How Northwest’s MAICD Program Shaped My Passion and Professional Purpose

How Northwest’s MAICD Program Shaped My Passion and Professional Purpose

Four years into my work at World Vision, I had developed a passion for long-term, sustainable community development. So when I found the MA in International Community Development (MAICD) program at Northwest University, it was the perfect fit for my interests, both spiritually and professionally. Courses on social justice, community development, the spirituality of justice, social enterprise, and leadership?! This was a strong next step for my faith, education, and career.

I was confident that the MAICD program would guide my search for effective methodologies of community development, further equipping me as I invited the American Church to partner with World Vision in our goals: creating sustainable change in the hardest places in the world.

I applied much of our coursework to my work at World Vision. My thesis was especially easy to apply, as it investigated a gap that I had come to witness: how the church’s practice of helping orphans through short-term mission trips often conflicts with what will truly serve those orphans and their communities.

World Vision’s work promotes asset-based community development that empowers local leaders to be the change-makers in their own community. First, World Vision staff spend at least two years learning, building trust, and making plans—together with community leaders—to identify the root causes of poverty in that specific community. After that, World Vision invests 15–20 years implementing life-giving programs that bring physical, cultural, and spiritual transformation to a community, all informed and led by local members of the community. Their model for development—tackling the root causes of poverty and empowering people to find solutions to their own poverty situations—is a proven global standard for good development work. 

Global development experts have identified some of the barriers to progress in global development, which can come especially from Western interventions. They have found that despite intentions to do good, harm can often be done when outsiders impose short-term “help” on an impoverished community. These approaches are often found in the global missions ministries of the Western Evangelical Church. More than two million Christians from North America travel on international short-term mission trips (STM) each year (Howell, B. M. [2012]. Short-Term Mission: An Ethnography of Christian Travel Narrative and Experience.). Many of these trips include visiting residential care centers and spending time with orphaned children.

My MAICD thesis explored the partnership between World Vision and the Western Church. The church has a biblical mandate to care for the orphan and the widow and is a vital partner in development work. The Western Church, however, also implements potentially harmful short-term mission trips as a primary part of their international missions programming, often in ways that are unaligned with best practices in global development. How can true partnership exist with such different approaches?

This was the gap I identified, and my recommendation was that organizations should ensure that partner churches were educated and equipped by Christian development experts to help them gain an understanding of “helping without hurting” principles. In particular, I recommended that we support the church to better care for vulnerable populations in their missions programming.

So several years later, when the Faith to Action Initiative posted a job description for a Director of Engagement who would be tasked with educating the American Church on evidence-based best practices to inform their approach to global orphan care ministry, I made the unexpected and exhilarating jump to join the team. It was a chance to live out the recommendation outlined in my thesis proposal, for this specific vulnerable population.

The Faith to Action Initiative serves as a resource for Christian groups, churches, and individuals seeking to respond to the needs of orphans and vulnerable children around the world.

Did you know that:

  • 80% of children living in orphanages have a living parent willing to care for them (Williamson, J., and Greenburg, A. [2010]. Families, Not Orphanages). Research shows that poverty, not lack of caregivers, is a primary cause for placing children in residential care centers. Parents struggling to provide for their children may feel compelled to use a residential care center to meet their children’s basic needs. (Faith to Action Initiative [2014]. Children, Orphanages, and Families: A Summary of Research to Help Guide Faith-Based Action.)
  • The American Church is a primary funder of international orphanages. Though it is certain that the intentions behind this funding are good and in response to our biblical calling to care for the poor, this funding, and the sending of STMs to visit orphans, is contributing to the separation of families and causing harm to vulnerable children.

Faith to Action believes that we in the American Church can do better in our efforts to care for vulnerable children. We believe that children grow best in the love and care of families. So what if we, the Church, could help keep families together, instead of supporting children living in orphanages, away from family, community, and culture? What if we, the Church, led the way in supporting families across the world to reflect the concept of “family” that we so value in our own churches? What if we, the Church, supported programs internationally that help women generate income, have access to clean water, and have day care for their children, so that those children don’t have to be separated, due to poverty, from a loving family?

We, the Church, can make a difference. We can invest in strengthening families. And Faith to Action has all of the resources to help. This Summary of Research outlines the realities of the orphan crisis—the 8 million children living in orphanages—80% of whom have at least one living parent willing to care for them. Additionally, the Short-Term Missions Guidelines were the exact next steps that I needed in my thesis recommendation to provide churches with a better way to plan for and execute STMs. Here’s a quick summary:

And thanks to the MAICD program, it’s now my job to step in, to an often-challenging conversation, to educate and equip the American Church to do better, as we strive to live out our biblical mandate to care for the orphan. Because of the MAICD program, I have been uniquely equipped to engage in this conversation and contribute to Faith to Action’s hope that:

In ten years, when the average church member hears the word “orphan,” they no longer think “orphanage,” they think “family.”

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