Getting to the Root of Community Problems

Getting to the Root of Community Problems

Andreas Steffensen – September 7, 2016

In 2007, World Challenge founder David Wilkerson instructed us to begin a ministry that would reach the poorest of the poor in truly impoverished areas around the world. Our staff responded by setting up Please Pass the Bread, partnering with Christian schools, orphanages and churches to open feeding programs in Kenya’s capital Nairobi and elsewhere. In the years since, 28 partnerships have been established in Kenya alone, and thousands of children have been fed in slum communities.

But questions have lingered: How do we impact not just the children, but their parents and their communities? How can we move beyond feeding to a place where families are able to provide for their own needs? Why are the children hungry in the first place and can something be done to solve the root issues that cause their hunger? What local resources are available but unknown by community members?

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We have seen, to great effect, that answers to these and many other questions can be found in God’s Word. The Bible is full of transformational principles that can change lives spiritually, economically, emotionally, and socially — in other words, wholistic Biblical transformation. As a result, we have begun a process of changing the focus from feeding people to transforming lives. This approach is not new to our ministry, it’s just new in the areas where our focus previously was feeding.

Very recently, World Poverty Solutions’ staff had the opportunity to spend 5 days interacting and introducing our transformational approach to our Please Pass the Bread partners in Kenya. How would they receive the change we wondered? Would they be disappointed to learn that we eventually would stop providing food for the children they minister to?

As part of WPS’s wholistic ministry, using the tool of Community Health Evangelism (CHE) training, we taught a lesson called “The Road to Development.” Participant was asked to bring objects that represented the biggest issues in their community. They each explained their issues and placed corresponding objects in a long line on the ground. Then everyone voted by placing leaves next to the three objects they believed were the biggest issues facing their communities. Surprisingly, food insecurity was second to last with only 4 votes, while unemployment/poor wages, addiction, and lack of life education were considerably higher with 20, 19 and 14 respective votes. The attendees pinpointed that if you wanted to solve food insecurity, and a myriad of other problems, you had to go to the root and tackle the underlying issues. Such issues cannot be solved by school lunches. They require a long-term investment in teaching the whole community a different approach to life, and that’s exactly what World Poverty Solutions is focused on.

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Daniel Warui, an attendee and local program director put it well: “A lot has been said about Africa’s problems and different ways of solving them. The truth is that Africa has had the same problems for decades and the situation seems to get worse. A plain example is in the Kenyan urban-slums and informal settlements where my program is based. The number of organizations working there appear to be quite active every day, with not much impact; yet the general situation remains unchanged. What then is the real problem? Why are we investing so much and yet achieving such little results? I believe these huge giants of poverty, disease, sanitation, chronic hunger, environmental degradation and so forth have very simple solutions. My reflection is that the solution lies with this teaching of CHE; digging deep to get the root cause of these problems and get solutions that not only last but have sustainable impact. I believe we [can develop solutions] — through networking, and to a large extent by the effort of the very people who suffer these needs: the poor. I have realized the interventions can be so simple that the poor can design them, implement them and operate them to bring lasting change to their own needs.”

Such realizations are important steppingstones for local pastors and community leaders to switch their focus from outside relief and resources, to all the good God already has deposited within their communities. Instead of focusing on what they lack, community members get together and discover the gifts and resources God has given them. As they begin putting their God-given skills and resources to work, over time they are able to find solutions to core community issues, and by extension the smaller issue too.

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