Five mission leaders react to the relief versus development question raised by Philip Yancey in “The Other Side of Thanksgiving.”

James Plueddemann, former SIM International missionary to Nigeria, now acting dean, Wheaton College Graduate School The article raises two questions. First, Do we feed people if we have no chance or time to tell them about Jesus? It seems crass to say we will not feed the starving unless we can first preach to them. We should refuse to use food as “bait” for evangelism. Our concern for others should automatically result from the love of Christ in our lives. Yet I know also that a person’s deepest need is his relationship to God. So I feel strange if I get torn apart emotionally when I hear of a person dying of starvation but don’t worry much that he will most likely spend eternity in hell. Why is it so easy to give money to the first need, and glibly say, “Go in peace; we’ll pray for you,” for the second? Is it important for people to know they are receiving a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name? When this is possible, I think the answer is, Yes.

The second question asks, By giving relief after the crisis is over, do we do long-range harm by making people dependent on us? I feel important when I can do things for people or to people who are in deep need. Yet Yancey’s article properly points out that to continue to help people by doing things for them once they can help themselves makes them less than human.

How can we stimulate this self-development? We must learn to do it by slowly weaning people from our resources after the crisis is over. The process may hurt for a while, but people generally learn to take initiative when they have to face the consequences of lack of initiative. I know that people can become resentful when we withdraw even a little aid, but if we encourage independence realistically and compassionately, we can foster a sense of dignity in the people we came to save.

I admit, however, that this is easier said than done. In Africa I’ve sometimes seen a no-win situation. People hate us when they’re dependent on us for food, and they hate us when we do not give them food. We ran into a great deal of trouble here in the Sahel area of West Africa. If we withdraw aid it will hurt, and we will face some resentment. In fact, to secure our continued help, people may even try to manipulate us into canceling plans to reduce aid. (Probably if we were in their position we would act as they do. It’s human nature to take the easy path.) But if we withdraw aid very slowly, and give them opportunity to take initiative, we can wean them from their dependence. The alternative is to abandon them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps; this undercuts many development projects.

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J. Alan Youngren, consultant to evangelical organizations in marketing and development; coauthor, Your Money: Their Ministry(Eerdmans, 1981) A significant element of Yancey’s article is his documentation of the capacity of relief work to make dependent people. Those in Halba Camp are nourished now, but they are actually less capable of conducting their own lives than they were. And the estimates that one-third of Halba’s residents are not refugees indicate the magnetic attraction of the Western largesse.

Yancey’s documentary approach also makes vividly clear that neither rehabilitation of the people’s means of support nor the educational works of development necessarily, or even likely, grow out of relief efforts. The people’s disdain for fishing, agriculture, and filtered water indicates how long and arduous a process development will be.

Obviously, the potential for lasting solutions is with development, as opposed to relief. Yet the donor is actually somewhat like the refugee. He too fails to respond to the wisdom behind development. As Yancey indicates, agencies are not very successful in getting donors to give to this more significant area.

Two factors maintain the donor’s regrettable preference for relief. First, his giving is triggered primarily by emotion—raw, primitive emotion. And the fund raisers stay with the formula that taps into this. Second, the donor senses the dependence he produces, and it appeals to him. I doubt that the donor will easily forget Somalia once the name has been etched on his mind. Look at his faithfulness to the Korean orphans. If he is convinced that only his giving is preventing a fallback to the original crisis, he is pleased. And he likes the idea that only the strength of America is granting stability to so many areas of the world.

What can relief groups do to change this? I don’t see anything in sight. Those who do not emphasize relief will suffer a drop in revenue.

Of course, an agency can simply raise money for relief and spend it on development. As one fund raiser said, “Half check the box for ‘relief’, and the other half check ‘where needed most’. We can do the smart thing, development, with that.” The problem is compounded because in America everyone has rising expectations. An agency has to grow to hold up its head among its peers. Growth is an American sickness. It’s hard to be at the same level of income as last year.

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Some face reduced revenue; that is bad enough. But add to that the problem of failure to grow. The resulting pressure drives fund raisers to the double-minded approach of focusing their ads on relief, but in fine print noting that donations would also be used for development.

Development simply does not “pull” like relief. You could show a crisis and say, “These people are dying of starvation within sight of a river full of fish. They could be taught to fish.” But compared to a movie of kids with flies in their eyes, it would be a failure. If you could put all the emotion back into it, it still would not have the potential to produce dependence. So those donors who take pleasure from being depended on will not be strongly influenced.

Arthur L. Beals, former Conservative Baptist missionary to the Philippines and pastor, now executive director, World Concern Should relief work be separated from preaching the gospel? To answer we must know what that phrase “preaching the gospel” means. Jesus spent little time “preaching the gospel” if we restrict it to its biblical meaning of telling the good news in words.

But suppose we speak instead of “situational evangelism.” We read that “Jesus went everywhere proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God and healing every kind of disease and sickness.” He proclaimed (in words) and he also healed. This is an imparting of life that is verbal only at times. We must not restrict obedience to Christ to the preaching of the gospel, a verbal activity, and then ask, “Is that activity appropriate to relief work?” The answer would have to be, Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. But obedience in life as well as in appropriate witness in words is essential to all relief work if it is being done as Christian relief work in the name of Jesus Christ.

We can also get confused on the difference between our responsibility for obedience and for results. If I witness appropriately in a relief or refugee project, God is responsible for results. In some situations, I may even have a public evangelistic meeting in the camp. On the other hand, in a Muslim culture that is impossible. There my responsibility is to live out my Christian witness and take appropriate opportunities to witness verbally only on a one-to-one basis. God’s responsibility is the result.

Can American donors be reeducated to respond to appeals that are not just emotional? Yes. But to accomplish that, we have to invest both time and resources. We must, for instance, educate the donor to think in terms of such questions as: What is the need in the world? What caused the need in the world? What does God say is the Christian responsibility in addressing that need? What resources are available that I can give to meet that need? What are the problems if those needs go unaddressed? I’d summarize all these as “need education.”

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Can relief organizations get contributors to give to sanitation and other systems to battle what Yancey calls the underlying cause of disease? Yes. But we need to make the appeal personal. If we talk about a need for a well we may not get response because the donor does not see the issue in human terms. By contrast, when he sees a starving human being, he says, “I want to help.” How can we present development (the need for clean wells, for instance)? The donor must respond, “I can make a difference in my world.” If we break that need into small enough components he can understand what he can do.

Here is an illustration. We do not try to sell an agricultural program, but rather remind people that it is better to teach a man to fish than to give him a fish. And to teach him to fish, we tell donors it costs 50 cents a day to provide the line or bait. People relate to things that are small enough to be achievable within their limited resources. If we can help them do this, we go a long way toward solving the problem of raising money for development.

Someone might ask, “Doesn’t that still mean showing pictures of starving children in a particular area long after they have been fed?” To misrepresent Somalia by depicting starvation that is temporarily under control is wrong. But in trying to explain what is happening so people will intellectually understand and emotionally respond, the relief agency can say, “If we don’t continue our work, this will be the end result.” In a television program I have no problem with showing the picture of a starving child. A year ago, we could show films of children and mothers in our Somali camp starving to death. Today, because of fine relief work, much has changed. Yet if we now were to withdraw both our relief and development work, within 60 days the camp would be right back where it was a year ago. People need to know that.

I don’t agree with the statement, “Relief agencies need situations like Somalia as badly as Somalia needs relief help.” But agencies must be more creative in discovering strategies to get the public’s attention and then show the problem and the way to help. This relates to whether it is legitimate to educate donors with a part of the money they give. I believe it is. So agencies need Somalias only if they do not take the responsibility for showing their donors what is involved. If they fail to do this, all they can do is present the hottest emotional appeal possible.

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Ted W. Engstrom, former Youth for Christ executive, now president, International World Vision

Jesus sought the lost and the sick, to save them and heal them. Often the same people had both problems. Today as well we should minister to these multiple spiritual and physical needs when possible.

As far as we know, Jesus did not personally instruct people in the specifics of preventive health care, sanitation, and the underlying causes of disease. But his confidence in the Old Testament shows that he regarded its instructions on preventing disease as important. Leviticus, for instance, teaches the value of cleanliness in eating and drinking habits.

The American Christian needs increasingly to recognize that because the poor of the world will probably never cease out of the land (Deut. 15:11), God is directing a lifestyle for the Christian in which he is told, “Open wide your hand … to the needy and to the poor, in the land.” We should give to the needy not only in times of crisis, but as a regular, lifelong practice.

We are finding that with education, more and more evangelicals are recognizing the need not only for emergency relief, but for long-term programs. We have little difficulty in raising funds for both. For every $3 we raise for relief we can raise $2 for development.

William Snyder, special assistant to the executive secretary (formerly executive secretary), Mennonite Central Committee

Christian relief agencies may underestimate the public’s capacity to appreciate the difficulties in countries like Somalia. Pictures of cadaverous-looking children mislead potential donors because the problems in these countries are much more complex than providing food and medicine. Somalia is 99 percent Sunni Muslim and 5 percent literate; half the people living there are refugees—about 1.5 million. Short-term programs for a few refugee camps simply will not meet such needs. I believe, therefore, that we need to reevaluate the use of funds raised to deal with these broader problems.

In 1981 the Mennonite Central Committee spent a modest $1,720,000 there in cash and materials. It does not get this from the general public but primarily from Mennonite and Brethren in Christ groups, to whom we try to explain the broader problems. As a result we rely less on heart-rending photos and the like. We have chosen to work with the Somali government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to teach refugees to plant small plots that yield food for a family, and for sale if there is surplus. We teach agricultural skills that refugees may apply wherever they settle later. We also concentrate on women’s education in the Caba Djra region, dealing with such skills as sewing, nutrition, and cooking. In Somalia (but not in every underdeveloped country), the preaching of the gospel will need to follow much later than relief and development ministries. However, there is likely to be some conversation about Christ on the personal level.

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Besides money, such work requires people with a long-term commitment, who are trained in theology and languages. They provide a core around which short-termers with more technical skills can be used.

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