The Role of Faith in Development Work

As of late, I’ve been deeply affected by the video shown below. Tim Costello’s (CEO of World Vision Australia) articulation of poverty and the role of faith in development work has had the particular quality of opening my eyes to the reality of what I’ve been seeing all tim costelloalong.

His placing of poverty in the larger framework of ‘relationships, transformation and mystery‘ holds the potential of glimpsing a larger vision of what is at stake – a framework that will require very different solutions than mere efficiency or monetary matters.

Notice particularly how Tim suggests that this framework actually shifts the connotations of our Christian vocabulary. As he says, rather than ‘sin’ just being the inability or refusal to worship God; the word takes on a new meaning as it is entangled in the messiness of human society which involves not only greed and hatred and such, but also the lack of clean water, lack of food, or a situation that is ‘enslaving’. New and fruitful connotations of ‘salvation’ can then proceed from those definitions of ‘sin’ – which is basically a matter of finding new and faithful ways of articulating the ‘saving work of Christ in the world’.

Articulation of the problem matters because working towards a solution matters.

Secondly, this language frames poverty as everyone’s issue. It is not just a ‘bum deal’ for those trapped in various types of slavery. This language shifts the responsibility to all people. We are both the problem-makers and those who bear the solution for each other. A false framework for poverty is one that maintains the dichotomy of rich and poor. As if the only ones who need ‘liberation’ are the ‘poor’. And as if the only ones who bear the solutions are the ‘rich’.

constat-rioNot only is that a false and generalized dichotomy, but a ‘have’ finds its identity in relation to a ‘have-not’. The terms (and realities) are etymologically and socially connected. Enslavement and freedom are not isolated realities. Both constructed identities are found at the expense or the benefit of the other. I am not saying that we are all connected in some spiritual or cosmic or ‘we are all the same stuff’ kind of way.

But rather – for Christians especially – we are called to find ourselves as the people through whom God is working to bring his salvation to bear in this world in every way possible. We are (just like everyone else) part of the problem, yet strangely also, we also bear about the solution in so far as we are the tangible availability of Christ for one another. God could zap the world clean and perfect sure – but that doesn’t seem to be his modus operandi does it? He seems to choose to come down to our level – to accommodate his work to our willingness and abilities, to limit himself to us – in order to see his work done through his people and as Blaise Pascal has told us, ‘to give humans the dignity of causality‘.

Therefore, as Christians, sin matters because salvation matters. And where sin steals, kills and destroys (which is basically wherever humans are) – then that is where redemption and liberation must be worked out. Our work then as socially-oriented-beings is to find ourselves at the places where the world is in pain (which is everywhere) and to create space for that loving, restorative presence of God to bear more fully in that place. Sure, it isn’t that easy and in fact, we all bring with ourselves more of the problem don’t we? – but that is perhaps part of the point – we work out our collective and individual salvation with fear and trembling.

To me, this is an articulation of development work that I can get behind. Many thanks to Tim Costello for bringing some of these thoughts to our attention more fully.

Please do yourself a favor and watch the interview here:

Published by Ryan Hayes

Ryan Hayes is a development practitioner, teacher and co-author of his first book of poems, Paralipomenon. Being born in Nairobi, Kenya and living most of his life in Africa, he has a wealth of experience and understanding into the cultural and linguistic factors of South-East Africa. Ryan is happily married to Justine with whom they have begotten three beautiful girls – Amelie, Lily and Rylee. He is a lifelong learner and devoted student of Jesus, mysticism, quantum physics and the human psyche.

2 thoughts on “The Role of Faith in Development Work

  1. Wow Son, your posts just keep getting better. You fleshed out Tim’s talk for me and helped me to better see its implications in our world. Your reflections on how interwoven (like it or not) the haves are with the have-nots was very good. More people need to hear these reflections. Part, not all, of sin & salvation involving dirty water & malaria are new insights from Tim that you articulated well.

    Thank you for taking time to write.

    Love, Dad

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