Thursday, May 24, 2012

Rise of the Arab NGO

When the Tunisian revolution broke out, Egypt was quite prepared for its own. The first groups who marched to Tahrir and other squares on January 25th were organized by CSOs through mobiles, Twitter and Facebook. It was a day where civil society and information technology played a critical role. -Dr. Hoda Badran, “Arab Civil Society Power Transactions Locally and Multilaterally”

NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations), or as they are often referred to in Arab culture CSOs (Civil Society Organizations) have played a key role in the wave of democratization sweeping through the Middle East and North Africa. They have raised public awareness on key issues, and helped shape the dialogue of political reform. By occupying a place outside the traditional social structures, they have also helped to loosen the grip of al-‘asabiya (tribalism) on Arab social development.

NGOs have also taken a prominent role in humanitarian work throughout the Arab world, where most of them function as service providers. In many Arab countries, NGOs provided service delivery, networking, mobilization, and the creation of “support systems” of various kinds, ranging from day-care centers to income-generating projects.

This rise in influence of the NGO is a result of a direct need felt by Arab society. “There is a change in mindsets in the region,” said Dr. Rima Khalaf Hunaidi, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Director of the Regional Bureau for Arab States in UNDP. “We are moving with greater confidence in a new direction now, and there is a strong awareness of the irreversibility of change—change driven by the Arab street, not change adopted from afar.”

The development of NGOs has not been without difficulties. The normal structure of NGO boards is not familiar to Arab culture, nor is the proper balance of those relationships. Adapting to this style of shared leadership has been a slow and difficult transition. “Many of us were hurt during this process,” observed Dr. Nabil Costa, director of the Lebanese Society of Economic and Social Development. “A lot of people lost their jobs.”

Recent Research by the Arab NGO Network reveals the serious nature of these problems of governance. “Responses suggest that the lack of good internal governance practices is a principal obstacle to greater CSO effectiveness in the region. Answers reflect a weak understanding of key components of internal governance, including such matters as a vision and mission statement, an organizational strategy, an organizational structure, and the appropriate divisions in governance and management structures,” reported ANND analysts. “Most respondents do not clearly articulate a vision statement. Of the CSOs, 36 percent leave the question blank, and only 17 percent provide a clear vision statement.”

Lack of cohesive governing structures is also a major issue. “Inconsistencies appear in replies related to hierarchical relations within the organization – that is, relations among the governing bodies, the executive level and staff, and representatives of constituencies. These inconsistencies may stem from an organization’s failure to have an effective organizational chart,” the analysts noted.

If NGOs are to be more effective in the molding of social development in the Arab world, they must overcome these leadership issues. “It's important to have a strong board behind the President,” advises Dr. Riad Kassis, a leadership consultant for NGOs. “You also need a President who knows his or her relationship with the board.”

Having internal cohesion and purpose will be essential in facing the many external challenges to NGOs and their work in society. The UNDP Arab Human Development Report (2009) observes “Arab CSOs play a significant role in spreading awareness of human rights issues by expanding the agenda and by demonstrating public concern for that agenda through their intervention. Their public image is however often tarred by Arab governments, which characterize them as agents of foreign powers dependent on foreign funding. They frequently encounter government-imposed restrictions, obstacles and harassment, and hence have limited membership. “

Despite these problems, both internal and external, Arab NGOs have proven to be foundational to the development and advancement of freedom in Arab societies. Insuring their continued maturity, and the development of proper governance, is essential to the development of democracy in the region. As a provider of Christian and Educational materials to the Arab world, Dar Manhal Al Hayat will continue to support the nurture and fostering of good governance.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

I Me Wed?

My wonderful wife of 20 years is sick this morning, and as a dutiful husband I sat on the couch and watched a chick flick with her.  Normally my eyes glaze over and I think about video games for a couple of hours, but this movie caught my interest a bit because it stepped outside the normal wedding story/love triangle memes that define chick flicks.  The protagonist decides to marry herself in order to address the constant urging of her friends and family to get married.

Narcissisitc, Moi?

We have a problem in our society with foisting off marriages on the unprepared.  How can we act surprised at our astronomical divorce rates when our society is feeding that machine constantly?  Nowhere is this mistake more common than in the Church itself.

Some time ago I read an article about an elderly minister who passed away after many years spent performing weddings at a Chapel in the Smoky Mountains.  In the article it was mentioned that he had performed thousands of weddings over the years as a Chaplain.  While many people commented on how wonderful this was, I found it tragic.  Now, I have nothing against eloping for Chapel weddings.  My parents travelled to Georgia for a Chapel wedding and enjoyed almost fifty years of good marriage before my father passed away.

But there are crosses on
the top so it's still official.

I am opposed to ushering people into marriages for which they are not prepared.  You see, while this gentleman may have performed thousands of ceremonies, he didn't provide Biblical counseling for the couples.  There's no evidence that he tried to determine if they are believers.  He did a cultural ceremony with the trappings of Christianity thrown over it.  What makes this a shame is that this supposed minister of the Gospel should have known better, the Bible is very clear on these issues.

You are window dressing.  Jesus said "What God has joined together, let no man break apart."  God joins a believing man and woman in a holy covenant.  This means that no matter how much you read from the Bible, no matter how many times you pray, and no matter how many crosses are in the building, you cannot join anyone in marriage.  You cannot make anything Holy, Pastor.  You cannot join adulterers or non-believers in marriage.  You are window dressing, so act like it.

Several years ago a faithful Christian friend told me that his wife was divorcing him to marry another man.  She wasn't "happy."  What irked me most is that she had already planned her wedding with the Pastor of a Church in Albertville.  I understand grace and forgiveness, and fully believe that divorced people can repent and move forward with their lives, even remarrying when repentance and forgiveness are done.  But, you don't get to play that card if you are planning your wedding and divorce at the same time.  Jesus called that "adultery."  Shame on that Pastor who thought he could make that union Holy.  It was unholy, right there in the Church building.

This is not the important part.

What you can do is provide Biblical counseling to help couples know if this is God's will for them.  Confront them with the Gospel and make sure they understand the marriage covenant.  Try to talk them out of marriage if you can.  One couple came to me about marriage because she was pregnant.  This was not about a couple wanting to get married before God.  This was a divorce waiting to happen, complete with child custody battles and bitter, broken lives.  Thank God they listened to Biblical counsel and did not marry.

Friends and Family:

Every time you have the uncontrollable urge to pressure someone to get married, cut off one of your fingers with a knife.  When you have experienced that level of pain, then you can understand what you are inflicting on your beloved friend.

But I really, really want grandchildren

If you actually want to help your child, friend, or family member, discourage them from marriage, because that's what the Gospel does.

Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am.  But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

What?  Remain unmarried?  Who will love my child/friend?  What good purpose can s/he have without getting married?  Here's a crazy thought... How about God?  Can we trust him to give purpose and love?

I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.

Instead of pointing our children to the wedding chapel for purpose, let's point them to the Creator of the altar.  If you truly believe that God made your friend/family member for a purpose, then that must be the most important thing in his or her life.

The crazy girl in "I Me Wed" seemed to understand that concept better than most Christians.  Ironically, she married her boyfriend at the end of a movie.  It is, after all, just a chick flick.  The whole message of the movie was sold out to the inevitable plot ending required by the genre.

Let's not sell out the message of the Gospel that way.