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Community and Societal Development

How can cross-cultural development workers help communities and societies thrive by following godly principles?

“Tohu Wabohu” Concept (Genesis 1:2): The Biblical Root of International Development

WCIU Journal: Community and Societal Development Topic

December 22, 2014

by Kisongo Mbeleulu

Kisongo Mbeleulu is a WCIU MA student from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He is an associate pastor of a multi-ethnic church in Minneapolis and has created an organization to help local churches in the DRC called  ALERT , an acronym standing for African Leadership Empowerment, Reconciliation, and Transformation.

Kisongo Mbeleulu is a WCIU MA student from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He is an associate pastor of a multi-ethnic church in Minneapolis and has created an organization to help local churches in the DRC called ALERT, an acronym standing for African Leadership Empowerment, Reconciliation, and Transformation.

The title of this blog is surprising! Nowhere in the Bible, from cover to cover, is literally found the phrase, “International Development.” How can then its root be traced from the Bible?

While the “Marshall Plan” for the reconstruction of Europe was underway after World Word II, the United States of America, through the voice of President Truman, launched “International Development.” The concept appeared in the international arena after World War II, precisely in 1949, as a technical support to poor countries. The USA estimated through their advanced technology they could help other countries to prosper, produce more food to eat, clothes to wear, and misery and disease to eradicate (Rist 2014, 70-71) for a better life. The USA was taking a long term commitment towards poor countries. In this context, international development was understood as “a process which enables human beings to realize their potential, build self-confidence, and lead lives of dignity and fulfillment” (Rist 2014, 8).

That definition infers the essence of international development to be helping the poor or “developing countries” to recover from the lack and privation to the abundance of choices, from denigration to dignity, from poverty to prosperity, in order to achieve the inner aspiration for peace, security, and a better life for all. It is this noble perspective of international development concept that is rooted in the Bible and meets biblical aspirations.

1.The Bible declares that “religion that is pure and undefiled before God” is the option of the poor (James 1:27, ESV). The task is not limited to feeding and making the poor feel comfortable but also to help them develop to become what they are called to be. It is a matter of social responsibility of followers of Jesus that derives from faith in the loving Triune God.
2. The concept of international development as defined above feeds on many themes from the biblical Hebrew concept of Tohu Wabohu from Genesis 1:2 where God is busy making order and reconstructing what was destroyed by the devil, making things right and beautiful.
3. As far as the spectrum of its meaning goes, Tohu Wabohu is concerned with “Creation, reconstruction” (Gen. 1:2; Job 26:7; Isa. 45:19; Jer. 4:23), “rescuing, salvation” (Deut. 32:10; Isa. 45:19), “injustice of men and justice from God” (Isa. 29:21; 34:11), “chaos, confusion, lack of order” (Isa. 24:10; 34:11; 41:29; 49:9), “idolatry”(Isa. 44:9), “wrong ways, not profitable” (Job 6:18; 12:24), “work” (Isa. 49:4), and “power of God” (Isa. 40:17, 23). 

In regard to international development, the Hebrew concept of Tohu Wabohu has a lot of implications. Biblical international development agents have to be holistic in their approach— bringing order where disorder (chaos, confusion) reigns; justice where injustice is practiced; reconstructing and restoring places that are lying in ruins; rescuing those in peril; creating new structures for abundant life; introducing new ethics and belief where work, wrong ways (or approach) and idolatry do not lead people to profit; and leading the people to the knowledge of the true God. 

The concept of international development is a borrowing of the biblical Hebrew concept of Tohu Wabohu. Though international development may appear corrupted in its practices by yielding to the interest of the powerful, the concept of Tohu Wabohu justifies the presence of the church on the stage of the global development community and compels the church to engage in transformation work, not as an option but as an obligation for the glory of God. 

Bibliography
Rist, Gilbert. 2014. The History of Development: From Western Origins to Global Faith. 4th ed. London & New York: Zed Books.