The Fifth Principle of Community-Based International Development


Since you don’t have the power to steer a community, don’t pretend you’re at the helm. Since people with self-respect resist arrogant generosity, make sure to operate at eye-level. Since, unlike us, God does have the power to transform a community, we should be interceding passionately on its behalf.

This is the fifth post of a 6-part series republishing the original Staying for Tea article from The Global Citizen journal (2005). You can link to the other posts in this series here: [1: Stay for Tea] [2: Process Matters[3: Focus on Values] [4: Check your Filter] [5: Cultivate a Servant's Heart] [6: Conclusion]

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Principle #5: Cultivate a Servant’s Heart

Cultivating a servant’s heart has three pieces. First, since you don’t have the power to steer a community, don’t pretend you’re at the helm. Second, since people with self-respect resist arrogant generosity, make sure to operate at eye-level. Third, since, unlike us, God does have the power to transform a community, we should be interceding passionately on its behalf.

It Doesn’t Depend on You

It’s easy to take ourselves more seriously then we should. We like to think that a whole lot depends on us when it doesn’t. It is healthy to remember that we are not the parent, savior or master of the people we serve. Rarely are we their last hope. They got along without us before; they will continue to after we’ve gone. We may play a critical role in the positive transformation of a few, but on the whole, the trajectory of the community we serve depends little on us. In fact, it is more likely that they will have a greater impact on the course of our lives than we on theirs.

Since the welfare of the community doesn’t depend solely on you, it’s okay to watch some of your efforts fail. By all means do your best work, serve generously and wisely, employ the best theory and techniques, invest your emotions, time and money, plan carefully and attend to details, but after all this, don’t be broken when the results you sought elude you. Let it go and try again, taking consolation that it didn’t entirely depend on you to begin with.

Keep it real. People are people. Don't ever look down on the people you serve.

Operate at Eye-Level

Consider how easy it is to pick up on a person’s humility when you interact with him or her. I know that I personally resist the humiliation of receiving from someone who refuses to be at eye-level with me, who lords my need over me and self-righteously pats himself on his own arrogant back, wearing his charity like a merit badge. So, as a principle we should be careful to “keep it real” and hold our pride in check. Remember that people are people; some are more resource poor than you, but take care not to diminish the person for this. Don’t ever look down on the people you serve.

Be an Intercessor

It may be that our best service is done with folded hands and doubled knees. Many of us serve out of a conviction that God has called us to it, that service is a Kingdom value. If you are a person of faith, then prayer should be part of your service. Prayer recognizes our limitations and asks for help beyond what we can provide, which is to say a lot. In addition to giving a poor woman a microloan, plead before God for economic justice and prosperity on her behalf. I have put so much effort into designing projects and interventions, into writing grants and writing checks, into sharing time and love and money, but I am dismayed to reflect on how little I have asked of God. Perhaps I have been too arrogant or had too little faith. Or perhaps I have just not been mindful that I can ask a stronger, higher power for help.

Before we begin to do anything in a community, we should have already begun to intercede in prayer, asking God to act on behalf of those we serve. We should pray for ourselves as well, for purification of motives, for the cleaning up and shipping out of pride, for the strength, wisdom and humility required in service. We should thank God that we have a wealth of resources to give and share, and we should thank God that that we also have needs, that others may serve us. If we serve with faith, we must serve with prayer.

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Categories: Development Principals, Faith and Development, Service Ethics

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