Discernment, Charity and Justice

Let me be clear from the outset. I’m not against World Vision.

I know its work. I’m friends with many who serve there. Relationship always makes things complicated, doesn’t it? It makes things complicated when you’re in relationship with many who, through World Vision serve amongst those who have been made vulnerable and poor.

I’m not against World Vision. And yet, I have some questions.

I have questions that I am asking them. I have questions that I am asking other organisations with connections to communities where World Vision serves. It’s important to ask those questions, to listen to, and weigh the responses as best we can.

And I hope that those of us who sponsor children, those of us who give, those of us who wish to contribute to the common good (with whatever organisation), are askers of better questions. Our responsibility is not just to give money to charity. That’s a great place to start. But through that relationship, we also have the opportunity to ask questions about how that work takes place, and how effectively the organisations we support are responding to those in need.

We asked those questions of Invisible Children in the wake of the Kony campaign a few years back. Here in Canada, home to the majority of the world’s mining companies, we have a responsibility to ask good questions of NGOs who choose to partner with these corporations, especially with the failure of Private Members Bills C-300 (sponsored by John McKay) and C-323 (sponsored by Peter Julian) that demanded greater accountability for Canadian corporations operating overseas.

We must challenge those organisations who say they are doing good – not because they’re not, but because all organisations are fallen. They, like all of us, are in need of redemption.

When serving with Word Made Flesh, I found myself both challenged by and appreciative of those people who would come up to me, or write to me, and ask “so what’s it really like underneath the glossy postcards and promo video.” Those are the questions that need to be asked. As an organisation, Word Made Flesh is committed to serving Jesus amongst some of the most vulnerable of the world’s urban poor.

The work was imperfect. The people engaged in the work were imperfect. All of our humanity, flawed.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t try. That doesn’t mean we don’t go forward. And it means we go forward as best we can, growing in relationship with the local individuals and communities amongst whom we serve, and building partnership along the way.

Discernment is imperative for individuals and organisations alike. 

In the case of my own service with that one organisation, our discernment was imperfect. At times, we stumbled. We stumbled, and we failed, and we succeeded. The Canadian organisation lasted an entire year, as the US organisation restructured. Things stuttered and stumbled. The Canadian organisation shuttered its doors. We closed. They stabilised. They continue to serve, at great personal cost, amongst those made most vulnerable. Imperfectly. Humanly.

In the context of the conversations these past weeks – especially those about World Vision, it seems that this conversation is a necessary one. And its one that needs to happen not just amongst those who are concerned, but as one commenter wrote in response to my previous post:

Do some work…contact World Vision and ask them about their involvement with Barrick and mining companies. Don’t just settle for innuendo. I understand that that’s what you’re encouraging us to do (and you’re right to do so) but when you ask questions in the way you have it tends to send the message that they are already answered. Help us out, call them up. Tell us what they say and what you make of it. That’s a real service.

So that’s what we’ll do. We won’t settle for mere innuendo. We won’t settle for guilt-by-association. We’ll talk to those who are on the ground. We’ll ask questions of folks like those at MiningWatch who are also paying attention to these partnerships. And we’ll try to figure out some better questions (and better responses) to the complexities of NGOs working with and amongst those who have been made vulnerable and poor.

Andrew Stephens-Rennie on FacebookAndrew Stephens-Rennie on Twitter
Andrew Stephens-Rennie
Andrew is a writer, dreamer and organizer with a keen interest in developing leaders in faith, compassion and justice.

He currently serves as the Director of Missional Renewal for the Anglican Diocese of Kootenay on the unceded territories of the Sinixt, Syilx, and Ktunaxa nations. He previously served as the Director of Ministry Innovation at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC.

Andrew is cofounder and contributing editor at www.empireremixed.com, and co-editor of "A Sort of Homecoming: Essays Honoring the Academic and Community Work of Brian Walsh" with Marcia Boniferro and Amanda Jagt.

Leave a Reply