What are we doing here anyway?

What are we doing here anyway?

By: Lizza Irvine (with agreement on most parts from Michelle Long.  🙂

This is a question that usually dances around my thoughts every time I go overseas to do missions/service work recently.

Part of why I ask this is out of care to make sure that I keep my focus on my goals as I do the hands-on work of this project representing many financial backers and I want to be responsible with their gifts and my efforts.

Part of why I ask is out of fear that I won’t actually be able to do any good or impact anyone in a positive way that makes all the time and money worth the effort.

Part of why I ask is a way to process my current reality as I…put on sunscreen over my sunburn for the third time that day, or walk the 25 minutes down the dusty red road to the taxi stop with motorcycles and vans zooming by leaving me holding my breath trying to get past the thick cloud of black smoke they left behind, or eating fried chicken and rice for the 27th time this week (it seems), thinking a fresh salad or corn on the cob would be quite tasty instead.

Whatever the reasons, this is something that is usually on my mind and despite the array of motivations for asking, usually leads to some good, thought-provoking conversations with whomever is around.

I have asked this question before and the answers keep evolving.  This time around, my answers have been shaped by a book our UWP Team 19 had to read called, “When Helping Hurts” (WHH) by ­­­Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.  There are three main ideas from the book that stuck with me and I will share them with you.

First, when Jesus came he didn’t just spout theology at people.  He didn’t go up to the sick and say, “Thanks for believing in me, you’re going to heaven!”  He would talk to the sick, interact in their reality, and connect it to the spiritual world.  He healed their bodies and connected with their souls.  His purpose wasn’t to get a bunch of converts, but to interact with people in their lives and open their eyes and hearts to the kingdom of God (which is a very churchy phrase, so let me explain that I use that to mean being aware of God’s interactions with earth.)

Second, there are different types of service work you can do with the poor around the world (including in the US.)  Relief, rehabilitation, and development.  Relief is like stopping the bleeding, rehabilitation is like PT, helping bring back range of motion, and development is like teaching the person what to do and not do so they don’t get injured again.  There are many circumstances in which aid groups go out and work with the poor and apply the wrong type of help to a community, most commonly relief when development is needed.

Third, a very successful approach to working with the poor is ABCD, “Asset Based Community Development.”  The idea is that when working in a community, instead of asking them, “What are your areas of weakness where we can help?  What do you need?”  Ask, “What are your areas of strength and what are you doing well?”  Then, the aids workers can work on strengthening those areas even more, because the community will be even stronger and can help meet their own needs (sustainability instead of dependence.)

(The book has much more and it finishes with a final section in which the authors give some specific, practical ideas on how to “go and do” in such a way to empower communities and not inadvertently hurt them.  It’s a great book, I strongly suggest you read it!  🙂

Here is how I am connecting these ideas from the book with this project in Uganda.

1. I want to work with people in such a way that they are and feel valued, dignified, and as an equal.  Through this, I can be myself, which includes sharing my life, who I am, and my story (which includes the healing power of Christ’s hope and peace.  If you haven’t heard my story, ask me sometime.)  I want to address the realities of people’s lives through the pain of poverty and the joy of what their culture has to offer through music.

2. I want to work in development.  Right now in Uganda, the country is not in crisis, at least not like it was during the height of the LRA war with the IDP camps in the early 2000’s.  I want to bring about sustainable change.  I want people to be empowered to be able to provide for themselves, their families, and live lives of peace.  Relief is important.  Bringing clean water brings relief.  Working with the people in the communities to bind together, take of each other, build and grow their community and economy.  This is development where I am trying to work.

3. I want to do this through music.  Ugandan music is very rich and has an important role in the culture.  I want to use this as a tool to bring about sustainable change, empowerment, the end of poverty for families and more.  This is a great asset that is already in the culture and I believe by strengthening it, people will become even more powerful to bring about the help they need in their communities.

What this will look like exactly is not yet quite clear to me.  The first step is for me to learn and try some things here, then evaluate it and progress to the next step.  That is what this trip is about.  We are learning some Ugandan music/dance and then using in the schools to empower them, build relationships, share our stories, and see what happens.

One thing we are learning is that other people are already doing some of this type of work.  We have been hearing about some amazing examples of Ugandans using music to help street boys change their life stories.  We have been hearing about connections between different international groups and how they impact each other.  There is a lot going on here already; it is exciting!

I am so excited about this project and can’t wait to see where it goes.  Thank you for being a part of this journey.  Thank you for partnering with us to make a difference in the lives of students, families, and people here in Uganda.  God is doing big things and we get to be a part of it together!

What do you think about all of this?  I’d love your thoughts of feedback.  Leave them in the comments below!

One thought on “What are we doing here anyway?

  1. Excellent Eliza. I really like how you connected the books principles to your work. I like the desire to weave music – a skill area for you obviously – into the development of people as people. And that you are getting “on the ground” information on the Ugandan music/dance and can experiment with it in the schools is way cool. Thanks for sharing!


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