Dependence versus Sustainability

by Dr Kevin G. Dyer

Kevin has been commended from the assembly in Sheffield, Tasmania, Australia for 63 years. He started One Collective, Bright Hope International and Renewed Interest Ministries.

Haiti is trapped in a painful cycle of disasters, donations and dependency. Each year there is a disaster – a hurricane, a riot, a flood, a drought or an earthquake. Donations flow into Haiti as long as the crisis is fresh in the minds of people around the world, until another disaster somewhere else diverts their attention. The money flow stops, but the Haitian people continue to look to foreign aid for survival. Dependency is the mindset of many Haitians. Although it damages their self-worth and autonomy, and creates an environment of reliance, it is not easily exchanged for the hard work of sustainability.

On the other side, people in Western nations have a difficult time believing that their compassion and kindness can sometimes hinder the work of the gospel. The Lord said we should help people and it makes us feel good. However, it is hard for us to grasp that when we give unwisely to the poor, people can be hurt by our generosity. We face two serious questions. Should the Haitian people not be given the help that they so desperately need because they can become dependent upon it? Should people stop giving money to poor believers and communities because they cannot be sure if it will help or hurt?

This struggle between dependency and sustainability does not only exist in Haiti. Wherever dependency is created, it wreaks havoc on believers, stripping them of their individuality and resourcefulness. For many years, some national churches, evangelistic outreaches and care programmes in poor countries have only been able to continue in ministry because of Western resources. Many national workers are paid by a mission worker and the danger is that if that person or money is removed, the ministry collapses.

A local church or national ministry that requires funding or leadership from outside its own community fosters dependency. For a church or ministry to be sustainable, it must be able to carry out its core biblical functions without relying on foreign funding or leadership. Dependency tends to erode self-respect and promote a sense of entitlement. It dampens local giving and stifles reliance on God. Dependency is often at the root of misappropriated funds and it can cause jealousy among local leaders. When Western ministries hire nationals for their work instead of placing the responsibilities in the hands of the local church, the efforts of the local church are diminished. This produces ministries with little sustainability.

We try to uncover everyone’s gifts and skills, and we teach believers how to use them to help others.

At Bright Hope, we have struggled with these issues for decades. Finding a biblical model of ministry that helps the poor without creating dependency has been a difficult journey, but the Lord has helped us to reduce dependency and work constructively and lovingly toward a sustainability model.

In northern Haiti, we have been working to help very poor believers in several small towns. We are trying to address some long-term issues, like providing clean water. Before we start trying to find solutions, we have a national worker lead an asset-based community development seminar. The focus is to discover what local believers have to offer and what gifts God has given them. We must be careful not to assume that poor people have nothing to give back to God.

In our seminars, we may find a woman who can monitor the water supply for impurities or a young man who has elementary first-aid training. We may discover a person with a successful garden who can teach others how to grow and cook vegetables, improving their health. We try to uncover everyone’s gifts and skills, and we teach believers how to use them to help others. It is amazing how excited people can get when they realise they have something to contribute to the community. We teach and model stewardship. If we give ten chickens to a poor family, we ask them to agree to give a chicken from each group of eggs hatched to another poor family and they learn to be generous to others.

We want to reduce the flow of foreign money to local ongoing work. We cannot start programmes that create dependency. Before we began the clean water initiative in Haiti, we had the local church leaders talk to the believers about their responsibility to keep the purification process clean so contamination will not take place. Families learn how to avoid wasting water. As a result, a committee of three local people in the church accepted responsibility to manage the water usage. They sell water to pay for repairs and upkeep, and give free water to people in the church who are destitute. When we leave, they can continue to provide clean water without our help – that is sustainability.

When funds are given for projects without regard to the capability of national believers to manage and maintain them on their own, dependency is a possibility. To help keep the balance between sustainability and dependency, Bright Hope implements a process of relief, restoration and redemption.

Relief: Hope for Today

When a crisis occurs and people’s lives are at risk, we do everything we can to save lives and bring hope. That means providing food, water, healthcare and anything else necessary to help those caught in circumstances beyond their control. The Bible is clear about this, ‘If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?’ (1 Jn 3:17). We are committed to providing emergency help that meets critical needs and gives immediate relief, and to being compassionate and caring toward those in trouble.

Restoration: Hope for Tomorrow

Our goal must be to move beyond immediate crisis relief and help people find hope in their daily life situations through restoration. We enable them to choose plans they can complete themselves to generate a sustainable income that will lift them out of debilitating poverty. This includes growing a garden, raising chickens or developing a small business.

Our goal must be to move beyond immediate crisis relief and help people find hope in their daily life situations through restoration.

Restoration includes encouraging people to be a part of a savings plan to put aside £1 a week for their future needs. The average family earns £2 a day, or £14 a week, so to save £1 a week is a big sacrifice. However, after learning about stewardship from the church, many commit to the practice. After a year, a family may have saved up to £50. Learning to plan and work ahead to meet future needs helps people become self-sustaining. This restoration changes the dynamic of the family and gives them hope for the days ahead.

In Africa, when Shadia’s parents received ten chickens, 11-year-old Shadia took charge. The chickens multiplied and were soon producing 60 eggs a week. She sold eggs and made enough money to pay school fees. Then Shadia purchased seed and grew fresh vegetables to eat and to sell. They now have a savings account for emergencies. The life of this large, poor family has been radically changed as they have gone from dependency to sustainability. That is restoration!

Redemption: Hope for Eternity

In everything we do, there is an evangelistic component. We want people to know Jesus as their Saviour. Because we do everything through the local church, believers can share the Lord with people within their context. When people trust Christ and are reconciled to God and others, their lives are radically changed. It is transformative to see families changed, sending their children to school, eating nutritious food and learning how Christ can lead them through a joyful life filled with hope – even when living in very poor communities.

Christians in Western countries should work together to help people become self-sufficient. When you give, make sure to support projects that do not create dependency. When you pray, ask the Lord to bring real change to people caught in poverty through life-giving projects that they can sustain without outside help. When you go, make sure you work with national churches that are committed to teaching believers biblical principles that will set them free from the bondage of dependency and bring them into the great joy of sustainability. This will be pleasing to the Lord, and His Name will be glorified.
Adapted from an article first published in Serving Together, February 2020, p8.

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