Seven Questions to Ask Before You Dig a Well in Africa, Part 3

By Jeff Palmer

This is the third blog in a series of discussions about a biblical, sustainable missions strategy for your church.

Question 2– Does this project involve, empower, and enhance the development of local believers?

On the surface, this question looks identical to the first one. However, this question focuses specifically on the involvement, empowerment, and enhancement of local believersin the target area, not the general population. While not every target area will include a local church or even local believers, we (as outsiders) should find ways to involve and even yield leadership to Christians in the area. We need to come alongside them to increase their status in and engagement with their local community in a healthy way. Of course, this would not apply to areas of the world where Christians remain at risk for mistreatment or persecution. We don’t want to put them in danger unnecessarily.

In several places where BGR has responded to massive disasters, we have utilized local churches and church leaders to organize and carry out community projects. We put them on the forefront of our response efforts, so when our work was over and we were long gone, a sustainable, trusted partner on site continued the work. It also forced the local church to go beyond its own doors and into the community so they could show Christ’s love in a tangible and winsome way.

After a volcano eruption in Central America, my team chose to let the local pastor and church near the disaster take the lead in the response. This pastor had been thoroughly trained and wanted to respond. We did not assume we needed to come in, set up shop, and run the disaster response for him. Instead, our BGR team members first connected with him and his church and quickly saw their desire to respond and capacity to handle it. They were able to feed, house, and minister to many of the evacuees and survivors who came to their small town and church. The BGR team provided resources such as food, water, and hygiene items, which the church used to minister to the victims effectively and efficiently. In the end, the survivors got the help they needed and the local church benefited long-term from the good will it had shown.

If a church member is doing mercy-oriented mission projects in a community with a local, viable church, I would ask how your church member how they are involving that local body of Christ in their work. If this is not the current practice, you need to find out why. Some legitimate reasons may be in play, but that well-meaning church member may be overlooking significant resources right in front of them. 

Every church has the same call to love their neighbors and make Christ known, even if those churches happen to exist in the poorest and neediest areas of the world. Believers in the target area are more permanent kingdom representatives than we outsiders are, and they carry the weight of the Great Commission where they live. 

In summary, here are questions to ask about local believers when evaluating a mercy-oriented missions project:

  • Are local believers present and involved in the ministry project? If not, what is the reason? 
  • If the project involves local believers, how much are these believers equipped and empowered to do this work after outsiders leave?
  • If we as outsiders implement a mercy-oriented ministry among a group of people, how does that work enhance (or take away from) the long-term effectiveness of the local church?

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