Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Vision for Global Transformation and Development

A Vision for Global Transformation and Development: the Intersections of Personal Experience, Global Justice, and Missio Dei (Mission of God)

The Social Development Department of the World Bank claims that,

Social development focuses on the need to ‘put people first’ in development processes. Poor people’s own voices tell us that poverty is more than low income—it is also about vulnerability, exclusion and isolation, unaccountable institutions, powerlessness, and exposure to violence. As such, efforts to overcome poverty must not just get economic policies right. They must also promote social development, which empowers people by creating more inclusive, cohesive, accountable and resilient institutions and societies.

In light of this framework of attending to human needs, we often wrestle with the understanding of such need and with our journey towards reaching accurate empathy in order to best respond to this overwhelming human predicament. To illustrate this, I will start by telling you a story about a young boy who came to grips with this reality at a very early age.


It was a beautiful afternoon. A 9-year-old boy got up early in the morning to walk about two to three miles, on his own, to school. He was amongst the most fortunate who had had the privilege of living in a metropolitan area of a recently independent, yet in-conflict, Southern African country. The civil war (or the war of destabilization, as some prefer to call it) had affected the country in such a way that the supply chain between the city and country-side, where agricultural production took place, were mostly interrupted and so was the regional international supply-chain because of the country’s adoption of a new ideological stance. In essence, the country was caught between a cold war that it did not quite understand and a civil war that was nurtured by such cold war. In addition to suffering inflicted by humans, natural calamities such as droughts and floods had their share in intensifying the suffering of its people—poverty was inevitable!

Albeit the fortune of not being in harm’s way by enjoying state protection from the direct ills of the civil war such as kidnappings and all the evils that accompany them, the inability to attend school because schools were recruitment centers for the parties involved in the conflict, and not having to live in high-alert and in hiding for fear of being killed, the effect of the inevitable poverty found its way to him perhaps because his parents, who had been able to provide him with a relatively good life, had undergone a harsh separation and his mother was now raising him and his four siblings as a single mother. That day, as the boy walked to school, all seemed usual… drinking a cup of tea without bread for breakfast, walking to school with the excitement to learn and to meet and play with his friends, and returning home to his family and friends. Nonetheless, when he got home that afternoon, he asked his mother a question that was to change his life by opening his spiritual eyes to a reality he had taken for granted perhaps because of his innocence. He asked his mother: “mom is there anything to eat?” At first the question seemed reasonable until he noticed that his mother was overwhelmed by the weight of the question that she was in tears… silent, but in tears. At that very moment, for a 9-year-old boy in standard 5 (middle school, that is) with a heart for God, a boy who fasted and prayed and went to church everyday to attend whatever meeting or activity there was… this was a moment that would mark him forever as he grew up to confront the place of his faith amidst the context of such dire human needs. He understood, immediately, how there was something wrong about that question as he realized that the normal question is to ask “what’s for lunch” rather than whether there is ‘anything’ to eat, or not. The former is based on the knowledge (or at least the assumption founded on the experience) that having lunch is not in question; the latter is based on the knowledge (or at least the assumption founded on the experience) that having something to eat is in question. The boy’s understanding of the difference in these questions laid a foundation for his journey towards wrestling with questions pertaining to human suffering in the light of a faith that promises that “God will supply all our needs!” and towards his commitment to a struggle for global justice that reconcile his faith, a multitude of human efforts to attain justice, and the reality of an unjust world around him.


Asking the right questions about our experiences in the world is crucial to our understanding our purpose. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his life-application of the parable of the Good Samaritan, argued that what distinguished the priest and the Levite from the Samaritan was the question they each asked when confronted with the situation of the man that had fallen prey of robbers: both the priest and the Levite asked “if I stop to help this man, what will happen to me; the Samaritan, on the contrary, asked “if I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him”. Like the boy who found enlightenment in the question “is there anything to eat?” by making him aware of his own state of helplessness; the Samaritan found enlightenment in the question “if I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him” by understanding that as soon as he encountered the man undergoing pain and suffering, the man’s life became his business… his calling! So it is with us, as we encounter the little boy—in the millions of impoverished peoples of the world—that asks if ‘there is anything to eat’, their need translates into our calling and our questions become “if we do not stop to help these people, what will happen to them?”


My vision for global transformation and development is founded on three key ingredients: my upbringing in Mozambique—a country struggling with several consequences of an externally-driven politically-fueled civil war, which started immediately after experiencing the euphoria of independence and hope of a bright future—global justice, and Missio Dei (mission of God). My upbringing in Mozambique serves as the experiential foundation for my vision; Missio Dei serves as a theological and spiritual grounding for my vision; and, Global Justice serves as the socio-economic and intellectual framework for my vision.

From being that little boy whose question became central to his inquiry into the philosophical and the spiritual, I have continued to wrestle with my personal role as a member of the global community who has been blessed with a relatively comfortable life yet deeply understands the cruelty of lacking the most basic necessities. The experiences of my upbringing—the pleasant, the unpleasant, and the many in-betweens—have constituted a blessing-in-disguise in that they provide me with personal and unique insight and perspective to understanding the harsh conditions under which live those who are affected by injustice, war, hunger, and an excruciating uncertainty about being able to see tomorrow.

Amartya Sen evokes a distinction between different concepts of justice in early Indian jurisprudence, i.e., niti and nyaya. He claims that “no matter how proper the established organizations might be, if a big fish could still devour a small fish at will then that must be a patent violation of human justice as nyaya”. Sen advocates for a realization-focused perspective, i.e., nyaya, which is concerned with the actual realization of justice—the world that actually emerges, not just the institutions or rules concerned with organizational propriety and behavioral connectedness.  In the light of Sen’s argument, we can derive that a theory of justice ought to be founded on an idea of justice guided by an impetus to prevent manifest injustice rather than an impetus overwhelmed by perfection. I argue that addressing manifest injustice is more urgent than awaiting a perfect justice verdict because such waiting is ultimately detrimental to those haunted by injustice now. For instance, the Civil Rights movement addressed manifest injustice rather than wait for adequately endowed institutions to do so in a time they thought appropriate. Even decades after such institutions were put in place, the spectrum of injustice remains almost unchanged as we continually unearth various layers of manifest injustice.

Phillip Petit argues that, “the theory of justice is the means by which we explicate and examine our sense of justice, it is not a means of providing it with metaphysical foundations.” For instance, the argument advanced by Pettit (Sen, 2009) favoring a republican or neo-Roman theory of freedom, over that of freedom as capability, resonates with our observation that there is a sense of entrapment in attempting to alleviate poverty under a premise of assimilation into a dominant culture of economic theory and practice. This sense of entrapment is often exhibited by some advocates for poor populations in that apparently their disposition to choose (e.g., to pursue an alternative economic system and plan for poverty alleviation) is “content-independently decisive, but their enjoyment of such decisive preference depends on the goodwill of those around...”.  According to Pettit, in a republican or neo-roman theoretical conception of freedom,

Liberty is defined not just in terms of what a person is able to do in a certain sphere, but also includes the demand that others could not have eliminated that ability of this person even if they wanted to do so. In this view, a person’s liberty may be compromised even in the absence of any interference, simply by the existence of the arbitrary power of another which could hinder the freedom of the person to act as they like, even if that intervening power is not actually exercised.

My academic field, Comparative and International Education, may be defined as the application of theories and methods to the study of issues pertaining to education globally. Since in the heart of the educational process is found cultural transfer, in my estimation, one of the key questions in education is, “whose culture gets transferred?” Consequently, a process of cultural transfer that is rooted in justice breeds equitable cultural exchange as those perceived as carrying the traditional role of ‘transferors’ (often referred to as educators) accept and adopt the challenge of being influenced by those perceived as carrying the role of ‘recipients’ (often referred to as learners).

In order to relate the problems unearthed in my research on power dynamics in international negotiations over policy, I would like to share the following analogy:

We, as a family, are in the process of replacing windows in our house and the only way we can afford to do this is by replacing one-by-one. Our neighbors are in the process of rebuilding their house and they have the financial means to demolish the old and build an entirely new house. Our projects start at the same time and our neighbor’s house is rebuilt in a matter of months; we, however, can only afford to replace one window per month since we only get paid a monthly salary on which we depend to pay bills and invest in projects such as the window-replacement project we are currently undertaking. One day, our neighbors who have been following the slow progression of our work, but ones whose history of greed and self-centeredness is known to us for generations, come by and ask why is it that we opted to replace the windows one-by-one. We answer that it is what we can afford; otherwise, we could replace all of them at once. They offer to lend us the money to finish our project so we can have this done at once and avoid the situation of getting to a point where while the last windows are being replaced, the first ones are breaking again…

Such is the nature of the cross-roads that developing nations must face. The critical aspect of these cross-roads is that whatever developing nations decide at this point will have serious repercussions in the future. In our case, if we decide to take the money that our neighbors are offering, we have to realize the potential repercussions of the complex power dynamics inherent in such a seemingly generous gift from neighbors whose questionable history of greed and self-centeredness has been known to us for generations; if we decide to not take the money and continue our project of replacing the windows one-by-one, we preserve our dignity and total ownership of the project and our children can enjoy the house for generations upon generations without carrying the load of our ill-informed, gullible, greedy, and ego-centric decision.

The fate of developing nations seems intrinsically bound to the dictations of developed nations and the economic philosophies praised by the West have only strengthened the intricacies of domination under the guise of potential escape from poverty and dependency. The complexity of the Western stronghold takes captive those whose birth and upbringing are touched by some form of African influence—from Alexander Hamilton to current economic strategists of non-Western descent operating within Western economic frameworks. To circumvent the intricate logic of Western modernity is a challenge that seems unbeatable, especially when non-Westerners are unable to advance their indigenous economic theories to successfully surpass in acceptance those of their counterpart Western theorists. Perhaps because the economic world is not configured in their favor; perhaps because they lack the sophistication to negate that such configuration is not the best option for all and to create an alternative that is acceptable to all, even if by some sort of forcefulness as it has been the case in advancing Western theories.

We have seen throughout history how the terms established by powerful countries’ or groups of powerful countries’ have determined the course of global affairs and mapped the world into groups of dependees and dependents, with an occasional allusion to a group as “emerging countries”—perhaps as a means to give hope to the dependent that one day they, too, can be granted the status of emerging. It is, in part, this false hope presented to developing nations that fuels their dependency and fosters compliance since the lack of compliance leads to some kind of chastisement and presumably would impede them from graduating to the “emerging countries” category.

One way to address the unfairness and the disequilibrated power dynamics in negotiation is to address the problem from its roots by unveiling the essence of the game and empowering the disadvantaged parties for better positioning when negotiating. To this end, I have developed a pentamerous instrument (see Table 1) comprised of five categories of power: hermeneutical, informational, manipulative, monetary, and regulatory. The core of my argument is that developing nations would benefit from a deep understanding of power dynamics on the negotiation table. An understanding of power dynamics provides, among many other benefits, insight into the nuanced forms of power that operate in the global arena and into the conflicting pressures that are put on developing countries, contributes to discourses on peace and conflict as well as international relations by providing another framework from which to examine terms in international negotiations, and helps to scrutinize the establishment of peace agreements by engaging issues of fairness and participatory equity in relation to the extent and kind of power each party brings to the agreement and is allowed to exert. The success of equitable political participation of developing countries depends largely on their success in positioning themselves as essential at the negotiating table.

Table 1: Summary Definition of the Five Qualities of Power
Qualities of Power
Interpreter’s proximity to the authorial intent of a given text
The ability to generate and disseminate what is considered true and valuable information at a given time
The ability to persuade another to adopt a perception and behavior that benefits the persuader
The influence one exerts on another through the ability to provide monetary rewards or incentives
The ability to make rules or give directives that are perceived as binding
Source: Cossa, J. (2008). Power, Politics, and Higher Education in Southern Africa: International Regimes, Local Governments, and Educational Autonomy. Amherst, NY: Cambria Press.


From a perspective of Missio Dei It would be inappropriate to separate evangelism from the socio-humanitarian aspect of missions. Missions can be defined as the representation of the creator on earth. Such representation derives from two major realities, namely, man as image of God and man as vice-regent of God’s creation. On the other hand, the representation presupposes two implications: the individual’s capability of responding to the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and the individual’s capability of representing the missio Dei.

If this is indeed true, then, Missions does not comprehend only one aspect of Christian living, i.e., to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom, but it demands a characteristic Kingdom’s life-style from the individual Christian. Orlando Costas states that “the true test of mission is not whether we proclaim, make disciples or engage in social, economic and political liberation, but whether we are capable of integrating all three in a comprehensive, dynamic and consistent witness.” This integration is evident as members of the Christian community take seriously their ambassadorship of the missio Dei.

In the biblical context, Jesus’ Gospel was both spiritual and social. In my definition spiritual Gospel is that part of the Gospel of the Kingdom that centers on the redemption of the soul and eternal values, while social Gospel is that part of the Gospel that centers on social action as a reflection of the demands of a spiritual Gospel. Both Gospels ought to coexist if the full Gospel of the kingdom of God is to be proclaimed and lived.

The American reformer, Walter Rauschenbusch agreed with the partial fulfillment of the missio Dei as far as the proclamation of the Gospel by word but lamented the lack of social relevance in the Church’s effort to fulfill the missio Dei. In the last moment of his life, he contended that,

The Kingdom of God was the central teaching of Jesus, and restoration of this doctrine is the critical first step of the church’s reform. Until Christians let the Kingdom shape their thinking they will not perceive either the magnificence of God’s gift of salvation or, by contrast, the massiveness of evil opposing it.

From this foundation, it is important to state at this point that the socio-humanitarian mandate is complementary to the evangelistic mandate in the context of the biblical teaching about the kingdom of God and the missio Dei. Christians are called to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom, and this Kingdom calls for practical application of Kingdom rules stated throughout Christ’s ministry on earth, as recorded in the Gospels. Socio-humanitarian action is only effective if it is built on the evangelistic mandate as a physical manifestation of the gospel of the kingdom. On the other hand, evangelism amounts to nothing if it neglects the realities of hunger, nudeness, poverty, unemployment, racism, sexism, and many other natural catastrophes and social evils.

The Kingdom of God, which is the restoration of the imago Dei (God’s image) in man and man’s status of vice-regent, demands for spiritual and socio-humanitarian actions. God’s missio calls for the three-fold ministry of the church, i.e., kerygmatic/proclamation, koinoniac/communal, and diakonic/service. It was with these aspects in mind that Jesus’ declaration of the inauguration of God’s kingdom on earth found in Luke 4:18-19 and in Matthew 6:1-4 emphasized the proclamation of good news to the poor as well as the provision for those who are needy. Jesus social and spiritual concerns were carried on by the apostles as evidenced in the passage of Acts 10:4 and are still viewed, to this day, by some scholars as an integral part of the mission. For instance, Stephen Dempster argues that “What is needed, in short, is a theology of church ministry capable of integrating programs of evangelism and social concern into a unified effort in fulfilling the church’s global mission.”

Suffice to state that if the kingdom of God is for all humanity, then its benefits are for all people. If the church understands the mission of God as the proclamation of the evangel in the three-fold mode—kerygmatic, koinoniac, and diakonic— then, its ministry will be relevant to both the spiritual and the physical needs of people. The church will minister to “la realidad” (reality) as it allows God’s rule to establish a disposition to love those who have no one to stand on their behalf and practically display Godly character.

To explain succinctly the interconnection and interdependence of both the socio-humanitarian and the evangelistic mandate in the context of biblical teaching about the kingdom and the mission of God, we can draw from Robert Pickett and Steven Hawthorne’s statement that,

Community development is consistent with the posture of humility and involvement that Jesus modeled for his disciples. Community development revolves around vigorous yet sensitive evangelism. And the “hungry half” that are most in need of community development are more often than not the “hidden peoples”…


Nancy Cantor, Chancellor of Syracuse University, during her keynote speech in a Symposium on Dialogues on Deconstructing War Zones claimed that “Neutrality is not an option!” She argued that it is not good for academics to stay in the ivory tower while the world around them lives under dire conditions of poverty and injustice. In the same symposium, the Clanmother of the Onondaga Nation called participants toward the discipline of the "good mind," which involves becoming aware of one’s thoughts, examining the intent of one’s actions, and deciding whether one’s intent is based on love or fear and anger. Both acknowledge that poverty is a war zone sphere that has to be approached without neutrality and with the good mind. The key commandments in Scripture leave no room for excuse and Jesus has admonished us that to show kindness to those we regard to be the least important amongst us, those whose condition we can easily ignore because it can interrupt our race to meaningless accumulation of wealth and prestige, yet those without whom we cannot understand ourselves and the world around us. In the African philosophy of Ubuntu (which may be literally translated as personhood/humanness), this understanding of oneself only in relation to others is indispensable. Ubuntu states that Motho ke Motho ka Batho/uMuntu nguMuntu ngaBantu or a person is a person because/through/in relation to others. How can we be excused when those on whom our humanness is contingent are in dire straits due to hunger and poverty?

An understanding of what it means to live in poverty is fundamental in our journey toward participating in the fight against poverty. Mother Theresa of Calcutta dismissed the reductionistic assumption that poverty should be addressed by teaching the poor to address their own problems—that is, “give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day; teach him how to fish, he’ll eat forever”. In her humble attempt to remind us that there is a kind of poverty that cannot be addressed by skills transfer or empowerment strategies, she argued that, "my poor people are too weak to hold the fishing rod themselves... But should they get better, my critiques can teach them how to fish." Her mission was to help the poorest of the poor... Those unable to help themselves!

The case of president José Mujica (also known as Pepe) of Uruguay ought to make us think about what it means to be poor and wealthy, how to participate in poverty reduction in practical and meaningful ways, and what the implications of our giving of ourselves might mean to those who need our help the most… not to our critiques!

In conclusion, allow me to speak these words to you:

I was born in a land of rhythm
Some blues, but mostly rhythm
Rhythm made me forget the blues
The blues of political instability and economic turmoil
the blues of wondering why some children were orphaned
the blues of wondering why there were so many children in the streets

There were many children in the streets of the places I walked…
And by the way… when I say children, I mean people like you and I
People of all ages, all genders, all colors, all shapes, all abilities… PEOPLE

There were many children wandering and wandering and wandering…
They were wandering… they are wandering… they may continue to wander…
They wander the streets of Syracuse, Chicago, Cape Town, QwaQwa, Mbabane, and Maputo…
For some, because it was cool to hang out in the streets
for many, because they were street children
They wander the roads of Kamanzi and Worawora
for some, because these roads are filled with promises
For many, because these roads are filled with uncertainty

It is when I looked in the eyes of these children
Children of the streets, masters and mistresses of their own destinies
the mysteriously dark and gloomy destinies that we,
In the comfort of our relying in the destinies drawn from our faith in Jesus,
Cannot fathom the seemingly aimless destination of our traveling companions...
Yes, the destinations of those who have no sense of reliance on the daily comforts of the material world
They are involuntarily wandering and yet… not always wondering because they have answers to questions I do not have answers to; they have questions to answers I have no questions to
They have walked in places I have never dared to walk
I have walked in places they have not been privileged to walk

In moments when such realizations emerge in the trepidations of my innermost being
Those moments inundated in fears, anxieties, unrests…
Moments when soul meets blues and my world becomes rhythmic… again
yes, rhythmic because I finally get it
I get it, I get it, I GET it!
No... Maybe… but only MAYBE I get it…

In introspection I feel as though I finally grasp, even if ONLY in part
I grasp glimpses of my purpose and calling
The purpose and calling to live wrestling with such difficult and complex paradoxes
that I can be enlightened about the difference between…
Having and not having,
Giving and not giving,
Knowing and not knowing,
Feeling and not feeling,
Seeing and not seeing,
Hearing and not hearing,
The difference between…
Being heard and not being heard,
Being seen and not being seen,
Being felt and not being felt,
Being known and not being known,
Being given and not being given

It is in this moment when blues meets rhythm,
That my soulful Jesus-bound-love-driven mission is born
because I feel as though I know why I met you
I feel as though I know you, yes you
I know you because whether I like it or not our destinies are tied together
Yes, and guess what?! Where your blues meets your rhythm, you are soul and so am I
There you have it… you are soul, I am soul
There you have it… you and I are the same
You are me!

Because you are me
It does not matter what streets you belong to
What knowledge you possess
What language you speak
What color you are
What continent you live in

Because you are me
Our heart is here… experiencing the blues and the rhythm of [INSERT RELEVANT LOCATION]
Our heart is in the long travelled roads of developed and developing countries
Feeling the joy of nature nurturing our whole being,
Feeling the hardship of nature refusing our being
We are here and there, knowing that today we are strong and alive
We are here and there, not knowing if tomorrow we’ll survive

It is in this moment when blues meets rhythm,
That I finally grasp the concept of this soulful Jesus-bound-love-driven mission
A mission that commissions me to love you
A mission that commissions me to first, but not only, love myself
Because unless I journey through loving myself,
There is no way I can love you, give to you, share with you, be with you …
How can I? You and I are soul
The embodiment of divine mission
The actors and the acted upon in this love-driven mission
Yes… yes… yes… we are called to love… to mission!
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