The Whole Person Matters

Posted on Jul 3, 2017

The needs one sees in Africa are obvious and straight forward. People need food, good shelter, clothing, access to healthcare, education and better opportunity for their children. They need answers relating to life and death, and overall human dignity. In most cases, various organizations have satisfied needs such as a lack of clean drinking water, poor children who need shoes or clothing, people facing famine and who need a quick meal, or scholarships for children to go to school. Generally, they have focused on the felt, immediate needs that people havewhich has resulted in numerous efforts to provide for people what they need right now. Groups have undertaken campaigns to provide them with clothing, shoes, food, water wells. As such it has been easy for most charity organizations to build a campaign around one need, helping provide something to a people who cannot provide for themselves.

Take for example a community where a charity organization comes in and provides water well. Such an intervention will bring water relief to a few hundred or thousand people who are close to the well. This indeed is a welcome relief. The rest of the people will hope and wait for another non-profit organization to provide another well so they too don’t have to walk far distances to reach the one well. However, they may know little about water borne diseases and the sanitation required. They may also not know what more they can do with water other than to drink and to use it for cleaning. Additionally, they may not know much about how to maintain the equipment and how to repair them when it breaks down. Simply put, they may have a physical need met but may lack the mental understanding of the value of the resource and the how to maintain it. Within no time, such a resource may be abused and then forgotten. There are many cases like these in African communities.

Or assume what is provided is a school for a community where access to education is scarce. The community may value herding cattle and give their daughters out for marriage when they are still very young. Though the school is a good investment, such a community may not see how it contributes to their livelihood and lifestyle. Their culture of herding cattle and marrying their daughters may be so prevalent that education is seen as being only a disruptor than a helpful resource. They may resist the school and not support its role in the community. At the end, the school will help some children but only as long as the charity organization keeps working it. The locals may not have a sense of ownership for that school until they too are educated about the effects of their cultural practices and the value of the school. In this case what is needed is more than just providing schools and scholarships. A social-cultural education is also necessary for the full value of the school to be realized.

You can also consider a case of a church with 100 members from a village community in Africa. The members may own small gardens which are sources of livelihoods for their families. The pastors also live in these communities. They labor hard to help their people love God but they also need support. Yet the people are worse off poor than the pastors. So they are unable to give to the church. For them to give, they have to first find a way to get/make more money. If the pastor helps them turn their farms into income opportunities they increase the chance of making money and in turn give to the work of the church. However, in most cases, these churches have only focused on spiritual activities without helping their people live economically productive lives. This has affected both the community and the church’s witness in the community. To change this, the pastor must help his members see the full extent of God’s word and what it teaches on matters of life including economic productivity and stewardship. If this does not happen, the message of the gospel will remain aloof, not addressing the real needs of the people.

The argument of the whole gospel for the whole person is that people are faced with mental, social, economic, spiritual, and cultural issues which must be addressed in concert for true transformation to happen. Meeting only one need is like putting a small Band-Aid on a big wound. The suffering may be alleviated but not eliminated. In fact, our argument is that success in implementing the one need being met is always affected by the other needs not being addressed. This is why as Possibilities Africa we advocate for the approach that engages the whole person mentally, socially, culturally, economically, physically and helping him see how the whole gospel of the word of God addresses the entirety of human needs. We believe the word of God has guidance for the man on how to live socially, how to achieve economic productivity, how to make sound cultural choices and also how he should take care of his body and the environment God has put him in. We promote the understanding and practice of these truths among the people and we call it “holistic transformation.”

As an organization driven by Judeo-Christian values, we target to implement our transformational work through the pastors and churches to reach the needs of the whole community. In this approach, we help pastor leaders to embrace the values of responsibility, community, enterprise, faith, and servant leadership in order to help their people experience a true transformation that changes their entire culture. This empowers the people to change the circumstances that bring about their needs and not merely meeting one felt need. Additionally, the people who are used to having someone fix one of their needs tend to be disposed to always wait for a fixer for all their needs. But when people are focused on changing their circumstances, including all of the conditions that keep them in need, they will transform how they think and make it easy to solve all their problems. Hence they become less needy and less dependent on others. This is only possible in situations where there is mental, cultural and social transformation. Changing how people think, how they live within their cultures, how they produce or consume, how they relate to their environment and others – is what we refer to as holistic transformational ministry. It is what we believe will truly transform, changing not just a person’s one need but transforming an entire community’s circumstance. This way we get people out of the captivity caused by misplaced cultural, spiritual, mental persuasions and help them adopt life changing Judeo-Christian perspectives.

The communities in the villages of Africa, like any other part of the world, have people of all backgrounds. There are children, youth, women, men, educated and uneducated, poor and self-supporting, disabled and able-bodied, leaders and others. All these people represent both what the community is but also they represent the needs and aspirations of the community. When we meet one need affecting only one group of the community we fail to help the community transform. Indeed we must address needs unique to each individual. But success is largely dependent on how the rest of the community participates. It is our belief that when a community comes together under one leadership and vision to pursue their aspirations then and only then are they best placed to confront and address the needs that affect them. The parents are to be involved together in resolving the needs that affect their children such as education. The church is to work for the moral transformation of the community but also to help people in the community appreciate resources God has given to them to steward. The coming together to identify, prioritize and work together to achieve community goals is what we believe will bring transformation. Using Biblical principles to help them set aspirations and goals, we organize them into a community of like-minded people working together to achieve community goals. This is what we mean when we say the whole gospel impacting the whole person and transforming the whole community.

It is the vision of Possibilities Africa that whole communities will come together to identify and address the needs which have kept them in captivity for several decades. To do this, it requires more than providing a shoe, a shirt, feeding the children for a day, or merely drilling a water well for a village. It requires educating the whole community to embrace a new way of thinking and living; one which calls them to responsibility, stewardship, hard work, enterprise, servant leadership, and productivity. We have found that the Judeo-Christian faith provides truths for practice to help these communities transform. Therefore we teach the whole gospel for the whole person.

We know this will take a long time and we are in it for a long haul… For with God, all things are possible!