By Mike Strathdee
As printed in The Marketplace - November/December 2017
Neil Denison of MEDA’s Waterloo office shared the reflection below during a Sept. 11 staff meeting.
People are prone to do awful things when they lose hope. When they see no future. When they can find no opportunities.
What resonates deeply with me about MEDA’s mission is our desire to help people see hope in their communities, to find the opportunities for a better life and future. MEDA’s mission is a practical expression of Jeremiah 29:11:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
“Prosper” here means shalom, physical and spiritual completeness. In the Hebrew, completeness is couched in rich relationship, not possessions. We do not find prosperity, peace and wholeness on our own, but through God’s direct activity in our lives.
Praying that people prosper and experience God’s intended wholeness for their lives is admirable. But putting wheels under this sentiment, turning it from a wish to a reality, is challenging. Problems are complex. Solutions are uncertain and multi-faceted. Contexts are austere. Risks to ourselves and others are real.
This is the work MEDA actively engages in, embracing risk, measuring performance, being willing to reinvent itself to continuously improve.
As a Christ follower, I don’t have the luxury of adopting a Pollyanna religion. Worship and work are one. Working with you at MEDA, to help improve the opportunities of the poor, is one way my faith is turned into a practical expression of Christ’s love.
Jeremiah has something else to say, to us and the people we serve:
“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. …Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Jeremiah 29:5,7
MEDA actively participates in community development, connecting people into value chains, hiring local staff and leaders, drawing governments and organizations into a wake of community change.
To build houses means to dwell. It is about permanence and commitment. If we are to dwell successfully we must take our place in building the welfare of the community. Building well takes careful planning. It needs financial and human capital to purchase the means. It requires understanding where value lies, how to tap it with the right tools. It means investing in relationships, spending time, effort, and capital. Our clients must adopt an attitude of service so their businesses can thrive. They need to seek the prosperity of the city through their work. When the status of women is raised, when the environment is respected, when businesses and neighborhoods are governed well, everybody benefits.
To you as people working in these places, your decisions count. Your work means something. Take solace from Jeremiah that there is always a perfect plan to prosper your clients, even when we make mistakes. The way is steep, filled with reversals and switchbacks. Each of you has a place in this great work God is doing to bring hope, peace and prosperity to people. We are reminded we are to bloom where we are planted, even if we are planting flowers in a desert.
I am proud of each of you, pleased to be counted among your number. Together we are helping give people hope, enabling them to bloom where they are planted, to take their place in helping to develop vibrant communities on their own terms. ◆
Neil Denison is MEDA’s director of knowledge management & IT