Hey Change Maker!
My guest this week is Craig Greenfield – social entrepreneur, activist, founder of Alongsiders International and author of Subversive Mission.
We begin the podcast by introducing Craig and discussing his work with Alongsiders International. As an “outsider”, or a person coming into a new community, Craig is passionate about serving “insiders”, or local people, who walk alone. He founded Alongsiders International to help others be a part of neighborhood transformations all around the world. Alongsiders International now operates in 25 countries with around 15,000 children and youth. Alongsiders are asked to make a simple, but powerful, commitment to walking alongside those who walk alone. Each Alongsider chooses one vulnerable or at-risk child from their own community to walk alongside as an older brother or sister. The Alongsider’s role is to coach and encourage their little brother or sister in all aspects of life.
Craig then relays the story of Rachel, an Alongsider in Malawi. Rachel comes from a village notorious for prostitution and trafficking of girls and women. Rachel decided to approach Esther, a girl from her village whose family was teaching her how to dance seductively for men. Now five years later, Rachel has been working with Esther to ensure that she’s gone to school and is surrounded by a very supportive church community. Esther is now in her early teens and thriving, and Rachel has gone on to train hundreds of Alongsiders across Malawi.
We then shift to talking about Craig’s new book, Subversive Mission. One of the main topics in the book is the recognition that mission trips can carry a lot of baggage – missions are often associated with colonialism and racism. The book aims to discuss five major blindspots that westerners very often carry into cross-cultural situations. Craig describes the three categories of people who transform communities. First, there are “remainers” – people who are originally from a community and stay in that community to participate in change. Next, there are “returners” – people who grew up in a community, left for education or work, but have since returned to be a part of that community. Finally, there are “outsiders” – people who are not originally from a community but relocate there to be a part of change. Craig emphasizes that the people local to a community need to be absolutely central in efforts to bring forth change. An outsider’s role is as an ally to amplify the voices of the locals. Craig has built a framework based on Ephesians 4 that is designed to help outsiders discover their missional type. There are 5 types: Catalyst, Ally, Midwife, Seeker, and Guide.
Next, we discuss how it’s possible to pursue good in the wrong way. Craig describes how historically, Christians have used the “two pillars of empire” – money and power – in unwise ways when we are helping insiders. This misuse of money and power then creates a situation where we – typically white people – become “white saviors”. At the same time, we can often become paralyzed by inaction when we’re afraid of assuming this white savior role. Craig emphasizes that we need to move forward out of this paralysis because we owe it to each other. If we move forward with a posture of learning and humility, then we’re moving in the right direction.
Craig and I also talk about what can be done when those of us with power and privilege simply step in to meet the needs of the poor. Craig explains that this action immediately makes us central to the solution. The danger with this is that we’re not going to be around forever. We’re reinforcing the message these people in need have received their whole lives: they don’t have the agency or power to change their situations. Craig relays that when we come in with the white savior attitude, we’re not pointing people in need towards Jesus, but rather towards ourselves. He emphasizes that the approach we take as outsiders should be focused on asset-based community development; outsiders need to be an ally and amplify the voices and resources of insiders to realize true change. I then ask Craig to give us a practical example of how an outsider can come alongside an insider to make a meaningful impact. He tells the story of a little sister who decided to become an Alongsider after six years of transformation with her older sister. Craig emphasizes that the vision for change needs to be owned by the local people to succeed in the long-term.
After that, Craig talks about the huge amount of perspective he has gained from working with the poor. According to him, “If the only perspective we’re getting is from cable news, we’re going to really have quite a lack of perspective.” From a personal standpoint, Craig feels that it is important for him to remain engaged with the poor to nurture his own compassionate heart. I also ask Craig for some advice for my eleven-year-old son who will be going on his first cross-cultural experience later this year. Craig stresses the importance of building mutually beneficial outsider/insider relationships – these are truly what transform communities.
As we wrap up the episode, I ask Craig about his inspirations. He relays the story of a little boy named Nuan who truly exemplifies the values of Alongsiders. Nuan was a little brother in the Alongsiders program who gave his life to save one of his friends who fell into rushing floodwaters. When asked how listeners can partner with him to change the world, Craig calls for more Alongsiders to join the movement. He encourages listeners to visit the website www.alongsiders.org to get more involved. Listeners can also visit www.craiggreenfield.com or follow him on Twitter and Facebook to learn more about his work with the Alongsiders International movement.