There is one province in Cambodia where Alongsiders is growing faster than in all the other provinces. Most of the credit goes to one local pastor who keeps telling other leaders about Alongsiders.
Alongsiders grows naturally and quickly when local church leaders are this passionate and focused on what God is doing, but it's rarely so easy.
Pastors often ask Phearom, directly or indirectly, what Alongsiders can do for their churches. They may say, "We need funds for a building" or "We need money to feed the children." Often they are probing to see what Alongsiders has to offer financially.
Local churches everywhere tend to have an eye on budgets, salaries, and the building - not just in Cambodia.
But the way money is used in Cambodia, by Christian and secular organizations and missions alike, has fed a culture of following the funding. Every day foreign organizations pay (in cash, salaries, and projects) in order to move their agendas forward. To pick an example, every year a large mission team comes from an unnamed country for an extended trip, and local Christian leaders across the country drop everything to coordinate, translate, and do whatever the group asks. That's because this group pays very well and dispenses money for projects wherever they go (a well here, a building there, etc.). Even after they leave an area, the money keeps flowing for the projects they have initiated. "Some people they hire do the work," says one local leader, "and others just take the money and write reports."
When this happens, local initiatives suffer for lack of attention and funding, the wrong leaders may be elevated, and future development and mission workers are too often greeted as if they have dollar signs on their foreheads.
Alongsiders Cambodia seeks partnership with local pastors in this climate, but aside from occasionally sharing a meal with a pastor and bringing participants to our annual camp, Alongsiders does not dispense money or fund projects.
Phearom encourages pastors by explaining that the Alongsiders movement will help the church grow. "Five to ten years from now," he says, "the little brothers and sisters will grow up and become members of the church."
But what we want is for local church leaders and members to seek the Kingdom of God, not just security and results.
So we come inviting people to serve without being paid for it. We honor people by recognizing that they are not merely "poor" people, but they are children of God who have so much to give.
And when people get it, like the local pastor telling everyone he meets about Alongsiders, they come alive.
Here's a lesson to take away from this, one that we are still learning. It's easy to say but not as easy to apply.
Don't substitute money for relationship. Don't substitute salaries for genuine service and love. Don't substitute control for local initiative. Don't substitute speed and results for lasting transformation.
Seek the Kingdom of God - the Reign and Leadership of God - through people and relationships, and all the rest will fall into place.