By Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett
Missional Markers: Transforming Communities with Ministries of Compassion, Mercy, and Justice
Global Perspective and Engagement, Fruitful Organizational Structures, Culture of Godly Leadership, and Sacrificial and Generous Living and Giving
This book provides a wealth of guidance for a broad range of situations. Its principles are not limited to questions of physical intervention. They address leadership, compassion, and change. The values espoused in the book are consistent with those embedded in the Congregational Vitality Pathway.
The book has a solidly Reformed perspective on the world. Its comprehensive scope is typified in this quote: “Converts need to be trained in a biblical worldview that understands the implications of Christ’s lordship for all of life and that seeks to answer the question: If Christ is Lord of all, how do we do farming, business, government, family, art, etc., to the glory of God?” p. 45 Later they write, “…the central point of scripture is clear: as humans engage in cultural activity, they are unpacking a creation that Christ created, sustains, and…redeems.” P. 56 The gospel centeredness of their approach comes through in this quote, “Poverty is rooted in broken relationships, so the solution to poverty is rooted in the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection to put all things into right relationship again.” P. 73
Here are some definitions that help frame the whole discussion:
1) Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meanings.
2) Poverty alleviation is the ministry of reconciliation: moving people closer to glorifying God by living in right relationship with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation.
3) Material poverty alleviation is working to reconcile the four foundational relationships so that people can fulfill their callings of glorifying God by working and supporting themselves and their families with the fruit of their work.
One of the key ideas is that we often try to solve all the problems with economic answers to spiritual and relational issues. The book builds on a strong biblical basis of the relational damage caused by sin.
One chapter helps readers think through the best role for short term missions. Short term missions have become an industry and if not set in a greater context of mutual benefit and sustainable development, they can actually do more harm than good. I would not send out a Short Term Mission team without at least having them read chapter 7.
Another chapter identifies the difference between relief, rehabilitation, and development. The point is made that all of these are important, but they need to be used discerningly to be appropriate. We do relief for people; we do rehabilitation and development with people.
The book lifts up the cultural differences that can make us blind to operating in ways that are less than helpful. Sometimes, the process is the most important thing. “Participation is not just the means to an end but rather a legitimate end in its own right.” P. 136 In the west we look for productivity and efficiency. Not all cultures value these as highly. The authors point out that relational based assistance is slower and messier, but is often more sustainable.
Avoid Paternalism, “Never do for anyone what they can do for themselves.” You get a very different solution when you use an asset-based approach verses a need-based inquiry. One affirms in innate value endued by the Creator in every person. The latter assumes the ‘helper’ has more and better answers and resources and diminishes the worth of the person we are seeking to help. This is the classic clash between someone in need having too low of a self-image and the person with material resources have an over inflated sense of value or importance. The book calls the latter a God-complex. Both parties need to be open to giving AND receiving.
To be sure, this book will push established boundaries and ideas. Such points as healthy helping takes time to listen to people, to build relationships, and to jointly develop a plan challenge our cultural bent to believe we are the most developed culture and therefore we have the best solution. The book includes some humbling reminders, such as, “We are not bringing Christ to poor communities. He has been active in these communities since the creation of the world…” p. 57.
This book would make a great read for a deacon or benevolence team. It sets out principles that can be helpful in shaping a philosophy of missions locally and globally. The issue is not to create an excuse to not share our resources, but to invest our helping efforts in ways that use wise, sustainable stewardship.
This review only scratches the surface of what is in this book. Maybe the best endorsement I can offer for this book as a study resource is that we ended up with more people in the last class than we started with in the first class. No drop off due to boredom or irrelevance. Those who are interested in learning more can go to www.chalmers.org to get an overview of what is proposed in this book. The small group experience videos correspond to the six sessions outlined in the supplemental study which is available. You can go through this in six weeks, but there is so much more material to process and digest, I would recommend at least two weeks for each session.