Have you ever checked into a hotel in an unfamiliar city and wondered about local museums or the location of a good restaurant? These questions can be answered in a few different ways. You could always browse the rack of brochures near the vending machines, or you could do a Google search. Probably the most effective way to learn about the best nearby Thai food is to visit the hotel concierge or at least talk to a local person. The reason for this is that local people have intimate knowledge of the area.

In the arena of international orphan and mercy ministry, local knowledge is vital. At 127 Worldwide, we prioritize relationships with effective local leaders. Similar to a hotel concierge, they help us become acquainted with the local landscape and provide assistance as we navigate an unfamiliar place.

127 Worldwide is blessed to have longstanding and trustworthy partnerships with local leaders in Kenya, Uganda, and Guatemala. We aim to be a reliable resource to connect, equip, and empower our partners so that they can thrive in the work they’ve been called to do. Partnership with local leaders has long been a distinctive trait of 127, and the following example from Kenya highlights the value of this ministry strategy.

Local Leaders Know the Greatest Need

The communities our partners live in and serve are especially vulnerable to the effects of Covid-19. Closed businesses and job losses are devastating to people who make just enough income to survive one day at a time. The societal problems faced by these communities —poverty, disease, unemployment, and lack of access to healthcare— are exacerbated under the threat of a global pandemic. In addition, the shutdown of schools and churches, combined with the imposition of social distancing rules, have required our partners to evaluate and adapt their ministry methods.

For now, ministry no longer looks like teaching a classroom full of children, providing an after school Bible study, visiting the home of a family or mentoring teenage girls. Rather, it’s providing relief to families at risk of hunger and starvation. The threat of starvation is severe, and our partners are on the front lines of this battle. A goal of 127 and other ministries is to send relief funds enabling the purchase and distribution of food and supplies to those in need. We can gladly report that our partners are leading the way in this effort!

While our partners readily accept aid and put it to good use, they must ask themselves some critical questions before distributing food and supplies. First, how do they determine who is most in need? And secondly, how do they distribute food safely in an area where there are so many desperate people? Wisely answering these questions requires intimate knowledge of the community and its residents. The people most likely to have these answers are local leaders. Local leaders are local, so they know the people that make up the community and prioritize the most urgent needs. Furthermore, local leaders are leaders, meaning that they are respected in their communities and others typically want to follow their leadership.

Local Leaders Depend on Key Community Members

While local leaders often have a good perspective to answer these questions themselves, they are also eager to rely on help from others. Our partners have recently explained some challenges they face and how they, too, depend on the help of local community leaders to meet urgent needs.

In the Kibera slums of Nairobi, where more than a million people reside and workers make an average of three dollars per day, Swahiba Networks provide food baskets to starving people. The difficulty for Swahiba lies in the fact that resources are limited. Difficult decisions must be made about who should receive aid. Swahiba enlists the help of invaluable community leaders to identify homes that most urgently require assistance. The head of household in the most dire situations are often widows, single moms, and those who are suffering with illness. As people come to the Swahiba offices to pick up a food basket, community leaders then escort them back to their homes to ensure their safe return home. Community leaders are crucial in this process because they understand where the needs exist, and they follow through to see that the needs are safely met.

Local Leaders Legitimize American Presence

When a 127 team travels to serve alongside Swahiba, part of the ministry experience involves walking through Kibera as we visit homes and schools. Without fail, every time our group walks through the slums, the local community leaders are with us, but they are inconspicuous. While American visitors aren’t usually aware of their presence, the local population has a keen eye. This doesn’t happen coincidentally. Swahiba asks these leaders to walk with us as a visible show of support. For the community, seeing a group of Americans walking together may cause suspicion. However, when the community leaders walk with us, it increases legitimacy and decreases suspicion of our presence. They vouch for us and provide a vital link to the community that enables effective ministry. Swahiba understands this benefit and frequently depends upon the help of community leaders in Kibera.

At 127 Worldwide, we depend on the help of effective local partners to bridge the gap in culture, customs and language. Without their help, we’d be operating blindly from our narrow American point of view and creating dependency unnecessarily. Frankly, local leaders make us appear to be more competent than we really are because they help diminish our cultural ignorance and provide needed context to complex problems that we naively think we can fix. We have confidence in our partners because they know the needs of their community and they have consistently shown us what compassionate ministry looks like.

Each of 127’s partners in Kenya, Uganda, and Guatemala are highly competent in their context and it makes us glad to recognize that they also rely upon help from community leaders. Our goal is to serve our partners well by equipping and empowering them to be effective as they care for the physical and spiritual needs of people.