Archives For advocacy

Evangelical Advocacy

August 22, 2012 — Leave a comment

My friends at Eastern University’s School of Leadership and Development (my alma mater), along with Bread for the World Institute and Asbury Seminary have launched a great new “open source curriculum resource” at evangelicaladvocacy.org, aimed at providing “the best collection of diverse theological and intellectual materials to foster dialogue, discussion and engagement in Christian global poverty advocacy, especially related to U.S. government assistance.”

It looks like a treasure trove of great stuff, grouped into four modules featuring articles, videos, and even sample syllabi:

If you’re interested in mobilizing your church to advocate on the issue of global poverty from a Christian perspective, or if you’re just wanting to learn more about these issues, this will be a great resource. Carve out a chunk of time and plan to spend it looking through evangelicaladvocacy.org.

This is a guest post by my friend Andy Kristian, a very talented photographer and social entrepreneur who is from Uganda. He also happens to be a great guy. Please check out his photography site and follow him on Twitter for all things related to politics, nonprofits and other trends in East Africa. I asked him what he thought of KONY 2012, the biggest viral video of all time, with more than 100 million views. Here’s what Andy had to say:

Two days ago I was approached by a friend of mine and blogger/writer Tim Hoiland to do a guest blog. He had received several inquiries for his opinion on the viral Kony 2012 video that captured the world by storm and blew the internet for 7 straight days. Even now, it continues to dominate conversations both on and offline and is likely to do so for the foreseeable future. Invisible Children, the makers of the video also still has other activities planned in tandem with the video and it is more likely than not that they will attract some good measure of attention. But why did Tim ask me? Why not just go ahead, research and write? He explained that people had asked his opinion, “but I’d rather  have a Ugandan answer it.” I then asked him what he thought was the best direction of the post for his readers and he mentioned three things, that I will go ahead and answer.

1. Is there something praiseworthy in Invisible Children’s advocacy campaign, specifically in regard to #Kony2012?

Yes, there is, but for many Ugandans and Africans, that is subject to debate. Positively, Invisible Children has been able to rally everybody, especially the young people behind one cause. This is reminiscent of the Obama campaign, and the Save Darfur humanitarian campaign. This has shown that young people in America do care, and all that is required is leadership to direct them to great causes. Invisible Children succeeded in drawing attention to a social justice issue that raged on for decades with hardly any meaningful mention on major television, newspapers or blogs. This video has brought unprecedented massive exposure to Uganda and we could harness this opportunity to market our country and reap the benefits or just whine and whine as we slip out of the spotlight. Invisible Children have done what no one else could do, and in so doing, they have have also made some mistakes, and this brings us to the second part of what Tim wanted me to talk about.

2. What are some of the concerns?

The concerns about the Kony2012 video have largely been about the accuracy of the facts in the film, the highjacking of an African narrative and the over simplification of the conflict so to speak. Some inaccuracies could be looked at as simple omissions and therefore negligible, nevertheless, it is good to mention them so that for those that are not aware can be brought up to speed. The picture that the hit video paints may be construed as indicating a situation of war, and therefore not safe. But in actual fact, Joseph Kony has not operated within Ugandan borders for about 8 years now. Many have found such a deliberate omission disturbing and manipulative. Indeed, Kony is still at large, roaming the Central African region of Chad, Central Africa Republic and in the Congo, but his ragtag army has been reduced to approximately 300 combatants who are not a major security threat. Kony needs to be brought to justice, but unfortunately, a viral Hollywood production will not be sufficient in doing that, not in 2012 and probably not in 12 years. The timing of the video is totally off.

Scenario: Let’s assume, for example, that you have an internal family problem and you need help. And I come to learn of that problem and want to help. The logical thing for me to do is to come to you and ask about what your needs are, what your capacity is, and in what best way I could be of help. I am not even sure that this analogy is the best, but try to make it work. The majority of Ugandans and Africans feel this way with the video. It is not because we do not need help, but we need to be involved in the stories or even work that affects us. Invisible Children could have done better in doing some consultative work with stake holders, especially the victims of the LRA conflict in Northern Uganda. Many people have worked for decades to stop this war. The Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative, the Acholi Cultural Leaders, the local government all have a stake in this conflict and have worked harder than anybody to push government, the diaspora, the international agencies and leaders to instigate a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Rather than show a misleading dated video of Norbert Mao, president of Democratic Party and a champion for peace talks in Northern Uganda, Invisible Children could have sought an honest opinion from the man regarded as the finest and most respected leader from Northern Uganda.

That Invisible Children advocates for a military solution to the conflict has attracted some pretty negative feedback. The argument out there is that the LRA is full of child soldier recruits, and therefore a military campaign would be a direct attack on the children. I really don’t buy into this notion, but I am not in favor of a military resolution either. This is why. Usually, a military campaign against the LRA results in massive civilian causalities through waves of terror and vengeful new abductions. The Northern Uganda conflict calls for holistic peace-building initiatives that include bringing both sides of the conflict to justice and accountability. On one hand, the UPDF (Uganda People’s Defense Forces) and on the other, the LRA. Without addressing the root causes of the conflict, we will not have achieved anything. Uganda is a country reeling from bloodshed; from the Idi Amin days to the Obote period and to the current Museveni regime that is equally guilty of perpetrating crimes against humanity. A thorough justice system that addresses these issues would heal Uganda, and for that, a video can’t do. And that is why the ICC (International Criminal Court) partly failed. Uganda refereed the case to the ICC prematurely, without thinking about the repurcussions. Soon it became clear that the law would need to be applied to the UPDF as well. Unfortunately, the ICC did not investigate the UPDF but only indicted LRA criminals. The UPDF criminals are still free, and some of the perpetrators of war crimes are now wreaking new havoc in land grabbing and people displacements. These are real issues that must be corrected.

People of Northern Uganda proposed a traditional justice system called Mato Put to be applied to all the returnees. The Uganda parliament, through pressure from Northern Uganda leaders also adopted a new amnesty law, providing safety return to the rebels. This was a successful strategy that led to thousands of returnees. But with the ICC indictments, the senior perpetrators were not covered under the law. This was a thorny issue during the LRA and Government of Uganda (GoU) negotiations in Sudan, of which I was a technical consultant to the mediation office. Indeed, both parties thought that in the interest of peace and in the interest of justice, it was better for senior commanders of the LRA to benefit from the amnesty, since the Acholi community were ready to apply traditional justice system. But the ICC indictments can not be lifted. Kony swore that he would never be tried outside of Uganda. The peace process collapsed. Since the last major peace talks, Kony has not used the peace process to regroup as argued in the video.

3. As a Ugandan (African), what advice would you give those with good intentions but who don’t really know Uganda’s context?

Proverbs 19:2 It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way. Having good intentions is great, but this must be done in wisdom, especially in this day and age where aid and charity is a huge global industry. Invisible Children have been found suspect in terms of resource allocation, devoting only 32% of all their revenue to programs that help the victims on whom these campaigns are based. The argument is that they spend a lot on the advocacy, which is their mission, but as you know also, this answer is hardly sufficient. In a guest post on Dave Algoso’s blog, David Hong, a former roadie for Invisible Children, rightly argues that they should stick to advocacy work “instead of getting involved in the murky trenches of international peacekeeping and geopolitics.” And the issue of financial misuse in nonprofits is getting common by the day. Red Cross International together with American Red Cross were not so long ago under the spotlight for the misuse of relief funds for Haiti. It would appear that some form of due diligence in the organizations we support must increasingly be done.

Treat Africans or the poor with dignity. As a photographer, I have learned that we all like to look good in photographs, in films, etc. Nobody should take that away from anybody. Not Joseph Kony, not Gadaffi, not Museveni, no one. And this must be applied in charitable works as well. Here is a list of the 7 worst international aid ideas…some of these things are often done with good intentions, but good intentions are not always a good thing. But you know, like a good intention of collecting and sending used underwear to African girls from England?

Lastly, involve Africans, Ugandans or the poor in decision making from the bottom up. This creates ownership of solutions and real partnerships. But this hardly happens. Decisions are made in air-conditioned offices in the USA or Europe for the poor people. Most development organizations have huge budgets for Africa but rarely are there board representatives from these regions, while senior leadership and other critical roles at country level are occupied by foreigners, sometimes earning 15 or more  times more than the locals. On a story telling level, our people are still overlooked in shaping narratives, whether they affect nonprofits or news. As a photographer and filmmaker, I struggle to gain contracts to tell stories in Uganda or East Africa be it UN agencies, International Christian NGOs, and other Aid agencies. Most of these organizations prefer to ship an American or European photographer to tell our stories. And in so doing, we are not only left jobless, but also without a voice.

What do you think of Andy’s take on KONY 2012? Does it challenge your views or confirm any suspicions? What questions are you left with?

Today I’m honored to have a guest post from Dr. David Bronkema, chair of the School of Leadership & Development at Eastern University. I had the privilege of studying under David, and consider him both mentor and friend. Here he reflects on the basis of his hope that Christians of all sorts are waking up to the holistic implications of the gospel.

It is always a treat to return to Honduras.

After having spent five years there in the 1980s, working with a Honduran Christian relief and development organization, the country is near and dear to my heart.  Our Masters in Organizational Leadership in Latin America, with a concentration in International Development, has given me the opportunity to get back there three times over the last year and a half since we launched that program.  Just as we do with our programs out of Africa, we bring students and faculty together, in this case from all over Latin America, for two and a half weeks, delivering the introductions to six courses that will be followed up online for the rest of the year.

Even though a lot has changed in Honduras, the basics remain the same.  The same, familiar “smell” of the country as I walk through the airport terminal.  The breathtaking landscape of steep mountains dotted with pine trees clinging to a bit of thin topsoil, from which subsistence farmers try to eke out a living for their families.  The desperate poverty of the country, traditionally ranked second or third poorest in the Western Hemisphere, after Haiti and Nicaragua.  And, the hope that fills one’s heart in talking, sharing, studying, teaching, learning, and praying with our brothers and sisters from Honduras and the rest of Latin America.

This hope I feel is rooted in the deep commitment of those students, and the students that God sends our way from the United States, Africa, and around the world, to follow His calling in their lives wherever that may take them.   And, for me, it has been bolstered over these last years since I joined Eastern by seeing how the evangelical movement is reawakening to the importance of being obedient in the areas of tackling poverty and working for justice.  “I’m here because I feel like I’ve missed something central to the Gospel,” shared one of our students in Honduras, a leading pastor in the evangelical movement in that country.  This is a sentiment that in the 1980s in Honduras would have led any pastor to have run the risk of being labeled a “liberal” or a “communist” by fellow evangelicals, with their commitment to Christ being serious questioned.

It is a true blessing to be working at Eastern University where we are called to help students work through how to prayerfully combine evangelism and social action.  Unfortunately, holding fast to the centrality of verbally sharing the saving message of Jesus Christ; being obedient to His call to tackle poverty and work for justice; and deepening our relationship with Him and our own processes of becoming more like Him in word, thought, and deed, is not an easy one either at a personal or organizational level.  Christian agencies and organizations fall prey to the secularizing tendencies of the world by going for “easier” sources of funding or a host of other pressures which drive them to drop the proclamation of Jesus as Lord.  They also fall into the temptation of not prayerfully examining the call to go beyond just relief and engage in advocacy and development work.  And, in both cases, keeping the Bible and prayer front and center as the lens through which to inform, critique, and nourish one’s actions tends to fall by the wayside as we struggle to get all things on our plates done quickly.

“How can we not share Jesus Christ?,” asked one of our development students in class recently, trying to make sense of why self-labeled Christian development agencies struggle with this issue. “Why is it even an issue that you would combine both?,” asked a person in one of our Adult Sunday school sessions two weeks ago in the “conservative,” evangelical church of which we are blessed to be a part, and in which a decade ago the “social” aspect would have been absent.

Indeed.  As I listened to our Christian brothers and sisters from the South go around and share about themselves in the classroom in Honduras, I was struck once again by how God works so amazingly in both areas, and the blessing of hearing the testimonies to that effect.  “I come from a family of [more than 10 children]…” shared at least four or five.  “I come from the rural area, from a family that had nothing…” shared at least another as many.  And, here they were, having overcome all kinds of obstacles that most of us can only imagine, in a Masters program, having graduated from college, leading organizations like World Vision and Plan International, pastoring churches and leading the administration of different denominations, and heading up management consulting companies.  And, all driven by the commitment to let people know about Christ, the source of their hope, and to be more effective in their social and spiritual outreach.

The challenges of this world are tough.  As we talked and shared in the classroom in Honduras about how to engage in biblically based development program planning and fundraising, in the rest of the country the legacies of the coup of last year continued to play out.  Torture, assassinations, and disappearances perpetuated by a lethal mix of corrupt government, military, rich businesspeople with their private bands of thugs, and drug traffickers geared towards protecting their own are rapidly becoming the norm, even as the poverty of that country continues to rage on.  The hopelessness, frustration, and fear of my friends involved in politics and business is palpable.

But, as Christians, our hope in Christ is great.  We live in a fallen world, one in which we are called to be yeast.  And, I feel incredibly blessed to be part of a group of students, staff, faculty, alumni, and brothers and sisters all over the world who feel called by Christ to act in this fallen word, prayerfully discerning where God would lead them and building up more and more tools with which to do so effectively and faithfully.

If you’re interested in learning more about Eastern’s international development programs, feel free to ask me or explore the program on Eastern’s site.

I admit it: I like conferences. I’ve been to a variety of them during college, grad school, and at various times in between, and I’ve almost always had a great time. I’ve recently seen promos or otherwise heard about four upcoming conferences in particular that strike me as awesome, though it sadly looks doubtful that I’d be able to attend any of them. I offer them here anyway as a sort of public service announcement. If you’re at all connected to the field of community development, whether domestically or abroad, and are inspired and/or informed in your work by your Christian faith, these four events look simply fantastic.

1. CCDA National Conference
Christian Community Development Association
Oct 12-16, Indianapolis

Each year, the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) National Conference draws over 3,000 people from around the world to share in best practices of Christian Community Development. Experts and scholars teach workshops around relevant themes. Practitioners find support in networking with others facing similar challenges. Advocates bring attention to issues affecting people at the grassroots. And provocative speakers challenge our assumptions about what it means to embody Christ’s love to the poor in our communities.

2. Spiritual Metrics Conference
Eastern University
Oct 21-22, St. Davids, PA

What is Spiritual Metrics? How Do You Measure Impact? Why Now? We’ve heard it all before … “We’re not quite sure if and how to measure whether our programs are having the kind of spiritual impact we’d like to see…” and so we are creating a space where we can explore, prayerfully and in detail, the theological and practical dimensions of measuring spiritual impact.

3. Developing Excellence Forum
Accord Network
Nov 15-17, Baltimore

Don’t miss this chance to shape the future of relief and development: Join one of these five summits [Transformational Development, Water, Sanitation & Hygiene, MicroEnterprise Development, Advocacy, and Gifts-in-Kind] and be ready to network, collaborate, and assist in the developments of Principles of Excellence in that arena.

4. The Justice Conference
World Relief & Kilns College
Feb 24-25, Portland

The Justice Conference 2012 is the second annual international gathering of advocates, activists, artists, professors, professionals, prophets, pastors, students and stay-at-home moms working to restore the fabric of justice. For some it means speaking. For others it means singing. For some it means going. For others it means giving. For all, it means living with mercy and love. You are invited to come weave your voice and gifts into the conversation. Join us, and discover that in the garment of justice, your love is an irreplaceable thread.

And as a bonus, Calvin College’s Faith and International Development Conference, which will likely happen next February, will certainly be a goodie too, though details won’t be released until next month.