Thinking Out Loud

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?’

November 27, 2018

Grassroots Charity Offers More Bang For Your Buck

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 a few days ago. 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 a few days ago, 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 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.) 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.


If you are in the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area, Welcome Home’s annual fundraiser is this Saturday night (December 1) at Halton Hills Christian School in Georgetown. See the “Latest News” page of their website for directions and cost and to RSVP. [Canadians can also donate via Canada Helps.]

 

 

 

November 2, 2018

You Can’t Throw Money in the Kettle if You Don’t Carry Cash

For 120 years, The Salvation Army’s Christmas kettles have been synonymous with the holiday season and the spirit of giving. Kettles are already on the streets in more than 2,000 locations across Canada, collecting spare change and cash from passersby to help us serve more than 1.7 million vulnerable people in 400 communities across the country each year.

After a break of a few years, we’re back with another year of providing our online friends in Canada an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of people in need. (American readers: Just wait a few paragraphs!) The program in Canada is called iKettle. Any of my Canadian readers can host a kettle with a few clicks of the mouse.

So first this is where my Canadian* blog readers kick in. You can’t toss spare change in the kettles anymore because you pay for everything with plastic cards, and you don’t get change. Any bills in your wallet are probably there for emergencies. Plus, while it pains me to say this, a lot of you shop online and don’t even have the collection kettles in your face anymore. (Maybe that’s why you shop online!)

So here’s where you go to contribute*

Donations stay in the community where you live, so if that’s Winnipeg or Calgary or Ottawa or Halifax or some place in-between, that’s where the money will be applied to the Salvation Army Family Services branch; including smaller towns where they have an active presence.

I really hope you’ll help us launch this over this weekend. We will be repeating this appeal on the blog several times during. Our giving can meet the needs both in overseas relief and development and in the cities and towns closer to home. This is an opportunity to do something on the domestic front in yet another year that’s been rough on many people.

*For my American readers there is a secure online donation website just for you.

There are also online opportunities to give in most parts of the world where the Salvation Army operates.

This is a trusted, respected ministry. When you give, you’re giving locally. But don’t just give. Consider volunteering. Share the link to this article with Facebook friends. And by all means, find one of the many books that tell the William Booth or Salvation Army story and read every page.

Do your giving
while you’re living
so you’re knowing
where it’s going.

March 23, 2018

Mission Profile: Mustard Seed International

Earlier this week 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.

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.

August 12, 2017

For the Forty-Somethings

 and some Thirty-somethings

 plus a few Fifty-somethings

It’s time to step up.

By that I mean, it’s time to get out the checkbook (or chequebook if you prefer) or grab the credit card and go online.

I’m not talking about giving to your local church. I’m sure you already do that. Maybe you tithe. Maybe you’re what Andy Stanley calls a percentage giver.  Things are stable financially and you’ve recognized that responsibility. Your local church thanks you, and wouldn’t exist without you.

No, this is about giving beyond your local church. It’s about the parachurch organizations, the faith missions, the Christian social service agencies. It’s about hospitals in third world nations, adopting orphans, and teaching literacy to jungle people, and preparing translations of the Gospel of Matthew.

Here’s the deal: A generation that founded many organizations — many formed in the post-war years 1945 to 1950 — and then funded those organizations is dying off. These generous patrons need to be replaced.

At the same time, as Christianity loses its ground numerically in Western Europe, Australia/NZ, and North America; awareness of the faith mission organizations is decreasing. Those of us who populate the pews on the weekend do not have opportunities to hear about the vital things different groups are doing, either domestically or in far-flung mission fields.

Some of these organizations are watching their donor base shrink and shrink to the point where everyone from office staff to field workers face cults. It’s now or never…

…Writing an article like this without mentioning names of potential objects for your philanthropy is difficult, but that’s what I pre-determined this piece would be. I do however suggest a few questions:

  1. Am I interested primarily in proclamation of the Christian message, or I am okay with organizations who serve the needy in Christ’s name?
  2. Do I want my money to stay here at home, or do I want to give to overseas projects in the most economically disadvantages parts of the world?
  3. Do I want to give to a major, longtime, well-established Christian charity, or do I want to partner with a newer, upstart group?
  4. What causes tend to resonate with me?
  5. If my gift means I end up on a mailing list, are these organizations I genuinely want to read about and learn how and what they’re doing?
  6. What particular ministry opportunities or places in the world am I personally aware of which may not be as familiar to others?
  7. Do I want to scatter some funds among a handful of Christian organizations, or go long and deep with one particular cause?
  8. Are there ministries where I have personal contact with a particular worker and will thereby know that the job is getting done; the money well-spent?

You might need to do some research. If you’re married, make sure your partner agrees with your choices, especially if you’re writing checks on a joint-account. And decide if you want to be a monthly supporter — which the organizations love because it provides them with a stable financial forecast — or if you’re doing a one-time thing.

People in the middle of a variety of ministry contexts are watching for your contributions.

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