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.

October 1, 2019

The Time Public Giving is Appropriate

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:05 am

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.
– Matthew 6:1-2

Fund-raising events like this one may incur costs to present, but donors want to know they are part of a larger host of supporters.

There is a value in fundraising banquets, and that value is not confined to the ability of the charity to present their work, or the fact that people come predisposed to make a significant contribution that they might not make in response to a direct mail campaign.

The value lies in giving corporately, or to be more specific, in knowing that you are contributing to a cause in which others are also invested.

Let me come at this the opposite way.

Unless you give to “blue chip” name-recognizable Christian charities — and frankly, I think your money goes much further when you support younger organizations and second-tier charities — you don’t know what support the organization already has. Your attitude might be, ‘I would give to this more fully if only I knew that other people are also supporting this.’

When you attend the charity’s public events, you see that not only are others deeply invested, but their support extends to doing volunteer work and if available, even short-term commitments overseas.

You’ve all seen Christian telethons for various ministries, I suspect. The host announces, “There’s a group of businessmen who have pledge to match everything that’s given in the next half hour up to $40,000.”

I always thought these dollar-for-dollar matching challenges were somewhat contrived, but now I’m not so sure. Those businessmen (and women) simply want to know that their major donations are being accompanied by grassroots donations of a great host of people who can’t do what they are doing, but they can do something.

The verses in Matthew 6 above indicate that your giving can be both in secret and in public. It’s a caution against name recognition more than anything else. But if your name and amount given (or pledged) remains confidential, you can still show up and by doing so, say ‘I support this cause; I stand behind the activities being carried out by this organization.’

In the larger assembly of people, you might even find yourself adding an extra zero to that check.

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.]

March 5, 2019

When the Ministry You Supported Crashes and Burns

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:30 am

I had something else planned for this space today, but then as we were discussing giving to God’s work yesterday, this comment stopped me in my tracks:

I want so much for our giving to be to organizations that are truly and totally sold out to Jesus and living sacrificially as they seek and spread His kingdom. We gave to Gospel for Asia for years, until they were exposed for being a different organization than we’d believed when we read Revolution in World Missions etc. We have given to Walk in the Word… and now…I would be interested in hearing about ministries like 20 Schemes who are reaching the poorest neighbourhoods with little fanfare…or people who reached out to our brothers and sisters in Nigeria last week after the massacre.

In 2009, we wrote a fictitious story and made up the name of the church — you’ll see the irony here — that went like this:

Joel had a major disagreement with the pastor of Covenant Harvest Church following a sermon that was preached in January to launch the new calendar year of ministry.    There were some follow up attempts by both parties to find common ground, but an unofficial visit from one of the elders ended up burning the bridges it was supposed to mend.

Now, eight weeks later, the church has received a registered letter from Joel.   He regrets greatly the amounts of money — over $3,500 — he gave to the church in the four months prior to his departure and wants a “refund” on his offering. In the letter, he says nicely, “I want my money back.”

Though the names and circumstances are altered, what do you think of the principle at issue here? Were the story entirely real as presented, should the church give Joel his $3,500 back?

I know there are people who feel that way. They’d like a refund.

A lifetime ago I gave money to an organization which crashed spectacularly. I won’t name them, but the ministry was front page news for several weeks back in the day.

I’ve often tried to go back in time and ask myself if I knew how things were going to end, would I give the money? There is a sense in which the answer is, ‘yes.’ The reason is that in those early days, while I’m sure there was the beginning of financial corruption, there was also money which was going to the projects being promoted; or at least I want to believe that.

Furthermore, if our giving is to God; then we in effect lay our gift on the altar and invite God to do whatever he wants with it, including burn it up if that’s his will.

There was something positive happening at the time and I wanted to come alongside and stand with the people on the frontlines and be able to say, ‘I am a part of making that happen; even if only in a small way.’

…Or am I just rationalizing a poor decision?

I know there are people who gave money to James MacDonald’s ministry, and Bill Hybels’ ministry, and Perry Noble’s Ministry and Tullian Tchividjian’s ministry and Mark Driscoll’s ministry and… Oh wait! Do you see the problem right there? Do we give to a great work that God is doing, or do we give to a celebrity with a captivating personality? If I’m being totally honest…

Back to the comment I received. I think we need to be intentional about making our giving less corporate, even to the point of handing $100 (or £75 if you prefer) to a young couple with a baby and a lot of financial stress.

I also think we should look for new organizations and new works which God is raising up and support those in their early (more sincere?) days of operation.

Finally — and our comment writer already addressed this — I think we need to give in a way that gets our money out of North America and Western Europe and puts it in the hands of people in the poorest parts of the world.

 

 

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?’

December 28, 2018

“20 Years Ago A Book Changed My Life”

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:55 am

“20 years ago my boss gave me a book which totally changed my life.”

You’ve possibly heard stories which began with this narrative. The person is describing where their life is at presently, but the story’s genesis is that time someone in their life gave them a particular book to read.

The problem with these stories is that we hear them from the perspective of the recipient, but don’t always know about the intentionality of the giver, or the circumstances where the two peoples’ lives intersected which motivated them to make the gift.

I am convinced that more lives would be changed if we all could cultivate that intentionality and follow through on that motivation.

Sadly, many of the gifts given this Christmas are already forgotten, discarded or even broken. I believe there are products which can make an impact beyond this life, and that hearts can be changed by the words in a book, the lyrics of a song, a scene in a Christian film, and of course, by the message of the Bible itself.

But this isn’t a blanket promotion for the Christian giftware or Christian publishing industry. The item given has to be selected based on an informed choice and it must be personal to the situation the recipient is facing and any particular needs they have expressed.

It also has to have substance. Giving a friend a mug which simply says, “Believe:” may work in a small percentage of situations, but it’s not the same as giving something more substantial; something that has a message beyond a vague platitude.

This may take effort. This may take research. This may take prayerful consideration.

This may also take a willingness to be there for the person involved; a follow-up that is committed to the long term. The potential outcome — a person’s salvation story — has to be in view from before the gift is selected.

Done right, it can lead to stories as expressed in today’s headline. Then it’s a win-win for both giver and recipient.


Today’s key words:

  • intentional
  • motivation
  • informed
  • personal
  • substance
  • follow-up

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.

September 15, 2018

Weekend Archives: Best of the Early Years

Three posts, with some updating, from our very first year…

My Paraphrase of II Tim 3:16 – The Purpose of the Bible:


Today’s New International Version (TNIV)

All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for

  • teaching
  • rebuking
  • correcting…
  • training in righteousness

The Message

Every part of scripture is God-breathed and is useful one way or another —

  • showing us truth
  • exposing our rebellion
  • correcting our mistakes
  • training us to live God’s way

New Living Translation (NLT)

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful to

  • teach us what is true…
  • make us realize what is wrong in our lives…
  • correct us when we are wrong…
  • teach us to do what is right

My very loose paraphrase

All scripture has its point of origin in God’s mind, and

  • shows us the path God would have us walk
  • highlights when and where we’ve gotten off the path
  • points the way back to the path
  • gives us the advice we need to keep from wandering off the path in future

What Your Library Says About You:

Several years ago we were asked to stop in at the home of man who was well known in the Christian music community here in the 1980s. He passed away on the last day of August, and because he had some books and Bibles, and because we’re in the book and Bible business, we were asked to help find a home for some things.

We were only there an hour, but it got me thinking about the stuff we own, the stuff we collect, the stuff we purchase, the stuff we save and the stuff we leave behind. Someday, everyone reading this will be gone and perhaps someone else will be going through their stuff trying to decide was is valuable and what is not; what is worth keeping, what is worth selling and what is worth giving away; what ought to go where and to whom.

I have always believed that a man consists of more than the abundance of his possessions. But the things we hold on to, the things we value, say a lot about the people we are. It tells those who follow after us what our priorities were. I remember visiting an artist once who had a vast collection of what artists and printers refer to as paper stock samples. He then — somewhat tongue in cheek, because he was a Christian — said, “These are my gods.” Others would not say this as humorously.

The man whose library we went through today was different. He didn’t really own much in the sense of having stuff that was marked for long-term ownership. His name wasn’t written in the front of a lot of books. Instead, he had temporary ownership of things he wanted to give away. Books, booklets, Bibles, sermon audio discs, sermon DVD discs. It’s a nice legacy to leave.

His ‘giving away’ ministry was much a big part of who he was, though. I said to a visiting missionary yesterday, that in our local area, after years of meeting with the broadest assortment of the Christian community, I have only met about six people who are truly passionately committed to evangelism. This man was one of them. Finding someone to fill his shoes was quite a challenge, but as I write this, years later, 90% of his materials found a home.

The Mystery Man and His Gift of Encouragement:

For over twenty years now, I’ve carried a secret that is only known to my wife and two kids. The secret concerns the identity of a guy who was used in our lives to be an encouragement to us at a time when no one else filled that role.

We had been several months into our retail store in a market where three previous stores had failed over the past six years. In fact, we were the fourth Christian bookstore and the sixth location in six years. The first and last of these were “second” stores for established retailers, the middle one was a family with a strong retail history. We figured we didn’t stand a chance. Heck, we didn’t even bother installing a telephone. I figured three to six months and it would be over; but the pre-existing business would at least have a chance to blow out some inventory in the process.

And then Mr. ___ walked in. Carrying about six bags of groceries. Interesting groceries, too; stuff we didn’t know what to do with. Lots of pork. And cabbage. And those little cubes you put in water to make beef broth. But it was all so very encouraging. A week later Mr. ___ showed up again, with more cabbage and more broth cubes. And the next week, too. And so on for about six months, and then later it switched to a weekly thing with a little bit of cash here and there to buy similar amounts of groceries.

When we finally realized why the other three Christian retailers had failed in this particular small town, we decided to wrap it up. The problem? How to tell Mr. ___ that it wasn’t working. I did not want to break his heart or make him feel like he’d been used, or that he’d contributed to something that wasn’t going to last. So we deferred the decision another week. And kept deferring it.

Not many years later, we were a chain of three stores in three cities. All because we didn’t quit. Or more accurately, because we were so surrounded by encouragement, so pumped by someone cheering us on in the stands, that we just kept running the race.

His weekly visits lasted over a year. I learned later that he could ill afford to be buying us groceries. He said that God would tell him when it was time to quit, and once we rounded the corner financially, his visits stopped. I only ever saw him two or three times after that.

This guy did not want to be known. This was our secret. He was quite clear on that. It reminded me of Jesus performing a miracle and then telling the recipient to say nothing about it. (But wait; it was a miracle!) The man in our story and his wife may have been the last people on earth that you would guess would play a pivotal role in a ministry that would bless the entire Christian community in three towns. But my wife and kids know differently. God used this couple to get us to keep going when everything around said it was time to pack it in.

The world needs a lot more people like Mr. ___ .

October 9, 2017

A Godless Generation That Doesn’t Give; Doesn’t Tithe

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:57 am

At a weekend family gathering, my nephew shocked me somewhat. We were talking about a situation in three neighboring towns where Episcopal (Anglican) churches are losing money at a rather alarming rate and there is some discussion about which which church should ultimately survive, as each feels great emotional attachment to their land and buildings.

I’m not sure what happened, but there was a transition in the conversation and suddenly he said, “I’m part of a Godless generation; we don’t tithe; we don’t give money.”

So I asked him, “What about secular charities?”

“No… Nothing.”

In the car on the three hour drive home, we discussed the implications of this for not only local churches but also charities which depend on the kindness of a donor base. What happens when those builders and boomers die off?

On the positive side, we know that while Episcopal churches are bleeding money and members, there are many megachurches that are packed each week, with the very demographic you might have expected to have given up on church.

Second, I look at North Point Community Church (Andy Stanley) where they’ve “kicked the bucket;” giving up on passing a collection plate/bucket/basket/bag because so many of their members have automated their giving.

(Before moving on, I think any church that struggles with support needs to look carefully at what’s working at North Point in Atlanta.)

I feel sorry for my nephew; he never gets to be part of so many good things that so many great people are doing in so many needy and hurtful parts of this world. He doesn’t get the reports of how the donations helped or read the letters from his Compassion sponsored child. He doesn’t get to share the pain of loss with hurricane victims or be part of facilitating the transplantation of a family in war-torn Syria to a place of peace in Canada or Germany.

Of greater concern of course is that he considers himself Godless. Quite opinionated about which Episcopal churches should close mind you, but involved only to the degree of an armchair quarterback questioning the coach’s decision to run a pass play when it’s fourth and fifteen.

My heart aches for him.

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