Thinking Out Loud

July 6, 2020

Pages from a Church-Planter’s Diary

Review: Why Would Anyone Go to Church? A Young Community’s Quest to Reclaim Church for Good by Kevin Makins (Baker Books, 2020)

Kevin Makins has assembled the story of planting Eucharist Church in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada so vividly, that there were times I felt I could actually smell the buildings and hear the floors creaking in a succession of five inner city locations.  Eucharist Church is located in the urban core of a city that is now part of what is called the GTHA — the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area — and the book is packed with insights and practical lessons for anyone who wants to do ministry in the inner-city. Learn more from the publisher about the book at this link. Follow Kevin on Twitter at this link.

As I mentioned here just days ago, the period post-2000 brought a bounty of church growth books and no end of people making the attempt to create alternative church experiences that would make it past the critical five-year mark. It had been a long time since I’d looked at this particular book genre, but after some superficial email exchanges with Kevin about book publishing and distribution, something drew me to ask the publicist if any print copies were still available.

I’m so glad I did.

Why Would Anyone Go to Church? arrived on a Tuesday, but I didn’t pick it up until Friday. Before suppertime on Saturday I had consumed its 192 pages. The chapters are somewhat equal parts story and teaching and the story also resonated because my youngest son now lives in Hamilton, where he’s involved with two very different churches in the urban core so it was somewhat easier to picture the environs where the story takes place.

The story is told with generous amounts of humility. That the church has existed in five different locations in ten years offers one indication how it would be hard to proceed otherwise. But Kevin and his wife Meg also demonstrated great resolve and self-awareness as to what projects to accept and which ones to pass, as various opportunities arose. Their giftedness for such a church as this is evident, even if a ‘professional’ team of church planting experts didn’t agree.

Eucharist Church clearly lacks the homogeneity you see in the sprawling suburban churches conveniently located at the intersection of two freeways with a massive parking lot for Becky and her husband to park their van and take their well-dressed 2.4 children to a very age-specific Christian education program tailored just for them.

Rather it’s a mix.

Kevin writes,

Part of our family is toddling. They help us not to take ourselves too seriously.

Part of our family is married. They practice love together for the sake of the community.

Part of our family is single. They strengthen the bonds of friendship.

Part of our family is contemplative. They model how to listen.

Part of our family is faith-filled. They urge us to keep hope alive.

Part of our family is doubting. They remind us that skepticism has its place.

Part of our family has immigrated. They carry in their bodies and culture a different side of the Imago Dei.

Part of our family is queer. They remind us that God is found uniquely among those who don’t fit neatly into our societal boxes.

Part of our family is building its career. They teach us about the importance of work and hustle.

Part of our family is retired. They remind us that there is life after work.

That list just scratches the surface.

It includes people who technically speaking, don’t actually come, at least to weekend services. It includes people who only show up after their latest relationship has crumbled, stop at the church for a reset, and return when the next relationship has collapsed.

The cycle of any given year might include a children’s ministry for which no children show up. Or a Sunday service where everyone stretches out on the pews and shuts their eyes and snoring is absolutely permitted.  Or perhaps a Sunday where, instead of a longer sermon, everybody just shouts out the name of the denomination or type of church they came from, and the list becomes quite lengthy.

It includes potluck dinners which are almost sacramental in nature, a statement I make in this context realizing it could be the subject of a whole other book.

Finally, it includes laughter; it includes tears. Sometimes a lot of tears.

This is church in the margins, the type of church I truly believe Jesus would choose to attend over the mall-like complex in suburbia; and this is a book about a team of people who were willing to risk and willing to get their hands dirty to make it happen.


I used an excerpt from the book last week at Christianity 201. I won’t say this is a typical passage, as I had to choose something devotional for C201, but I wanted to create further awareness of the book. You can read that section at this link.

To recommend a book like this and just continue to go on with Christian life as usual isn’t possible. I have the good fortune of being married to someone who herself demonstrated a great heart for people on the fringes and now serves a church that could hardly be called upscale. Before we got married, I spent several winters doing street ministry in nearby Toronto. Maybe that’s why I get this book.

You don’t need to travel to Africa to go to the mission field. My guess is there’s one not far from where you live.


A copy of Why Would Anyone Go to Church? was generously rushed to me by Graf-Martin Communications – Providing Integrating Marketing in Canada.

Additional media:

February 28, 2020

The Thing Which Sets the North American Church Apart

Filed under: Christianity, Church, missions — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:08 am

On Monday, my wife Ruth shared here on the blog about the pastor and the church we connected with in Cuba. Overall, the trip had several factors which are all tied for first place in my reflections on the week:

  1. That we traveled by air to a foreign country with our adult sons. Admittedly, the flight was shorter than one to Denver or Sacramento, but considering the four of us now live in three different cities and that our cash position never allowed anything like this previously, it was a major accomplishment.
  2. The weather was absolutely perfect. 30­­°C each day.
  3. Our connection with the pastor and the church; the subject to which I want to return.

Really, many things were similar.

  • They begin with worship, we begin with worship.
  • They have a sermon, we have a sermon.
  • They take up an offering, we take up an offering.
  • They have announcements, we have announcements.
  • They sit in rows, we sit in rows.
  • They meet on Sunday morning, we meet on Sunday morning.

Sure, the tone of the service — the raw energy present — was quite different, and the singing was so loud and so passionate. And it’s true that when asked to bring greetings, I said I wanted to take the spirit of the service and put it in a box and take it home (something which apparently doesn’t translate well) because I was so pumped to be experiencing this, especially after never having had any direct foreign missions exposure to that point. (It was the one gap in my personal ministry history.)

But in the end the difference was huge, and it affects so many other things:

  • They walk to church, we arrive, for the most part, by automobile.

There was no parking lot. When we arrived by taxi, the driver tried to get closer to the church building, but was driving on a surface so uneven, I rather insisted that he stop.

I’m told that the woman who comes the farthest walks 2 km down a mountain to get to services and mid-week meetings, but then presumably must walk 2 km up the mountain.

I tried to consider the various impacts of this.

This is a community of about 40 believers which has far more context in which to interact during the week. In my church, there are people I don’t see except on Sundays. At a recent trip to Wal-Mart, I actually ran into three people representing two other churches, but the odds are fewer that I run into anyone from the church we’re presently attending. For them, it means they are living their lives — doing life together is the overworked phrase here — with each other, and in every aspect of life.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t stop people in the village from also attending events throughout the week, though we wondered if, in winter when sunset is earlier, a women’s prayer gathering that was scheduled for Thursday night was more likely to end by 7:00 PM instead of starting at 7:00 as it would here.

It also means the opportunities to “church hop” are fewer. The pastor’s father is also a pastor, and his church is just 4 km down the road. (I thought of proposing a ‘pulpit exchange’ as is done here at times, but not sure they would see any benefits.) It also means the two single girls in the church might be challenged in trying to find two single guys, although there are some yearly regional youth events to which they somehow travel.

It also means the pace of life is much slower. We run to the grocery store, realize we’ve forgotten something, and drive right back. In this type of rural, vehicle-less society, you would take more time to plan; more time to count the cost of the limited travel you are able to do.

It doesn’t mean they don’t know there’s a wider world out there. Until making the decision at the end of Grade Twelve — what Americans call senior year — to go into ministry instead of university, our Pastor host would still have learned much about the world in which Cuba is a small part. Maybe not so much about the benefits of capitalism; but still he did meet us twice at the resort, and the resorts are usually joint ventures between the state and more capitalist partners. In fact there is certain element of entrepreneurship in moving 4 km down the road from your father’s church and starting your own in a different village.

Even so, I thought of raising the subject of coronavirus, which was the primary topic on CNN back at the hotel, but realized the possibility of his people being aware of the potential pandemic might be rather small, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be the bearer of that news. Their world is…well…their world.

I’m not a sociologist, even though I play one on television. Okay, let’s try that again. I’m not a sociologist though that was my major in university. It left me, at the very least, with a better knowledge of what I don’t know, and in this case, I know that the implications of a church without a parking lot run far deeper than I’ve listed here.

What I do know for sure, is that back home, the cars, vans, SUVs and pickups all made one thing possible: The megachurch. Most readers here drive past 6-10 other churches to get to their weekend service destination. Remove personal automotive transport from the equation, and the megachurch ceases to exist. Partially restrict travel to public transport — as in Europe — and you don’t see as many of the sprawling suburban church campuses located at the intersection of major freeways.

So they could look at our situation and marvel at the space taken up by the parking area and then put their analytical skills to work to see what it costs us to worship in these modern cathedrals. While we might love the children’s program facilities, the professional-sounding worship band, and the oratory of Bible teachers trained to communicate in large auditoriums; I’m not sure that the benefits outweigh the costs.

Back home, I enjoyed the service the following week; but partly because the church we’re attending is small and I know 85-90% of the people by name. But another part of me wondered what the little church in Cuba would be like if were attending for a second week.

 

 

February 24, 2020

Worship Community Knows No Language Limits

Filed under: Christianity, guest writer, missions, music, worship — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:31 am

guest post by Ruth Wilkinson

Four Canadians got out of the cab and started walking up the short rise to the small wood frame church building. A hot day, for we gringos, especially dressed in button-up shirts, long pants, socks and shoes. Because it’s church.

We’d come a long way to be here. Maybe not as long a way as the people who every week walk 2 or 3 km down and back up the mountain, but still.

Having visited Cuba a couple of times before and enjoyed the tourist experience, we’d started wondering how we could actually connect with Cuban people. The staff in the resorts are all very nice, and they all speak some English. But they wear uniforms and it’s their job to make those who’ve ‘come from away’ feel at home. The resorts are not Cuba. We wanted to make and be friends with people whose concrete block and palm wood homes we’d driven past between the airport and the reception desk.

I also wanted to go to church. We’ve travelled a bit and seen some impressive old churches in Europe, but never attended a service abroad.

I asked a Canadian friend who had some experience with this for direction, and he put us in touch with a Cuban pastor who is also an area supervisor, overseeing the educational requirements of 26 other Pentecostal pastors. Between his basic English and my aptitude with Google Translate, we’d emailed arrangements for Sunday morning.

And here we were. Walking up to the door.

The walls are a single layer of palm planks. The roof is red ceramic tile. The windows have no glass, but horizontal wooden shutters against the rain in the wet season. Out through one, we can see the pit where the pig was roasted for our visit on Thursday. Through the door we can see a sheep grazing on the front lawn.

The foundation is a thick concrete pad rising up from the ground, and tiled indoors with the smooth ceramic we see on every floor. The pews are unfinished wood benches with squared seats and backs.

The room is decorated with flowers made from twisted strips of brightly coloured paper that hang within easy reach from the painted, rough timber rafters. Encouraging passages of Scripture are hand written on signs around the room. A list of upcoming birthdays hangs at the front above a shoe box filled with small, paperbound hymn books.

Here we were.

We’d talked ahead of time about the fact that we didn’t want to end up sitting in the front row, preferring the back or somewhere in the middle so we could see what was going on. So we could look around and ‘experience’ the service.

Yeah, right.

Stepping from the bright sun into the shady cool of the room, we saw that every seat was taken. Except for the front row, left hand side. A young man we’d met earlier in the week smiled a welcome and gestured for us to come forward and sit in the seats that had been saved for us. So, trying not to look put out, we did.

The pastor had arranged for a translator to be there on our behalf, but he’d been called in to work. He was very apologetic, but we were more or less on our own and, in the words of my eldest son, “We did pretty well. Between the 4 of us, we understood about half.” It helped that one of the young women who is a leader in the church ran next door to the pastor’s house and brought us each a copy of a parallel Spanish/English New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs. She grinned as she gave them to us, knowing we’d brought them ourselves to give to the church. So, that worked out well.

The congregation began to sing. Or rather SING! It was loud, rhythmic, joyous. What Pentecostals do best. With just a guitar and some percussion, they raised the roof. Between songs, people spoke or shouted phrases, most often–over and over–“Gracias, Dios!” Hands raised, bodies dancing. Some of the choruses we were able to catch on to because they were simple enough.

It occurred to me that, if someone were speaking in tongues I might not know. Unless it was English.

But I wasn’t feeling it. Standing at the front, trying not to look like I was peeking over my shoulder, I could see and hear the heart of these people. But it wasn’t reaching my heart. I said to God, “I know You’re here. But where are You? Where are You?”

There was a disconnect between my mind and my spirit. I had already started wondering why I was doing this. Why was I in this room right now? You’ve heard of eco-tourism and adventure tourism? I was thinking that maybe this was just poverty-tourism. Come see the poor people. See how they live. Take pictures of their jerry-rigged existence–their cardboard box bulletin boards, their picturesque cracked walls, the sheep in the parking lot. Think, “How quaint” and put it all on Facebook. Don’t worry about the fact that they’re human beings. They don’t have Facebook, so they’ll never know.

That was my frame of mind in the moment. Standing in church, looking at myself from a distance.

When the singing ended, the pastor turned to my family and asked (we all thought), whether we had enjoyed the music and the time of worship. We all nodded and said, honestly, “Si! Gusto, si!”

Apparently the question we answered was not the one he’d asked because he handed the guitar to my husband and gestured us to the pulpit.

Oh.

Oh, dear.

What songs do we know? What can we sing that isn’t going to suck?

My husband whispered, “How Great Is Our God?” Yep, OK, nods. We know that one well enough to harmonize.

1, 2, 3, 4 “The splendor of the King….” Away we went. We sang through the first verse and started the chorus. “How great is our God, sing with me, how great is our God…”

And suddenly… I thought, “Oh, there You are.”

People in the congregation started singing along in Spanish, “Cuan grande es Dios…”

There You are.

People whose names I don’t know and possibly can’t pronounce raising their hands…

There You are.

Eye contact and smiles and recognition…

There You are.

Speaking the same language. The language of a Kingdom we share.

There You are.

Somehow, I wasn’t a tourist any more. I was among family.

Before the service ended, these ‘poor’ people prayed for Canada. For revival. For Spirit power and fire.

They surrounded us before we left and all 42 of them gave us each a Cuban greeting. Cheek touching cheek, a kiss and “Dios te bendiga.”

And four Canadians walked back down the hill and got in the cab.

Dios Cuba bendiga. Gracias, Dios.

December 17, 2019

An Urgent Need Worthy of Your Support

Over the past years, I’ve shared with blog readers how we came to be connected to the Welcome Home Children’s Centre, an orphanage located north of Port-Au-Prince in Haiti. As a writer who is exposed to many different charities and their various needs, this one is always top of mind. My last mention of them here was in July, you can read it at this link.

The charity is based in Canada. I recognize that with a majority U.S. readership, most of you would not be able to receive a tax receipt, but I’m hoping that not all of our giving is done with the sole motivation of tax avoidance. Also, if you donate online, your dollars go much further. As of Friday’s exchange rate, the amount you choose processes through your credit card at only 75.86% of your donation.

This is a real need. What follows is their latest update…

Our Mission:

To create a premiere home for orphaned children of Haiti where their whole person, body, mind, and spirit will be cared for and nurtured. We will do so by:

  • Getting as many orphaned kids as we can off the streets.
  • Funding and developing housing.
  • Funding and developing education.
  • Funding and developing healthcare and hygiene.
  • Promoting leisure programs and activities.
  • Ultimately developing well educated, self-confident, God-believing, well-rounded young Haitians who can help lead their country to a better future.
  • Coordinating and bringing volunteers to Haiti to help the cause.

Our Vision:

Our vision is to develop a campus on the nearly 2 acres of land we acquired in 2011 where our kids currently reside. When completed, the campus will be a modern, dynamic and self-supporting centre/community, run by trained Haitians including some of our kids as they grow into adulthood. Pursuant to this vision, in 2015 we engaged the services of Engineering Ministries International, a US based NGO, to survey the property and develop a Site Plan to maximize the land use to create such a campus. The rendering of their plan mapped out 3 phases of development. The first has already been implemented (a guest house which currently serves as the kids’ home, a guard house and solar power system).

The 2nd phase is the most urgent and will include construction of separate housing for the boys and girls, a common gathering place (a large centrally located gazebo), a study/library, an admin building and a kitchen. We are urgently seeking funds to start this phase. The children have now overgrown their living quarters literally and need more space. Additionally, because of the age spread between the kids, the issue of privacy for the older kids is becoming a huge concern. So we need to start work on phase 2 as soon as possible. Upon completion of this phase the older kids will have more privacy and all the kids will have more room to play, socialize and explore. It will also give WHCC the capacity to care for as many as 50 children at any time and to stop turning away children who come to our door seeking admittance – to welcome them home.

The word of Christ: “whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me” – Mark 9:37.

We may never be able to save all the orphaned children of Haiti, but together we can continue to save them one child at a time. Can you imagine if every able family in the world adopted a homeless child somewhere in this world? What will our world be like?


To mail a donation, send your check to:

Welcome Home Children’s Centre Inc.
34 McCullough Crescent
Georgetown, Ontario
L7G 5N5
Canada

Americans, remember your dollars go farther in Canada toward getting gathering funds for Haiti. 

To donate online use Canada Helps. (Donations processed in Canadian dollars.) If giving from the U.S., to adjust your donation to what will actually appear on your credit card add approx. 32%; in other words, your gift of $132 will only cost you $100.

 

November 18, 2019

Earning a Living from Child Sponsorships

I had a discussion on the weekend in which the name of particular regional music artist was mentioned in reference to the issue of high-profile charities having an outrageous percentage of their income going to fundraising and administration.

It was in some respects a continuation of a conversation we’d had in the summer concerning another singer who is largely in the same situation, but I’ll write the next paragraph as though it applies to the one, though it applies to many, many more than this, and possibly quite a few where you live if you’re in Canada or the U.S.

This artist has never written a popular song. Never had a hit album. Never toured much except in connection with the charity. Has only done television with ministries which tend to also invite (and perhaps only invite) musicians who do this same charity circuit.

But apparently he is able to make a comfortable living doing this. Heck, my wife and I, who have much more realistic expectations — we still have the same sofa set in our living room after 32+ years, sitting on the same worn-out carpeting — would have really appreciated the same level of performance and income opportunities back in the day.

This pastor said there is an army of people who either speak or sing who can earn $100 for just a passing mention of a certain charity.

“Can I mention [name of charity]?” he was asked.

His answer was skillful.

“Certainly, as long as you tell people you’re being paid to mention them.”

We looked at this issue before in terms of the commissions paid to these musicians for setting up a child sponsorship booth in the lobby outside their full concerts. It was the similar to the deal that Family Christian Stores had, as outlined in a 2015 article in the Detroit Free Press:

Family Christian has also benefited from customers who sign up to sponsor a third-party group called World Vision, which provides food, clothing and shelter to impoverished children throughout the world.

The chain solicits sponsorships from its customers and receives a $150 fee from World Vision for each customer who signs up and pays the monthly fee, according to records obtained by the Free Press. Family Christian receives another $35 if the customer signs up for automatic payments.

That prompted me to do some math:

The sponsor is paying World Vision $35 per month per child. That means that for the first 5.28 months, the organization has yet to break even. It’s really into the 6th month that the sponsor’s donation is free and clear, but of course there are also overhead costs in that $35 that we don’t know. 

The person I spoke with yesterday had different, perhaps older numbers in terms of the monthly donation, but shocking in terms of what happens beyond the artist being paid a bounty for each sponsorship brought in.

“Out of a $22 monthly fee;” he told me, “The child is seeing about $1.”

He also told me stories of being on a board for one such organization which thought nothing of flying everyone first class to Europe, staying in five star hotels, and eating at the most luxurious restaurants. When his eyes were opened, he quickly resigned. It’s seems almost sinful. No, delete the word ‘almost,’ there is a definite corruption associated with this, which only multiplies when you consider the socioeconomic level of some who are giving quite sacrificially.

If people only knew…

…I want to end this with something redemptive.

The context of our conversation wasn’t, ‘Let’s bash some major charities,’ but was about what I call the second tier of Christian organizations available to support. (Our recent series on four of Canada’s best charity secrets contained two which are able to issue receipts, and of the others, the orphanage is in such dire need I would hope some in the U.S. would want to give irrespective of tax advantages.)

These organizations are easily located by asking someone ‘in the know’ if they can help you find people who are doing effective ministry, either on the domestic front or overseas, who don’t have a lot of profile.

Your money doesn’t have to be squandered on opulent offices, insane overhead costs, and commissions to concert artists.

It can be given to meet real needs. One of the organizations I profiled has its entire staff working in a corner of another charity at second-hand workstations sitting on used office chairs. Another is based in someone’s house in middle class suburbia.

I have no less confidence in them because they don’t appear successful. Success in feeding and clothing and housing the poor has a much different metric.

Give wisely.


In an article from October, 2015, we looked at three indicators that can be warning signs of a charity which has grown too fat:

I’m not sure that people in the Early Church or especially the Persecuted Church would worry about the “Too Low” category; they would rejoice that you had a location to work from; that you had some paid staff. But that’s what I wrote at the time.


I attended a fund-raising event a week ago which had the same familiar-looking child pictures and profiles spread out on a table, but instead, they were asking you to take one and pray for the child in question.

How refreshing.


Can’t take the time to investigate which organizations would fit comfortably into that second-tier category I mentioned? There are foundations out there which exist to support these charities. They’ve already done due diligence. I have contact info for one in Canada, and I’m sure there are many in the U.S. I hope to write about this at some point in the future.


Here in Canada organizations must file a tax return for the organization. These are public and are posted online. In the U.S., some organizations are incorporated as “churches” and the same level of transparency is not required. While having these details doesn’t tell the whole story, it will give you an idea of the scope of the organization.

July 20, 2019

Canada’s Best Kept Charity Secrets (4): Christian Salvage Mission

Filed under: books, Christianity, missions, philanthropy — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:08 am

This week we’ve been highlighting the work of four Christian organizations based in Canada. I realize that our readership here is three-quarters American, but I wanted to give visibility to these groups, and if you’re in the U.S. and choose to donate remember that while you won’t get a valid U.S. income tax receipt for this one, your dollars will go a lot farther because of the currency difference.


Christian Salvage MissionChristian Salvage Mission is proof that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. This organization takes books to places where they are needed, on the mission field where English-speaking workers, unable to bring their libraries with them — appreciate the infusion of fresh resource materials and devotional reading. Furthermore, increasingly, larger numbers of indigenous peoples are learning English, including local pastors and Christian workers.

The organization packs container loads which are shipped using money from donations and money from AIR MILES donated by people who don’t wish to save them for their own use.

There are three ways people get involved.

  1. If you believe in the power of Christian literature you probably have pet causes (such as Wycliffe Bible Translators) and you can add Christian Salvage Mission to the list of organizations worthy of your financial support.
  2. If you are in Canada and know someone who is downsizing their personal library, you can let them know that CSM is an option, especially if that person did any formal Bible college or seminary study and has the type of library pastors are always wanting to get their hands on — but this can also include donations of obsolete Sunday School curriculum or surplus copies of Our Daily Bread in addition to books, commentaries, devotionals, old hymnbooks, etc. — you can arrange to get them to a CSM representative (who are all across Canada) by contacting them in Hamilton through their website or by e-mail; or if you’re reading this in the United States, two similar ministries exist. This site also clarifies the types of materials they are needing.
  3. Prayer!

…A year after getting involved, we finally got to see their office and warehouse in person. Located in a modest industrial unit in southeast Hamilton it’s hard to believe that from this small space, material goes out to various countries with life-changing potential.

Volunteers sort materials daily. These people have a unique window on the world of Christian literature printed both now and in years past.

Murray answered our questions in the warehouse and described their work in detail.

CSM takes a wide variety of materials and has volunteer coordinators and drop off centres in almost every Canadian province.

July 19, 2019

Canada’s Best Kept Charity Secrets (3): Welcome Home Children’s Centre

This week we’ve been highlighting the work of four Christian organizations based in Canada. I realize that our readership here is three-quarters American, but I wanted to give visibility to these groups, and if you’re in the U.S. and choose to donate remember that while you won’t get a valid U.S. income tax receipt for this one, your dollars will go a lot farther because of the currency difference.

A few years back, when I told someone that our oldest son was helping out with an orphanage in Haiti, the person rolled their eyes and said, “Sure; right. In Haiti everybody is running an orphanage. But how many of the kids are true orphans and how many of the orphanages are legit?”

We live in a world that is automatically skeptical when it comes to charities. Compound that with further cynicism that in very poor countries, corruption means that aid doesn’t reach those who need it most. If only there was a way of meeting these objections and being able to give with confidence.

As it turns out there is. I want to share a bit of the story with you and also explain how it intersected with our son’s story, and some portions of what you read are taken (directly or loosely) from the Welcome Home Children’s Centre (WHCC) website.

We got to meet Camille Otum and her husband Sam for the first time in November of last year. She was born in Port au Prince, the capital of Haiti, and raised in the town of Cabaret about two hours north. At the age of nineteen she left Haiti and chose to settle in Montreal, Québec, where she could better leverage her French language skills and familiarity with the culture. After getting married, Camille and Sam and their family moved west to Ontario, settling in a bedroom community small town outside of Toronto.

In 2004, a group of teenagers from her church were headed to Haiti on a short term missions trip, and Camille volunteered to be a chaperone and give something back to her country of birth. She went to connect with her old friends in her hometown of Cabaret but was quite distressed by what she saw. It was not the same place; not the village she had left many years ago. Instead, she was witnessing homeless children begging in the streets, desperate and malnourished.

With this image imprinted in her mind Camille began discussions with her family and friends about the situation in her homeland and her deep desire to help. With the support of her husband, and her church friends, their husbands and one other friend, she shifted into what my wife calls ‘entrepreneurial missions’ mode and decided to open an orphanage. Welcome Home Children’s Centre was incorporated as a non-profit entity in Canada. A hired agent now working for them in the country was instrumental in helping secure a three-bedroom home with fenced yard that could be rented and converted into a home for homeless children. (Fences and walls are a non-negotiable necessity in Haiti, since people will break in and steal anything that might have value.)

A few years in, with the lease running out, Welcome Home began looking for another property which would offer the possibility of greater expansion. They had about ten children but dreamed of being able to house up to seventy. They called Engineering Ministries International (EMI) for help designing a new orphanage on recently acquired land.

This is where the story first connects with our family. Our son Chris had graduated in Engineering and it would be several months before he would find his first job, so with a little bit of fundraising he signed up to do an internship with EMI in Calgary for four months. (The organization has about ten offices around the world.) As it turned out, one of their two projects for those months was the Welcome Home Children’s Centre and in February of 2015 he flew with a team of a dozen people from Canada to survey the land and help design the three phases of the new centre. He was one of only two people on the EMI team who spoke French with any proficiency and did his best to learn Haitian Creole.

As it turns out, language is a big part of the Welcome Home strategy for those they serve. Chris writes,

A big part of their education is learning the French language, which in Haiti is the sole language of business and politics. The vast majority of Haitians can only speak Creole, which makes it easy for the elite to exclude them from anything involving influence or serious money. The Welcome Home kids will have access to the upper strata of Haitian society because of their education, and it is my hope that they will hold onto their Christian values, continuing to acknowledge God in all their ways while wielding the privilege of education, and be a blessing to their neighbours and communities in adulthood.

With the exception of only a handful of EMI volunteers in the entire history of the organization, our son decided to get involved with the charity itself. He returned to Haiti with a group of WHCC volunteers three years later in February, 2018. He said, “It was amazing to go see the building we had designed on paper actually realized in concrete.”

Which brings us back to November, when we got to meet Sam and Camille. I don’t like to show up for meetings unprepared so I decided to do some research. In Canada, the annual financial statements — think of it as an organization’s income tax return — of churches and non-profits are posted online for the world to see. I couldn’t help but note that the line item for compensation (i.e. salaries and benefits) for WHCC was Nil. Zero. Nada. That was refreshing.

Camille shared a story with us about a woman who had been giving to what I call a “blue chip” Christian charity and how appalled she was at the amount of compensation being received by its key personnel and staff. The woman then stumbled onto the same information I did, with the realization that this was the type of grassroots charity she wanted to support.

Part of this is possible because Sam and Camille have had decent jobs in Canada. But if Camille isn’t there in person, she’s very much present, admitting to calling the orphanage for an update every single day.

The Welcome Home team conducted numerous interviews to be sure that the children they received actually were orphans. In some cases parents will see an opportunity for their child to have a better life and are willing to let their child go. This is a heartbreaking scenario that the team have seen played out over and over. To turn them away is difficult, but their commitment is to help the most needy orphans; children who have no other options.

It’s true that the overall financial scope of the organization is small. But the building referred to above is only part of what the EMI people designed. There is a Phase II, which involves another building that would dramatically expand the size of the operation to eventually include 70 children. The budget for construction is a half million dollars. (Labor is less costly, but building materials are expensive. The island has been deforested; so wood is extremely rare. Most buildings are formed from concrete.)

Right now, WHCC cannot issue tax receipts in the U.S. (I know there are U.S. readers here for which a receipt is not the bottom line, and your dollars go much further because of the currency exchange.) For a grassroots charity, operating in Canada, with a very limited donor base to raise $500,000 is a daunting task, but in Christ, nothing is impossible. You can help plant the seeds for Phase II at this link.

I’ll let our son Chris have the last word,

I want to live in a world where everyone loves the place where they were born, where we don’t have people clamoring to get across borders because the country they were born in just isn’t livable. And I want to live in a world of rest and gratitude, not one of strife and pride. I believe the theory is true that the developing world will keep improving itself economically until the imbalance that has characterized the last three centuries levels out a bit, but we can help speed up the process.


[Canadians can also donate via Canada Helps.]

July 18, 2019

Canada’s Best Kept Charity Secrets (2): Engineering Ministries International

This week we are highlighting the work of four Christian organizations based in Canada. Even though our readership is three-quarters American, I wanted to give visibility to these groups. The group featured yesterday and the one featured today have American offices, so people on both sides of the border can make donations and receive a valid income tax receipt. In the case of the organization featured below, they are based in Colorado Springs, CO, but it was through the office in Calgary, Alberta that we first came into contact, so they are truly, one of Canada’s best kept Christian charity secrets.


I’m a working on a building
I’m a working on a building
Hallelujah
I’m a working on a building
For my Lord, for my Lord

~Bill Monroe & The Bluegrass Boys
(click here to listen!)

eMi logo

In January of 2015, my oldest son began a new chapter of his life, doing a 16-week internship with a Christian organization that nobody we’ve spoken to has ever heard of, but once you get the concept, you would be more concerned if nobody had thought of it.

Here’s their purpose statement from the landing page of their website:

Engineering Ministries International (eMi) is a non-profit Christian development organization made up of architects, engineers and design professionals who donate their skills to help children and families around the world step out of poverty and into a world of hope.

Poverty is a key element of the projects they choose. As much as you’d like to get all your engineering and architectural drawings done cheap for the new gym and fellowship hall at Church of the Affluent Suburbs, I don’t think they’re going to be able to help you. But they do have a host of mission organizations they’ve served since 1982 working on over 1,100 relief and development projects in 90+ countries; with many of the relationships developed alongside ministries such as Food for the Hungry, Mission Aviation Fellowship, and Samaritan’s Purse.

So, in the case of the project my son was involved in, they designed a building for an orphanage in Haiti that at the time housed ten kids and desired to expand to a goal of future growth to 75 beds, plus a chapel, plus a school that will be profitable. All on land they already own. eMi works with organizations in partnerships like that.

This wasn’t a paid internship for him. He actually paid them, about the equivalent of another full year of school, for a time frame involving a single semester. But they picked up travel and living expenses for his week in Colorado Springs (where their world headquarters are) the time working in the Calgary office (one of five satellite offices) and a trip to Haiti to see the project site and meet the key players there. Their finished drawings were given to a local construction company that built the first phase of the facility to their specifications. (Check out the scope of this project they consulted on in 2009.)

How did we hear about all this? We ran into eMi at an annual event in Toronto called MissionFest, which I’ve written about elsewhere, a sort of trade show for mission organizations. Since I know a lot of people, I pitched a number of options to him, but he set the bar really high in terms of the type of Christian organization he wanted to work with, and eMi met his criteria. His degree is in Electrical Engineering, but they taught him some of the Structural Engineering principles and the whole thing will count toward his professional designation.

I should also add that to the best of my knowledge, eMi is always looking for Structural Engineers and Civil Engineers, especially on the short 8-day field trips. If that’s you and your schedule allows you some travel time; or you’ve taken an early retirement, you might want to get to know these people. Same applies to architects and surveyors.

I once heard it said that Youth with a Mission was the Evangelical world’s best kept secret. I’d like to nominate eMi as a runner up. When you think about the concept, this thing gives new definition to meeting a need.

As I get to know this organization better, I expect to be writing about them again. For my Canadian readers there’s eMiCanada based in Alberta, and for my UK readers eMiUK is based in Oxford.


Tomorrow: Unlike most eMi volunteers, he ended up getting involved with the charity they did the work for, right up to last weekend (July, 2019). Tomorrow we’ll introduce you to that charity.

July 17, 2019

Canada’s Best Kept Charity Secrets (1): Mustard Seed International

This week we are going to be highlighting the work of four Christian organizations based in Canada. I realize that our readership here is three-quarters American, but I wanted to give visibility to these groups, and as it turns out, the first two we’ll look at have a very definite presence on both sides of the border, but as this one isn’t well-known in Canada, it meets the definite for this series.

Last March I had what I consider the special privilege of spending nearly 2½ hours getting to know the work of Mustard Seed International (MSI) a Christian organization whose tag line is, “We teach. We love. They lead.” I had a very focused lunch meeting with Craig Jeffrey and Lucie Howell who direct the U.S. and Canadian operations respectively from an office near Toronto.

When we think of organizations like this, usually two models come to mind.

The first is all about proclamation. This suggests the image of the individual who learns the language of a particular tribe and embarks on a program of Christian education and evangelism with the goal of ‘winning souls to Christ.’

The second model is all about relief and development. This suggests going into a particular area and providing nutritional food, clean water and medicine. The goal of evangelism is not at the forefront; neither is it pushed entirely into the background for such organizations, but the primary purpose is to bring “a cup of water” in Christ’s name.

Mustard Seed International provides an alternative, what might be a third model, namely a focus on education. As we discussed this, I could not help but think of something my oldest son said to me having just returned from his second trip to an orphanage in the third world. He pointed out that without a decent education, the kids are going nowhere. Education is the key to allowing a child to have, as the prophet Jeremiah conveyed it, “a future and a hope.”

As Mustard Seed’s website explains,

Through the schools we start, staff, and operate, we provide Hope to our students, teachers, and the communities they live in. The education, training and discipleship they receive nourishes their hearts and minds. In every classroom and children’s home we run, we teach in words and deeds about our greatest Hope. Driven by that Hope, teaching is our small act of worship. It starts mustard seed-sized, but with God’s blessing it will grow into something much bigger.

Some of the brightest and the best kids are given an opportunity to further their education in ways that would be not be practical without the organization’s intervention. With the possibilities that presents, do some take advantage of that to move on to better things? Craig Jeffrey said there is a small percentage of students who are lost to the lure of careers in larger cities and towns, but a larger number take their expertise and return to their home communities to bring leadership to those villages; hence the “they lead” part of the aforementioned tag line.

I don’t have stats for last year, but in 2017 alone they accomplished the following:

  • 34 teachers-in-training who are preparing to become world changers in villages.
  • 33 teachers in Java.
  • 30 teachers in the remote mountains of Southeast Asia.
  • 6 teachers in an outreach center in Java.
  • 8 teachers serving in a kindergarten.
  • 29 teachers in 3 schools located in a village along the K River.
  • 40 part-time teachers in Borneo.
  • A pastor and his wife who have dedicated themselves to teach in a remote village where Mustard Seed has opened a school.
  • Support for a widow who was left alone to raise her 5 children.
  • The rent to keep a kindergarten rolling forward, and a new 6-year contract for a kindergarten that serves 32 children.
  • The materials for 3-day training for 35 teachers on an Eastern island.
  • A youth center in Java that provides discipleship for 461 teenagers on 8 campuses, and CEC which provides discipleship materials and homework assistance to 55 children.
  • The tuition, food and other expenses for 50 abandoned or orphaned children in Seeds of Hope Children’s Home.

You can’t tell the story of Mustard Seed International without dropping a few names.

Lillian Dickson aka ‘Typhoon Lil’

I was interested in knowing more about Lillian Dickson (1901-1983) mainly because she was a huge influence on Bob Pierce who founded World Vision. In a section about her, Pierce’s daughter Marilee Dunker writes:

It is fair to say that my dad met his match when he was introduced to Lillian Dickson in 1953 on a visit to Taiwan (then called Formosa). Her willingness to take on human need wherever she found it reaffirmed my father’s own conviction that God will do impossible things when we don’t put limits on Him. Their lifelong partnership would bring thousands to Christ and become one of the enduring cornerstones of World Vision’s ministry.

The story of the diminutive founder of Mustard Seed International is all the more remarkable in that Lillian came to Formosa in the 1920s as a missionary’s wife. Her husband, Jim Dickson, was the “official” missionary in the family, and his bride devoted the early years to their children and home.

But when the kids got older, Lillian decided she wasn’t going to “sit out her life.” With Jim’s blessing, she packed up her Bible and her accordion and began hiking with a team of medical missionaries into the most remote areas of Taiwan. They went where neither modern medicine nor the hope of the gospel had ever reached.

During the next 30 years, “Typhoon Lil” (as she was affectionately named after surviving a particularly savage storm) walked thousands of miles, fearlessly wading through rushing rivers, crossing dangling wooden bridges, and facing down angry witch-doctors and headhunters. She slept, ate, laughed, and cried with the tribal people she loved, and every day God trusted her with new needs and a bigger vision…

Lillian Dickson earns a detailed page at Wikipedia and Pierce interviewed Dickson; the video is posted at Vimeo. While the organization looks to the future, ‘Typhoon Lil’ is an inextricable part of MSI’s history.

Paul Richardson – Missions runs in the family

The other name that’s inescapable in the MSI story is Paul Richardson, International Director. Paul is the son of iconic missionary Don Richardson, whose book Peace Child is both a powerful story and the textbook on a particular aspect of missions and evangelism called contextualization.

A 2010 story in The Christian Post tells the story of Paul and his wife Cynthia:

As Richardson and his family began to settle down in Compton, Calif., he and his wife received a calling from God and they were led to return to his hometown, a small village in Southeast Asia.

They arrived in the Muslim-majority country to find a generation “as lost as you can imagine.”

“HIV/AIDS is spreading there more rapidly than almost anywhere in the world, a lot of the streets and cities are ruled by violent gangs, there’s a tremendous amount of drug abuse and alcoholism and there is illiteracy, a lack of skills,” said Richardson, director of Mustard Seed Southeast Asia.

But what was most shocking upon returning to the land where his parents served was the extent to which the society had fallen to within two generations.

“During the 1960s to 1970s there were as many as 1,400 missionaries who moved there… As an adult I have a chance to go back to that same island … and what I see there, to be completely truthful, has been very shocking to me.”

In the same article he provided a reason why MSI chooses to work in education as opposed to traditional mission modes:

“In missions we are responsible to do far more than just start churches but we are to unleash a movement of discipleship in the young and instill this as a core value in the hearts and the minds of anyone who chooses to follow Jesus,” he stressed.

Mustard Seed Southeast Asia is currently involved with approximately 3,000 children across the region, working with indigenous leaders, other local teachers and the government to equip and mentor them with hopes they will rise up as the future leaders of the world.

The school has attracted teachers from all the over country to participate in training programs.

“We have increasing influence in education methods among many teachers and just helping to set them free as teachers and discover God’s creativity in the classroom,” Richardson explained.

Our lunch meeting ended all too soon. Nothing I write here can capture the passion that Craig and Lucie have for this work. MSI is not an organization on the tip of everyone’s tongue, but I hope that with this article, by raising awareness, I can motivate some of you to pray and as God leads, give to support this work.


If you are among the givers and are looking to support a new project or cause, let me encourage you to connect with MSI using the following links. MSI is both EFCA (USA) and (CCCC) Canada approved.


TPT Matt.13.31 Then Jesus taught them another parable: “Heaven’s kingdom realm can be compared to the tiny mustard seed that a man takes and plants in his field. 32 Although the smallest of all the seeds, it eventually grows into the greatest of garden plants, becoming a tree for birds to come and build their nests in its branches.”


This article was voluntary on my part and was not requested or expected by MSI.

March 4, 2019

Boasting About Your Giving … Sort Of

Filed under: Christianity, missions, philanthropy — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:41 am

We’ve all been taught that giving is supposed to be done in secret, right? You’re not even expected to know yourself when being charitable; that’s the essence of ‘not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing.’

For that reason many people are protective of information concerning their philanthropy. It may be that there isn’t any, or it may be that, like some health conditions, they feel this sort of thing shouldn’t be shared.

I want to propose an alternative: Talk about it.

Why?

Without mentioning amounts, or percentage-relative-to-income, I think that by simply saying something like, ‘We directly support a farming community in ___________ through the work of __________;’ you are actually providing a model for your friends and family. You’re saying that this is something that you do each month, as naturally as you eat breakfast each day.

I’m assuming here that you support your local church, if you have one.

Many don’t have a local church right now — about 20% of the Christian people I am in contact with each week — and never got into the habit of giving to parachurch organizations, or foreign missions. So they do nothing. In a world where giving can happen at the click of a computer, there’s really no excuse.

But if people who are currently giving would simply talk about the thing which they are passionate enough about to give up part of their income each month, then I believe that giving would be contagious.

Don’t keep it a secret. Tell them about the orphanage in __________, or Bible distribution in __________, or the village hospital in __________. Talk about the people who came to Christ after the movie was shown in __________, or the church plant taking place in __________, or the underprivileged kids who get to attend a Christian summer camp in __________.

Don’t say how much. Don’t reference a dollar amount. Don’t do anything where you are getting your reward now (instead of later.) Just share your passion and excitement for the work you see God doing in __________, and wait for them to say, ‘How can I get in contact with that organization?’

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