At a certain point in my life, I came to realize that being a Christian was more complicated than showing up to church on Sunday and changing the channel during the love scenes on Friends. It actually involves doing stuff.
If I actually believe what Jesus said and if I actually commit to following him, it seems to me that I should want to live differently than people who don’t share this conviction. As James reminds us, “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17).
So partly through a rebellion at the church establishment that I saw (and still do) as selfish and misguided, and partly through some actual good intentions, I slowly decided that my efforts should be focused on assisting the global poor.
The route that these efforts have taken has been seemingly directionless – internships with NGOs, work stints with the Canadian government, a Master’s degree and bouts of unemployment. The economy has not cooperated, and I found that getting into development work at this time is an incredibly difficult thing to accomplish.
Since no one wanted to hire us, a flood of optimism and naivety led myself and three friends to start our own organization called thisvillage. We started thisvillage at a time when non-profit funding was hard to come by and when other well-intentioned organizations were struggling with their finances. However, I felt as though I had the ability to actually make a difference and that it was time to stop talking and waiting for future opportunities. At 26 years old I still felt as though I was always working towards something, always waiting for the future. Jesus was not much older when he was crucified.
The aim of thisvillage is to reduce poverty in one village at a time. First, we establish a relationship with a village and ensure that they desire to work with us. Together with the village, we then establish what it is that the people need in order to move out of poverty. Each village’s specific needs will be different, but typical projects might include water sanitation, building toilets, children’s education and women’s literacy. In order to make projects such as toilets sustainable in the long-term, we require some financial input from the villagers and we provide training so that everything built can be operated and maintained well into the future. It is only once both we and the village feel as though the necessary poverty reduction tools are in place that we will move to work in the next village.
Living out one’s faith and heeding the call of Jesus will look differently for all of us. Not everyone should start a non-profit organization. But all of us, if we’re serious about being disciples of Jesus, must agree on the importance of helping the poor and the broken. My particular journey has led me to found thisvillage, which I hope others will support so that it can become a truly effective means of addressing poverty around the world.
Graeme Esau is a co-founder of thisvillage and is also doing research on Africa’s extractive industry for the North-South Institute. Graeme holds an MA from the University of Ottawa in Public and International Affairs and a BA in International Studies from Trinity Western University. His academic interests extend to development, economics, philosophy and political science. Graeme is an elder at the Meeting House and is passionate about alleviating poverty around the world. His spare time is spent struggling on the golf course, reading a good book and enjoying the outdoors.