I live in an impoverished slum community. I speak the local language fluently. And I have been exposed to Cambodian culture since the age of ten, when my parents adopted two Cambodian refugees.
But I am still an outsider here. And I will always be an outsider.
Over time, I have come to see that my particular calling as an Outsider is to help Insiders become Alongsiders.
I am so passionate about the centrality of insiders because I know that for the most part, God chooses to use insiders to transform their own communities.
Yes, Outsiders will sometimes have a prophetic voice, (at their best) bringing wisdom, technical expertise and perspective from outside. Yes, God has used Outsiders throughout Biblical history (eg. Joseph, Daniel, Ruth, etc.) Yes Outsiders are needed in every community, even the West (so start embracing immigration already!)
But 99% of the time, God entrusts the transformation of a nation into the hands of Insiders. So much so, that He chose to bring transformation as an Insider Himself. Why else did he need to waste three decades growing up in Israel? That is one painstaking process!
And that’s the thought underlying the Cambodian proverb:
“It takes a spider to repair its own web.”
But here’s the thing we often get wrong about that proverb.
It’s not about the “web”.
It’s about the “spider”.
When I lived in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside we were involved in a couple of cool, Hipster-ish community gardens. We planted tomatoes and beans, and carrots and potatoes, and looming sunflowers that bent over under the weight of their own nodding heads.
I used to get a bit “Type A” about those gardens. I wanted them to look sweet… for the community of course. I wanted them to be the best damn community gardens in the city.
But then one day I watched as some of my friends from the local rehab center dug around haphazardly in our flower beds. And I realized that it wasn’t about the garden – at all. It was about the guys. Those three guys sweating and joking and messing around, doing a terrible job gardening. It was part of their healing. For that moment in time, they were part of the restoration of the very community that they had been part of breaking.
I realised that “Beautiful Community Gardens” were not the ultimate goal. Just as the Spider’s Web is not the ultimate goal.
The garden, (or the spider's web), is at best a by-product.
When I show Type A businessmen around the slums here in Phnom Penh, I know that usually, sooner or later, they’re going to ask a question that begins with these four words, “What would it take to…”
“What would it take to clean up all this trash?”
“What would it take to get the church building fixed?”
“What would it take to see everyone in this community employed?”
And being a bit Type A myself, I know they’re focused on the Web instead of the Spider. They’re focused on the goal instead of the process.
And that won’t do at all.
What are you focused on, and how have you been tempted to put the goal ahead of the process?