Thinking Out Loud

December 8, 2013

Reconsidering Christmas Shoeboxes

Operation Christmas Child BoxesSeveral years ago I wrote a post here asking some questions about the whole Operation Christmas Child (OCC) thing. As I said a year later, I didn’t want to be a “grinch” when it came to OCC, I just wondered about some big picture issues.  Then last year, I reformatted the whole article to include some points that a reader had left in a comment.

This year, I was prepared to lay the whole subject to rest. Besides, collection for the boxes in our local churches has come and gone. But the article keeps attracting readers, and last week Lucy, a reader, left a comment that reminded me that as OCC grows — now with an online component that allows you to pack and ship a shoebox from the comfort of your own home right up to a much later deadline — people still have misgivings and second thoughts about the program.  Here’s what she wrote:

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I thought I was the only one who had serious reservations about the OCC program. I just see it as a well-intentioned venture that, in reality, exports Western materialism. Even given the potential spiritual good, do we want children associating Jesus with wrapped goodies? Isn’t that enough of a problem here in America?

I’m a Christian who thinks Samaritan’s Purse has done wonderful things in helping people around the world. But let’s help children by really making a difference in their lives. World Vision and other ministries have programs where you can contribute toward gifts such as farm animals, wells, small business opportunities for women, etc. Much, much better than trinkets.

And thank you, Lucy for that comment. Organizations like Compassion, Partners International, The Christian and Missionary Alliance and Gospel for Asia are among the many — and I chose ones with both American and Canadian websites –  that allow you to make significant, life-changing donations to an individual or an entire village of the type Lucy describes.

Shoebox sized giving will produce shoebox sized results, and furthermore runs the risks she described in her comment. If you’re reading this on a computer — even in a library somewhere — you are among the richest people in the entire world. This Christmas, literally share the wealth.

There is a saying, Do your giving while you’re living, so you’re knowing where it’s going. The Christmas “gift catalogs” of the four organizations listed above allow you to know exactly where your money is going. Don’t lose this opportunity.

Comments can be made at the original article — first link above.

November 1, 2012

Hurricane Sandy: The Unheard Story

Today’s guest post is by Ruth, aka Mrs. W., the better writer in the family.


Hurricane Sandy came ashore.

Dozens dead. More dozens missing. Thousands homeless. Damage and repair costs in the hundreds of millions. Transportation crippled. Livelihoods destroyed or at risk. Infrastructure wiped out. Government in crisis. A population of in the range of 10,000,000 souls thrown into chaos once again, while still in recovery, still living with the ghosts of that earlier devastating hit.

Hurricane Sandy’s ‘hype’ has given way to the reality of trying to clean up the mess and put lives back together.

Oh, sorry. Did you think I meant New York?

Haiti and neighbors such as Cuba and The Dominican have been ploughed under yet again. And yet again they’re stumbling to their feet, shaking the mud out of their hair and looking around, wondering what the heck happened. The images are horrific. The statistics are numbing.

Most American and Canadian news coverage in the last few days has been focused so close to home that we’ve heard little about the three day drenching that has damaged more than 70 percent of Haiti’s food supply and created fears of a cholera epidemic like the one after the great earthquake. The epidemic that killed 7,000 people.

The poor are getting poorer.

New York has suffered a terrible blow. They have lost good and beloved people. Homes. Businesses. Entire neighborhoods. It’s easy to look at the pictures online of a damaged roller coaster and a yacht on the train tracks and forget that our friends to the south are genuinely suffering far more than just inconvenience. They are grieving and wondering how to rebuild.

But, like we in Canada, they are among the wealthiest people in the world. The poorest American is richer than the bulk of the people in other parts of the world. We have resources and forces and systems in place that are effective and well trained. Haitians have no such reservoir to draw from.

It’s time to look further than the six o’clock news and see the need that is born out of need. Lack upon lack. New York will take time to put things together again. Haiti doesn’t have that luxury.

New York needs our prayers and encouragement. Haiti needs our support. Food, medicine, building supplies. Find out how you can help.

~ Ruth Wilkinson

October 19, 2012

The Shoebox Thing Again

No post here ever got me in so much trouble as this one, when it ran in 2009 and 2010 and I became the Grinch that stole Operation Christmas Child.   I just wanted to be “thinking out loud” and look at the thing from all sides.   That doesn’t mean I would never fill a shoebox. I might just fill it differently. Besides a good blog is nothing if not provocative, right?   Or would you rather not think at all?

Comments are again closed here, but there’s a link to the original November 24, 2009 post where you can add your two cents, or whatever the equivalent is in euros. HOWEVER, this time around we’ve added some additional questions and concerns that came about when Sarah posted her comments. They begin with number 9 in the list below; items 14-16 are from an article she linked to in her comment.

For many years now, I’ve been a huge fan of Franklin Graham’s Operation Christmas Child project. To see the look of ecstasy on the faces of the children in the promotional videos is to really know the joy that comes with giving even something small.

To critique the program would be unthinkable. It would be like criticizing motherhood or apple pie or little kittens. But I have some concerns about this that I had not seen in print or online when I wrote the original post and thought I’d wade out deep into dangerous waters:

  1. A lot of people fill their shoeboxes with trinkets from the dollar store. When these items break — which they will — how will third world children deal with the disappointment that Western kids are accustomed to? Especially if they don’t own much else.
  2. Which begs the question, how are such items disposed of — sooner or later — in countries that don’t have an active recycling program? What happens to all those boxes? As barren and arid as some of those places are, dotting the landscape with red and green boxes seems a bit irresponsible. Maybe they can use the boxes for something.
  3. What’s the mileage on some of the trinkets and toys? Check out the country of origin, factor in the purchase point in the U.S. as an example, and then plot the destination point. We’re talking major carbon footprints. And not the Margaret Fishback Powers kind of footprints.
  4. What about the inequities of what the kids receive? One kid gets a cuddly Gund-type plush animal, while another gets socks. I would be the kid getting the toothpaste and cheap sunglasses, while my friend would get some kind of awesome musical instrument toy. Socks don’t make noise. I would learn jealousy and covetousness all in a single day.
  5. Which begs the question, is there ever theft? World wars have started over lesser things. Do kids in faraway places take the inequities into their own hands? Do they revere the licensed pencil case more than the one with geometric shapes and colors? Is there trading? If so, who sets the rules?
  6. Maybe not. Maybe they share better than kids in the West do. But somewhere along the line, it’s got to create a situation of personal private property. I live on a street with ten houses where everybody owns a lawnmower. We all could probably get by with one or two. What I really need is access to a lawnmower. But human nature being what it is, it rarely works that way unless you’re Shane Claiborne, or you live on an Operation Mobilization ship, or you’re one of the aging hippies living in the Jesus People project in inner-city Chicago. (Apologies to Glenn Kaiser.)
  7. What about expectations? If my kids don’t get what they’re hoping for there is always a great disappointment, and trust me, this year they aren’t getting what they’re hoping for. Reminds of me that old song, “Is That All There Is?” Some people get downright depressed after Christmas. BTW, anyone remember who the artist was on that song?
  8. What’s the follow-up for the giver? None. Unlike sponsored children — which is another discussion entirely — the gift is really a shot in the dark, unless in next year’s video you happen to see a kid opening a box containing a rather unique action figure and a pair of furry dice which you know could only have come from your attic storage the year before. (But furry dice? What were you thinking? The kid’s expression is going to be somewhat quizzical…)
  9. Does this encourage children to value Western cultures more than their own?
  10. Do “shoebox” gifts become better than something simpler made lovingly by a family member?
  11. Are they introducing commercial gift-giving into a culture that doesn’t celebrate Christmas in that way?
  12. Do they respect people of other faiths who don’t celebrate Christmas at all? Is our intent to evangelize or convert with our gifts?
  13. Do they portray one race/culture as being better or more successful than others?
  14. When we include personal care products such as soap and toothpaste in our gifts, are we sending a message that we feel they are not able to maintain their personal hygiene?  Toothpaste may be perceived as candy. Should we be rethinking some of our efforts to help people?
  15. How do they work to bring about real change, in places where the needs are for justice, peace, and access to the necessities of life?
  16. Imagine yourself as a child living in a family where all resources go to obtaining food and shelter and suddenly you receive a package with a doll or a toy car. What does it feel like to receive something from someone who has such excess income that they can buy something that is not needed?

The link Sarah provided contains many, many position papers on the Shoebox program, that are good reading for any thinking person. Click here to access the .pdf file which contains notes from people who were actively involved in the distribution. Sadly, that article is no longer online.

Okay, so maybe there is  good that outweighs any potential downside. I am NOT saying don’t do this.  But it’s philosophy that I majored in, so somebody’s got to view things from outside the box — the shoebox in this case —  once in awhile. That’s why I call it thinking out loud.

Comments are closed here so that you can add your comment to the original collection on November 24, 2009. Click here.

August 13, 2012

Jumping Off the Precipice With Kay Warren

Today you’ll have to hop over to Pete Wilson’s blog for an amazing interview that he did with Kay Warren, author of Choose Joy and wife of Purpose Driven Life author Rick Warren.  The interview centers on Kay’s decision to take on the AIDS orphans in Africa as her personal cause, and leaves a somewhat ‘wowed’ Pete Wilson committing his church to get involved.  Here’s your jumping off point. If you know about Rick, but not Kay, you’re in for a surprise.

April 1, 2012

Would/Should Your Church Accept Lottery Winnings?

I threw this question out in 2008 but there is now a stadium’s worth of new readers here on a regular basis, so I’m hoping for a better response.

The Mega Millions Lottery on the weekend drew a lot of attention to lotteries in general, with people interviewed prior to Friday night’s draw — which yielded three winning tickets — proclaiming the prize was simply too big and would necessitate some sharing or charitable giving.  But if the charity in question was your local church or Christian parachurch organization, would the money be accepted?  Should the money be accepted?

In the 2008 item, I quoted this story from that summer about a church which received a winning ticket anonymously and was set to receive $150,000 annually for 20 years.  The church’s immediate desire was to build a bigger church building.  Sigh!  But a little over three years later, their website shows the new building, and announces they are holding four Sunday services.

BTW, I also wrote on this topic in May of 2009.  At that point, I argued, as I still do, that there should be cap on lottery winnings.  Friday night’s $640,000,000 could just as easily been 2,000 prizes of $320,000; 4,000 prizes of $160,000 or even 8,000 prizes of $80,000.  To this writer, saying “There will be 8,000 prizes” has more attraction than saying, “There will only be one number drawn, and the odds are better of being struck by lightning than winning.”  But lottery experts say the gigantic prize is the big lure. Sorry, but people are stupid.

But we’ve gotten waaaaay off topic here.  If someone in your church won a lottery prize and wanted to donate some winnings to your church, should the church accept?  What about someone in the community at large who wants to share some of their winnings with the church?  What are your reasons/grounds for accepting or refusing?

March 3, 2012

‘If You Give a Cup of Water in My Name, Make Sure You Have a Permit’

All the people at Hope Church on the northwest edge of downtown New Orleans wanted to do was fulfill God’s direction to “give a cup of cold water” to partyers at the annual Mardi Gras (a French term meaning “Marty is gross”) street festival.

“We were given a cease and desist order,” said [Pastor] Matt Tipton… “We had no idea we were breaking the law.”

Tipton said volunteers from his church were handing out free coffee and free bottles of water at two locations along a Mardi Gras parade route when they were stopped by Jefferson Parish officials. The church volunteers were cited for failing to secure an occupational license and for failure to register for a sales tax.

“It kind of threw me for a loop because they weren’t in uniform,” he said. “But once they pulled the ticket out, I was conviniced.”

“We apologized,” Tipton said. “We didn’t know the rules.”

The church had purchased about five thousand bottles of water labeled with the church’s name and website address. They gave the remaining bottles to a local drug rehab center…

The story came to the attention of the Family Research Council:

Ken Klukowski, a senior legal fellow at the Family Research Council, said the citation was absurd.

“This is a perfect example of why so many people have a problem with big government,” Klukowski said. “The idea that a church needs a permit to hand out water to thirsty people is unfortunate.”

He said it’s hard to believe that the government would get in the way of citizens helping each other out – “especially a church which was just doing its duty to be good Samaritans and help those in need.”

Pastor Tipton said he sent an email to city leaders explaining that they were just trying to show their love to the city “and to serve the city.”

He offered to provide volunteers to clean up trash or even clean portable toilets. However, city leaders did not initially respond and Tipton said he was given the runaround – told to go through three different department heads.

Klukowski said the incident is outrageous.

“The idea that you need an additional level of bureaucracy stopping a church from showing kindness to members of the community is a perfect example of a waste of taxpayer money and resources,” he said.

Full story at Fox Radio News

This is just one of many recent stories of churches wanting to do what churches have done for years — such as giving out a free lunch — and discovering they’re running afoul of the law. What can churches do to meet needs and be involved in the community when government rules, regulation and red tape seem to shut them down at every turn?

December 24, 2011

Making Your Giving List and Checking It Twice

decemberBeing self employed and in retail means Christmas time isn’t a lot of fun. We just made the last of our supplier payments online. We don’t pay ourselves a salary, so getting bills paid is a major goal.

So this is a good time to start thinking about our personal finances, and in particular, our charitable donations. Not knowing exactly what our income is going to be makes it harder to figure out what we should be giving, but I don’t know anybody who, at tax time in April, looks at their receipts and says, “I should have given less.

Giving shouldn’t be done in December just to get a tax receipt. We give because we’ve been blessed, and because God commands it. But December is a good time to take stock of our personal finances and see what we can do to help others. 

You may be tempted to give something to charities in the broader market, but remember that the broader population will respond somewhat to their appeals. I believe there are Christian causes that only we can give to, and we should “do good to all… especially those which are of the household of faith.”

So who can we bless this year? Here’s some suggestions:

  • Our first responsibility is to our local church, the place we call our spiritual home, where we receive teaching, prayer support and fellowship
  • If there’s a “second” on the list, for many this year it is giving to relief and development in the third world, especially projects which are bringing fresh water wells to areas that don’t have potable water, aid the fight against human trafficking, provide start-up funds for micro-businesses, deal with health issues in countries where access to medicine is still limited, or assist oppressed people — especially women — see justice.
  • Is there someone in your area who does student ministry who is lacking in financial support? Consider urban missionaries and youth workers with Youth For Christ, Campus Crusade, InterVarsity and YWAM.
  • What about camp ministries? These make a huge difference in the lives of children, but aren’t fully supported by fees. Is there a Christian summer residential camp that is in need of funds for capital projects or to sponsor children in the summer?
  • What about your local Christian school? A regional Bible College, or Christian University College? Do they need money for capital projects, or are they operating at a deficit?
  • Do you have a local Christian radio station? This isn’t limited to the “preacher programs,” the stations themselves often need additional support to pay staff and overhead.
  • Who is working with the poor in your community? Is there someone providing meals, or transportation or moral support to people who are disadvantaged economically?
  • If you own or work in a bookstore, that means you love the written word. Consider those who are putting the scriptures in the hands of people who don’t have them, such as Wycliffe Bible Translators or the various Bible Societies.
  • You first considered your local church. Is there another church in your community that is doing good but struggling financially? This year we heard a story of one church putting another local church on their missions budget with a sizable donation. We’re all playing on the same team, and what a wonderful witness this is to those who think we’re competing.

Also, there may be a family in your community, or in your extended family, or someone you work with who cannot provide you with a tax receipt but needs a blessing this Christmas. Consider also directly donating to someone who is in need.

March 31, 2011

200 People Are Skipping Church on Palm Sunday

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:14 am

I’ve never been prouder of an initiative launched by the church we’ve attended — off and on — for 20 years since moving an hour east of Toronto.

Call it “reaching out,” or “community involvement,” or whatever you want.  Cobourg Alliance Church has decided to participate — in a huge way — in the annual walk for Multiple Sclerosis; a walk which just happens to fall on Palm Sunday, what most would consider the third most important Sunday of the year after Easter Sunday and Christmas Sunday.

The church will still hold worship services for those who wish to attend, but the nearly 200 people who have signed up so far is a significant percentage of the regular attendance at church in this town of only 18,500.

Participation also means fundraising, and the pastor, Andre Turcotte, is hoping that the church will be one of the top fundraisers in the area.  Those who can’t walk significant distances will be acting as volunteers. There are five individuals and/or families in the church dealing with MS.

I’m sure that organizers of events like this notice a dearth of participation from churchgoers when the events are held on a Sunday. “Skipping Church” is a big sacrifice for those who grew up believing the place to be on Sunday morning is singing the hymns and listening to a sermon.

Instead, this congregation will be busy “being church.”

Though we will be leading worship at another church that Sunday, we will be watching this with interest, and praying that it shows to the local community that Christ followers are willing to, literally, put feet to their beliefs; not just ‘talking the talk,’ but, literally, ‘walking the walk.’

February 27, 2011

Compensation for Charity CEOs: How Much is Too Much?

In a very recent article that unfortunately wasn’t picked up for inclusion in the online newspaper, The Toronto Star’s ethics columnist Ken Gallinger raised the issue of the top compensation paid to CEOs of humanitarian charities and relief an development agencies.

Perhaps it’s just as well that the article isn’t available, because the Canadian examples he cited probably pale in comparison to the figures paid to those holding similar posts in the United States.

And he was quick to remind us that many heads of non-profits do, in fact, give back. The salaries quoted would, in that case, only tell us half the story.

In my world, the largest financial donors in some small churches are the ministers themselves, many of whom work 60 hour weeks.

But, to answer the question, the figure he kept tossing around was $200,000.

On the one hand, these are donor dollars, and it must be hard to take home this kind of paycheck when your ads are full of starving children; at $30 a month, that one check would sponsor 550 kids. Ethically, that’s got to cause angst.

But let’s be fair, Nobody is well served by bad, lazy or visionless leadership. These charities are huge. In 2009, World Vision spent over $37 Million (CDN) on employee compensation alone. Heading up such an oranization, whether it manufactures widgets or builds wells in Africa, requires wit, wisdom and experience. And you tend to get what you pay for.

He also pointed out that in Canada’s for-profit sector, the top 100 execs’ average just under $7 Million (CDN) each, noting that the average minimum wage earner gets 0.3 per cent of their boss’s income.

So again, I ask, “How much is too much?”

January 15, 2011

Winning the Life Lottery

The very fact you’re reading this on a computer places you among the wealthiest of the seven billion or so people who inhabit the planet.  While the evening news brings reports of devastation in Haiti or political uprising in Tunisia, most of you are enjoyed a much less stressful week.

I frequently visit The Ad Collector, a blog which features the best of advertising campaigns from around the world, with a special focus on adverts for non-profits and public service organizations.  A month ago they featured a Swedish series of billboard-type display ads  under the caption, The Lottery of Life which juxtaposed life in Sierra Leone, Darfur, Palestine and The Phillipines with life in Sweden, with the aim of getting people to visit a website sponsored by Save The Children. (If you have high-speed internet, enter your name and spin the wheel to see how things might have worked out differently.)

But is it just a spin of the wheel that you ended up in the UK, or the US, or Canada, or New Zealand, or some other less troubled place? I’m not a huge fan of this poem by Roy Lesson, founder of Dayspring cards — I can’t believe I’m actually posting it –  because they tend to plaster it all over so many pieces of merchandise they create, including seasonal variants, but if you believe in the sovereignty of God, your geographic placement has to be more than just the random spinning of a giant wheel…

Just think,
you’re here not by chance,
but by God’s choosing.
His hand formed you
and made you the person you are.
He compares you to no one else.
You are one of a kind.
You lack nothing
that His grace can’t give you.
He has allowed you to be here
at this time in history
to fulfill His special purpose
for this generation.

-Roy Lessin

Notice I did not say, “if you had been born somewhere else;” because some would argue that then you would not be you. Nonetheless, you are a product of your environment generally, and its geography in particular. This ought to fill you with much gratitude to God, especially in light of these pictures which remind you of the conditions in all the other places around the world.   Conditions that exist right here, right now, even as you sip your beverage in a comfortable chair reading these lines…

So what is our response?

Photo captions: Hold your mouse over each picture for the caption; or, respectively the pictures are Sierra Leone, Darfur, Palestine and The Philippines.

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