This is a great question, and it follows on the heels of one of the chapters that Rob Wegner and i talk about in Missional Moves when we speak about the "Monster of Dependency" (see Chapter 9, "From Relief to Development") and why so many partnerships between churches, organizations and indigenous people end in cycles of endless toxic charity that harm both the recipient and the giver long term. As a result, what is really being asked often is not only "when to leave" a given community to allow the indigenous church to take the reigns and move fully forward, but also how to know when a given community is ready for that step before leaving them too early or staying too long. Honestly, we have struggled with knowing this ourselves, so have begun to gather data to share with others. As best I can tell, the following are hopefully some metrics to keep in mind for this process:
* Expectations on the Front End - We began our work in the village stating at the outset that we would be a temporary asset working in conjunction with the local church already in the village. We have continued to reinforce that throughout our time there, and have also continually pointed to the local church planter as the "glue" that holds everything together. I have even heard people in the village reiterate the concept back to me in saying, "We believe that you are our family. You are our brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers. We love you as you have loved us. But we will be grateful when you are able to leave and go help other villages as well."
* Three Strata of Development - We learned from our friends at World Relief to categorize "needs" in a context into the following three strata:
1) What can people do for themselves?
2) What is the government's responsibility to do?
3) What can the people not do for themselves and the government will not do for them?
We have focused 100% of our efforts only in category 3) so as to ensure that our friends in the village are doing category 1) alongside us, and that the government is being held accountable to deliver 2). This helps prevent the idea that "GCC is doing everything for us!"
* Consistent Survey and Analysis - We do a lot of on-ground survey and evaluation. At least four times in the past four years, we have sent teams in with very specific mission objectives to gather data as a component of their time in-country. Over the time, such has given us a usually reasonably clear picture of what is going on and what dynamics are in play in the village, and what needs to be addressed in subsequent teams.
* Objective Outside Evaluation - We have been blessed to consistently have both on-ground field staff with Life Mission International and also other "outside" observers (i.e. Social Workers, Professors, other Pastors, etc) who have consistently visited the village and been liberal with their evaluation and suggestions. This has been critical as it has prevented us from receiving a purely one-dimensional view of change and transformation which we might have acquired if the people in the village or the local pastor were our only sources of information.
I don't mean to make it seem that the above process has been easy for us or our friends in India throughout this process, but it has given me some hope that we are on the right track. When our final survey team returned just a couple of weeks ago from a week of living in "deep cover" (more on that in the next post), they were able to tell us the following story of one of our friends living in Kalavai.
"When we asked Lakshmi what the village was planning on doing for the next 4 years now that GCC teams were going to be formally exiting in July, she stated that, 'GCC and our friends with Life Mission International knew what we needed the lasts 4 years. We will know what is needed for the next 4 years." That, to me, is music to my ears, and helps me believe that we are on the right track for our strategic exit from Kalavai.