One team we have been working for four years just completed the transition of moving from an NGO model to a business model. Let me state upfront that an NGO model for blessing communities and reaching people in Jesus’ name is a great model. My research shows that the NGO model is equally effective in reaching the unreached as a BAM or B4T model. Nonetheless if we are working in an NGO we need to ensure that we are providing services for the community which are bringing benefits to the people that the people want, and not benefits that we (the foreigner) believe they want, or worse, providing benefits that simply make us feel good about what we are doing.
An example of this has to do with my friend Saleh. Saleh lives in Dakar and works as a taxi driver. Dakar is a Wolff and French speaking city. I speak neither of these languages and for as much as I travel my sign language is not great either. We met one day when I was in a hurry to get to a meeting. Saleh was sitting nearby in his cab listening as I was standing on the street and trying to get two taxi drivers to understand my English. He called out to me in British accented English, “Can I drive you? I know where that is.” I think we’ve all experienced the heavenly sound of our native tongue when in a foreign country so I immediately deserted these two francophone drivers for Saleh.
As we drove off we began to get to know one another. I explained I was in town for a week of meetings with the director of an NGO I mentor. Saleh seemed as happy to talk to someone in English as I was. He told me his story–how he grew up in a rural Muslim village. He’d come to the city to study, learned English, had two young daughters and recently completed his MBA. At this point I exclaimed “MBA! What are you doing driving a taxi!” Surprised at my outburst, he replied, “Well sir, there’s no jobs here and I need to feed my family.” I told him how much I appreciated him taking time to learn my language and how rare it was to find a taxi driver I could actually talk to. By the time we reached my destination, I asked Saleh to meet me every morning that week. Partly I wished to share the Lord with him and partly as I did not wish to deal with the language barrier.
For two days he drove me around and we discussed a variety of spiritual and non-spiritual matters. On the 3rd day we were riding together with Chuck, the director of the NGO. As we were driving I introduced Chuck to Saleh. I then asked, “Saleh, Chuck here runs a large NGO. They have projects in several West African countries. They build schools for your people, provide clean water, build and staff clinics and hospitals, plus they also give medicine and food to needy people. Saleh, I am thinking of investing in one of these projects, which one of these projects do you think is needed most by your people?”
Saleh paused, looked at me in the rear view mirror and said quite pointedly, “NONE OF THESE.” Not surprised, but curious I asked, “What do you mean?” He continued, “Sir, you asked what do we need. What we need are jobs. For you see if we have jobs, we can get for ourselves, food, water, medicine. We can build and operate our own schools and clinics. If we have jobs, we can meet our own needs. You Western imperialists come and give us what you want us to have. You think more of yourselves than of us. We appreciate what you do for us, but we do not respect you. If you want our respect, help us to be able to care for ourselves. Help us to create jobs so we can work for ourselves.”
What do you believe is the greatest need of a human being?
PATRICK LAI and his family have worked in SE Asia for over 37 years. His experience in doing business with Jesus has brought him to understand the meaning of work and worship in the marketplace. He started 14 businesses in four countries, six of which are still operating. Patrick and his wife, May, mentor and coach businesspeople working where there are few or no Christians. Check out Patrick’s latest book, Workship, now available in paperback and e-book.