I’ve been reading Ron Sider’s new book on non-violent action (see my review here), and in it Sider provides a beautiful quote that perfectly captures the essence of development and community building. This statement well captures what we do in Africa and why the local church is so crucial, primarily because a local church focus maximises and values the insights of local peoples. The following quote is by Leymah Gbowee, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her work toward ending the civil war in Liberia primarily through the empowerment of women. Gbowee writes:
Organizations like the UN do a lot of good…but there are certain basic realities they never seem to grasp…Maybe the most important truth that eludes these organizations is that it’s insulting when outsiders come in and tell a traumatized people what it will take for them to heal. You cannot go to another country and make a plan for it. The cultural context is so different from what you know that you will not understand much of what you see. I would never come to the US and claim to understand what’s going on, even in the African American culture. People who live through a terrible conflict may be hungry and desperate, but they are not stupid. They often have very good ideas about how peace can evolve, and they need to be asked.
That includes women. Most especially women. When it comes to preventing conflict or building peace, there’s a way in which women are the experts…we know our communities. We know our history. We know the people. We know hot to talk to an ex-combatant and get his cooperation, because we know where he comes from. To outsiders like the UN, these soldiers were a problem to be managed. But they were our children.
1. See Ron Sider, Nonviolent Action (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2014), 114; and Gbowee, Mighty Be Our Powers, 171-172.