By Liz Ligawa
For a long time, I adhered to a belief system which denied a connection between personal experiences and collective realities. The individualism in which my upbringing was brined did not fully prepare me to dignify the personal realities of others. I filed the stories of others as exceptions to the truths I already held…well, that was until I began to realize how much the stories I dismissed shared similar characteristics, outcomes, properties, etc. So, I began to wonder, “Could my estimations be wrong?” Thankfully, my novice perspectives were challenged, and I grew to appreciate how the truth of individual experience sheds light on systemic or, collective realities. It is a good thing this transformation occurred before I found myself in social work as a community practitioner.
So, here I am. I joined the Prosper Waco team as the Director of Community Engagement on August 1st, and I am grateful for the strong ways my theological, and social work training prepared me to understand, and affect change in systems which can function to oppress, or marginalize- even when those are not the intended consequences. If you cannot tell, advocacy is my strong suit.
By now, you might be wondering: “What does this post have to do with its title?” Well, it is a little embarrassing to admit, but even with one month at the organization under my belt, the hardest question for me to answer is still, “What is Prosper Waco?” Now, now…before you encourage my boss to consider replacing me with someone else with greater acumen, let me just say, this is not an easy question to answer. Ask my boss.
One of the reasons I think I have had a hard time putting Prosper Waco into a more familiar context (even for myself) is that it is an organization which has philanthropic roots, but colloquial branches. Let me explain what I mean. Philanthropy, or its Greek beginnings, φιλανθρώπως, adds up to acting humanely, kindly, or promoting the welfare of others. Although the activities of Prosper Waco are philanthropic in the sense that they are driven to promote others’ welfare, the initiative does not fit a popular interpretation of philanthropy- one that has a monetary expression of benevolence. Instead, it operates, philanthropically, through collaboration among structures (organizations, companies, institutions, etc.) which already exist, and are familiar to the local community.
So, what does this have to do with the innkeeper? Well, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, there seems to be just one hero; or we think of the parable with our focus narrowed to just one helpful way to respond. But do we limit the good we can do by only filling the role of the Samaritan? In saying that, I realize there are several layers to this story. There are strong themes to be mined about the culture, biases, and social context- but that’s a study for another time. What I am curious about, however, is how our view of this narrative shapes, and informs our perspective on altruism. Do narratives like the Good Samaritan encourage altruistic behavior? I am not yet convinced.
Personally, I feel that the parable is more of a “calling out” than it is a “calling to”, but I also cannot ignore its utility in the conversations around who receives our help. However, what I think is important to pay attention to is the emphasis, and in my opinion, over-emphasis on individual efforts towards help. I wonder if we are less-likely to help if we feel like we are the only ones that can help. And if we approach helping others with the idea that it is all up to our individual efforts, how does that influence our interactions with our neighbor, and what do we miss by not seeing how others are also helping?
What I see when I look at this parable is philanthropy administered through collaboration, trust, relationship, and hope. I see collaboration because after the Samaritan placed the man on his donkey, he did not take him home. He took him to the inn. I see trust because when the Samaritan arrived at the inn, he did not stay with the dying man, but he entrusted him to the care of the Innkeeper. I see relationship because the Samaritan informed the Innkeeper that he would pay for additional costs on his return, and the Innkeeper agreed. I see hope because the Samaritan and the Innkeeper had to feel that their combined efforts would make a difference in the life they had encountered.
Promoting the welfare of others takes this type of attention…collaboration, trust, relationship, and hope. The dying man received help from what was already existing. We have a full cast of characters in our community. We have the wounded. We have those who tend to help in individual ways; but since they become easily overwhelmed with work that requires partnership, they go the other way if they can’t accomplish it alone. Most importantly, though, we also have those who are interested in what good we can to together. No, we do not adhere to the single story of the Samaritan being the only hero. We gladly accept the role of the Innkeeper.
Elizabeth Ligawa is a recent graduate from Truett Theological Seminary, and the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, earning both her Master of Divinity, and Master of Social Work. Though her prized role is being a mother to her dear son, Elijah, Liz has a love for encouraging people to come together in ways that engender healthy communities. Her role as the Director of Community Engagement at Prosper Waco allows her the room to work in and among the many faces of her beloved Waco community. She may be reached at [email protected].
The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these Aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.