“The glory of God is man alive”. With this quotation from Irenaeus of Lyon (2nd century AD) Anglicans from the USA, Canada and El Salvador gathered for a week of reflection on Development Theology and the work that the Cristosal Foundation, an Anglican foundation connected to the Diocese of El Salvador, is doing among communities. The Bishop of El Salvador, Bishop Martín De Jesús Barahona, welcomed the group with a word of encouragement and highlighted the importance of bringing back theological reflection based on transformation and development. He said that building community, leadership and empowered participation are very important pillars when doing theology together.
The course, a joint project developed by the Cristosal Foundation, the Anglican Diocese of El Salvador and the Anglican Alliance had as its objective to work on the links between the development work and theological underpinnings that support and strengthen this mission. In order to meet this objective the course was designed in such a way to mix community visits, group interaction and workshop sessions.
Drawing on their own contexts and experiences from the community visits, the group was enabled to build theological reflections and knowledge facilitated by Paulo Ueti, Regional Facilitator for the Anglican Alliance in Latin America & the Caribbean and Bible Scholar.
Throughout their time together the group were guided by the Journey on the road to Emmaus text (Luke 24:13-35) to frame their development of theological reflection. This approach led the group through the following method:
1. Approaching, 2. Listening, 3. Walking together in their (the community’s) rhythm, 4. Asking questions about their context, their life, 5. Listening again, 6. Persist in questioning, 7. Be quiet to let people talk and express from their perspective their assessment about what is happening, 8. Introduce the Bible reflection, 9. Choosing theology about the Messiah (which kind of Messiah – from Isaiah 1-39 or Isaiah 40-55), 10. Hospitality, 11. Sharing a roof, table, bread, meal, 12. Recognition, 13. Assessment of the whole journey (memory), 14. Reconnecting to the community, getting back to the journey, but transformed.
Reflecting on the community visits, the group looked at the stories in the Bible of the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings) and the widow demanding justice (Luke 18) to learn and discuss about local resources and how to strengthen community leaders to understand their protagonist role and their own inputs to solve problems in their communities.
The group looking at the Contextual Reading of the Bible with people in their contexts helped them to understand how community development must be done in order to build capacity and reach the outcomes that lead to transformation. They found it is very important to rely on people´s insights and knowledge and, together with academic knowledge, organize and take forward plans.
The involvement of the church and church leaders are important factors to reach good results. Several Bible studies were based on the texts of John 9, Matthew 18, Genesis 1 and 2 among other to train new approaches to the texts from the experiences gathered during the community visits. One of the main issues was to understand that Bible Hermeneutics itself deals with mission/development in its trajectory and has embedded within it fullness of life as an important key to collaborate with God´s project.
During the course the participants were very impacted by the challenge to shift from “giving” to “sharing” and they realised how it impacts community development discourse and process. From the community and the Bible they could understand that community development recognizes the inherent dignity, equality and inalienable rights of every human being. The Cristosal Foundation (with the support of the diocese and the bishop) works with local leaders and ordinary citizens to peaceably claim their rights and resources guaranteed under the law, and to demand accountability from elected officials to achieve sustainable development goals (Luke 18, 1 Kings 17).