Weâ€™ve probably all been deeply moved by the harrowing news coverage of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. When we see people suffering so profoundly, weâ€™re challenged to do something, and that often involves giving money. Money is a useful thing, of course. At times itâ€™s essential. But simply throwing money at a problem is not enough.
When the immediate Ebola crisis is over, the people of West Africa will face the challenge of rebuilding their lives and communities. And although many westerners have given very generously to the fund to combat Ebola, this funding will end abruptly when the epidemic is ended. At this point, for traumatised communities to recover and even thrive, they wonâ€™t need charity. Theyâ€™ll need empowerment. Lasting change, transformative change, happens when we listen to what the people really need and help them to meet these needs for themselves.
â€˜Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.â€™ Yes, this is a clichÃ©. But, like so many clichÃ©s, it has its root in truth. If we provide a short-term fix to a problem, however generous that fix might be, the person we give to will remain dependent on us for more provision. But if we address the root issue and help that person help himself, he will be empowered to solve his own problem.
BCT are passionate about empowering people to make changes in their own lives, rather than â€˜doing it for themâ€™. Our partners listen to what an individual or community really needs, then help them achieve that. They empower the people they serve. PCM, our partners in the south west of DR Congo, are a terrific example of this. Through their fish-breeding project, they are literally teaching people to fish. After three years of using a communal pond to provide fish, to improve the diet of malnourished children and the wider community, PCM are now helping families to dig their own ponds and breed their own fish. This is enabling villagers to become more self-sufficient. Itâ€™s teaching them skills and giving them dignity.
As we read about Jesusâ€™ own ministry, we find, time and time again, that he respected peopleâ€™s dignity. He saw downtrodden people, treated them with respect and empowered them. So how might each of us put this idea into practice? Firstly, I wonder how good we are at noticing the downtrodden people around us. What about the homeless, the elderly and the vulnerable children in our communities? And if weâ€™ve noticed them and are trying to serve them, how readily do we involve them in the work to change their own lives? Do we listen and empower them to act? Or do we assume they have nothing meaningful to offer, because theyâ€™re too old, too young or too poor?
This year, letâ€™s resolve to become good â€˜listenersâ€™, to empower the vulnerable, and to be ready to learn from the people that we are seeking to serve.