It is integral in communities, inspirational for their congregations, and influential through its networks at all levels. Using these three concepts as a framework, here are seven good reasons why the global local church is at the heart of Tearfund’s work.
1. Churches being integral allows access
When other organisations don’t or can’t go to the most remote areas where the poorest communities are often found, the church can be found ‘filling the gaps’. For example, when international actors in South Sudan during the conflict had to leave one state because of a security threat, a local church leader explained, ‘INGOs cannot travel to that area, but the priests have no problem because they can stay with the people…’
2. Churches being integral allows immediacy
When a disaster strikes, response times can make all the difference in saving people’s lives, and churches are often there as some of the first responders in a crisis. For instance, when Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar in 2008, the church was ready and able to distribute aid in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, where the greatest areas of devastation were only reached by foreign aid workers several weeks later.
3. Churches being integral allows sustainability
Solutions must be locally-owned to maintain achievements after the organisations involved have moved on. Local churches act as an enduring hub in many communities, where even the most committed relief agencies will eventually leave. As a regional district councillor in Uganda said in relation to community advocacy work: ‘We trust the church. We have so many organisations and individuals who come but, at the end, they disappear. But the church is there permanently. Even when there are changes in leadership, the church remains.’
4. Churches are inspirational through a whole-person approach
This means addressing the mental and spiritual needs of those living in poverty or caught up in disasters, alongside their immediate physical problems. The church is uniquely positioned to help Christians and also those of other faiths in these situations because it understands that ‘faith is intricately linked with people’s identity and sense of purpose [and] ... recognises that poverty has a spiritual dimension, that poverty lowers self-esteem, robs people of their dignity’.