Behind the Scenes of an Effective STM Project

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When I visited Honduras last week, I realized how necessary it is to have a solid community development foundation in order to have effective STM projects. There needs to be a context in which the project is done, so that it is seen as something brought by the local church, not North Americans, and that the project is appropriate and addresses the highest priorities for the community. This behind the scenes work is difficult to fund. It's a lot of training and organizing, and not as tangible as, say, an orphanage or a well. But the effects are long lasting. It's also the component missing from many of the ineffective short term missions stories that you read about.So what exactly IS community development? I'm sharing below an excerpt from a paper written by Anneke Walhout, a Calvin College student who visited Uganda during her Interim.

When I first chose to go on a January class term to Uganda, I was a bit apprehensive. Not because I was nervous to fly across the ocean, face the mosquitoes, or ride down the (sometimes very) rough roads, but because I had no idea what to expect from the class we were going to be taking. I had taken enough development classes to know the disaster stories--the organizations that had hindered community development by doing everything themselves, the people that had stolen money meant for communities, the churches that had simply given handouts. These sorts of stories had, to be honest, made me quite pessimistic towards development work of the church. World Renew, an organization sponsored by both my home church and my school, holds a special place in my heart and I didn't want that to be tarnished by stories of their failed development projects.

I came back from Uganda changed, filled with the Spirit, ready again to do work in Sub-Saharan Africa. Much of that change and readiness come from observing and learning about World Renew and what it is doing in Uganda. The way this mission, along with several of their partnering organizations and churches, is doing work filled me with encouragement and hope for community development projects.

One of the most encouraging things I saw with World Renew was its selection of staff. Of course they are all passionate, excited about what they do, and have vision. So much more important, though, is the fact that many of the World Renew staff members in Uganda are Ugandan. And not only that, but many are working in their native regions. Edward Etanu, for example, works in his native Acholi district in the city of Gulu, a place heavily affected for the past twenty years by the Lord's Resistance Army. Because of the postwar status of this district, both development workers and projects are greatly needed right now, but not very many trained development workers could come in as equipped as Edward. Not only has he lived and worked alongside the people of Gulu, but he knows their language, knows their customs and traditions; he is one of them. Joseph Mutebi carries the same kind of credentials into the Arua district and Nebbi town. Because he is from this region of Uganda, he can effectively work for a relief and development organization there because he knows the needs of the people. By employing Ugandans native to the regions in which they work, World Renew is certainly benefitting the people of those regions.

Another way World Renew works well is by partnering with many local churches, mostly Anglican and Catholic. This brings people together and gives locals a voice in the discussion of what is needed in the community. It also assists the local churches in learning how to support their members, start community groups, as well as help fund them. During my visit to Uganda, my class visited many different community groups in Acholi and Arua districts, all of which were tied to both local churches and World Renew. Many of these groups were made up mostly of women, working together, farming crops and producing sellable goods like honey and sim-sim paste (something similar to peanut butter). Some of the groups have already become self-sufficient, and no longer need funding from the church, but those that are still receiving funds all recognize World Renew as a funder. While many organizations would forever be funding groups, causing them to be cripplingly dependent, World Renew and the local churches are obviously doing something right. They have made (or are making) these community groups reliant on no one but themselves, which in turn makes these women confident in themselves and in what they do. Unlike many organizations that would simply keep funneling money into community projects, World Renew has helped dozens of these projects stand on their own two feet.

I left Uganda encouraged by these things I saw World Renew doing, and ready to again support church-sponsored development. Much of my readiness certainly did come from World Renew and my opportunity to observe the work they are doing in Uganda. I am thankful to have learned about church development projects that have succeeded, and to have seen that success first hand. We drove down roads that were repaired by a road rehabilitation group, we received honey from a prospering community group, we pumped water at an agricultural group site. World Renew has effectively captured a restorative model of world relief and development.

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Thanks for submitting this, Anneke, via Wendy's post.  As someone deeply interested in and committed to holistic Christian witness, I read this type of post with keen interest.

I sensed, Wendy, something of an "apples and oranges" disjunction in that the title led me think we were going to get something on short term MISSIONS projects.  But the "paper" is about community development; our old bug-a-boo about our terminology... is development "missions."  Of course it is, or should be.  Allow me a couple of comments/questions.

I also sensed something of a disjunction between what sounded like CRWRC's direct work through local/national "staff" as contrasted with the next paragraph, working with local churches. Are those national workers identified as  staff of an international development organization? Are they on loan to other NGOs?  And, are they Christians?  How do they work? Does CRWRC pay church-related staff to carry out the projects?

Back to the question of STMs.  Anneke is correct in her skepticism about much of what is tried.  A story I know about is of a California church that spent $83,000 on a ten-day trip to Uganda to "form a library, build a wall, and start a new church." Yeah, all in ten days!   My concern is to see "church growth" and "community development" so integrated that it becomes an almost seamless witness to a full-orbed Gospel witness.

What I didn't read in the paper is what if anything these good community development models are doing for the increase in the number and depth of the local churches, of whatever denomination.  Lets keep conversing.......

(Disclaimer/clarification: when in the last paragraph "church based development work is twice mentioned, I construe that as CRWRC's N. American church based structure.  And as discussed elsewhere, I hope that is not eroded significantly with the changes that took place over the summer with Synod's approval of a name change... and whatever else may be coming down the pike along with that)

Participant

Hi Lou,

I think the same principles of good community development apply to good missions principles . . . our role as North Americans is to serve and support the indigenous local churches. They know their culture and context better than we do.

Church based development was referring to the churches in Uganda. Anneke mentions Joseph and Edward. They provide technical support and encouragement to the diaconal ministries of the Church of Uganda and the Pentecostal Assemblies of God. The COU and PAG also receive some grant funding from CRWRC to carry out the plans that Joseph and Edward help them develop. Joseph and Edward are Christians, and it is known that they work for CRWRC-Uganda.

Anneke's trip was specifically for a community development class, so it doesn't mention the church growth that results from this work. You can find an example of that in this post.

Finally, CRWRC has no plans to change from its emphasis on church-based community development (by that I mean community development carried out through indigenous churches).  The name change will also not change the relationship with the CRCNA. It will be a bit more inclusive, though, of those RCA churches that work with us in the U.S., and the PAG and COU churches in Uganda, for example!

BAck again...thanks Wendy.  I'd used the word "disjunction" twice in my comment.  Partly I got thrown off when a second paragraph started:  "Another way CRWRC works....."  It didn't like those employees with the churches.  

And when we get into the question of disjunction in terms of policy, I don't know whether I should bring up here the difference in CRWRC and CRWM policy.  We (of the latter) had neither funds for deaconal needs, nor permission to hire nationals.  So we were on a different footing with our own relief/development agency.   I'm wondering if that will ever get straightened out.

Thanks for the lead to the other post, which is exactly the kind of thing we need to be focusing on, and what I hope that interns like Anneke get exposed to and underscored in their experiences.  

No comment at the moment then on changes that may or may not take place in World Renew.  Time will tell.

Participant

This is a very encouraging article for me and my wife Germaine. June 2013 I am planning a trip to Kampala to meet with ministers I have been doing online consulting for poultry farmers for the first time. Yes, online I was able to advise small poultry farmers about good practice in hatching, raising and keeping birds healthy.