Mission and Relationships

This account was initially written by Andrew J. Dickson (New Zealand) in the course of a discussion on pearl (vulnerable mission discussion list serve). He agreed that it be posted and made more widely available. It is posted here on 3rd January 2011.

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I’ve been very slow in life to learn that life IS relationships. Actually I knew it more early on in life but our modern schooling system and church education system (copied from the world it seemed to me) was generally always task-orientated rather than relationship-orientated. There is a time and place for each focus but our western fascination with efficiency (well efficiency as measured in time and money terms only) has intruded into every sphere. But everything we do, whether we like to admit it or not, is driven by relationships (healthy or unhealthy). We are only as whole as persons as our relationship/s with ourselves, God, other people and our environment are whole. Bryant Myers speaks to this really well in his book “Walking with the Poor” which was the main text for the Chalmers Institutes introductory online course on Christian Development I did a few years ago. I would recommend it to anyone wanting to ‘help’ anyone else. Helping people is not wrong but any of us who ‘help’ others need to now and then check that our motive is pure because we can have our own relationship problems that see us getting personal-worth validation through the ‘feel-good’ of helping/rescuing others. Or, and this can be closely related, we get unknowingly hooked on the unconscious power trip of being the decisionmaker over other peoples lives. We get to play God and it feels good despite the frustration we feel at those who don’t ‘obey’ our advice. This is a very dangerous thing that everyone who gives advice can fall into – power is addictive. Judging from our own perspective is easy and automatic, understanding someone’s situation from their perspective is harder and must be done intentionally. The better we understand someone the more chance of understanding the real heart issues crippling him/her in any or all of the 4 relationship categories. Miss the heart and we’ve missed altogether. But we are waaaaay more likely to miss someone’s heart issues if the further we are from being able to relate to their daily life. If we relate to them in our language rather than theirs and live super far above them in economic terms then gaining a true understanding of the real motives behind their behaviour will be very unlikely.
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It’s not impossible to help others in good ways and we shouldn’t give up trying to, it’s just that, if we are honest, most of us aren’t ready to commit the time and effort into understanding people because it’s ‘messy’. Messy means out of control (ours) and therefore vulnerable. ‘Real’ relationships, where ‘real’, i.e. lasting, changes for good happen, always involve people relating in open honest ways with each other; which means both sides being vulnerable – but as most of us here have come to see – the majority of our mission endeavours are ‘done’ from positions of economic, and social status, strength. We won’t see much good happen until we are just as willing to have our own hearts inspected by those we are ministering to and willing to receive their help to heal our own brokedness. We’re all broken, we are just blind to how broken. If we development/mission practitioners lost all of our materialistic distractions and gadgets tomorrow we might soon realise how broken our immediate relationships are. We are just to busy to know. There are no easy answers in cross-cultural ministry but we need to have an ‘always a student’ attitude to our learning. We will screw up but we must never despair as Jesus is our healer and he even works through our brokedness so discouragement is uncalled for and is really unbelief in disguise. Hope needs to be placed entirely in Him, not in anything else. That is our problem I think. We trust in man-made solutions and they always fail us – so we try another!