Have We Forgotten The Importance Of Relationship? PT 2.
So in Part 1 I talked about Tearfund’s Inspired Individuals programme and how it got me thinking about the importance of relationship and community – and how relationship is at the heart of peacebuilding, advocacy, pastoral care and what we will call prophetics. That is:
- keeping faith with truthfulness,
- challenging power,
- naming injustice and
- inspiring dreams and visions of hope.
We can’t do any of these without the slow process of building relationship and trust.
Our modelling, our listening or praying and our time spent with others in the “ministry of presence” is vital to the work that we do.
Working with Tearfund, I found it interesting that their theory of poverty states that “poverty is holistic; it is not just economic or physical but it is also social, environmental and spiritual.” The root cause of poverty is broken relationships – with God and with each other – our neighbour. And of course – while conflict manifests itself in different ways – Conflict is about – broken relationships.
My experience has been that incredibly – even though relationship is at the heart of the gospel message – there seems to be a lack of understanding of this – whether in Africa – as expressed by the isolation and lack of support of our Inspired or in the UK where I have experienced it myself in my work – in a local Christian community project and with Thrive Ireland. “You can’t love your neighbour – if you don’t know your neighbour.” Perceptions and myths develop – and do not change until relationship is established. In fact, until relationship is built – Perception is reality for you – or for the other person!
So Perceptions… exist! Of course they do.
Whether it is perceptions from those in Africa about the white people or Musungu! And equally important our perceptions of people in Africa – “more spiritual” or “lacking in understanding” or “they are all living in poverty”. Or whether it is perceptions about “people who live in loyalist or republican housing estates.” Or, from the “community” outside the church – of those middle class “Snobs and “do gooders” from the church.
This makes it initially difficult to build authentic relationship because of the perceptions involved. Eg. The Colonial legacy where white people came with a superior attitude – creating a hierarchy.
The West is where the money comes from and is looked to for support when resources and skills are plentiful within these beautiful places. How easy it is to disempower others.
And Unequal power balance can also make authentic relationship hard to build.
But in a Leadership Support Programme which requires trust to be built to enable support to be offered. It was important to meet each Inspired Individual where they were, visit their homes, meet their families, laugh and cry with them, eat their food and be guided by them.
It was also important to be vulnerable. To enable them to see, I was not the one with all knowledge, power and wisdom. In pastoral care situations I also needed to share personally about my life, ask for their prayers and let them see my struggles.
When you build that relationship and get to know someone – your perception changes with relationship, actual knowledge and understanding. You get to know someone for Who they are – not for what they are labelled as – or what they do. You get to know their sense of humour, you spend time with them because you are interested and you care – “We love (simply) because he loved us.” not because you have an agenda.
My first real job was in sales. I worked for a Theatre and Drama Publishing company. It was a very niche market – and most buyers in the shops I was selling to didn’t know much about the subject matter of the books I was selling.
But it was never about the books. It was about the relationship I built with them. They didn’t buy books from me because they thought the books were great – or they would sell 100’s of copies in Bognor Regis or Ahoghill! Many times they bought the books from me because we had a good relationship.
Without relationship – with people different to us – we lack knowledge and understanding of the issues that they are dealing with or the reality of their lives. This makes us quick to judge, condemn, label and scapegoat.
Without knowledge we are unable to offer support or seek to address the issues that plague our community, whether issues of poverty, violence, sectarianism, racism. We can’t advocate without knowledge and we can’t gain knowledge without relationship with people different to us.
Without relationships – we are just going to have more theory.
But we need to move from theory to relationship.
In Part 3, I will be looking at the results of not focusing on the building and development of relationships in Northern Ireland and bringing some excellent examples of how the Rwandese put the building of relationships at the heart of their country’s journey and development following the genocide.