Does Development Work? Asking the Question Again in the Shadow of the Empire

Author: Simon Penney, Promise Consulting, a Christian Environmental Consultancy.


According to Developments, a magazine published through the UK Government Department for International Development, the answer is an unequivocal ‘yes’!. Articles from across the world underline the slow but sure improvement in the lives of the poor, from Ghana to Nepal. There is no doubt, according to the magazine, that development delivers. The evidence seems strong, but what exactly is development delivering: a better life, or just further integration into a global economic and political system which will make the rich of any society richer and the poor, poorer. This article is not presented as a definitive answer, but rather as a provocation for all Christians to think seriously about the issues of development and the role of mission within it.
Certainly the data presented in the associated booklet, Eliminating World Poverty, provides interesting reading and at least partial encouragement. The first statistic, which I think is presented as a piece of good news, is that half a penny in each £1 of our taxes goes towards the UK’s efforts to reduce world poverty. (Significantly, the proportion which goes towards defence spending is not provided for comparison.)
So why does the UK government wish to provide such aid and what connection does this have with wider issues such as Christian mission? The stated reason is because we play a huge part in each others’ lives and that we have a moral obligation to fight poverty as a rich country. These reasons sound initially laudable, and indeed we cannot afford to be cynical about them. There are numerous people involved in aid and development work and the vast majority are motivated by love for their neighbours, whatever their religion or lack of it, whatever their background. The sight of a hungry child, a waste dump which is home to that child, and the lack of the basic provision that we take for granted in this country, is all the motivation that many need. Most of us do think that people everywhere are entitled to a decent standard of living, decent sanitation, education. Many Christians need no further excuse for their involvement in various development projects than this humanitarian desire to reach out to those that are less fortunate, though they would want to add that they are also inspired by God’s love. Nevertheless, this does not absolve us from asking some important questions about the relationship of mission to development. Sadly we are probably about 150 years late in posing such questions!

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