In previous evaluations of our work with our partner in Mexico, Diaconia Chiapas, we had noticed that most of the work involved members of the Presbyterian churches of each community there. We rejoiced with the participants over their accomplishments, but back in the Diaconia office, we had serious discussions.
World Renew’s vision is that churches are the salt and light in their communities, prompting transformation of the entire community, which comes about when plans are made with the community, not for the community and when all community members are engaged, not just church members. But it seemed that the vision of Diaconia was benevolence for their own members.
Finally, at a follow-up evaluation, we gave very clear recommendations about community participation, explaining in no uncertain terms that if our visions were not aligned, we would need to phase out our partnership.
During the three years that followed, there were very mixed reports – churches rejecting community work, former board members trying to take over control. So when I went to Chiapas for the most recent evaluation, I confess that I didn’t have faith that my prayers for change had been heard. I went with a heavy heart, thinking the evaluation team would find the same situation, and this would be my last visit.
But I was wrong.
Shortly after the previous evaluation, Diaconia Chiapas hired a new director, Joel Arcos, and Joel had a vision for community work. During an assembly meeting, new members of the board were elected, including three women, one of whom, Maria Mendez, was elected as president. Joel and Maria were able to identify churches and communities that were interested in a participatory process. With the introduction and blessing of each local church, Diaconia Chiapas now develops an agreement with community leadership and the development process is inclusive. The community makes the local school available for community meetings and training sessions. People are coming together, working together, and enjoying the process. Churches are requesting Christian leadership training for all those who are interested. Families showed us their vegetable gardens, and explained their use of natural medicines.
Wow. I was amazed at the transformation.
Our evaluation committee praised and encouraged the board and staff of Diaconia and made a few recommendations, but phase-out by World Renew was not one of them.
Sometimes, I’m so happy to be wrong.
Ministry Team Leader
Latin America Ministry Team