“If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime.”
We have all heard this proverb. The concepts are simple. If you do for someone what they can do for themselves, you are ultimately hurting them. If you take the time to walk through the process with them, you can change their life.
Us Americans are guilty of handing out a lot of fish around the world. It’s done some damage. Americans enter a situation with money, and power, and influence. We see people who are poor and we respond by giving them stuff. This isn’t always bad, and Americans have helped many people around the world. When it becomes bad is when we don’t respect and honor the poor as individuals made in the image of God, or when in God’s name we feel like we are gods ourselves. It’s hard to respect someone when you aren’t entering into the process with them.
But the process is so darn hard.
The reality in El Salvador is we are not just teaching people to fish. The reality is that we are trying to remove barbed wire, and quicksand, and landmines so people can get to the pond in the first place. Poverty is complicated. We work with broken people, in a broken system, filled with broken relationships that leave a trail of broken lives behind them.
We must go into the brokeness. Consistently, God uses His followers to redeem people back to Himself in all areas. To change the world, we have to be available wherever we are, no matter how overwhelming it seems.
There is one hard way to that fish pond. That is to go with those who are trying to get there. We can’t do it for them. Sometimes it would be easier to just throw money at the problems, but this isn’t going to change someone’s life for the long term. So we have to get in there…get scratched by the barbed wire and caught up in the mess. We need to build relationships and partnerships, and work together to change things…relationships filled with mutual value and respect regardless of race or economic status or nationality.
Will it pay off? This messy work? Is there redemption for the woman prostituting herself on the street? The man who has been dulling his pain with alcohol for 15 years? Is there hope for the children in Gerardo Barrios beyond a life in a gang? What about the boys in CISNA who have been abused and abandoned?
The answer is that yes, there is. God Himself says that He cares deeply for the poor, the fatherless, and the brokenhearted. I hold onto that. I trust that He will do the changing.
We don’t have all the answers on how to get to that fish pond. Sometimes it feels like we are in over our heads. We have made mistakes along the way. We have done a lot of research, looked at different approaches, educated ourselves, talked to those with experience, and prayed…a lot. We are learning every step of the way, tweaking things, growing, and making choices. But there is a risk that we will never see results, that we will never see lives made whole.
Still we must trust and work side by side with those who are in those broken places. Our task here is to share the spiritual hope of the Gospel, and work hard with all of our time and lives to heal the physical hurts as well. It’s a frustrating road, but God promises great things at the end.
We ask for your prayers. We ask for God to move lives and situations and circumstances. We ask for His wisdom and guidance. We ask for more staff, and more time, and more energy. We ask for redemption. We want you to dream with us for those who are dreamless and keep praying for a brighter future…teeming with fish.