The role of the Church in Nation Building in South Sudan

Poverty Reduction and Promotion of Transformation Development

Introduction

Addressing the House of Bishops meeting at All Saints Cathedral in Juba last year, the former Chairman of Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) President Festus Mogae said  that he told the South Sudanese Generals in one of their meetings that he too is a general fighting against poverty, ignorance and disease. In my opinion church leaders are also supposed to be generals fighting against poverty, illiteracy and disease. In this article we will look at what the church can do to reduce poverty in South Sudan. In his book walking with the poor, Principles and practices of transformational development, Brian Myers argues that understanding the nature and causes of poverty is very important as it determine the way we respond to poverty.

What is poverty?

There has been progressive view of poverty and its causes in the history. In the early days of development poverty was seen as absence or lack of things and later followed by absence of ideas and knowledge.

In the 1980s Robert Chambers introduced a systemic view of poverty in which he defined poverty as a system of entanglement. In the 1990s John Friedmann described poverty as the lack of access to social power and Amartya Sen argued that poverty is more the result of a lack of freedom than the lack of money. More recently community psychologists Isaac Prilleltensky and Geoffrey Nelson have argued that poverty is a result of oppression that Diminishes personal and relational well-being of the poor.

Coming in from a Christian perspective and building on Chambers and Friedmann, Jayakumar Christian describes poverty as a system of disempowerment that creates oppressive relationships and whose fundamental causes are spiritual. Finally Ravi Jayakaran joined the discussion with his holistic Framework of poverty as lack of freedom to grow.

Causes of Poverty

Building on Jayakumar Christian, Brian Myers argues that the causes of poverty are fundamentally spiritual and its nature is fundamentally relational.  “The poor are poor largely because they live in networks of relationships that do not work for their well-being. Their relationships with others are often oppressive and disempowering as a result of the non-poor “playing god” in the lives of the poor. Their relationship within themselves is diminished and debilitated as a result of the grind of poverty and the feeling of permanent powerlessness. Their relationship with those they call “other” is experienced as exclusion. Their relation with their environment is increasingly less productive because poverty leaves no room for caring for the environment. Their relationship with the God who created them and sustains their life is distorted by an inadequate knowledge of who God is and what God wishes for all humankind. Poverty is the whole family of our relationships that are not all they can be (Myers 2011)”.

Myers argues that the relationships of the poor don’t work for the well-being of the poor because of spiritual values held by others and by the poor themselves that do not enhance and support life. “Selfishness, love of power, and feelings of ordained privilege express themselves in god complexes. Loss of hope, opportunity, and recognition mar the identity of the poor. Racism, ethnocentrism/tribalism, and ostracism erode the intended blessing of having many cultures. Fear of spirits and belief in gods that cannot save obscure the offer of the God who desires to save. At the end of the day, the causes of poverty are spiritual” (Myers 2011).

What is Transformational development?

To community Psychologists Issac Prilleltensky and Geoffrey Nelson described development as enhancing personal, collective and relational power.  Robert Chambers defined development as responsible well-being, built on the principles of equity and sustainability and pursued by means of increasing the livelihood, security, and capabilities of the poor.  Amartya Sen proposes that human freedom is both the goal and the means to development. Jayakumar Christian describes development as a kingdom response to the powerlessness of the poor that exposes the web of lies about the identity and worth of the poor and the god complexes of the non-poor to the transforming truth and demands of the kingdom of God.

Brian Myers argues that because the causes of poverty are fundamentally spiritual and its nature is fundamentally relational, the twin goal of transformational development is therefore a changed people and just and peaceful relationships. He described “changed people” as people who have discovered their true Identity as children of God and who have recovered their true vocation as faithful and productive stewards of gifts from God for the well-being of all (Myers 2011).

The role of the church in poverty reduction

If we agree with Myer that the causes of poverty are fundamentally spiritual and its nature is fundamentally relational, then the fight against poverty is a spiritual warfare that requires spiritual weapons (Ephesian 6:10-20).

In his book theology of development Rev Zablon Bundi argues that one of the main responsibilities of the church is to empower people with knowledge and skills so that they can make maximum use of their talents and materials to develop themselves and in effect reduce poverty in the society. He recommends that the church could provide information on where to get resources from; for example small business loans, youth and women development fund, constituency development fund etc, because the church has a broad network that links people in their social and economic activities.

Conclusion

The church is a community of believers in Christ (Acts 2:42-end). So you and I are the church and we have a role to play in poverty reduction in South Sudan as our contribution to the building of our great nation. God bless South Sudan

 

References

Myers B (2011) walking with the poor, Principles and Practices of Transformational development.

Bundi Z (2011) Theology of Development, Integral Mission Model of God-Centred Development.