Joel’s first days as executive director were spent down in Chitwan, meeting with pastors and facilitators who have been trying out Sangsangai — a series of Bible studies and tools to help local churches expand their vision for what it means to love their neighbours. “Sangsangai” is Nepali for “together,” because it generally results in church and community moving past antagonism and working together (using only their own resources) to solve common problems and help the poor.
Joel was particularly struck by one rural pastor’s story. Pastor Bhim said that when he first heard about Sangsangai, he exclaimed, “We Christians were rejected by our old community, and that was very painful, very difficult. We built a new community, and that was also costly and difficult. Now we’re supposed to go back and use our own resources to love and serve the old community?” As he walked back to his village, wrestling with the idea, he came to a bridge that had been broken for some time – and decided this bridge would be his test.
He went to the village authorities and declared, “The bridge has needed fixing for too long. We’ve got strong young people in our congregation; you’ve also got some labour, some resources. Why don’t we work together and fix this thing?” They agreed, and together they fixed it.
Afterward, Pastor Bhim reflected on how it felt and decided that “it didn’t feel like this was a distraction from the work of the church, or like we were trying to be an NGO. This felt good, like part of the mission of the church. So we decided we would continue with it.” Hopefully many more pastors and churches will find Sangsangai a useful set of tools for building bridges with their communities and serving the poor as Jesus did.
Soon after, Joel travelled to the Far Western districts of Doti and Bajhang, where UMN partners with a wide variety of groups that reach the poorest people – anti-poverty NGOs, schools, women’s savings groups, farmer cooperatives, networks of people with disabilities. Again and again, Joel heard a similar story: “When UMN found us, we weren’t real organisations… we were just jholey sanstha, bag organisations, a few documents that got carried around in a satchel. After working with UMN for years, though, we are well organised, we have a real identity, and we are known for our work throughout the district.”
And as they become “real organisations,” UMN’s partners are able to make real changes in poor people’s lives. Promoting greenhouses, improved pest control, and beekeeping to increase incomes; helping children with disabilities get corrective surgery; teaching at-risk adolescents about sexual health and HIV; helping former leprosy patients start businesses… over a two week visit, Joel saw so much inspiring work being done by UMN partners on many different aspects of poverty. Please pray that our partners will continue to grow and mature, so that they can keep doing this good work when their partnership with UMN eventually ends.