I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
God calls us to love one another, and while sometimes this commandment leads us to do good things for others, at other times it leads us to do good things in partnership with others. This is a constant issue we struggle with in the broad area of mission – doing for or doing with. While I believe that there is a place and actually a need for both, I tend to gravitate toward opportunities that would fall under the “doing with” heading as that can lead to empowerment and self-sufficiency of the individuals or groups we are working alongside.
The Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People (SDOP) is a perfect example of an empowerment model. SDOP makes it possible for us to financially support the programs or projects of disadvantaged communities through grants. This may sound very familiar – grants for programs or projects in disadvantaged communities. But, SDOP grants come with criteria unlike most other grant programs we may be familiar with. First, the project must be presented, owned, and controlled by the group of disadvantaged people who will benefit from it. This first criteria makes it impossible for the project to be one where some group is “doing for” others. Second, the project needs to address a long-term correction of conditions that keep people bound by poverty and oppression. This second criteria leads directly toward empowerment and self-sufficiency of oppressed people. There are other criteria that include being sensitive to the environment; not advocating violence; and describing, in detail, goals, objectives, the roles of direct beneficiaries, and the methods used to achieve goals and objectives. However, the first two criteria are what set SDOP apart and make it harder to find grant recipients sometimes.
The churches in our Presbytery have lots of good programs and connections to organizations with good programs that help poor, oppressed, and marginalized people in our communities in a myriad of ways. We are very good at “doing for” others and know of lots of organizations that run on that model. However, are you aware of groups in your community that are working to lift themselves out of poverty and oppression and make their own lives better? I would encourage all of us to open our eyes and ears and search out the groups of disadvantaged people in our area that are working to empower themselves. They are both exciting and inspiring!
As a reminder, our Presbytery is part of a joint SDOP Committee with the Presbytery of San Fernando. This committee has grant money available every year to support the work of groups that meet the SDOP criteria. If you know of a community group that meets the SDOP criteria and has a project or program that could use some financial assistance, please contact Wendy Gist at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit https://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/sdop/ for more information.