Slow Kingdom Coming Book Review

Those involved in the administration of FARMS have recently been engaged in a discussion of the book “Slow Kingdom Coming” by Kent Annan. It’s a thought provoking book by a veteran of Christian justice work in Haiti that delivers on its subtitle’s promise to provide “practices for doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly in the world.” These practices resonated with us and so we thought we would share them with our readers along with a discussion of how FARMS practices them.

The first practice Annan identifies to sustain us as the kingdom comes is attention. He encourages us to awake to justice and open our eyes to the needs of the world. He does not dwell overly long on this, probably because he knows his readers are already paying attention (as are FARM’s blog readers). Of course, we all know people who aren’t and this chapter is an encouragement to us to help those people start paying attention. As an organization, it’s part of FARMS mission to increase the attention of the church to the needs of the world. Our newsletters, this blog, and most importantly our supporters are the ways that we bring attention to the needs of the communities that we work in and try to keep our responsibility to our brothers and sisters around the world in the attention of all those who can hear us.

Annan identifies confession as his second practice. He encourages readers to confess their mixed motives, desire to feel good when they help, public gestures, hero complexes, compassion fatigue, privilege, pain caused and received, and longing for change (a positive confession). This practice is a refreshing correction to the exciting image of justice work many of us have constructed based on mission organization marketing materials and short term mission trips. FARMS has been doing development work for a long time and we agree with Annan that it can be a long, hard slog at times. We confess that as sinful humans we have felt and acted on many of the same things that Annan confesses but like Annan we also confess “the hope of life, now and forever, that God’s love is stronger than death and will make all things right - and that by grace we participate right now in making things right.”

With his third practice, respect, Annan hits on something that has been core to FARMS’ method of development work. He emphasizes that respect and The Golden Rule is at the core of work done for the Kingdom and encourages the acts of listening, imagining, and promoting the rights of others as ways to practice respect. At FARMS, we couldn’t agree more since respect has always been at the core of our methods. When we enter communities, we go to listen to the needs that our loan programs can address, imagine what would be possible with the extra capital our loans could provide, and promote the rights of our brothers and sisters to provide for their families and the future of their community. By providing loans instead of handouts we respect the dignity of our program participants and by using local, volunteer committees we respect the wisdom and expertise of the community. In turn we have seen this respect returned to us when the program participants are faithful with their loans and it is this respect that has enabled our model to work in so many countries and cultures.

Annan calls his fourth practice partnering and he eloquently explains several partnering strategies. He rightly rejects rescue partnering and fix-it partnering as insufficient for long term development models while embracing equal agencies partnership that can best be achieved by partnering together with God. FARMS can attest to the power of equal agency partnering since our work fits squarely in this model. Our programs would not be possible without the hundreds of faithful committee members that we partner with and entrust with the administration of our programs. We also see ourselves as partnering together with God since we strongly encourage tithing and the use of part of the profits from loans to go to the church and the work of the Kingdom. Annan’s insights here are excellent and since the success of our programs is driven by the power of partnering, we fully endorse this practice as well.

The final practice Annan encourages is “truthing” or holding yourself accountable to how much your work is actually helping those you are intending to help. He cites many failed examples of international aid work and the recent studies showing that in some cases simple cash handouts can be more cost effective than micro-finance programs as showing the need for truth in the world of non-profits. FARMS has also embraced this practice. Although we do not have the budget that many larger nonprofits have, through the generosity of one of our donors we were able to practice truthing by conducting an independent analysis of our program in Thailand several years ago. We remain dedicated to accountability by requiring annual reports from all of our committees and by meeting the rigorous standards of the ECFA every year. For, as Annan points out, “The practice of truthing gives us the opportunity to love our neighbors with our very best stewardship.”

In conclusion, we at FARMS found “Slow Kingdom Coming” to be a worthwhile read. Not only because it encourages practices that we have been encouraging and applying for decades but also because it is more than just a primer on effective justice work. Annan’s practices are deeply rooted in Jesus’s teachings on the kingdom and the challenge to practice them will be helpful to all of his followers whether they are justice workers or not. For in the end, no matter how slowly, the Kingdom of our God is coming.

For more about FARMS model and how it embodies the practices above, see our Nuts and Bolts of FARMS publication.

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