Woah there cowboy: Mutuality in Mission on the ground

Mutuality in mission is an important tenet of this program, and of how the United Methodist Church approaches mission. Mutuality in mission means that churches enter into partnerships and relationships with communities and organizations about how they need our service. Everybody approaches the relationship knowing that each party has something to offer and that both parties equally need help and assistance. Under this framework, the UMC in the US does not merely gift money to peoples and communities nor does it assume that we have all the answers and we know the needs of a community. Global Ministries asks communities what they need, how it can help and how we can be in relationship together.

I personally love this model and became interested in the mission intern program because of it. After studying international development, going to Kenya and experiencing it, I knew the dangers of churches, and other international aid organizations knowing how to “fix it.” Because honestly, we rarely know how.

Over the past few months, I have recently encountered this ideology again: the idea that as “better” educated, professionals who probably earn more money, we know what a community needs and how to fix the problem without knowing or asking the community. Only this time, rather than being the person studying the aftermath of this ideology, I’m a member of the community, not being listened to, and saying “woah there cowboy!”

Two separate groups of young professionals interested in “helping people” have approached APMM and the Mission with ideas on what we (the foreign domestic workers) need. Each of them identified problems facing the community and ways to solve them. The problems are real problems, and APMM and the Mission are trying to figure out ways to address them. However, I have a serious problem with their approach for several reasons.

  1. These groups of young professionals do not know the community as a whole or individually; maybe they know a few foreign domestic helpers, maybe they have me with leaders but to me, that’s not enough. The community needs to trust you. You need to eat with the community, dance, laugh, sing and become a member. Trust is a lot harder to build. It takes time and effort. I am a member of the community. Domestic workers are my friends, colleagues and co-workers. I know their stories, seen pictures of their kids, know their struggles and dreams on a personal level.
  2. After identifying the problem, these groups have found the “solution” but without the consultation, input or advice from the community. Consequently, the “solution” might work or help the problem, but largely ignores some of the political realities of working within the community and the various factors going on. The community did not devise the “solution,” so therefore it does possess ownership of it. Rather than believing in its inherent success, the community must be convinced that the “solution” will work.
  3. These groups expect full cooperation from various organizations and “stakeholders” without taking into the account that their “solution” will suck resources (primarily human and time) from an already under-staffed, stretched organization running at full capacity. After bestowing the solution upon the community, these groups will offer advice but not the leg work necessary to accomplish the solution.

So what is a better approach: start with learning and observation.  Become a part of the community and learn about their needs from a personal level and then mobilize resources to help it. Most importantly, stop making assumptions and have patience.




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