We are continuing to read through Tending to Eden by Scott C. Sabin.
He describes a meeting with a group of Haitians that Plant With Purpose intended to serve —
The meeting convened and moved past pleasantries to a series of questions from the community as to what Plant With Purpose intended to do in the village. A woman stood and, in a confrontational tone, told me about the other humanitarian agencies that had worked in the area. She named two agencies that had brought food and clothes, then left and never returned. “How is Plant With Purpose going to be any different?”
After giving the question some consideration, I responded, “Well, first of all, we are not going to give you anything.”
She looked stunned.
“Second, we are not going to leave until you ask us to.”
He later says,
Many humanitarian organizations respond to poverty and injustice by giving surplus food, medicine, and clothes, and maybe starting orphanages and clinics. They focus on treating the symptoms of poverty — which sorely need to be treated. But others ask questions about the root causes: Why are people … hungry and sick? Why so many orphaned children?
Indeed, he quotes a long-term missionary to Haiti —
“We have created a nation of beggars,” he said. “For years folks have been coming down here thinking they are helping by giving things away. But that just teaches people to beg.”
He urges us to involve the poor in solving their problems.
When it comes to solving the problem of poverty, the poor themselves are our most important allies, yet they are probably the most overlooked. When it comes to issues of rural environmental degradation, the rural poor have the skils, insight, and vested interest to solve these problems. They have far more intelligence and initiative than most people give them credit for. Sometimes all they lack is self-confidence or opportunity. …
Rather than doing the projects ourselves, we outsiders need to facilitate the process. Only after the local community identifies what is holding them back, the barriers to their progress, should we step in with what we can contribute. Too many times, I have seen this process reversed.
Moreover, Christ must be involved in the solution.
That is not to say we force our faith or our witness on anyone. We serve the poor out of our love for Jesus, and it is our desire that people would come to know him, but we do not want to manipulate people in any way. To imply in any way that someone needs to convert in order to receive help from Plant With Purpose would be manipulative, so we go out of our way to make it clear to people that their involvement in the spiritual activities of Plant With Purpose is optional. Yet we believe only Jesus can take a virtuous cycle of economic opportunity and environmental restoration and turn it into something that truly resembles the kingdom of God — a victorious cycle.
We work to create virtuous cycles where economic development, environmental restoration, and discipleship intersect.
Only three years after their first meeting with the villagers in Haiti, the villagers had not only stopped asking for money, they were eager to share what they’d accomplished.
A credit group had been formed and members were receiving loans. Trees had been planted. Rainwater harvesting systems and cisterns had been constructed. Families were buying land they had formerly rented or sharecropped. Fruit trees had been made more productive through grafting.
One woman declared,
What you’ve given us is the knowledge that we are not helpless, but that God has given us talents we can use to change our community.
People working together to restore God’s creation and to encourage and support one another. People being accountable to their neighbors. Lending to the poor. I’ve read about that in another Book.