In pursuit of dignity: A challenge to change-makers

By Keri-Leigh Paschal

Learning how to navigate cultural and socio-economic differences has become a way of life for South Africans. It’s something that we have had to figure out by trial and error, often through raw and vulnerable conversations. We have often gotten it wrong, and unfortunately, still do sometimes. Divisive social norms, real and perceived biases, stereotypes and just plain ignorance have left many people feeling silenced, undervalued, hurt, or fearful.

The depth of dignity

There is still a large socio-economic divide and as people with resources, influence, and education, many of us feel a responsibility to address the needs that we see around us. With the best intentions, we use all of who we are and our life context (often in consultation with other well-educated and resourced individuals) to find solutions that we can execute on to solve the needs we see. We should also consider, however, whether the way we solve problems is truly dignifying to all concerned.

Having worked for 10 years in the intersection between business and social development, I have seen that there is an indisputable joy that one experiences in the act of generosity. It is often said that the giver is just as, if not more, blessed than the receiver. In this Kingdom truth, we sometimes miss a crucial element of generosity – the building up or restoring dignity.

I have seen many acts of generosity that come from a genuine desire to problem-solve, widen the divide that it was supposed to close. I increasingly find myself asking: did that act of generosity show, in word and deed, that the people supported have value? Did these same people have actual influence over the solution to their problem, or were solutions handed to them with an expectation of gratitude?

Do we as Christians know how to restore and build dignity? Or do we, more often than we are aware of, deny dignity through our acts of generosity and problem solving?

Dignity is a wonderful word that we often use, but what does it actually mean? It comes from a Latin word dignitas, which means worthiness, which in turn means to be of value. We can, therefore, summate that dignity is the bestowing of value on oneself and others. Genesis 27 says, ‘So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.’

If we are all created in God’s image, we all have inherent value and the same value as one another – image bearers of God. Why then do we have such inequality and injustice in our world?

The fall

The fall, in Genesis 3, skewed this understanding of great value, and mankind formed its own constructs of value, assigning greater and lesser value to people based on man-made paradigms. Value became a commodity that is gained through money, resources, power and education.

This view of value has shaped societies, worldviews and world politics since the fall, and as children of our time, we have not escaped its impact.

Gold in unexpected places

By consulting and understanding the perspective of all role players in a project, we can unlock a depth of understanding of the problem and community dynamics that would not have been otherwise possible. When a community’s internal assets and understanding are paired with supplementary skills and technology of well-resourced people, far greater and more sustainable solutions can be achieved.

This is where the real gold is found…the gold that shines from the inside out. When people have played a pivotal role in collaborating alongside the ‘most valuable people’ (according to the  skewed perspective of society) to solve their own community or family problems, dignity is restored. This is the secret to true joy in generosity.

What would it look like if we all consulted the people ‘less valuable’ (again, according to the skewed perspective of the world) to truly understand their actual and not an assumed need? What would it look like to brainstorm solutions together with people who have lower formal education levels and a scarcity of resources, yet hold an abundance of community connection and resourcefulness?

The world is catching on

Reading the Harvard Business Review or any other business publication, it is clear that the rest of the world has started to catch on to the fact that valuing a diversity of thought and experience in a room is key to finding superior solutions to client needs, social and environmental challenges and even in-house business challenges.

The challenge I put to myself and other people of worldly power is to truly value the people around you through your words and actions. At work, at home, in your neighbourhood and towns and even foreign nations we send aid to. I believe that we should never stop being curious and teachable, seeing every encounter as a learning opportunity.

I have experienced that undeniable joy that comes from valuing people enough to seek their input and contribution in big and small matters.

May we as Christian business leaders, claim back the essence of unity and collaboration as a Christ-centred people and show the world the beauty inherent in every person when people are treated and valued as true image-bearers of Christ. In unity God commands a blessing and advances His Kingdom. May we be a part of advancing His Kingdom here on earth.

‘Many who cared deeply about the poor didn’t think about how the systems, structures, and cultures of our industries might actually be contributing to the fractures in our culture.’ Timothy Keller’s Every Good Endeavor

Keri-Leigh Paschal is the executive trustee and co-founder of the Nation Builder Trust, a Mergon Group initiative. Keri joined the Mergon Group in 2011 and the Nation Builder Trust was officially launched in 2012. Nation Builder inspires and equips the business community in South Africa to lead social change.

This article was first published by the Christian Economic Forum.

All rights reserved. Copyright 2018 Mergon Group.

Witnessing extraordinary impact


Written by Neil Hart, Executive Head, Mergon Foundation

The world is a small place, but there sure is a lot of ground to cover. There are 7111 languages spoken in the world today, of which 23 account for more than half of the world’s population. Over a quarter of all these do not have a single word of scripture translated. Over 100 tribes remain ‘uncontacted’ meaning no outsider has ever been in meaningful contact with them, nor does any language translation exist to communicate with them.

Within this complexity, many great gains have been made, like reducing extreme poverty (people living on less than $2 a day (from 42% in 1980 to 10% in 2015) and famine has vastly decreased (according to The NY Times: ‘People often think that famine is routine, but the last famine recognized by the World Food Program struck just part of one state in South Sudan and lasted for only a few months in 2017). Literacy is increasing sharply, Infectious diseases are decreasing, child deaths have halved in just a few decades. Much of this is as a result of organisations led by smart and compassionate people who have given their lives and/or finances to see the changes come about that society so desperately needs.

At Mergon, we have the great privilege of partnering with many such organisations. I want to tell you three stories of what we see happening across the regions we are involved in and to celebrate these wonderful people whose hearts have been moved by God to do extraordinary things:

In Lebanon, millions of children displaced from their countries are left with no clear future; they have lost their homes, friends, security, identity and even families.  One of our ministry partners in Lebanon provides a safe haven for children, mothers and families. Here children receive a good education and are being well prepared for their return to Syria. Many of these will complete their education in Syria and will also rebuild society, their communities and a country from a biblical world view, giving them a future that could have been completely stolen from them.

In Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Younoussa and his wife, Alphonsine, are working with children and students in a country with 59% of the population under the age of 24! God opened their eyes to the needs in their own city. Using the tools and methodologies they honed over years in the mission field, they started discipling children living on the streets, seeing them discover Christ, being baptised and teaching them in turn to make disciples. In the process, they’ve seen many of these kids return to their homes, find jobs and will be trained in various skills. Amongst many other things they are training leaders, running a Bible correspondence course and coaching multiple church planters who are being sent out consistently. They are giants in the Kingdom, yet when you sit with them, you experience a loving humility always ready to give more.

In South Africa, we are partnering with so many God-glorifying ministries. Johan and Astrid from Victory4All left the Netherlands in 2002 to come and serve less privileged children around Jeffreys Bay with the aim of bringing lasting change. They have since invested millions of rand in the community with a specific focus on education. Their King’s College currently reaches 350 learners up to Grade 4 with excellent education and an intentional focus to introduce the kids to Christ and disciple them to become agents of transformation in South Africa.

Would you join us in prayer for God’s kingdom to continually expand. It truly is the best news for living on planet earth. His Kingdom is peace, it is joy and it brings healing and forgiveness and grace with it. We celebrate the selfless work that our Mergon partners do in bringing His Kingdom into the dark places of this world.

All rights reserved. Copyright 2018 Mergon Group.