Cairo is full of relics. From the bones and possessions of saints and miracle workers to a cave that is believed to have housed the holy family as they fled to Egypt to avoid the wrath of king Herod. In my time here, I have had the opportunity to drink from a source that is thought to have nourished Jesus in his infancy, and held the chains and shackles of martyrs. However, these are not the relics that motivate or inform my daily work.
As I was sitting on a plane over the Atlantic, I recalled the first day of the missionary conference I had attended nine months earlier. One of Global Ministries’ executives shared a story about the amount of abandoned farm equipment he had seen during his time in international development work through the church— “development relics.” A term I got a good laugh about at the time. Who knew the efforts of a handful of faith-based organizations were still creating relics across the developing world?
These development relics include countless empty schools, abandoned hospitals, and dried up wells, in addition to the copious farm equipment. Tractors and combines that nobody owns, that are expensive to fix, or that need fuel that can't be found within 40 miles. These relics symbolize a lack of planning, giving without consideration of what is needed, and a preference—often unconscious— of western technologies and lifestyles. In some instances, these relics represent the continuation of oppression, colonialism, and neo-imperialism that have harmed developing and resource-poor nations for generations.
Positive, sustainable development practices that can prevent the creation of new development relics must be considered at an institutional and individual level. Both Global Ministries and CEOSS are committed to models that respect the needs of their partners and the beneficiaries in their working areas. This focus prevents faith-based organizations from acting solely on their own experiences, and places decision-making power in the hands of the people in the communities. Individually, efforts to create positive development, and therefore limit the creation of development relics, requires daily vigilance on the part of everyone involved. This vigilance reaches from community leaders who must communicate what is best for their communities all the way to international foundations, grant giving organizations, and investor who fund these efforts.
My daily work allows me to communicate with people throughout the planning, proposal, and implementation of development projects. My coworkers, our organizational partners, and I can strive to make development more effective by considering the needs of the beneficiaries and how to effectively meet these needs at each stage of the process. With greater emphasis on responsible activities and programs in the developing world, perhaps faith-based organizations could leave the relics in the churches.
Will O'Brien, member of Union Avenue Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), St. Louis, Missouri, serves as a Global Mission Intern with the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services (CEOSS). His appointment is supported by Week of Compassion, Our Church’s Wider Mission, Disciples Mission Fund and your special gifts.