This is the second in a series of posts about Program Assistant McKenzie Butler's recent trip to India, where Five Talents has been working since 2005. Click here to read part one.
Program Assistant McKenzie Butler had just finished talking with a savings and loan group during her July trip to India, when a woman from the group approached her.
"We were kind of waiting and I was standing there with some women, and... one asked me, 'Are you Christian?'"
"I said, 'Yes, I am Christian.' There wasn't really anything else to say because we wouldn't be able to understand each other," said McKenzie. "It struck me as I answered that that I was saying, 'What I believe in is different than what you believe in'."
While Five Talents partners with the local Episcopal church – often the most stable and influential body in the community – the organization by no means limits its funding to savings and loan groups with Christian women and men. Five Talents' programs in India and Indonesia, for example, are situated in majority Hindu and Muslim communities, respectively.
"Five Talents is not exclusively for Christians," said McKenzie. "Here in India it doesn't matter what caste or tribe or religion [one belongs to]. The project there is not trying to convert people. The hope is that people there will be able to find Christ through the work we do, but we're able to work together and respect one another."
It can take time for international organizations like Five Talents to make in-roads in local communities. One field coordinator in the Diocese of Madras told McKenzie that it took up to two years for the diocese, Five Talents' partner in India, to earn the trust of the villages hit by the tsunami of 2004.
In Indonesia, where Five Talents partners with the Christian organization GERHATI, it has been very much the same story.
"GERHATI is unusual in that the organization is obviously a Christian organization, so it doesn't hide that at all," said David Middleton, a Five Talents associate who also serves on the organization's program review committee and operates the consulting company Development Services International, Ltd. "[GERHATI] works almost exclusively with Muslim people. And it does so with the cooperation of Muslim authorities. I think that's probably its biggest distinction from other NGOs operating there."
Middleton continues: "So it's not working in a covert way; it's working right up on the surface in such a way that's completely visible. [The authorities] see the intrinsic benefit of GERHATI being there. And they don't see that GERHATI is out to erode culture or religion or fight with the Islamic authorities."
McKenzie, meanwhile, says that her brief interaction with the woman who asked about her faith was a good reminder of what Five Talents is all about – building relationships.
"The woman recognized the fact that I'm Christian," she said. "I appreciated her asking that question – it will always sit with me."