Thinking Out Loud

October 15, 2016

Remembering Uncle Ted

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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.

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.

November 24, 2009

Another Look at Shoeboxes

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 haven’t seen heretofore in print or online.   So I 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…)

Okay, so maybe the good outweighs any potential downside.   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.

December 1st update:  Don’t miss the comment here by Sarah and the link it contains.

December 28, 2008

Advent Conspiracy: Our Good Intentions Finally Realized

ac_logo_thumb_verticalMany weeks ago, (Nov. 28) like many other bloggers, I posted a link to the Advent Conspiracy video, which encourages people to spend less on themselves at Christmas, and instead, provide fresh water to parts of the world where it is lacking.

It was a noble bandwagon to jump on.  (I’m really good at telling other people what to do; wishing “Bob” had heard today’s sermon; forwarding links to something I think “Fred” needs to read…)   Furthermore, I decided that this was the year that we would indeed do something, instead of just talking about it.   But it was yesterday, December 27th, that we actually got around to sending a donation; and sadly, there wasn’t a huge contrast between this and other Christmases gift-wise, because when we started collecting things to wrap them on Christmas Eve, we discovered we had been in gift-acquisition mode since mid-September, though many of them were from a chain of thrift stores here called “Value Village.”   It’s not like there was just one thing under the tree and it was implicit in this that the rest was going to Africa.   That the kids would have remembered.

So the boys didn’t exactly do without, but if we added it all up, I’m guessing we spent about 60-66% of what we did the year before, and decided on a project from Alongside which is a division of a Canadian tedcharity, Partners International.   We chose this one because my wife Ruth’s uncle, as it turns out, is part of a team that has gone to Nigeria several times to not only install wells, but rehabilitate wells that are not functioning.   It sounds good when a mission or relief agency is installing wells, but if there are perfectly good wells there that just need some repair work, it makes more sense — and it’s more efficient — to fix the wells you’ve got before you start  drilling new ones.  Besides, this way, we get a Canadian tax receipt.   (Not that this should be the motivation.)

So credit card in hand, we made what was probably a modest donation, but for us it was a big deal.   Hopefully it starts a trend, and hopefully next year, we’ll get to it before much of the other shopping has commenced, and as we get to know the organizations involved better, perhaps it will be larger or there will be two gifts to two different agencies.

At the very, very, very least; you owe it to yourselves to watch the 2 1/2 minute video that got all this started for us.   You can click here to view it.  You’ll know what your heart is telling you to do after that.

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*If you live in the U.S., the designated charity for the Advent Conspiracy is actually an organization called Living Water International (click for direct donation link after watching the video).

Photo:  Alongside website photo  highlighting Ruth’s Uncle Ted, who, we’re pretty sure, is the one on the left.

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