As many of you know, I lead The Haiti Collective, an organization focused on bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ to the poorest country in the Western hemisphere by empowering indigenous churches to make disciples, train leaders, plant churches, and care for orphans in their midst. The needs are massive, even four years after the devastating earthquake. It can be argued (rather easily, I might add) that the needs are even greater now, after attempts of intervention have hurt the economic stability of an already fragile world. Needless to say, careful thinking about unintended consequences when doing relief and development work is critical to any long term success.
I am grateful for books like When Help Hurts and The Poverty of Nations that have come out from a biblical worldview of helping the poor. However, there is still a lot of tension when it comes to relief and development. Those I know who take When Helping Hurts seriously are so concerned about the possibility of hurting that they don’t attempt to help much at all. So the question comes – what hurts the people more? Not doing anything at all in fear of possibly hurting them by what you do, or making substantive, strategic efforts to make a big impact, knowing that you will likely hurt in ways you could not fully prevent?
I don’t think that anyone who takes the mission of the church seriously would entertain the idea of refusing to engage using the “high ground” of non-engagement (better to not be accused of hurting, so I default to hurting by not doing anything at all). Seems like Matthew 25 has a lot to say about the eschatological implications of such passive disobedience. On the other hand, we should consider the relationship of word and deed, relief and development, church and organization, physical and spiritual, etc. in ways that are robustly biblical, practically helpful, and bring long-term lasting change for the good of the people.
RELIEF AND DEVELOPMENT
Having said that, I believe there is much to mine from the ministry of Jesus as it relates to such integral mission. For the sake of this article, I am going to base my observations solely on Luke 9:1-17 where Jesus commissions His disciples to live on mission and then shows them how to do by ministering to the multitude and miraculously feeding them. Jesus demonstrated a balance between relief and development in the interplay between the needs of the disciples and the needs of the multitude. The disciples needed to be taught and trained (developed), and the multitude needed to be helped and fed.
As the scene unfolds, the disciples return from their commissioning to report back to Jesus all they had done. We don’t know what they said, but we do know how Jesus responded. He wanted to spend more time with them, possibly to develop their thinking and train them more in a private, secluded place. However, the crowds caught up with Jesus, and the pressing needs caused Jesus to change His plans and spend the entire day ministering to the people. It looks like the disciples, and their need for development, was being ignored. But take a closer look with me.
When Jesus sent His disciples out, He commanded them to proclaim the kingdom and to heal (Luke 9:2). When Jesus takes it upon Himself to minister to the multitudes, Luke said that Jesus “welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing” (Luke 9:11). Do you see a connection here? Jesus was doing the very thing He sent His disciples out to do! Jesus was not a detached leader who just gave directives from corporate office. He was on the field, in the trenches, showing His disciples how it is done. His leadership was exemplary and practical. It was on the job and intensely personal. He modeled to them what it meant to live on mission and minister to others. It was not a 30 minute webinar or an hour long lecture; rather, it was an all-day ministry marathon with His disciples getting front row seats. Jesus developed them in the work, as He worked, for the sake of the world around them.
There is an important lesson to understanding the relationship of relief and development. They are not mutually exclusive. Jesus provided relief to the multitude by healing them while also training His disciples. Furthermore, relief is not a permanent fix. Relief has an important role to play, but it is not development. Jesus did not feed the multitude again and again and again, but He did teach and train His disciples day after day after day. He knew there would be a day when He would entrust the mission to His disciples, so He spent 3 years developing 12 men while providing relief to those who were in need. Yes, Jesus validated the need for relief by His words and actions. We need to enter in. But when we do, we need to train those who are there and focus on development so the work can continue long after we are gone.