Summers provoke a burst of interest in missions, both here in Alaska and abroad. Some provide demonstrable good, others may target faith groups who differ from the sponsoring mission organization's ideals, and yet others may insinuate themselves into native communities in culturally insensitive ways. We should not ignore local missions by preferring foreign missions. All missions could benefit from changes in approach.
In my June 10 column, "Africa is showing Alaska how to do missions," I focused on the training Faith Christian Community has offered our community for years through Community Health Evangelism. Faith's CHE trainer, Larry Kingry, has trained over 100 people during this time, providing them with tools to approach missions insightfully. Many trainees do not take expensive trips to foreign destinations; some do, but a goodly number employ those skills in everyday interactions with people here and in other parts of Alaska.
Kingry was helpful connecting me with CHE-trained individuals. One of them was Heidi Navarro of Community Pregnancy Center.
"We had six of our people trained in CHE," Navarro said, "and now we not only include our clients in the design of services in the very beginning, but we stop and think through our strategies in helping. We want to build the dignity of those we help and for them to take ownership of the solutions."
Heidi offered an example of a time where CHE training was useful. She'd started planning a Christmastime "birthday party for Jesus" for kids of clients. "I was all pumped up," she said."I would like to do this party for the kids but I stopped myself. I thought, wait! CHE talks about ownership." She asked a client to take the lead, and own it. The client enlisted her friends, "reaching a whole new people group than before." The event, held at University Baptist Church was a great success. Heidi says they also use the training day-to-day to encourage a team atmosphere, asking "Is this CHE?"
Joyce Matthews can be found most days working at Downtown Soup Kitchen. CHE-trained in 2014, she talked about her mission experience before CHE. "I have been going to Uganda on short-term missions for years," Matthews said. "After taking CHE, training and education has been my focus versus taking huge suitcases of gifts. I have been promoting CHE as a strategy for development.
Previously, during twice-yearly trips to Uganda, Joyce noticed whatever she brought or did, or her actions on behalf of other people subsequently became "expected," establishing a dependency in the Ugandans. Now, she only takes books, using them to share the Gospel.
If needs are expressed to her, she poses the question, "What resources do you have here to solve this problem?" an important key in development as taught by CHE. At DSK, clients also take meaningful responsibility for their actions, consistent with CHE principles. For instance, when a client uses a shower but leaves it messy, they're called back to clean it if they expect to use it again.
Local real estate agent Fred Owen said, "I was a field coordinator for our church for missions in the Philippines. For years we have poured many thousands of dollars in relief efforts (that were not relief) and created huge dependencies on our church. We destroyed initiative. We then trained 30 pastors in three levels of CHE hoping to turn them away from dependency from outside funds. It still hasn't happened; it is so hard to break the cycle of long-term dependency. They see Western culture as having unlimited money. Good intent gets lost." He admits CHE is changing this mindset, but it takes time.
Fred encourages those considering CHE training to "Come with a very open mind if you are considering CHE training. If you have that open mindset, the lightning bolt will come to you. It's about becoming disciples, not fixing everything."
A clinical professional from Fairbanks, Jo Miller, took her CHE training last fall. "I started traveling overseas with mission groups as early as 2005, and although I enjoyed the work, I always felt like something was 'missing' from the end result after each mission. CHE has provided the missing key with the concepts of sustainability and a clear, measurable long-lasting effect on every community touched. After the CHE training, my entire view on both local and foreign missions has drastically changed along with the choice in what organization I may choose to travel. I am so much clearer on my mission goals and truly feel my efforts are directed by a spiritual basis of love and compassion while providing a solid foundation for those I have the honor and privilege to work alongside in every community."
Amanda McKinley, a Kenai Peninsula nurse recently returned from Ghana after working with CHE-related programs for two years. I first met Mandy, at my May interview of Dayo Obaweya, regional coordinator of West Africa Community Health Evangelism. Her parents are the directors of Child Evangelism Fellowship; Mandy clearly has a passion for ministry.
"Through the ministry of my parents," she said, "I have had a passion to help others become their own teachers so that they become less dependent on outside resources. Through nursing work I have seen that not just spiritual needs must be addressed. I think that often the Western Church completely separates spiritual and physical. But when we look at the life of Christ he did not ignore the physical needs around him nor did he ignore the spiritual, he addressed both."
In Ghana, Mandy helped start Children's CHE and Women's Cycle of Life. Children's CHE introduces children to learn through Bible and physical health prevention stories. They learn how to purify water, make fly and mosquito traps, prevent malaria, and make latrines to prevent disease. Beadwork was taught to help children make jewelry to sell to help their families or pay school fees. Parents become more interested in adult CHE programs as they are taught by their children.
The Women's Cycle of Life gives women a forum to discuss pregnancy, danger signs in pregnancy, preparing for delivery, nutritious foods for children, and how God values women. Mandy said, "Some of the women told us that they were always arguing and fighting but when they started to meet together for WCL they learned how to get along and work towards a goal. They have worked together to start a market in their area."
Kingry is offering a CHE training over two weekends in September. For more information and to sign up, visit pixelark.com/registration/signup/?5050.