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

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.


September 15, 2009

Third World Sponsorship of Another Kind

I’m gonna be totally honest here, and it’s not pretty.   Our family doesn’t do the child sponsorship thing.   I know that in Christian circles it’s spiritually incorrect to say that, but it’s true.   We’ve talked about it.   We can do the monthly payment.   We can do the praying.   But when it comes to committing to write the letters and getting emotionally involved, we feel somewhat spent.    And some days, I write dozens of letters, articles and blog posts.

Last year, we felt that all our charitable giving was too focused on North America, and concerns even closer to where we live.   So we cut back on Christmas presents — at least I’m told we cut back — and donated some money to a project my wife’s uncle is involved in, which is providing well restoration to parts of Africa.    It was, pardon the pun, a drop in the bucket in a much larger project.

turn on the tap

Two weeks ago someone told me about a project that Samaritan’s Purse is promoting called “Turn On The Tap.”   You don’t adopt a cute kid who sends you letters and a fresh picture every year, but for $100 you finance a well that services a whole family, using the technology found in BioSand water filters.

The BioSand Water Filter is an award-winning Canadian water filtration technology developed by Dr. David Manz, a former University of Calgary professor. BioSand Water Filters are an adaptation of slow-sand filtration, designed for use at the household level. The filter removes water-borne bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and other organisms that cause diseases such as cholera, typhoid fever, and amoebic dysentery. The filter also strains out the particles and organic matter that cause cloudiness, unpleasant taste, color, and odor.

Filters can be built on location with local materials. The exterior is made of concrete, with gravel and sand layered inside. Rain, surface, or ground water is poured through the top and filtered as it passes through the layers of sand and gravel. The sand filters 1 litre of water per minute, enough to provide an entire family with sufficient water for their daily drinking, cooking, cleaning, and hygiene needs.

To service one family takes $100.   That’s it.   Not a monthly gift.   Not an obligation to write letters and send them your picture.  You just reach into your pocket and give, and a family has clear, clean water.

To learn more about the Canadian project, Canadian link here.  In the UK, Turn on The Tap is promoted through the Global Walk for Water;  UK link here.  In the U.S., Turn on the Tap didn’t get started until April of this year and operates differently; U.S. link here.

If you’ve always been cynical about child sponsorships, or, like us, you were just too stretched to get involved, here’s something you can do.   There are a variety of similar programs available for individuals or your entire church.   And you don’t have to wait for Christmas.

Gain a better perspective on this from someone who’s been there:

Anne Jackson makes the case far better than I can in an excellent blogpost at FlowerDust; click here to read it.

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.


*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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