Thinking Out Loud

October 1, 2015

The Business of Charity

Portions of today’s blog post have been edited to avoid specificity.

Earlier in the week we had a trip into the big city, and Mrs. W. suggested there was a place she needed to go as they are the sole supplier of a particular item she needs for a particular hobby. So after dealing with the necessities that took us there, we ventured into some new territory, only to discover her supplier was across the road from a well known Canadian Christian charity.

Not wanting to miss the opportunity, I dropped in. I’m not sure whether or not this happens frequently or not, but they didn’t seem to have a protocol for this. Nonetheless someone was fetched and she answered a few of my questions, and then I asked her if it was possible to have a quick tour.

Now she could have easily turned us down, but she took the time to show us around the building which was larger than I expected for an agency of this nature. It’s easy to judge from the outside, but I am not aware of all the many facets of their ministry, so I just took it as given that better minds than mine had determined that both the facility and the staffing level were right-sized.

Still, having been around the Christian scene for a long time now, I am sometimes able to sense things. I guess that having worked for Christian organizations that have been forced to operate on a shoestring, I am always surprised at the size and scope of the larger ones, a reminder, as I said when we were walking back to the car, that charity is a business (of a sort) and is part of a larger industry (of a sort) of charities and not-for-profits.

Generally, I was surprised at the number of offices and staff, even though the number is probably conservative by charity standards. I will admit that getting this balance right is probably a science, as indicated by the chart below:

The Business of Charity

I once worked for a Christian organization that paid their staff “based on needs.” As a single, young person fresh out of college and still living at home, I was paid very poorly. (They later faced a lawsuit over this practice, and I was issued a subpoena but was released after I told them I didn’t work concurrent with the woman who launched the suit.)

On the other extreme, a friend of mine once visited the head office of a better-known Christian charity and reported entering the lobby and “sinking in the plush carpeting.” While that person may have been given to exaggeration, I don’t question the report of a grand piano in the “guest reception room.”

I believe that probably fewer people would give the organization I visited money if they saw what I saw, but then again, I’m not sure that some people would continue giving money to their local church if they saw the invoices for floral arrangements sent to funeral homes. Or that the church really needed to lease a third copier/printer which doesn’t do anything that the other two don’t do. One one level, perhaps my tour yielded too much information.

What I do think however, is that the type of “drop in” that I did should be more the norm than the exception. The organization should have a designated person who can deal with spontaneous public relations opportunities that arise, and also be able to offer an apologetic for why the various staff are needed in conjunction with the organization’s mandate or mission statement.

On another level, it never hurts for the people who do the actual giving to be better informed.



September 15, 2015

Imagine 100 Jets Crash Killing 26,000…and the Next Day it Happens Again

World Vision president Richard Stearns in the book, The Hole in Our Gospel: The Answer that Changed My Life and Might Just Change the World (Thomas Nelson, ECPA Christian Book of the Year, 2009)

Whenever a major jetliner crashes anywhere in the world, it inevitably sets off a worldwide media frenzy covering every aspect of the tragedy.  I want you to imagine for a moment that you woke up this morning to the following headline:  “One Hundred Jetliners Crash, Killing 26,500.”  Think of the pandemonium this would create across the world as heads of state, parliaments and congresses convened to grapple with the nature and causes of this tragedy.  Think about the avalanche of media coverage that it would ignite around the globe as reporters shared the shocking news and tried to communicate its implications for the world.  Air travel would no doubt grind to a halt as governments shut down airlines and panicked air travelers cancelled their trips.  The National Transportation Safety Board and perhaps the FBI, CIA, and local law enforcement  agencies and their international equivalents would mobilize investigations and dedicate whatever manpower was required to understand what happened and to prevent it from happening again.

Now imagine that the very next day, one hundred more planes crashed – and one hundred more the next, and the next, and the next.  It is unimaginable that something this terrible could ever happen.

But it did – and it does.

It happened today, and it happened yesterday.  It will happen again tomorrow.  But there was no media coverage.  No heads of state, parliaments or congresses stopped what they were doing to address the crisis and no investigations were launched.  Yet more than 26,500 children died yesterday of preventable causes related to their poverty, and it will happen again today and tomorrow and the day after that.  Almost 10 million children will be dead in the course of a year.  So why does the crash of a single plane dominate the front pages of newspapers across the world while the equivalent of one hundred planes filled with children crashing daily never reaches our ears?  And even though we now have the awareness, the access,  and the ability to stop it, why have we chosen not to?  Perhaps one reason is that these kids who are dying are not our kid; they’re somebody else’s.

pp 106-107

July 12, 2015

The Charity Fundraising Paradox

dollar signAmid last week’s news, you may have missed a small tempest that was created when it was revealed that former U.S. President George W. Bush received a $100,000 fee for speaking at a fundraising gala for the Veteran’s Administration. The charity also paid $20,000 for a private jet to fly him to the event. Interviewed on ABC News, one veteran was particular upset that Bush had sent many soldiers into war, and was now reaping a personal profit from speaking at the charity which assists the wounded assimilate back into society.

The New York Daily News noted this as well:

Former Marine Eddie Wright, who served on the charity’s board and lost both hands in a 2004 rocket attack in Iraq, told ABC he didn’t think it was right for Bush to have been paid to raise money for vets through the group, which provides adapted homes to service members who became disabled in combat.

“You sent me to war,” Wright said of Bush, according to ABC.

“I was doing what you told me to do, gladly for you and our country and I have no regrets. But it’s kind of a slap in the face.”

While you might wish to join the ranks of the outraged, it’s worth noting that this particular gala event tends to raise at least one or two million dollars annually. It’s chairman is quoted at Huffington Post as saying,

“The event raised unprecedented funds that are putting our nation’s heroes into specially adapted homes throughout the United States. His presence was appreciated by the veterans and supporters of the organization.”

And therein lies the crux of the problem. In charity, as everywhere else, you have to spend money to make money. Recently here, we wrote about a situation that came to light in the Family Christian Stores hearings, that the bookstore was paid up to $185 for each fresh child sponsor the bookstore chain signed up. At that time we wrote,

Let’s do some math here.  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. 

In charity parlance, this type of thing is known as “development costs.” There are organizations that carry out this function in different ways; one of the most common is having someone on staff available to older donors for things like “estate planning” or “writing a will.” Years ago, I knew one large church that had a staff member for this purpose, though the modern megachurch tends to attract younger adherents, many of whom haven’t totally embraced the possibility they might someday die.

World Vision in particular is known for having a very high percentage of its operational costs committed to fundraising. For charities like them, the George W. Bush story is a no-brainer: You bring in whatever political figure, actor, singer, author, or sports hero that will attract the right crowd. You do it at whatever cost.


January 7, 2014

How to be Rich is not a Book About How to be Rich

How To Be RichOn the one hand, in these televangelist-saturated, prosperity-gospel-promoting times, giving a book the title, How to Be Rich is probably the dumbest thing ever. On the other hand, for anyone familiar with the annual Be Rich campaign at North Point Community Church, the title is absolutely brilliant. In fact, once you get to know the program, and read the book, your church may want to be rich as well, though it is much easier to do as a new church start-up than it is to try to shift the paradigm of how your church presently does local ministry.

So first the title.  It’s taken from I Timothy:

NIV 6:17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.

Next the book. I enjoyed the book. I read it from cover to cover, some sections more than once. But the Be Rich campaign is the real star here, and if the publisher wants me to create some buzz for the book, a better course might be to create some buzz for what North Point does.

The book merely consists of material that author Andy Stanley (yes, I was going to get to that) presents each year as a set up for the campaign itself. It’s a reminder that we’re already rich. In an interview with Jonathan Merritt of Religion News Service, Andy was asked if this was a prosperity book:

It’s actually the opposite of the prosperity gospel. The prosperity message is “Give and it will be given unto you.” This message is, “It has already been given unto us. Now it is our turn to give.” I don’t need to give one to get 10. I live in the United State of America, so I already have my 10.

That interview however didn’t touch on enough of the history of the campaign for my liking, so let me try to fill in some details. In a nutshell, the team at North Point decided that when it came to doing things like food banks, after-school programs, support for young mothers, addiction counseling, etc., the church was determined not to reinvent the wheel. Instead, they purposed to find the people in the Atlanta area who were already doing well at various charitable endeavors and provide them with a funding boost. It wasn’t about ‘let’s start our program,’ but ‘let’s connect with our broader community.’

The next step was to raise the money — we’re now talking millions — in a single weekend.

At this point, I know some of you are thinking, ‘What does this have to do with the presentation of the gospel?’ The balance between social justice ministry and proclamation is never easy, especially for Evangelicals. But in the second phase of Be Rich (the campaign, not the book) the people of North Point pledge to spend hours in service, many times at the very same organizations which have received funding. They don’t want people simply writing a check or swiping a debit card and feel that they’ve done their part. They want people to also get their hands dirty.

I’ve watched that video* about eight times now, and each time I well up with tears. This model may not import entirely directly to what your church is doing, but you can’t help but want to adapt some of the concepts.

You can’t help but want your church to be rich.

A copy of How To Be Rich: It’s Not What You Have, It’s What You Do With What You Have (Zondervan) was provided by the Canadian division of HarperCollins Christian Publishing.

*If the video isn’t loading go to

December 8, 2013

Reconsidering Christmas Shoeboxes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 26, 2013

Standing With The Homeless and Disadvantaged

Filed under: ethics, philanthropy — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:49 am

It’s so easy to be offended when you’re stopped at a traffic light and a scruffy, unwashed man suddenly leans into your open window and offers to clean your windshield.  Or the guy on the freeway off-ramp who is asking for help buying groceries. I don’t know what it is that makes saying no my default response.

However, when you actually get to know some of the people in that situation — as I have in small measure through the work my wife did co-founding a ministry organization reaching those very people — you tend to be offended in the opposite way when governments would restrict the right of those people to simply stand in an out-of-the-way location with a sign asking for whatever pocket change you can spare.

That’s the position that Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove — and anyone else who lives in community — finds themselves in when laws are passed that makes life even harder for people for whom it’s already hard enough.

On Wednesday he wrote:

Jonathan Wilson-HartgroveIn 2003, my wife Leah and I came to Durham to start the Rutba House, a Christian community of hospitality where the formerly homeless and the formerly housed share life together. Over cups of coffee and around our dinner table, we have learned the difficult stories behind the label “homeless” while also knowing the people who bear that label as friends. We have not ended homelessness in Durham, but we have seen that community is possible despite our fears and deep histories of division. We need not be afraid of those who beg for our help. In fact, our experience has convinced me that we cannot become the Durham we hope to be without them.

Our city’s new anti-panhandling ordinance has highlighted for us the importance of what we’ve learned at Rutba House over the past decade. Passed without public conversation as part of a consensus agenda in December, the new law did not go into effect until mid-January of this year. When it did, those who had purchased permits to beg under the old law were informed that they would be ticketed if they continued to “fly signs” at their usual stations. Within weeks, people who were asking for side jobs or spare change faced $250 fines. To date, at least two of them have gone to jail.

I do not believe City Council passed this new ordinance to send poor people to jail…

continue reading at Everyday Awakening

On Friday, this update:

…Last night, we had our first public meeting on Durham’s new anti-panhandling ordinance. Mel Williams of End Poverty Durham greeted the 200 people who crowded into Duke Memorial UMC’s fellowship hall by saying that we evaluate every public policy by one question: how does it affect the poorest among us?

If we are to know, we must listen to them. So we did.

One after another, men who have been ticketed for begging told their stories. Steve told about how, as he was standing on an exit ramp with a sign that said “Will Work,” his old boss saw him and picked him up last month. Now he has regular work and is able to pay the rent. But he came to speak for his friend Keith who just learned that he has cancer and is no longer able to ask for help because it’s illegal. Steve stood to speak for people like Keith who’ve been pushed further into the shadows.

Country shared his story. He told how he started priming tobacco when he was nine years old–how he worked hard every day for forty-one years before he was injured in a construction accident. On disability now, he gets medical care and a $710 check each month. But when his bills are paid, he’s already five dollars behind. For years, friends in Durham have stopped by Country’s corner and helped him make ends meet. But he got a ticket last week for talking through a car window to someone he’s known for years.

These are the stories that have convinced us that this new law is wrong. They are stories that make us ask, “How could a law like this have come to be?”

Some of us have spent Lent asking this question. When we asked the guys on the streets who’ve been getting tickets, they said, “Nobody asked us before the law was passed.” When we asked folks around town who run our homelessness services, they all said no one had asked them. So we talked to the Homelessness Services Advisory Council–the city/county group that exists to advise City Council on issues that affect the homeless. And they told us no one had asked them either.

How could a law like this have come to be? I think the answer is simple. Durham had not heard these stories.

But now we have…

continue reading at Jonathan’s blog

There was to have been a protest meeting on Sunday night. At this point, Jonathan hadn’t posted what the outcome was of that rally.

This type of thing is repeated in city after city in North America. Smug middle class people in their minivans or sedans weary of being accosted as they are stopped in traffic or walking on an errand downtown. People with the very attitude I confessed to myself in the opening paragraph. (My wife usually jumps in at this point and quickly produces some coins; then we drive away; I ask how much she gave; she tells me; I suggest she was overly generous. It’s a recurring scene.)

Not wishing to be thus imposed on for money, they urge their city or town councilors to pass legislation that will end the inconvenience once and for all. So the rich get richer and the marginalized get more marginalized.

But it’s different for Jonathan and the people in his community because he knows the people and their stories. And really, they is us. Anyone sitting in front of a PC or Mac right now reading this is conceivably there but for the grace of God.

January 4, 2013

How a Community Goes About Helping

Think of this as a Part Two to yesterday’s post. It’s easy to curse the darkness, but requires slightly more skill to light a candle. How would a community go about helping one of the students mentioned here?

We live in a very small town.  I grew up in Toronto where resources are more abundant. Actually, we are two adjacent towns with a population of approx. 16,000 each, separated by about four miles (eight kilometres).  In the one town there are three evangelical churches and in the other there are five. I envision these eight churches being able to come together for a project of this nature, though as stated yesterday, the initial reaction I got to this proposal doesn’t bear out that possibility so far.

Twice this year, at one of the churches we took up a cash offering after the service to meet two very specific needs. Some churches call these “retiring offerings.” You don’t get a receipt for tax purposes in this type of giving. Some would call it a “loose change offering” even though you’re tossing in bills as well as coins; it’s money you won’t miss.

One offering was for a guy who needed help paying his rent that month. He isn’t a member of that church, and a very infrequent adherent. But he asked. He had a need. We helped him collect the $200 he  needed and had $100 left over.

The second was for a family that hit a somewhat sudden financial crisis that left their next mortgage payment in doubt, and this is a family that’s never been flush with money to begin with. They are not members of this church either, nor do I believe they have ever attended.

In both cases, I was the only one who knew both recipients and was responsible for delivering the cash to each. I’m not sure that even the pastor knew who the second family was. They trusted my judgement on this.

I thought it would be nice to do a third project like this before the year was over, but then I reconsidered. I don’t want people to think I’m running some kind of scheme here. (We decided it would be a bad time to buy a car!) Actually it would be nice if someone else came up with a third project.

Anyway, this church has an average Sunday morning attendance of around 90 people, and each time we raised around $300.  With some adjusting for the demographic makeup of the congregations, I’ve estimated a typical attendance for each of the three (given letters) in the one town and five (given numbers) in the other, with a suggested offering total.

Benevolent Cash Offering From Eight Churches

Yes, that’s right; we live in a really, really, really small town; we have really, really, really small churches. The combined attendance from all eight churches (1,230) wouldn’t even fill one section in some mega-churches you’re familiar with.

And yet, possibly without even knowing who they are giving to, we’ve raised $4,000; a significant chunk of what R., N., and T., in yesterday’s example would need to kick-start a semester payment. Plus, I’m thoroughly convinced that knowing more details, people would give more generously. (The people in the two stories I mentioned were giving “blind” so to speak; even the nature of the need had to be somewhat veiled to protect the identity of the people concerned.)  I’m also convinced that people currently on the fringes — not presently attending a church — could hear about this via a newsletter — the very newsletter that gave birth to this blog five years ago — and add another $1,000.

And think about what a group of churches in your much larger community could do with a similar project and what a HUGE difference it could make to a student.

Spontaneous, New Testament-styled giving. Approval needed, yes; but no budget committee needs to meet on it, because it’s off-budget.

And yes, ultimately the money goes to some very large institution. I’m not content with that. (See yesterday’s comments.) But it’s the only way to a future these kids can foresee. And what a wonderful statement it makes about Christian community. And what a wonderful thing if those givers covenant to pray for that student throughout the semester. And what a wonderful thing if five years later, graduates are willing to give back something to help kick-start other students on their way to a decent education.

And why not do this not once, but two or three times in a year? And a couple extra times for a family with unexpected medical costs? Or a family where both wage earners are out of work? Or…

Well… why not?

October 23, 2012

Ministry You’d Want to Be a Part Of

Friday night we attended a fundraising banquet for our local Youth for Christ worker and his ministry. In our little corner of the world, YFC has four staff workers, an administrator and three field workers serving a county so large that, even under the old system used by the phone company, it included three different area codes.

We’ve known Jeff for twenty years now. He was a youth pastor in a local church who was being laid off, and found a way to continue to serve students in the same town. Switching from a church-based ministry model to a parachurch model was a challenge during the first year, but the end result was that he fused together the best of both ministry paradigms.

His ministry extends far beyond anything in the Youth for Christ staff handbook, I’m sure. Hosting a 3-hour radio show on two stations. Working with the town ministerial association on special events. Doing pulpit supply for a variety of local churches. Writing faith-centered articles for the local newspaper.  Volunteering at the local high school and middle school. Studying for an MDiv degree nearly completed.  That’s in addition to YFC events such as a drop-in center, special events and lots and lots of one-on-one counseling.

All those activities, and other things that I don’t know about. I would never accuse Jeff of playing his cards close to his chest, though he doesn’t seek recognition. Rather, I think his left hand truly doesn’t know what his right hand is doing. Bottom line: We think his supporters truly get a lot of bang for their donation buck, and while we originally said we were going to skip the banquet this year, we turned out to show our support.

At the end of the night Jeff — ever frugal — passed out copies of his quarterly newsletter that would normally be mailed. He told us ahead of time that he’d broken the rules of newsletters by including ten stories of kids he’s worked with — present, recent past, and distant past — sharing their personal testimony of what Jeff and the ministry of YFC in general has meant to them and what God is doing in their lives.

Wow! I just finished reading the stories. A vibrant student ministry in our small town is changing lives that are ultimately changing the world. This ministry is bearing fruit. People are finding Jesus.

And as I folded the newsletter back into the envelope so my wife could read it when she got home, I thought, “How can anyone read this and not want to reach for their checkbook or credit card?”  That, and “How can anyone not want to pray, to volunteer or otherwise ‘come alongside’ what the Holy Spirit is doing through dedicated, vocational leadership like this?”

I’m so glad we didn’t opt to skip the banquet this year. It would pain me to get the newsletter by mail a week later, read the stories, and feel that I missed an opportunity to be a very tiny part of all this.

Right now, where you live, there are people making a difference who can’t do it without your active support. Pray about your involvement through serving, giving, praying or all three!

For contact information on Northumberland Youth For Christ, click here.

October 19, 2012

The Shoebox Thing Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 9, 2012

Lone Ranger Christianity

Increasingly, many people are following a solo track in their Christian life. With a proliferation of streaming church services, online sermons and podcasts and Christian books appearing at rate we’ve never before experienced, it’s both tempting and easy to go it alone.

In the past I’ve challenged some people to wrestle with a few questions:

  1. What do you do for Christian fellowship?
  2. What people or group comprise your covering when you need prayer?
  3. Where do you experience the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper/Communion?
  4. How do you experience corporate worship?

These are all serious questions which have theological underpinnings; and anyone who is actually maturing in their Christ-following is going to run up against these sooner or later.

But with the fiscal year-end serving as a reminder — though hopefully not fully the motivation — it’s also a good time to look at another question:

  • Where or how do you experience alms-giving or tithing?

If you are currently outside of a faith family, may I make a few suggestions? 

First you should give something to whoever does provide you with teaching and nurture: The online church, the radio ministry, the provider of devotional literature you receive. I’m assuming that one or more of these exist in your life because absent those factors, plus the ones listed above, I’d question the arena in which your faith journey operates.

Second here’s a stretched analogy to help you find some giving possibilities:


In our area this could include:

  • a ministry reaching youth such as a local chapter of Youth for Christ
  • a faith-based ministry reaching the poor and marginalized such as The Salvation Army
  • the local Christian radio station which relies on donations more than commercial revenue
  • the local crisis pregnancy center
  • the local Christian school which needs donation to supplement parent fees


Here you’re looking at regional ministries. In our area this might be:

  • Christian camp ministries, making a difference in the life of children and teens
  • organizations that place Bibles in prisons, schools, hotels such as The Gideons
  • faith-based group homes and residences for people dealing with addictions or family crisis


In the original passage, Samaria is more of a descriptor of “the place you don’t want to go” than a geographic reference. To me, this represents a ministry to a select people group than a particular place. We’ve known of ministries to a select ethnic group within our country; to street people in urban centers; to Gay/Lesbians; to professionals; to people needing jobs; to people with a specific medial condition;  to the elderly; to a specific arts community; etc.

Uttermost Parts

This could include:

  • worldwide Bible translations organizations such as Wycliffe or Bible distributors such as the various Bible societies or Megavoice
  • faith-based relief and development agencies such as Compassion
  • ministries raising awareness of religious persecution of missionaries and Christians in nations claiming religious liberty; and/or dealing with issues such as human trafficking
  • evangelistic organizations with worldwide impact such as Billy Graham’s

These are just suggestions.

As a Lone Ranger Christian, you are still part of the body if not a local assembly. Addressing the giving question still doesn’t address the prayer and worship and fellowship and communion issues, but it’s a place you can begin, even on a weekday.


Older Posts »

The Silver is the New Black Theme. Blog at