Discovering Hidden Opportunities

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Can our pity for the stranger actually get in the way of us loving them?

This is the thought that has been making a home in my mind this week. In the lead up to Christmas I witness a lot of people who feel especially sorry for those “less fortunate than them” at a time that many people experience as a joyful one.  This is understandable and commendable and the result is a lot of charity.

Talking to a colleague this week I expressed a concern that this pity shown to a stranger at Christmas did not seem to often equate to a more concerted effort to befriend people experiencing disadvantage during the year.  If it did so then, come Christmas, we would be able to provide support to a friend rather than charity to a stranger.

She challenged me that love for the stranger is a very humble and Biblical behaviour.  So I am happy to concede I could be wrong.  Feel free to contribute your thoughts in the comments below and in the meantime I will continue to ponder…

One thing I am sure of, however, is:
We must not let our feelings of pity get in the way of recognising, calling out and celebrating the gifts people have to contribute to our community.

Looking past the labels (poor, disabled, refugee) and considering the gifts (poet, chef, priest) is an important and ongoing exercise for all of us in community.

This Friday we (Faith in Action) will be running a workshop on discovering the opportunities and gifts we may be missing from refugees and other minority groups in our communities.  I am looking forward to work shopping this with some individuals who are highly committed to and participating in this very work.

There is still space to join us if this interests you:

Details:  Friday 28th November 2014

  • 10-12noon Presentations and Discussion with speakers
  • 12-1pm Conversation over shared lunch
  • 1-3pm What principles are operating here and how might we apply them in our ministry setting?
  • Venue – The Welcome Centre  100 Drayton Street, Bowden – the corner of Drayton Street and Hawker Street (look for the Activate SA building!)

More info HERE

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Do They Know it’s Christmas? (Learning from Bob Geldolf’s mistakes)

MDG : Africa Stop Ebola song : iken Jah Fakoly and Salif Keita working in studio

Over the last week my Facebook feed has featured a number of articles criticising the most recent “Band-Aid 30″ version of “Do the know it’s Christmas?”.  The criticisms have hit on a number of faults including inaccuracy of lyrics (ie. there will be plenty of water and snow in Africa this Christmas) as well as inciting African nationals who have received it as patronising and a perpetuation of negative stereotypes of Africa.

For me one of the most significant criticism is that it undermines the efforts of native African singers who have already produced a song to raise funds for the same purpose: Africa Stop Ebola – Tiken Jah Fakoly, Amadou & Mariam, Salif Keita, Oumou Sangare and others.  Geldolf and others involved in Band Aid could have used their influence to promote this song and see funds flowing back into Africa in two ways!

Seeing this once again got me thinking about the nature of aid and community work both internationally and locally.  Especially as we come up to Christmas time!  Christmas is a time when charities are often struggling to find room for all the good-willed people wanting to help and to off load their well-meaning goods (which charities need all year long but for which Christmas often provides a flood for the struggling resource drought throughout the rest of the year)

The good news is that we can learn from Bob’s mistakes:

  1. We can learn that when our efforts to provide charity undermine (by their timing, volume or nature) the capacity or willingness of individuals or communities to respond to crisis themselves then we are doing more harm than good.
  2. We can learn that both in Australia and internationally the best recovery and development projects come from the communities themselves.  And we can learn to support communities in this work- economically, by facilitation and through advocacy.
  3. We can learn to watch our language!  Language that evokes pity, stereotypes and labels is not helpful.  It dis-empowers, undermines accountability and creates a self-fullfilling prophecy (as most communities live up to their reputations)- my favourite article on this is called “Aiding is Abetting”.

So as Christmas approaches I’m asking you to write these rules on your heart.

And if I might- suggesting a few little ways of doing it differently:

  1. Why not, instead of volunteering in a Soup Kitchen this Christmas, befriend someone who is struggling and have a meal together in which you all contribute in some way?
  2. Instead of packing a box of toys made in sweatshops in Asia and sending it to a struggling economy in Africa why not purchase something made by an African women’s co-operative as a gift for a loved one thereby helping that mother buy her own gift for her child this Christmas.
  3. Build a strong community- get to know your neighbours.  Resilient communities are the best poverty fighting tool we have.
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Community Strengths and Weaknesses- two sides of the same coin?

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Yesterday I had a lovely drive through the Adelaide Hills to visit the leaders of the Baptist Church at Gumeracha.  So far this would have to be the prettiest Baptist Church I have visited particularly as I found it yesterday; surrounded by the bright green new growth of the mulberry trees.

One of the things that struck me from my conversation with the leaders was how a communities strengths and weaknesses can so often be two sides of the same coin.

And this strength/weakness coin often represents the uniqueness of the community.  Gumeracha is an easy 20 minute drive from the northern suburbs of Adelaide and yet is nestled in the hills among a cluster of small townships with a very rural identity.

Behind the church is a crumbling old cemetery.  Across the road is a place called the “circle of oaks”.  In the centre of this circle was once an old well in which the Church conducted baptisms.  Home to medieval fairs and harvest festivals ….I felt as though I may have stepped into the English Cotswolds (of the kind shown in BBC murder mystery shows).

While many Churches are struggling to overcome their apparent “old-world” relevance in a era that demands modernity- here is a Church with the opportunity to embrace quaintness with all the bake sales and fetes it desires.  Many people commute from Gumeracha into the suburbs or city but they chose to live in the community for its rural, quaint village feel.

I asked the Church leaders:

What is it that makes your community unique?  What about your Christmas festival or harvest blessing are distinctly “Gumeracha”?  And considering that- what unique role does this Church have to play in that unique community?

Just as I did with Gumeracha I would like to encourage you to reconsider your own community.  Try to see it as a visitor.  What might you have been painting as negative elements that might also represent the uniqueness and strength of your community?

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The benefits of starting with strengths (from the Surrender and 4D Conferences)

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On Friday I ran a small workshop at the Adelaide Surrender Conference and then on Saturday I ran it again with a larger group at the SA Baptist Churches annual 4D conference.

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Looking at a fictional town we did independent maps/exegesis of the needs and asset of the community.  Sharing these with one another, we considered how using these different approaches might affect the approach we took.  For example both groups determined that a needs map is far more likely to elicit a programmatic approach and the provision of external resources.

In his book Toxic Charity Robert Lupton’s research concludes that:

Giving to those in need what they could be gaining from their own initiative may well be the kindest way to destroy people

By comparison participants at the 4D conference offered the following comments on the difference taking an asset based approach makes:

•It empowers people
•It recognises people as experts in their own lives
•It celebrates people
•It doesn’t jump in with programs to meet needs
•It gets the people in need helping to create the solution
•It is loving of others
•It begins with curiosity, questions and listening
•It starts where you are
•It uses strengths and gifts
•It invites people to contribute
•It puts relationships first
•It is not reliant on dollars
•It promotes joy

Do you agree?  What else would you add to this list?

Thanks to all who participated both at Surrender and 4D.  I really enjoyed working with you.

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Celebrating strength in recovery at Clovercrest Baptist Church

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The following is a story from The Recovery Community at Clovercrest Baptist Church shared with me by Suz Foley.

Suz says…

Celebrating recovery is not meant to be a course we do or a programme we run. It’s joy in finding freedom and ultimately new life in Jesus.

There are many ups and downs in recovery, and wherever a group of people meet together, there are relationships to manage and grow. Forgiveness is needed by us all on a daily basis. As we hope and believe in the new life Jesus promised, we see beautiful things happen and people become strong and begin to flourish in their gifts.

For example, because so many people in our group are highly creative, musically and artistically, we decided to run an art exhibition at a city venue. At our opening event, our main goal was to show off our people- to let others see how much God has gifted them, and how hard they have worked to overcome their difficult circumstances.

7 artists presented 53 pieces showing their perception of self in their recovery from addiction or mental health issues but it was not a night of highlighting needs but of recognising skills, God given, and appreciating unique points of view that are creatively communicated.

We entertained “Recovery Style” too; homemade fingerfood and cunningly delicious mocktails. (We find that we are having to educate churches in the need for abstinent social occasions for the sake of people who are working on their recovery.) So we used our people’s creativity in the catering as well.It was a terrific night, a fabulous celebration of kingdom life.

Many artworks were sold, raising money for the Recovery Community, and earning some income for our artists.

Last Sunday at a Recovery Church service (a place where people in our group have the opportunity for key contribution and ownership of a service) the guest speaker told the group of 30 people gathered that, of all the services at our church, it was the Recovery Service he most wanted to be at. His only surprise was that the whole church wasn’t there, after all the Bible clearly tells us that we are all recovering people. A voice called out, ‘we’re just the honest ones!’

Thanks Suz, perhaps we all need to be a bit more honest: we are all a collection of needs and addictions and gifts and creativity. And so is every person we meet. And that should both humble and inspire us.

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Discovering the hidden opportunities of refugees and other minority groups

Faith in Action is looking forward to a longer conversation with our supporters about what it takes to work well alongside refugees and other disadvantaged communities.  Come to  a deep conversation with those who are making a difference to this topic.

Brad ChilcottPastor Brad Chilcott (Welcome to Australia) Brad Chilcott started Welcome to Australia in June 2011 seeking to create a positive voice in the public conversation around asylum seeking, refugees and multiculturalism.  More about Welcome to Australia

Bryan HughesBryan Hughes (Baptist Care Fuse Mentor Coordinator) Bryan oversees the Baptist Care Fuse Mentoring program providing opportunities for friendships to be built with people settling into Australia. More about Fuse Mentoring

Sarah WilliamsonSarah Williamson (Uniting Church Social Justice Officer Synod SA) As the Uniting Church Justice Officer Sarah has a sense that congregations have more to contribute to this issue in South  Australia.  Sarah’s most recent work for the Synod has been suicide prevention.  More about Suicide – it is no secret

Richard HarmerRichard Harmer (Holos Group) Richard brings insights into what it takes to get groups to respond to the so called ‘wicked problems’ of our generation.  More about Richard’s previous work with us.

The morning conversation will be getting into a deep conversation with each of the presenters about their projects. After lunch we will ask ourselves how might we apply their principles into our ministry settings.

Details:  Friday 28th November 2014

  • 10-12noon Presentations and Discussion with speakers
  • 12-1pm Conversation over shared lunch
  • 1-3pm What principles are operating here and how might we apply themin our ministry setting?
  • Venue – The Welcome Centre  100 Drayton Street, Bowden – the corner of Drayton Street and Hawker Street (look for the Activate SA building!)
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An illustration of Community Development using Luke 17:11-19

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Language is a tricky thing and one of the stumbling blocks over recent weeks, for me, has been the use of the terms “community engagement/outreach” and “community development”.

So I wanted to spend a moment demonstrating what I understand to be the unique work of  community development by pushing the exegetical limits of the story we read in Luke 17:11-19 of Jesus and the 10 lepers.

I would like to start by suggest that if this is a story of community engagement through a service activity- then it is a failure.

Community engagement is about us making connections with people around us that grow our sense of cohesiveness and connectivity and promote future working together.  A successful community engagement activity could be measured by continued or increased participation by engaged parties with a program or wider network of programs.  Perhaps as a result of participating in one program, and feeling safe and welcome there, an engaged community member may chose to participate in another program or consider how they might become more connected with or involved with the “engaging” community.  Eg.  Someone might come to our Church Cafe and as a result of feeling welcome there they might chose not only to return but also to join our craft group… who knows they might even join us on a Sunday?

Despite an unarguably excellent level of service provided by Jesus, of the 10 individuals who experienced healing on this occasion- only one returns.  In community engagement terms that is a pretty poor success rate.

However if the activity that Jesus is involved in is one of development rather than engagement/outreach then he has experienced great success.

Community Development can be measured by fullness-of-life measures.  As a result of our ongoing interaction are people better off in terms of having lives that are richer, fuller and more connected with community? Are people moving from places of striving to places where they are able to thrive as full contributors in the continued betterment of their communities?

All of those 10 individuals who came to Jesus left experiencing lives that were richer and fuller because they had removed from their lives the most significant barrier to community connection and contribution.  They were now able to be not only full participants in their communities but contributors towards further bettering those communities.

Of course this kind of life transforming community development usually takes longer than a single encounter but is a deliberate and significant work over many years.  And, as with the story of the 10 lepers, it is rarely a task for which we receive thanks (mostly in our case because, unlike Jesus, this development process is a slow one of 2 steps forward and 1 step backwards).  It is also a lot harder to measure success because it requires us to consider complex ways of determining outcomes rather than just counting numbers of people turning up.

The fruit of community engagement may be that a growing number of people attend a program or service (and potentially are better for that experience) but the fruit of community development is measured in lives transformed from situations of isolation and striving to places of mutual contribution.

Posted in Theology, What is ABCD? | Leave a comment