colonial mission. Like “development” and “empowerment”, the gulf between the rhetoric and actual practice is enormous. Foreign organizations divert people as well as funds away from locally-initiated projects and ministries… Local staff are…merely the people who implement the programs started and funded by foreigners…

The problem is that what is “sexy” to donors in the U.S is often far removed from the real needs in the countries concerned. That some American donors may want to be educated does not seem to register on the thinking of local leaders.

We often turn to Western writers and intellectuals for guidance. But wise men and women in the Global South, like Vinoth Ramachandra, in Sri Lanka, are reduced to requesting an audience. If we listened to people like him more, and sought them out, we’d be better off.

Read his book to learn more, Subverting Global Myths: Theology and the Public Issues Shaping Our World. I just added it to my “wish list” at Amazon. It’s a scholarly work, not for everyone.  There are no reader reviews, but Stanley Hauerwas says, “I have read few books from which I have learned more.” That’s enough for me.

Vinoth Ramachandra, like the authors I referenced yesterday, writes from a Christian perspective about Christian mission and development work. Even more than yesterday’s authors, I think both Christians and non-Christians will value what he has to say.

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About the Author

About the Author: Andy Gray is a writer and photographer living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and working with Alongsiders International. You can find him puttering around the streets of Phnom Penh on his Suzuki Viva 125, running stoplights and driving on the wrong side of the road or on the sidewalks like a local. If you see him in a coffee shop, he'll be the one typing and deleting the same line over and over again. .

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