While I was in Malaysia, I attended a couple seminars on Community Development. The speaker was a woman, named Lois, who had worked in Africa for almost 40 years. Her presentation was super inspiring and even though Papua New Guinea is very different from Africa, there are lots of similarities when it comes to community development and issues that people face. Basically I was encouraged to see Lois’ focus be on helping people to view their lives in a holistic manner, revitalizing the links between God, Self, Others and Creation and helping people to move forward with their dignity in tact, making changes in their community from the inside out. I can’t possibility do her true justice in a short blog post but I hope to just give you all a little taste.
Lois also chose to share her notes and workshop outlines and lesson plans with us at the conference. And as I made my way back to PNG I figured that what I had learned would make some great devotions and food for thought for my Onobasulu co-workers. Usually we divide up and share the devotion time but the guys were more then willing to give me as many mornings as I needed to share with them what I had learned. As I worked through Lois’ materials, I realized that she had a wealth of things that weren’t even touched on in the two short seminars she gave. And so I worked through her materials adapting and customizing them to fit the Onobasulu situation. I knew that a lot of the concepts would be difficult but I wanted my co-workers to come away with knew perspective and knowledge that they could use and share with their families and other members of the community.
We had a couple weeks of morning devotions and then two whole morning set aside just to work through the material. I did my best to balance letting the guys talk and internalize the information while still keeping us moving forward and not getting bogged down in the details. In very brief summary (well relatively, this was a couple weeks worth of devotions) we discussed the relationships that were established at creation and then what happened when sin came in and distorted those relationships. But that Christ and his work in us is part reconciler and our ability to work on this earth comes from God himself but we are to be ambassadors for him and ministers of reconciliation. We can’t fix these relationships, that will only happen when Christ returns again but while we are here on earth we can work to restore and heal these relationships.
We also discussed the idea of community and strength within a community. The Onobasulu and many other language groups in PNG have a unique situation where their community has been chosen for them. They live and work with their family and clan. Most decisions people make here are not individual but instead effect everyone around them. And so when we started to speak about transformational development it was inevitably not focused on the individual Onobasulu but instead the entire community. We talked about the difference between relief, development and transformational development using this extended Proverb and what it meant for the Onobasulu people.
Give a man to fish and he will eat for a day (relief)
Teach a man to fish and he has food for a lifetime (development)
Empower a man to think about fishing in new ways and his life will be changed forever (transformational development)
Being made in the image of God is also an important principle. From the beginning, God created man in his own image and this in a way is a great honor but it also is a great responsibility. Sin has once again distorted this image and so we must remind ourselves that although we are a reflection of God, we ourselves are not God. We only bear some of his characteristics, only He encompasses them all. And for the Onobasulu they have to work at finding these reflections. It’s like taking a fire where the hot coals are buried deep in ash and all the ash (the distorted image and sin) has to be cleaned away but once the coals are found they can be revived again into a fire.
These coals are inside every community. Even communities that think they have nothing, have been given gifts. It’s up to the community to use the resources wisely and to be good stewards. I asked the Onobasulu what resources or gifts that have received from God that exist in their community and they came up with this list:
· Pigs, Animals
· Food, Gardens
· Minerals, Gold, Oil
· Minds, Thinking
However, once again sin distorts what we have that is good and we find ourselves enslaved and bound. Our thinking is blocked and we can’t possibility see the good and perfect things God has in store for us until our minds are transformed and we are set free. We are set free in Christ and God begins his work in us transforming us into a new person by changing how we think. Set free from the burdens of this ground we can then truly act as his ambassadors and begin our work as ministers of reconciliation. We have a new identity in Christ.
With this as a foundation my co-workers then talked about the community. What things they were proud of, how people use to solve problems in the past, what new challenges they face, etc. This was a time for them to accept the reality of the challenges but at the same time searching for those coals, those hot embers that are there just below the surface. These concepts continued to be explored as we looked to the Biblical account of Feeding the 5000. We examined how Jesus solved a problem by working within a group of people. He took the 2 fish and 5 loves from a little boy in the crowd and used it to feed everyone. The disciples were ready to send everyone away to find their own food but Jesus saw the potential within the people themselves.
We also discussed the topic of change, the challenges and the ways to help create sustainable change. And we discussed the issues of true Christians versus those who simple pay lip service to God and how this looks for the Onobasulu church and community. And finally we finished by talking about being the salt of the earth. What makes salt so amazing and so precious anyway.
I started these devotions thinking that I had something I wanted to pass along to my co-workers but I finished the time as the one being blessed by their answers and interpretations. Community Development isn’t easy and these changes don’t come quickly or without pain. Despite our efforts and even with the work of Christ in us, we all still remain sinners living in a fallen world. But God truly can do an amazing work in us because we are His reflection and that transformation in us can then work to transform communities. I hope and pray for the Onobasulu community to embrace the transforming power of Christ and that I would be able to embrace it in my life as well.