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‘Walking delicately’

Reconciliation, humility needed in Africa, Latin America, missiologist says

December 3, 2010

LOUISVILLE

Wrapping up a three-day gathering of the Association of Presbyterian Mission Promoters, a noted missiologist emphasized several keys necessary to doing mission in Africa and Latin America.

Miriam Adeney, professor of global and urban ministries at Seattle Pacific University and a longtime member of Seattle's University Presbyterian Church, was the plenary speaker at APMP’s meeting, here Nov. 30-Dec. 2.

On Dec. 2, she spoke about Africa and Latin America, outlining several tactics important to remember when working in each region.

In Africa, reconciliation is key, Adeney said. She told a story about healing workshops in Rwanda, which was ravaged by ethnic conflicts and violence in the 1990s. Members of warring groups met with each other to apologize for the actions of their groups. Although the individuals themselves might not have participated in the violence, this act of “standing in the gap” and taking the guilt on themselves has helped people to heal, she said.

"Reconciliation can occur, and I think Africans are sometimes leading the way in showing us this," Adeney said.

Also central in Africa is sustainable development. Adeney spoke about villagers in Uganda who learned to grow crops that were valuable at market and how to better manage their land. When building sustainability, it’s important to not trample over local leaders and to realize that people with very limited means can still mobilize.

"It is important for us to take time," Adeney said.

A third point to remember in Africa is witness. In Nigeria, Adeney has learned that the priority of many Christians is to share the good news of Jesus Christ with their Muslim neighbors. But that sharing can't take place among violence — it requires a context of peace. These Nigerians have determined that if peace is built at the grassroots, it can last, but if it comes from the top down, it will fail. Christian and Muslim villagers know each other personally and have resolved to stay calm amid pressure from outside forces.

Adeney then spoke about Latin America.

Again, development is key, but this can be a touchy subject in Latin America, where many times the U.S. government has invaded to topple governments, Adeney said. In this context, it’s necessary to walk humbly and delicately, realizing that all parts of the body have functions.

For example, many Latin American churches are already involved in charity work in their communities.

"The challenge to us is, how do we partner with them?" Adeney said.

Drawing from the book When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor ... and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, Adeney outlined a few strategic points, including “asset mapping.”

Asset mapping approaches situations not as troubled, but as treasure chests, Adeney said. It's a good idea to ask a community what its strengths are, not to go in and ask, "How can we fix you?" she said.

Also important is "participatory development." In contrast with a "blueprint" approach — which dumps preplanned projects on a group — participatory development asks locals their opinions at every level of a project. This kind of development is slower, but it's much more likely to last, she insisted. 

Wrapping up a three-day gathering of the Association of Presbyterian Mission Promoters, a noted missiologist emphasized several keys necessary to doing mission in Africa and Latin America.

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