Fathering Children in the Dumps II

Nate and Abegail Shuck’s journey with community transformation from the inside out.

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Part II: Pursuing True Community Transformation

Nate and Abegail Shuck began with their work at the city dump site as a ministry to children. While partnering with a local church within the vicinity, this soon extended to include their families, via weekly Bible studies. But while they successfully ushered these families into a knowledge of God, through the years, Nate began to struggle with the completeness of the gospel.

“Do we tell them about Jesus, and that’s it?” Nate throws this question to the table with his eyes burning with desire. “The thing for me was, ‘Is it enough to lead them to Christ and leave them still living in this hell?’ Isn’t the gospel wholistic in its life-changing power? We should change the families from the inside out so that they begin to thrive and not just survive.” This is commonly known as community development, and what Nate fondly refers to as “community transformation.”

From sharing the gospel through children’s programmes and Bible studies, Nate, with a team of missionaries and volunteers from the church, started to work closely with families in the dump site to help train and equip them with livelihood programmes, with goals of empowering them to own their own businesses someday.

Transformation Requires Shifting of Perspectives

One major challenge, though, is that the renewing of the mind does not happen overnight. Over the years, one of the things that Nate and Abegail have had to learn is that casting a vision for something does not immediately guarantee people catching on. Sometimes they do, other times they don’t; sometimes they stay, other times people move on, and then they have to start all over again with a new group of people.

“It’s all about perspective,” he explains. “This past year, the Lord has really spoken to me about the importance of perspective. It’s important for us to understand where they are coming from, so we can help empower them.”

Clearly, this is where the nuances of cross-cultural missions come into play: how can Nate, a missionary from a first world country, comprehend the challenges faced by the poorest of the poor in a third world country? Whereas a person from the middle class, with sufficient daily income, may be expected to come to church on Sundays without much sacrifice, what do you make of the person who says, “I can’t come to church because I have to work, or else my family won’t have food today,” or “Why should I pay the tricycle (the Filipino pedicab) fare for six people at Php60, when I earn only Php60 a day?”

“That’s why we believe twenty years of ministry in your home country does not equal twenty years of experience for cross-cultural missions,” Nate says. “We need a change in perspective, both for them and for us. I may see from one lens,  and they from a different one. I want to help them catch a vision of where we see God is leading us.”

Kids Club in Calajunan, Mandurriao, Iloilo City, 2010

Abegail, as a Filipino herself, believes that missionaries need to learn to embrace the culture of their new home. “Sometimes you think you come to a country and you have all the answers, and you tell them these are how things need to be done,” she says. “It’s not that way. Relationships are of topmost importance. When you come into someone’s house, you can’t just tell them to rearrange the furniture. You have to build the relationship first before they will want to listen to your opinion, and that takes time.”

Since then, through the relationship of trust that they have built with the community, the Shucks have helped some of them start small businesses, such as a small sewing business for the ladies.

One of the hardest things they have faced up to in all this work is the learning experience. “Sometimes you expect things to work the first time, but it doesn’t. So why is this not working?” Nate shares. “A lot of it is the walking through and the processing, getting into God-ideas as opposed to just getting good ideas. We learned a lot through mistakes and not having a correct perspective. Through all that we’ve grown into what a holistic gospel looks like.”

Changing Lives Begins with Uprooting Lies

On another note, Nate and Abegail believe there is something deeper than surface poverty.

“I believe it’s spiritual warfare,” Nate explains. “It’s not just casting out demons and things, but it’s uprooting the lies and beliefs that people have about themselves.”

He goes on to describe the battle that the people face on a daily basis, what he calls the “lies and hooks of the enemy that keeps them bound.”

“God has set them free, but yet the hooks, mindsets and things still keep them bound,” he explains. “It’s like sitting inside a jail with the doors wide open, this old, poverty mentality. It’s about bringing both freedom and healing to those areas.”

The challenge is that the carnal mind becomes impatient because things seem to take so long. He admits this is a common problem that missionaries, pastors and leaders face, the struggle of waiting for the people to catch on to a vision.

“What we’ve learned to appreciate, more than the 180 degree transformations, are the 5-degree changes we see,” Nate emphasises. “And really, it’s these 5-degree, 10-degree changes that tend to be permanent.”

Through the years that they worked with the community, Nate and Abegail have grown in their understanding of how God’s heart is for people to be whole not just spiritually, but also physically. The church can often focus only on spiritual wholeness and overlook the other areas.

“God’s ways are higher than our ways, and we want to come into alignment with His ways,” Nate says. “We have to have an understanding of that in order to help them understand God’s plan for them to thrive. Thriving isn’t necessarily about having a house, a car, but to thrive holistically: their families are fed, their kids are in school, they’re growing forward.”

Nate sharing at a church service, The City

This means that, not only do Nate and his team share gospel truths, they also need to teach the community more practical things, such as how to handle their finances, how to have a vision for one’s future. And it may not be as straightforward as that, because a lot of the contributors to the people’s mindset about money, or success, or life paths, are affected by the truths—and lies—that they believe.

For example, a common view of prosperity in the Philippines involves the dream of sending one or both parents out of the country to work—also a trend among families in the dump site—a perfect recipe to add to the issue of fatherlessness. The poverty mentality prevents them from seeing that not all good opportunities to earn money are across the seas.

“If we really can’t keep them from leaving, what we want to do is to teach them how to save,” Nate shares. “We want them to learn to save up, so that within a few years, the OFW (overseas Filipino worker) can come home, start a business, and the family can be whole.”

This works hand in hand with the different community livelihood trainings in which Nate and his team are intensely invested.

But, despite all the time and energy that Nate and his team have poured into the community, he believes his main responsibility as a missionary is to “work myself out of a job.” Their desire is to see the locals empowered and owning the vision of what they can be.

To hear more about this tension that missionaries face in building and empowering, read the final installment in this series: A Missionary’s Challenge.

Cover Photo: Rubbish Dump in Iloilo City, Philippines, November 2009. Picture courtesy of Benjamin Meyers.