Thinking Out Loud

February 18, 2019

When Ministry Organizations Compete

Do you get jealous when the church or ministry across town has an event that happens to catch the eye of the local newspaper? Or do you rejoice that God is using them in such a way? ~ Jennifer Maggio – Competition in Ministry.


John 3:26 NLT So John’s disciples came to him and said, “Rabbi, the man you met on the other side of the Jordan River, the one you identified as the Messiah, is also baptizing people. And everybody is going to him instead of coming to us.”

competition among ministries

It started with a staff member at Organization A bad-mouthing Organization B.

Frankly, it resonated with me because I had some history with Organization B. Furthermore, Organization A was paying me a part-time salary.

But years later, I connected with the director of Organization B. We discovered many common interests. I saw their ministry in action. A friend started working for Organization B. I ended up financially helping him. Later, a ministry I was heading up partnered with Organization B for a project. Mostly, I came to understand why a certain group of people would gravitate to Organization B and not Organization A.

Immediately, I regretted the years I had been estranged from Organization B and its staff and its constituency.

Ministry organizations compete for donation dollars as well as for volunteers. But instead of staring at each other across a great divide, it’s better to find ways to (a) get to know each other better and (b) partner together. Perhaps even more. The charitable sector can see it as competition, but Christian ministries are, in theory at least, members of the same body.

We all labor in different vineyards, but we can’t afford to bad-mouth organizations whose work somewhat parallels — we may even see it as duplicating — our own. That just creates barriers to fellowship and friendship; and when heard by someone like my younger self, prevents cooperation and partnership from happening.

“…..whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31b

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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.]

 

 

 

January 19, 2017

The Harsh Reality of an Aid Worker’s Life

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:12 am

Today’s a bit of an exception: A book that’s not new (published in 2012) and not carried by Christian retailers. Rather, it was loaned to me by a friend who met the author at a work-sponsored event several months ago and thought I would enjoy it. I need to return the book to him now, so I don’t even get to keep it, which means I really didn’t need to bother to write anything about it but the fact is, I’m really pumped (a pun which will you’ll get in a minute) about this and want to share it in the hope some of you might track it down.

wine-to-waterWine to Water: How One Man Saved Himself While Trying to Save the World (Avery) is the suspense-filled autobiographical account of how Doc Hendley went from bartender in a college town to founding his own charity and being sent carte blanche to Darfur, Sudan by Samaritan’s Purse to develop a program to bring fresh water to people there regardless of their religion or politics.

Ever watched or read an appeal for a third-world charity and wondered what the people on the ground actually do when they wake up each morning? It’s possibly the polar opposite of what you imagine. As the story unwinds, Hendley is basically an actor in a play in which he has to write (and re-write) the script daily. There is guaranteed opposition and no real promise that you’ll live to the same the next day. In one harrowing tale, he is at a loss to understand how a bullet fired directly at his head could possibly have missed.

If you haven’t figured it out, the book’s title relates to how Hendley the Bartender begins a series of pub-based fundraising events with the aim of helping with the world water crisis. But he does so not knowing where the money will be used. When he first connects with Samaritan’s Purse, they actually turn down his donation and invite him to see the situation firsthand before he spends the first dollar.

I mentioned at the outset that Wine to Water isn’t sold at Christian retail, but perhaps it should be. On a personal level, Hendley strongly identifies with his religious upbringing as a preacher’s kid.  His personal faith in God and the power of prayer ought to be a challenge to the rest of us who perhaps have the dotted the is and crossed the ts when it comes to doctrine and theology, but may be missing out on actual real faith. I think it’s true that there are no atheists in foxholes.


Read an interview with Doc Hendley on the book’s page at Avery/Penguin. Donations can be made at winetowater.org .

February 19, 2016

Competition Among Ministries

Filed under: Christianity, Church, ministry, philanthropy — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:45 am

Do you get jealous when the church or ministry across town has an event that happens to catch the eye of the local newspaper? Or do you rejoice that God is using them in such a way? ~ Jennifer Maggio – Competition in Ministry.

John 3:26 NLT So John’s disciples came to him and said, “Rabbi, the man you met on the other side of the Jordan River, the one you identified as the Messiah, is also baptizing people. And everybody is going to him instead of coming to us.”

competition among ministries

It started with a staff member at Organization A bad-mouthing Organization B.

Frankly, it resonated with me because I had some history with Organization B. Furthermore, Organization A was paying me a part-time salary.

But years later, I connected with the director of Organization B. We discovered many common interests. I saw their ministry in action. A friend started working for Organization B. I ended up financially helping him. Later, a ministry I was heading up partnered with Organization B for a project. Mostly, I came to understand why a certain group of people would gravitate to Organization B and not Organization A.

Immediately, I regretted the years I had been estranged from Organization B and its staff and its constituency.

Ministry organizations compete for donation dollars as well as for volunteers. But instead of staring at each other across a great divide, it’s better to find ways to (a) get to know each other better and (b) partner together. Perhaps even more. The charitable sector can see it as competition, but Christian ministries are, in theory at least, members of the same body.

We all labor in different vineyards, but we can’t afford to bad-mouth organizations whose work somewhat parallels — we may even see it as duplicating — our own. That just creates barriers to fellowship and friendship; and when heard by someone like my younger self, prevents cooperation and partnership from happening.

“…..whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31b

January 15, 2011

Winning the Life Lottery

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

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

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

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

-Roy Lessin

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

So what is our response?

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

May 6, 2010

When Excellence Gives Way to Expediency

For several months now I’ve been kicking around the idea of writing on a subject that has distressed me personally, but I’ve hesitated knowing that I’ve already touched on the issues of (a) radio and television preachers asking for money, and (b) the difficulty of getting off mailing lists once you’re on them.

The current frustration revolves around the fact that over the Christmas period, I made some donations to some organizations, but the value of my donation has been reduced to nil in light of the subsequent solicitations they have sent me to try to get more donations.   I know what mailing pieces like this cost to produce (and mail) and any “ministry credit” that was in my “account” has reset back to zero, or even gone into a negative balance.

Let me pause at this point, and add that, following Biblical instruction, I have gone to them directly on this, and at least one agreed to work with me to solve the problem.   The others did not write back.

There’s one list I’d like to remain on, albeit more minimally.   They produce a devotional booklet that we’ve been using with our family for several years now.  (We read two days at a time, and do other readings on other days.)

The book is produced by a popular radio ministry organization,  but it is multi-authored; that is to say, it is shared around by a number of other organizations with contributions from their key spokespeople.   That said, the producing organization makes sure that it’s man always has:

  • The first word; the lead devotional of each month
  • The last word; the closing devotional of each month
  • The word on any special holidays or other significant days

So yes, it’s a little biased towards the one organization, that happens to be the one from whom I obtain monthly copies.

So I’m at a crossroads, because they’re telling me that if I don’t make a donation soon, I’m going to be cut off from receiving future issues; and many of the devotional commentaries are working well with our family.

But now I have new issue.

We’ve noticed in the last three or four copies a number of glaring typographical errors.   Little things.   Little foxes spoiling the vines, so to speak.   Stupid, trifling, trivial errors that should have been spotted in simple proofreading.

Tonight’s was the worst.   The devotional was based on Psalm 8 with the key verse:

O Lord , our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.  Out of the mouth of babes and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.  (vs. 1-2, ESV)

So far, so good.   But the devotional title is, “Stinkers Minding God’s Store.”   Huh?

I waited through all six paragraphs for the title to kick in, but it never did.  I checked ahead a few pages to see if the header had been transposed from another article.   I even considered the possibility that the reference to “babes and infants” somehow lined up with the word “stinkers.”  (C’mon now, you would have made the same conclusion.)

I get the feeling that this whole thing is being rather haphazardly thrown together.   I haven’t red-lined the other errors, but now I wish I had been keeping score.  (Actually, if you approach your devotional time with a red pen in your hand, that’s not exactly a good thing…)    I’d like to do a mark-up on the text and send it back to them.

While this sentiment might be true, we're talking here about something a little more serious than a compulsive need to make corrections.

We’re all going to make mistakes.   Me.  You.  All of us.   But we need to strive for excellence.   And the more public the forum, the higher the standard we need to aim toward.

I’m just not sure I should be contributing to — and thereby encouraging — something that isn’t more carefully considered before it goes to press.   However, like I said, the nightly readings are registering with my sons, and when you have something that’s connecting with a couple of teenagers, you don’t want to be too dismissive.


March 4, 2010

Homeless Teens: Life on the Street

I stood beside her coffin.  She looked she was sleeping.  I suppressed the urge to reach out and touch her.  I wanted to talk to her just once more.

But she was dead — found in a construction site, in suspicious circumstances, of unknown causes.  She was poor; she was aboriginal; she was a street kid; there would be no further police investigation.

I looked at her young face and remember the times we had share, times when I had hugged her, telling her I loved her.  She had come from a troubled and violent home.  Incest was a way of life for her.  Three months ago, she had given birth to a baby girl.

Once she came to Evergreen particularly distressed.  She cleared a table with a sweep of her arm and grabbed a pen.  Then, with deliberate strokes, she put her heart on paper:  a striking scene of two friends sitting together on a bench.  When she left, she smiled and said, ‘This is the best time I’ve had in a long time.’

She had come to Evergreen the day she died.  Now she was gone forever.

How very hard and short life is for some; how essential is the need to minister the Kingdom of God every moment, because that moment could be the last.

I looked at her once more and through my tears, I said, ‘Good-bye.’

She was only 14 years old.

~from Prayer for the City, a quarterly publication of Yonge Street Mission and the Evergreen Centre in downtown Toronto, Canada.   Pray for the young people at Evergreen for whom life is hard and sometimes very short.  To learn more about YSM, click here.

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