Monday, December 5, 2016

Fighting Poverty Without Hurting the Poor

Recently a graduate from the Africa Theological Seminary in Kenya who runs an orphanage contacted me for help with a situation with a non-profit from the UK.  The UK organization came and visited the orphanage, signed an agreement to send funds every month to help with food and the running of the orphanage, and took countless pictures of the children.  All of the pictures ended up on the website, with the statement that all the money donated would go to this orphanage, and yet ten months into the contract, not a single dollar has been sent to the orphanage and information just came that no money is going to come.  Money from this organization has come to Kenya though (proving that money has been raised) but it is to buy land for this organization to build and run their own orphanage.  The orphanage administrator is outraged, wondering what could be done about getting the pictures of the children off their website.  This is just one story of the billions of embezzled dollars that happen through both non-profits or churches on an annual basis.

This situation made me think about the numerous "asks" that are coming to my mailbox, and likely to yours, at this time of year.  Many requests by well-intentioned, sincere Christian ministries, as well as numerous requests from those with whom we are not quite as familiar.  How can we make good decisions that honor both our desire to give, which comes from a compassionate and sincere desire to share in the blessings we have received, and our desire to make sure that the giving actually makes a difference for the intended recipient?

Sometimes our helping can look like this...
There is a quote from a video series called the Poverty Cure that says, "Compassion is much more than a vehement expression of emotion..."  For those people who gave to this "ministry" in the UK, their hearts were probably moved to many "Awwwwww...." expressions in looking at pictures of the children in the orphanage.  And from those feelings of "Awwwww....", checks were written and money sent.  True compassion has to mature from the feeling of "Awwwwww..." to something that actually does good.  Unfortunately, despite a growing awareness of how charity can hurt the intended recipient by stripping them of dignity and purpose, we continue to see many ministries operating by doing ministry "to" people rather than doing ministry "with" people.  Sometimes compassion needs to peel back layers and dig deeper for a better understanding.

For example, there are people who could look at the ministry I am involved in, Discipling Marketplace Leaders, and not understand where compassion enters the picture.  Helping businesses grow could be perceived as capitalistic - a desire to "create wealth" rather than helping the poorest of the poor.  But let's unpack this a bit.  Why are many children in orphanages in Africa?  The majority are actually not orphans - they have at least one parent, if not two, but they are social orphans - their parents can't afford to raise them and school them, so they are given to an orphanage.  What is the most compassionate thing that we can do?  Rather than giving money to a child sponsorship program, which potentially strips the parents of the dignity of providing for their own children, let's help parents run a business or find a job in a business, where they can use their gifts and talents AND provide for their own children.  Why do so many people give to ministries that pay for medical expenses or educational scholarships for children in Africa?  Again, it's because the parents are not able to afford it.  Why not invest in something that increases the ability for the parents to be able to make their own decisions and invest in their own children by helping them have jobs to do just that. 

My encouragement at this time of year as we consider year-end giving is for us to whether the ministries we support are creating dependency or opportunities for real, long-term change.  Is the organization working with nationals on solutions, or only doing things "to" those in poverty?  Are there impacts and goals that will move people away from the handout and toward empowerment and a "hand-up?"  Relief is necessary when there are emergency situations, such as natural disasters or war.  But soon after the emergency is over, we must move toward development, building more rungs in the ladder for people to climb out of poverty, rather than inadvertently establishing a system that creates dependency and thereby keeps people in poverty.

Discipling Marketplace Leaders is one way to give with certainty that your funds are going to build the church and businesses with long term impacts, directly affecting parents with children, who desire to work and provide for their families, as well as fulfill the purpose for which God has created them by using their gifts and talents in work.  We have done extensive research to prove that this ministry will help churches grow, will help the spiritual life of business owners grow, will help businesses grow, and will help family income grow.  If you would like more information on how to give to DML, you can find our year end letter here with instructions on how to get involved.

There are many good ministries operating around the world.  Take your time, do your homework, and be sure that your gift is achieving actual long-term sustainable change, affirming the dignity of all.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Am I picking up a theme (or two) here?

Most of my work these days involves teaching and facilitating dialogue with adult learners, whether they are pastors, church leaders, or business men and women.  The stories I hear continue to both inspire and challenge me.  And after eleven years of listening to these stories, from people in more than ten different countries, there are definitely themes that emerge.

One theme is that business people around the world believe that they are viewed by the Church as an "ATM."  Of course, for most of us, an ATM refers to an "Automatic Teller Machine" and that is often how business people feel that the church sees them - only able to offer financial support for ministry.  But Rev. Dennis Tongoi of Kenya describes ATM as it relates to business people in the Church in a different way: "Appendix To Mission."  Where do you find an appendix to a book?  At the end.  It is supplemental, not integral to the story.  Most people don't read it, don't see it as necessary or pertinent.  And that is the sadder part of this theme:  that business people do not see that what they do IS part of the main story of God and of His people.  We are made to be fruitful and to multiply, and this creation calling was made prior to the calling of the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.  Business people are NOT an appendix to mission - they are the core mission.

A second theme is that business people are seen as a corrupt people group, especially if they are successful.  (That doesn't mean that the church won't accept their money though, even if they are seen as corrupt!)  Yet we know that Zephaniah 3:3-4 tells us that corruption is a HUMAN condition, not a business condition:  Her officials within her are roaring lions; her rulers are evening wolves; who leave nothing for the morning. Her prophets are unprincipled; they are treacherous people.  Her priests profane the sanctuary and do violence to the law.  Corruption appears in the church and non-profits as well.  In fact, we are told that an estimated $16 billion was embezzled by the world's Christian churches in the year 2000 alone (David B. Barrett, Global Missions Researcher).

This intersection of corruption was told to me by a church leader in Tamale, Ghana, just last week.  He shared a story that just recently his church leaders were sent to purchase a new vehicle for the church.  They were able to find a negotiate for a vehicle from one of their church members, in the amount of 80,000 Ghana cedis (about $20,000 USD).  But the church leaders asked this member to write the receipt for 120,000 Ghana cedis ($30,000 USD) and they would pocket the additional $10,000.  The member knew that this was unethical, but didn't want to lose the sale.  So he gave them a blank receipt and left it up to the church leaders to fill in the amount.  Unfortunately, the church leaders filled in 120,000 Ghana cedis.  Here is a case where both parties (business and church) were complicit in corruption.  It is a sad story but unfortunately much more common than we care to know, and is throughout all countries (some countries are better at being more subtle than others).
A third theme is business people are seriously hard working people, who have a strong desire to have their calling and their work affirmed by God, by their church, and by their pastor.  People who have a passion for clothing, hair, cars, technology, sales, etc,  want and need to know that their work fits into who God made them to be.  I wish all of you could feel what changes in a room when we go through the following chart to see how different jobs and careers fit into God's work and God's plan (from Amy Sherman, Kingdom Callings):

Redemptive Work
God’s saving and reconciling actions
Pastor, counselors, peacemakers, writers, artists, poets, actors
Creative Work
God’s fashioning of the physical and human world
Interior designers, metalworkers, carpenters, builders, fashion designers, architect, novelists, urban planners
Providential Work
God’s provision for and sustaining humans and creation
Utility workers, shopkeepers, farmers, firemen, repairmen, printers, transport workers, IT workers, entrepreneurs, bankers, civil servants, mechanics, engineers, janitors, plumbers, and all who keep economic and political order working smoothly
Justice Work
God’s maintenance of justice
Judges, paralegals, lawyers, legal secretaries, government regulators, city managers, prison wardens and guards, police officers, administrators of law enforcement
Compassionate Work
God’s involvement in comforting, healing, guiding, and shepherding
Doctors, nurses, paramedics, therapists, social workers, pharmacists, community workers, nonprofit workers
Revelatory Work
God’s work to enlighten with truth
Teachers, preachers, scientists, journalists, writers.

These lists are not exhaustive but you get the idea.  It is amazing to see people identify their own work in this list and own that they are involved in God's providential work, or God's creative work, and so on.  People begin to sit up straighter in their chair, and the idea that they are ambassador's for Christ in their workplace begins to sink a bit deeper.

There are actually several more themes, but I'll stop with these three. We are part of an exciting work.  It is exciting to see people move from "going to church" to "being the church!"

Monday, November 21, 2016

188 Marketplace Ministers Join the Mission Field In Tamale, Ghana

Koinonia Baptist Church Marketplace Ministers
On Saturday, November 19, Discipling Marketplace Leaders (DML) in partnership with Hopeline Institute, commissioned 188 Marketplace Ministers in Tamale, Ghana.  Tamale, located in the Northern Region of Ghana, is a city of about 350,000 people, made up of 95% Muslims.  When we went to Tamale this past June, we trained about one hundred pastors and church leaders in the theological basis of Business as Mission and challenged them to do "Thirty Days in the Marketplace" where they spend one month with their church preaching and teaching on the call of God for all of us to do our work "as unto the Lord" and not compartmentalizing our faith.  A number of churches responded to this challenge and by mid-October five churches had completed their "Thirty Days."  It was the business members of those five churches who were trained and commissioned, equipped and sent out to do their work with a quadruple bottom line:  spiritual, social, environmental, and economic.  The classes varied from micro businesses to
Faith Baptist Church Marketplace Ministers
SMEs (small and medium entrepreneurs), from those with an MBA to those who couldn't read or write, from those with a doctorate degree to those who hadn't even attended a year of school in their life, from those with multiple degrees to those who received a certificate from DML as the first certificate in their life.  Some openly wept when given their certificate, as it gave them such a sense of affirmation in who they are and what they do.  Pastors attended the training along with their parishioners.  Baptist churches dominated this particular training for some reason, and other churches are getting close to completing their "Thirty Days in the Marketplace."

Half of the group in training.
As usual, our two most lively classes were Biblical Worldview versus Cultural Worldview and Boundaries.  It is striking to hear how the beliefs in the ongoing role of ancestors is still so prevalent.  For this it was good for the pastors to remind people that "greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world" and that God is in control, not ancestors.  Additionally, as a warm culture, community comes before individuals and so saying "no" is usually not culturally allowed.  However, as we taught that God is the owner and we are the managers, you could see people begin to process the need to establish boundaries. 

The women bow so low...
One woman in particular, named Lily, gave a testimony about action that she took the day of that class.  Lily was spending so much on food and provisions every month and it was beginning to break down her business.  She knew that the main cause was her sister who would always come to her house and help herself.  Lily couldn't figure out how to tell her sister "no," but after this class, she decided to pick up a padlock on her way home to lock her fridge.  She decided that she needed to better manage her resources, to love her sister but not enable her.  The next day as Lily was on her way to our training, her sister called and declared she was on her way to Lily's house. Lily didn't say anything to her about the padlock and we all wondered what the reaction would be when Lily came home.  But in an environment that is somewhat conflict avoidant, there ended up being no conversation about it and Lily gave a testimony at the end of the week that she feels so much better about being able to protect her business and even have a healthier relationship with her sister because of this boundary! 

At the commissioning service, which was such a joyful event with so many people, the Marketplace Ministers made the following personal commitment verbally in the presence of many witnesses.  I think this is something that many of us could also take, whether we own a business or work in a business:

The Marketplace Ministers

Personal Commitment: 
  • I will do business with joy and thankfulness because it is a means of providing for my family.
  • I will seek wise counsel and work to implement what I learn.
  • I will do research before starting a new business to make sure I am able to meet a real need in the community.
  • I will treat others in the same way I want to be treated.
  • I will look not only to my interest but also to the interest of others.
  • I will learn everything I can about my potential market.
  • I will be faithful in the little things.
  • I will be actively involved in my community and look for ways to bless it.
  • I will have competitive and fair prices. Repeat business is my goal.
  • I will be truthful.
  • I will keep good records and nurture the business.
  • I will seek to do everything with integrity and excellence.
  • I will remember that people are more important than money.
  • I will plan realizing there are factors beyond my control that will benefit and hinder the business.
  • I will witness and reach out in love and respect to my Muslim neighbors, friends and customers.
  • I will use the business as a bridge to reach Muslims so that they can see the love of Jesus Christ in my all-daily life.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

"I pledge that I will use this privilege in the hopes of losing it."

[Writing to you from hot and dusty Tamale, Ghana, the third country and last of six cities for this trip.  I leave for home in about six days.  God has been good to me on this trip despite being sick several times, but I am ready for a good long shower and my clothes are ready for a washing machine!  Thanks to all of you who support the work of Discipling Marketplace Leaders, where we are working to unleash church members from the church building, to BE the Church every day!]

This week was an emotional roller-coaster in the lives of most Americans.  For my children, it was no different.  It was great to see them both engage this election as adults, with passion for God and their country.  While this election brought painful conversations to the forefront, it no doubt has caused people to think deeply with both heart and mind; unfortunately this has caused pain for those who think and care differently from them.

I received an email from my daughter as she processed her own struggle with this election and wish to share a portion with you, with her permission.  It gave me hope and buoyed my spirits - which I hope it will do for some of you as well.  It also made me think that I want to be like my daughter when I grow up. I love the deep thinking in her pledge and her commitment to make a difference in whatever way God gives her opportunity as a social worker.  I especially love what she says about white privilege - she acknowledges she has it and pledges to work in order to lose it.  Too often we told too tightly to privilege out of fear of losing it, but then more people suffer.  Hannah has witnessed this first hand in a variety of contexts.  She grew up in a low-income African-American community, then in war-torn Liberia, then in Ghana.  This had helped her to shape her perception of privilege and also inspired a commitment to equality, rather than holding tight to safety and comfort.  May we all take a similar pledge - I know that I am.

And now, in her words, first from her email to me, followed by her pledge:

As we go into a new period of American history, I believe that social workers and those caring for the oppressed and underrepresented may be more needed than ever.  I realized that, as a citizen and social worker, my career could work to defeat some of the horrible values that exist in the USA.  I could make a difference - maybe not in this election, but try to make a difference in the way we function as an American people.  I decided that, if the results of this election were a defining moment for me, I was going to make it a moment that made me more passionate for my field, more ready to fight against injustice, and more willing to put myself out there.  But I refuse to embody the ignorance, hatred, and prejudice that have disgusted me from both sides of this election.  Both parties have, now and in the past, shown a stubborn unwillingness to hear the other side, to work together, to agree to disagree and still have progress happen. 

 I am exhausted with politics.  I am exhausted with hypocrisy and lies and disappointment and fear.  My goal, and part of my pledge, is to keep on engaging.  Cynicism, pessimism, and feeling despondent are all things that will keep me from being an active participant in this nation and I won't let that happen.  I trust God that it will all be okay, either in this world or the next.

My Pledge 
I pledge to work for justice, truth, and love

Understanding that in fighting for these, I will face opposition
From politicians
From peers
From people in power
From family and friends
I pledge that I will not allow myself to become close-minded to views that oppose mine
To hate or speak in hatred when in disagreement
To make sweeping assumptions based on the actions of one or a few
I pledge that, in the face of injustice or hatred, I will speak
Not to return that hatred or injustice
But to provide a voice for whomever was receiving the injustice or hatred.
I acknowledge that I am privileged.
I am white.
I am well-educated.
I am wealthy by the world’s standards.
I was born in America
Into a two-parent household
Into the religious majority.
I have never been persecuted for my beliefs, 
my race, or my background.
I am privileged.
I pledge that I will use this privilege in the hopes of losing it.
To use my privilege, unfairly bestowed, to fight for justice and peace
To use it in the hopes that eventually, I will not be privileged
In the hopes that, one day, I will lose the favor accorded to me purely based on appearance
And instead will see equal opportunity, love, and respect accorded to all.
I pledge that I will listen to God and follow Him.
I will be a representative of my Creator in a world that needs His love.
I pledge that I will be advised by trusted leaders and role models in my pursuits.
I pledge that, when I make errors, I will acknowledge them and do what I can to correct them.
I pledge to fight for truth, for love, for equality
To fight for those who have been marginalized
To do what I feel is right and not what is easy or safe.
I will show respect and love to those with whom I have profound disagreements.
I will not let my own prejudices get in my way.
Instead, I will acknowledge them
Work through them  
Conquer them.
I will engage with people who I disagree with.
I will love those who will hate me in return. 
 I will not let cynicism, fear, and pessimism drag me down  
As these are tools of the Enemy that distract from pursuing Good.  
I will continue to fight, knowing that loss is possible and likely  
Knowing that I am young and na├»ve  
Knowing that there is a long way to go.  
My life will be dedicated to God, to His calling, and His creation.  
It will be dedicated to fellow citizens of the Earth.  
My life will be one of uphill battles, frustrations, disappointments, and pain. 
 It will also be filled with victories, with love, with knowledge, and with conviction. 
 I will not shirk my responsibilities. 
 This is my pledge.