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Is our Help Making Partners or Beggars?

As part of DARC (Decolonization and Anti-racism Collective, the new name for the Canadian Advisory Committee on Antiracism), I was asked to talk with BIPoC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) people to hear their honest experiences with the CRCNA. I was honoured to talk with a brilliant woman who is a Doctor in Education and a Professor at the University of Alberta. She also owns a business which assists employers to empower newcomer employees. She worked for a CRCNA affiliated organization in her home country for 5 years and she was one of the first members of my own CRC church community. When I entered her home, I was first met by a newcomer family – all wrapped in layers of winter clothes – as they were on their way out the door. They had just come to Canada and my host was assisting their transition to this new country. I instantly knew that I was the right place. After sharing her hospitality, my host began to speak truth. Her words were kind but sharp. They were filled with pain, but also imbued with awareness and clarity. I hope and pray that we will carefully listen to her words with humility and respect. 

At first, my host was proud to work for the non-profit. This CRCNA affiliated organization was one of the best in the country. It was one of the first Christian organizations to implement micro-loans. Also, her people saw working at an NGO as a kind of privilege. There were many great benefits, such as travelling to conferences and trainings; and it looked very good on your résumé. Using the CRCNA’s Church Order, she wrote and taught a curriculum for deacons based on Romans 12:13 “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” The image above is the front cover of one of the books she wrote for deacon education. 

[Jesus] did not come to the earth to live in a nice house with servants, horses, and chariots. He came in a humble hut. 

However, it didn’t take her long to see the shadow side of the work. She told me, “I worked for them, but I hated what they did. They talked a lot about social justice, but they lived in a very different way. They lived in nice big houses while working for those of us in huts. They drove big fancy cars and they had three or four servants working for them. Is that social justice?” When she said this, I instantly thought of Jesus’ incarnation. He did not come to the earth to live in a nice house with servants, horses, and chariots. He came in a humble hut. 

My host admitted that it took a while for her to understand what was going on. “I could denounce it, but it wouldn’t be an easy thing to do because they gave me food for my family. They made me look good in my community. I just tolerated their foot against my head.” She could not take the injustice forever, however. What really brought indignation was the organization’s efforts to give aid without empowering the people they served. She told me that, “They always wanted to serve us ‘the lesser.’ In their work they focused on alphabetization for adults. They didn’t even consider trying to educate and teach children as a way to prevent the lack of education. They only wanted to focus on teaching a 72-year-old how to read and write her name in Creole. The money used for many alphabetization groups could send 1 or 2 kids to school. That would make a more sustainable change.” Her pleas to focus on the root causes and to empower the next generation were ignored. 

She wants these stories to be heard for the sake of the CRCNA and their part in the work of Christ’s kingdom.

While this was her country and her people, the workers see their position as a job. She stated, “We can hear them talking about vacation and boats. The point of them being there wasn’t to solve the root causes; rather they benefit by keeping the cycle going.” They did this “so that they would always be needed. They do this in Haiti, El Salvador, and other countries. They use the same approach without taking into account different contexts and historical situations.” She noted that some of her friends still work in the organization and, according to them, not much has changed. “They’re still there after 20 years. What does that say?” she exclaimed in exasperation. “After 20 years you should be a partner to the people!” Instead, my host declared, “Your help is a poison to my people.”

With her education and experience, especially as a researcher in the field, my host is able to thoroughly investigate and articulate the complexities of her experience. At the root of injustice is sinful political and economic systems. “Capitalism and slavery-colonialism are conjoined twins,” she emphasized. The root of her country’s problems stem from colonialization and slavery. Such injustice is perpetuated by capitalist forces which dominate the global economy. The missionary workers who come to serve her country are benefactors and perpetrators of both colonization and capitalism. How will they be able to battle the root causes if they themselves are immersed and drink from these root causes of destruction? Instead of treating her people as equal partners, they became beggars which uphold the status quo. 

My host brought scripture in the conversation saying, “God used Paul not Peter for the Gentiles, I have always wondered about that.” Instead of bringing an outsider to bring the good news to the Gentiles, God used a Roman citizen, a person immersed in their culture. 

My host wanted to share all this not to bash this organization. She sincerely wants change. She wants these stories to be heard for the sake of the CRCNA and their part in the work of Christ’s kingdom. Even though it may cause pain, let us take these words to heart and investigate our practices and policies. O Spirit lead us. 

Photo of original manual provided by interviewee​.

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