Community transformation through partnership

The varied and complex issues associated with poverty, both here in Australia and around the world, are often talked about in terms of the numbers: the number of homeless Australians on any given day (105,0001), the number of children dying before reaching their fifth birthday (8.8 million in 20082), or the number of people struggling to exist on less than $US1.25 per day (1.4 billion in 20053). They are numbers that can overwhelm us with their magnitude or simply numb us with their distance from our everyday experience of life.But for the congregation of Seaforth Baptist Church in NSW, together with other churches in the Manly area, poverty is no longer just about statistics. Poverty – in all its forms – has become intimately connected with the practice and witness of their faith through their involvement with the Manly- Manado Partnership.

The Manly-Manado Partnership, founded by Manly resident Jim Goddard, began in 2005 with a vision to facilitate the mutual transformation of two very different communities: Manly, an affluent suburb in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, and Manado, a town on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. The Partnership provided a platform for neighbouring churches to come together, witnessing to and working in partnership with the local community, to relieve the material poverty of a community overseas, while at the same time awakening an awareness of the social, emotional, spiritual and relational poverty that is prevalent in Australia.

The idea for a Christian-led community partnership grew out of Jim’s experience meeting his Bolivian sponsor child, Luis. It was an experience that revealed much about the nature of poverty and broke down the somewhat artificial divide that is often created between Christian social justice and evangelism. As Jim so aptly puts it, “It is only through making oneself vulnerable and having direct relationship with the poor that we truly see God’s heart for his people.”

And it was this heart for God’s people that captured the attention of the team at Seaforth Baptist. Vikki Howorth, who led the Partnership for the last two years and now heads up missions at Seaforth Baptist, says that the concept of integral mission is at the heart of all their mission and evangelism activity. Whether it is “over the seas or over the fence” evangelism is both proclamation and demonstration of the gospel. “If we ignore the world we betray the Word of God, which sends us out to serve the world. But if we ignore the Word, we have nothing to bring to the world,” she says.

And they have put their “talk” into “walk”…literally. The annual Manly- Manado Fundraiser Walk, which Seaforth Baptist organises for the Manly community, will take place for the sixth time this year on 18 September 2010. To date the Walk has raised over $100,000 and more than 1,000 walkers have taken part.

While the formal operations of the Manly-Manado Partnership concluded in May this year, their involvement has ignited a passion in the people of Seaforth Baptist that continues to burn. Vikki says, “People’s lives have been turned upside down. They are going on mission trips, getting involved with Micah Challenge, sponsoring children, and even changing their careers paths.” But the transformation hasn’t just happened within the walls of the church. In its five years, the Partnership has had a powerful impact both in Manado and amongst the Manly community. Together, the churches and the community have raised funds for 1,378 family business loans, 225 child sponsorships and major community development projects in Manado. It has united people from 8 schools, 9 churches and 185 businesses in Manly. Working together through the Partnership has paved the way for the churches to build positive relationships with people at all levels of the community – people in business, in the schools, in the local council – and opened the door for further street ministry opportunities. A community for whom extreme material poverty was such a distant issue has been stirred to action. A generation of young people has been awakened to the possibility that consumption and material wealth don’t hold the key to abundant life. Like poverty, like so many things, this sort of transformation can’t be measured with numbers.

Case Study (prac10): Community transformation through partnership.