I went to a rural church to follow-up with a group of Alongsiders, and I asked them how they chose their little brothers and sisters out of all the children in the community. One of the young women started to cry as she answered, and she said:
Phearom relates this story. He's one of the national coordinators for Alongsiders Cambodia, and he's constantly networking with pastors and visiting churches to invite the youth to join the movement.
His story is an illustration of why we work with local churches.
The young woman had a heart of compassion, and she was already connected in her own village and aware of people in need there. She was poised to act, but she was waiting for an opening.
There are others like her, and there are many, many remote villages in Cambodia. How can an organization based in the capital reach and mobilize them?
The answer that makes the most sense, especially for a Christian organization, is to work through local churches. Local churches are already in place in hundreds of remote villages, and their members already have relationships and local knowledge that organizations coming from outside dream of having. And the local churches come with leaders and structures included.
They are resources hidden in plain site, often overlooked because they are - like their communities - small and seemingly isolated.
Local churches aren't just gateways to villages, they provide critical backup for the Alongsiders. The little brothers and sisters don't just get the support and attention of one person, but they gain access to a community with varied gifts, wisdom, and resources.
When we work with a local church, the local church benefits.
Local churches are people, the Body of Christ with faces and names. Partnering with Alongsiders helps them practice evangelism in the truest sense: by embodying and proclaiming good news for people who are struggling and alone in their own communities.
Alongsiders is also discipleship in action, starting with the youth and young adults who participate (who are the majority in their churches). The young woman in the story above just needed encouragement to do something. As regular people like her take risks in faith and love, they will grow in Christ - and local churches will grow in healthy ways.
Finally, the communities benefit. Strengthening ties, building trust, and helping local people to face local problems together are all good development practices. Local churches can play a key role in serving their whole communities.
Despite all of the big words, what Alongsiders actually do for their little brothers and sisters is simple, and simply transforming.
And...you can do it, too.
Does your Christian community divide evangelism, discipleship, justice, and compassion into separate categories? Neglect one or more of them? Or put them off by calling them specialized roles?
Put them all together in love by coming alongside someone isolated and in need of a friend or mentor. You can be a light at the margins of your community, and no need to go alone. Invite others to join in!
There are also challenges in working with local churches. That sticky topic will be addressed in the next post!