127 Worldwide believes the Bible teaches that, as members of the global church, we’re meant to partner together to the glory of God and the good of the world. We join him in his mission by cooperating as a well-functioning body across cultural, linguistic, and locational divides. This is ultimately why we collaborate with local leaders (whom we call 127 partners) in other countries. We can think of several practical things that affirm this conviction as well though. Local people meeting local needs just makes sense.
First, local leaders are best equipped to know and address the brokenness of their communities. They are lightyears ahead of where we would be if we started ministering there today. Speaking the language and knowing cultural practices make them insiders in the community, meaning they already possess a credibility that acts as ministry currency. Because they’re locals, they also understand the context of their ministry much better than we do. Local leaders see the history and complexity of the problems that face their community. An outsider might prescribe a bandaid to an issue that’s generations deep because she doesn’t know how far the problem really goes. A local sees all the factors at play. 127 partners are armed with context in such a way that they think critically and deeply about what measures most effectively serve the vulnerable in their communities.
Second, local leaders model the incarnational care of Jesus. When James 1:27 defines true religion as to “visit the orphan and widow in their distress,” James has much more in mind than a brief check-in. Ἐπισκέπτομαι is also translated “to look after” and “to provide for.” It’s the same word used in Luke 7:16 to say that God has visited his people in Christ. Local leaders provide long-term, ongoing care that simply wouldn’t be possible for those of us that live oceans away.
Swahiba Networks, for example, has had a presence in Kibera slums since 2002. They offer a Mentorship and Empowerment Program for girls to receive trade skills and job preparation out of high school. Swahiba hosts discipleship camps yearly, provides education regarding reproductive health, and distributes a new pair of shoes to needy children once a year through partnership with a local shoe manufacturer. These programs illustrate the committed, sacrificial type of “visit” that James 1:27 intends. Swahiba leaders, Peter and Chris, and their staff are daily assessing the needs of the Kibera community and seeking to “look after” the vulnerable among them.
Third, local leaders illustrate empowerment in beautiful ways. Consider two of the many messages their presence sends. Rose and Geoffrey, 127 partners, grew up in Kenya and Uganda respectively where they each now oversee children’s homes. They give orphans in their care someone to look up to who looks and lives like them. The story isn’t about outside rescue; it’s about God providing what they need in the people he’s placed around them. The vulnerable children in Geoffrey’s care are actually being tended to by someone who grew up as an orphan himself. In him, they see the power of the gospel and how God can use their stories for good.
This is a gentle warning for those of us who want to do good in other places. We should be hesitant to put ourselves in situations, particularly in foreign countries, where we look like the hero.
If a vulnerable child looks to a foreigner to pay her school fees, she could grow up with the impression that only people in other countries have the means to help those in need. Foreign dollars are the changing agent in her story. Instead if that same American donates money to a local leader’s ministry and the child is blessed through that investment, she sees on display someone from her community making a difference. The local leader’s wise stewardship and personal relationship makes a life-long impact on her. The moral is not that Christians in America shouldn’t do good for people in Kenya, Uganda, and Guatemala, but that we should carefully evaluate how we do good to make the greatest impact for the kingdom.
Additionally, local leaders allow for reciprocal care so that the helping doesn’t flow one direction. It’s like this– imagine David, 127 partner and local pastor in Guatemala, needs his roof patched. The very people who might climb up the ladder and pull out the tools are the same families who have received food baskets from David during a pandemic. This simple exchange illustrates that everyone has something to contribute. It’s humbling to be the recipient of another person’s generosity, but service in the context of community means that we get to see our need as a season and not a defining quality. It discourages dependency and encourages mutual investment. Our local leaders receiving care from the same vulnerable communities they serve promotes human dignity and agency.
We know that God has specifically chosen our partners for the ministry where he’s called them. They’re uniquely gifted as believers, but they’re also generally equipped as community members. By acknowledging that local leadership is best, we celebrate that God’s design for ministry maximizes good for vulnerable people and gives all the glory to him.