Friday, March 11, 2011

Walking with the poor cross-culturally in Melbourne

In the latest issue of UNOH's Finding Life newsletter (March 2011), I read the following article by Peter Dekker, which is really worth reading. As a bi-cultural person I can testify that Peter and his family's dedication to Christ and the poor in a non-Western culture has set a good example for us.

From “FOR” to “WITH”

The most crucial change that must take place in our adjustments to a new culture is to learn to see its people as “people” – as human beings like ourselves – and their culture as our culture.
(Paul G. Hiebert. Anthropological Insights for missionaries, 1985)

There is a massive difference between doing something FOR someone and doing something WITH someone. As a Westerner in a Western context, it is easy to do a lot of things FOR a refugee group that is settling into your neighbourhood. We can get results, we know the system, we know the ways to get things done... we know what is best for them. What this sort of an attitude boils down to however is imperialism, and we are all well aware of the sins of the past committed by colonising countries and even missionaries in the name of “knowing what is best”.

2010 was a real time of spiritual growth and formation for Naomi and I as our team was reduced from 5 or 6 down to just 2. God was teaching us an important lesson; through team-mates leaving to pursue their callings in other places, and reducing our team from a well oiled machine that could get things done, to a married couple faced with more work than they could possibly handle alone. We could no longer run around and do things FOR people, if we did this we would have burnt out in a couple of months. Rather we were forced to slow down and do things WITH people. This involved coming along some close relationships and going much deeper than we had before, seeing these people as more than just a ministry opportunity, but beginning to see them as friends and even family. It involved grappling with both the beautiful and ugly sides of their culture, and struggling to understand those parts that seemed most foreign to us, so that we could call their culture our own. It also meant humbling ourselves, and allowing those we were working amongst to do things for us so that our relationships could become truly equal.

As 2011 begins with our team growing from 2 back to 5, and with our work in the neighbourhood gaining more momentum, we thank God for the growth that occurred in 2010 with all its highs and lows. Though there is still a lot to be learnt, 2010 truly was the year we moved from “FOR” to “WITH”.

Peter Dekker.
Springvale Neighbourhood Team Leader.

(Reproduced with permission from the author.)

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