Thinking Out Loud

October 15, 2016

Remembering Uncle Ted

I won’t purport that this in any way is a full tribute to my wife’s Uncle Ted who passed away several days ago. (In addition to being her uncle, she lived with their family for six months.)  Rather, what follows was presented previously on the blog in two different articles.

tedWe first heard about Partners International when Ted was doing a number of missions trips to Nigeria with an adjunct project named, appropriately, Alongside. You know how everybody is always raising money to build wells in the third world? Well (no pun intended) sometimes the pumps break down very quickly, and nobody is actually committed to repairing them. There’s no glamour in that. It’s hard to raise funds for that. It’s easier to drill a new well because then you can brag on the number of wells your organization is building and then raise the appropriate costs.

You cannot deny however that repairing them is a better use of resources. So Ted’s project involved working closely with the people already on the ground. You can’t always partner with every indigenous organization that needs help, so Partners International is especially focused on seven categories: Children at Risk, Education, Christian Witness, Entrepreneurship, Health & Wellness, Justice Issues, and Women’s Issues.  (You can learn more at

But here’s the thing: Just as there’s more glamor in drilling new wells, so also do the people who are simply fixing them not always get the same level of attention and funding. We tend to want to fund big buildings. Massive outreaches.  It’s probably much easier to raise $60,000,000 than it is to raise $60,000. People gravitate to projects that sparkle. 

And then there is another thing: Colonialism. The pros from the U.S. arrive to make everything perfect because it seems more straightforward to simply stick the drill in the ground and create another well, rather than honor the sacrifice and service of the previously group which dug the first well in the first place. ‘We know what you need and we can fix it.’ Maybe some of the motives are right, but in balance, it’s filled with impracticalities; not unlike the summer missions teams which went to Central America and kept repainting the same school which had been repainted two weeks earlier by another missions team.  Yes, that’s a true story. And despite the greater fundraising potential, it’s lousy stewardship.

The people on the ground know better. The indigenous Christian leaders know better. I’m told they are planning a memorial service for Uncle Ted in Africa sometime in the spring. Because heroes don’t always look like we think they do. Sometimes they are simply people serving in straightforward, practical ways.


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