Integral Mission and Donors

Quick Definition of Integral Mission

Integral mission is a simple concept with complex implications. One way to define integral mission is  the belief that a human life is a seamlessly integrated whole. There are physical, spiritual, emotional, social, political, economic, religious aspects of every human’s existence and they are all inter-related. Who we are as humans (our “being”) is reflected in how we act (our “doing”) and what we say (our “saying”).

Adultery is undoubtedly a physical act, but the implications and consequences span the gamut of the human experience. There are social, legal, religious, spiritual, missional, and health ramifications. These consequences are not limited to the people involved in the act: their children, siblings, parents, and friends are often impacted as well. A holistic view of sin and evil requires a holistic view of mission and the good. That is integral mission, seeing the world in its larger, more complex, and inter-related context, and addressing root causes instead of surface symptoms. Integral mission is another word for holistic theology.

Transforming Our View of the Poor

One of the most positive developments of our increased commitment to integral mission is that it has transformed our view of the poor. From a perspective limited to the spiritual, the poor were just “lost souls in need of a savior”, who happen to be hungry or have HIV.  From a perspective limited to the physical and economic, they are “people experiencing severe poverty”, who happen to have never heard the good news about Jesus.

From an integral mission perspective, the poor can no longer be “those people”. They are us. Human, made in the image of God. The poor cannot be defined by only their needs and their hurts, but by their gifts and their joys as well. They have great understanding of their context and situation, and great capacity. The poor are not just a pair of disembodied hands reaching out to beg for money, and viewing the poor as such is profoundly dishonoring to the God whose image they bear. Many Christian NGOs are starting to practice a more appropriate view of the poor in their development strategy, moving from a top-down, command-and-control approach to a bottom-up, grassroots approach, and they are experiencing new successes (as well as new challenges). In the same way, many NGOs have changed their fundraising strategies as well, committing to not displaying pictures that would shame those being displayed. This is a major transformation for NGOs who made videos of sad, naked, dirty, starving African children in Africa for decades as if that sadness and poverty was what defined Africa.

Transforming Our View of the Rich

This is a positive change, but our view of the rich, of those who supply the funds for mission is still in need of redemption. If the poor were pictured as begging hands before integral mission, then donors are still being pictured as little Monopoly men with bags of money trying to run away. Both images are dehumanizing and dishonoring to the image of God. These images have no place in a holistic Christian theology. The NGO must learn to view its donors as people, or even better, as friends and family.

That’s easy enough to say, and much harder to do. But difficulty is not the determiner of right or wrong. It was a long journey to understand how to be do good participatory development, and to re-humanize the poor in our thoughts. I expect that it will be another long journey to do good donor development and to re-humanize them in our thoughts as well. They may not be little gods, who rule, nor may they be little wallets, to be mined.

I see a few potential areas of transformation. Slick, emotionally manipulative advertising for donations turns the act of giving into a form of consumption. That cannot be the best that humans can do.

Donors are not just a “means” to a wallet. They are ends in themselves. What does that mean for NGOs and for churches? Perhaps it means that our pursuit of money should be less important than our pursuit of people.

In the end, I have many more questions than answers.

Is donating money too cheap?

Should giving be more costly?

In what ways and why?

Should more of the work of transformation and development be done by individuals?

Has the development NGO taken too much on itself and excluded the individual Christian?

Should the NGO have a vision for the transformation of the donor?

These are the questions I am asking myself. I do not have the answers yet. I have a feeling that, much like the transformation in our view of the poor, many of the activities involved with donors will remain the same, but they will be carried out in a different way with a different mindset.

What do you think? Have you ever been a donor? How were you treated? How were you viewed? How did that make you feel?

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