Book Review

"Walking with the Poor"

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With the proliferation of Christian Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) engaged in the community development processes in developing world contexts, it has become incumbent that older 19th century visions of missionary work give way to responsible dialogue and work that demonstrates sensitivity to cross-cultural communication and service. Bryant L. Myers’ book, Walking with the Poor provides an exemplary model that anyone engaged in working with the poor should read before embarking on this difficult but rewarding journey. Well into its eighth printing, Bryant’s book provides both a theoretical as well as practical guide for organizations and individuals seeking to engage in community development projects both in their home culture as well as a foreign culture. Whitworth College, a Presbyterian related liberal arts college in Spokane, Washington, has made this book required reading for students who participate on a five-month study and service program in Central America.

Meyer’s thinking and writing is based on a whole host of non-Western authorities in community development work associated with World Vision. He cites the theoretical and theological work of Ravi Jayakaran, Kusuke Koyama, Cyril Okorocha, Kwame Bediako, Joy Alvarez, Nora Avarientos, Deborah Ajulu, Dirk Booy and Sarone Ole Sena. These are Asian, African, Latin American and Indian voices that provide insight as to how to best proceed in Christian development work in a non-West context. As former Vice-President for International Program Strategy at World Vision International, Myers is well-positioned and competent to listen and synthesize these ideas. He is also a person of the Church and is an ordained elder of the La Cañada Presbyterian Church (PCUSA). His spirit of engagement is both ecumenical and dialogic. There is an abundance of ideas that individuals would do well to absorb as they contemplate a sustained period of service. Of particular note is Myer’s commitment to transformational development that, while true to the Christian center of Jesus and the Bible, does not embrace this center with an exclusive Western cultural mantel. Myers helps to drop the cultural baggage without forsaking the spiritual center. He does this by focusing on “transformational” development that addresses both the “god complexes” of the non-poor as well as the distortions of the image of God among the poor taught by repressive and manipulative images within the host culture. Myers writes, for example:

“One caution on the practice of policy analysis and advocacy. Too often agencies do the policy analysis with professionals and then presume to speak for those whom they claim have no voice. This implies that the poor are unable to diagnose their own situation and that they, in truth, have no voice. This does not have to be the case and, in ensuring that it is not the case, a transformational frontier can be crossed. The poor will be less poor when they learn to do their own analysis and find their own voice. This will require help and support, especially in addressing international structures, but this is no excuse for doing their advocacy work for them.” (124)

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James Hunt, Ph.D. is a professor of History at Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington and President of the Board of The Krista Foundation. In addition to how travel and service impact leadership development in young adults, his academic interests are early and 19th-century American history, American biographies, and Latin American history. He has been deeply involved in leading groups of college students for study, service and travel in Central America since 1981.

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