Monday, January 25, 2016


One of the things that I have said a number of times, often in response to people who said I was strong for living in Africa, is that I actually don't feel like I'm strong enough to live in the US and be who God expects me to be.  In the US, I find that it is very difficult to keep perspective on life, and I found that people in the US seem to be very unhappy - often isolated and full of self-pity, despite being in one of the wealthiest nations on earth.  I know that one of the things I appreciate in Africa is the very strong sense of community and joy in life; I can't feel sorry for myself for a minute in Africa without seeing someone worse off than me, who yet has a smile on their face.  There is a greater sense of inner peace and joy in many people I have encountered in West and East Africa, than in North America.

And yet one year after moving back to the US, despite continuing my work in Kenya and starting in Egypt and Ghana, I find myself burned out, exhausted, isolated, and depressed.  Oops.

To make matters worse, I have always thought that burnout is irresponsible on behalf of the person who burns out.  Just as being busy is an excuse and a sign that we need to take better control of our schedule, burning out is a sign that the person wasn't paying attention to boundaries, wasn't doing self-care, was relying on self more than on God, and so on.  Oops again.

It hit on September 11, although the significance of that date had nothing to do with it.  On September 10, I took my last oral exam for my MBA, and on September 11, I was sitting in an airport on my way to Ghana and it hit hard.  I felt like I was done.  I had no strength.  I didn't care about what happened next.  I quickly recognized that this could be burn out and did the typical "Renita" thing next - I set out to fix it.  For the next three months, I tried to fix it, to deny it, to remedy it, but not to recognize the significance of it.  On December 11, after seeing a counselor and my doctor, I was told in no uncertain terms that I was burned out.  And I was.  The problem was that in those three months, I had burned through the last little reservoir of strength left, and I felt completely devoid of any will, desire, or passion.  The "What next?" world that I lived in my entire life, became "I don't care" which is an unusual and scary place for me.

People seem to be a bit confused about what burnout is, so let me define it here.  Burnout is not depression, it is not stress, it is not frustration with a job.  Burnout will not be cured with a week off.

Definition:  Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place. Burnout reduces your productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give.

The difference between stress and burnout:  Burnout may be the result of unrelenting stress, but it isn’t the same as too much stress. Stress, by and large, involves too much: too many pressures that demand too much of you physically and psychologically. Stressed people can still imagine, though, that if they can just get everything under control, they’ll feel better.  Burnout, on the other hand, is about not enough. Being burned out means feeling empty, devoid of motivation, and beyond caring. People experiencing burnout often don’t see any hope of positive change in their situations. If excessive stress is like drowning in responsibilities, burnout is being all dried up. While you’re usually aware of being under a lot of stress, you don’t always notice burnout when it happens.

There are lots of reasons that I could list as to what led to the burnout, but I think I underestimated the impact of the stress of moving back to the US after living ten years in Africa.  Culture shock was more real than I expected, especially as I merged households with a family who had never lived in Africa.  I also know that taking on the role of being the Executive Director of ICM-USA, not as a response to a calling but as a response to filling a need, was more than I bargained for especially given what I was already facing in terms of challenges.  Because of that, I have made the difficult decision to resign from that position and try to focus on finding my passion again for Discipling Marketplace Leaders.  Right now my dream job is to be a school crossing guard - doing meaningful work to keep children safe, but limited social interaction, defined responsibilities, an actual paycheck rather than raising funds, and an end to the task at the end of a day.

I have been humbled by what has happened to me.  I feel guilty about it and saddened by it.  I am scared that the passion will not come back.  I wish I had been wiser and not so self-reliant.  But my head also understands that I am forgiven by a gracious God (my heart still needs some convincing).

Last week I did feel like I received a message from God.  I have been receiving daily devotional emails from a Marketplace Ministry called "TGIF" (Today God is First) for about three years now.  I read them faithfully the first year, about half the time the second year (they repeat the same emails), and not so much this past year.  But the title of one last week caught my eye, "Move On" with the text from Exodus 14:15, "Why are you crying out to Me?  Tell the Israelites to move on."  Moses and the Israelites were up against the Red Sea with Pharoah and the Egyptians coming behind them.  God's response was telling them to move on - as in, keep moving - take the next step - even though scared, anxious, not knowing how, and so on.  I thought to myself that that is what I need to do as well.  Move on.  Be obedient in what I know.  God is good at closing doors and if He wants to close the door on my ministry, He will do so.  But for now I need to move on despite my impulse to flee.  The day after receiving this email, TGIF made the first mistake that I have seen them make in three years:  they sent out the same email again.  Several hours later they sent out apologies for their error with the proper email for that day.  But to me, it didn't feel like an error.  It felt like God was underlining the message for this hard-hearted follower:  Move on.  Just as God was frustrated with the Israelites in this passage who lamented ever leaving Egypt in the first place, this daughter of Yahweh, who just four months ago was so excited and passionate about this ministry and now wants to quit everything, is hearing the Father say both lovingly and firmly, "Move on." 

And so, I am moving on.  I will work out of obedience, and trust for passion to come back.  I have been blessed with a supportive husband, loving children, and a compassionate boss who are encouraging me to take the time I need to recover.  I do apologize and seek forgiveness from my colleagues in this work as well as supporters of the ministry for this stumble.  Please pray with me for God's will to be done.

Monday, December 7, 2015

And now for something lighter: From Noah

My son and my mom
My 20 year old son Noah, currently a senior at Calvin College, worked this past summer on the grounds at Calvin.  He came home one day and said a story had been mulling in his brain all day.  He went upstairs and about thirty minutes later sent me the story that you can read below.  This is a creative view of a pre-creation story, as imagined by a young man in the Star Trek/Star Wars era.  I love my son and how God weaves creativity and imagination in each of us!  Enjoy!

Hello reader. If this has fallen into your hands than I can only assume all has gone as planned and humanity has begun to put itself back together. If that is true there is something you must know about the history of our civilization and the truth about what you have been taught.

Humanity was once a great power. After we conquered and expanded across the depths of our home world, we looked to the stars for new territory. We had the technology to do so and in our arrogance we assumed that because we could, therefore we must. We sent probes and ships all over the galaxy and it was not long before we first encountered a species outside of our own. For the first time in decades we had a new focus. A whole other civilization, with technology vastly superior to our own. They were peaceful in nature, not prone to war, a civilization without any sort of weaponry. We conquered them easily.

In hindsight I recognize our mistakes. It is shameful how many of us thought nothing of squashing this peaceful civilization and taking their technology for our own. We just wanted power and our pride blinded us to the concept of repercussions. We amassed armies with the resources from the planet we wrongfully stole, and built great ships. Monuments to our invincibility…or so we thought. We discovered several other planets with life and quickly dispatched them, seizing their land for our own. Some resisted but our military might proved unstoppable. We kept pushing farther into the depths of space, searching for more to discover, more to conquer. It was then that for the first time we were discovered. A galactic tribunal made up of alien species that had existed since long before humanity first climbed out of the evolutionary pools. They held us (rightfully) accountable for the destruction of the many innocent species that we crushed underfoot. We were deemed unfit for continuation in the galaxy, “too dangerous and volatile” to be allowed to continue our exploration. War was declared; humanity was to be wiped from the galaxy. 

We were determined not to go down without a fight. With all of our ships, our weapons and military power we were certain there was no way these Others, as they were called by us, could ever challenge us! But we were wrong. We were quickly destroyed and pushed back out of every system we conquered until all that remained was Earth. I remember the flashes of light still in the sky as the last of our mighty ships fell to pieces and crumbled down to Earth. They came down in pillars of fire, using their knowledge of terraforming to cause the very earth beneath us to give way. We begged for mercy at this point, vowing to never enter the skies again. They responded sadly, saying that we would never learn. Our race was never taught the proper lessons and was too set in our ways. I wish I could say they were wrong. 

It was at this point that I stepped forward. I made one final plea to the Others. I showed them our history, our culture and our passions. I made the case for humanity’s potential…for YOUR potential, dear reader. For while my case won them over enough to where they agreed to not wipe our species from existence, their condition was that humanity would need a clean slate. A fresh start. A beginning where they could teach humanity all about this concept of love and care that we had never known. Humanity would need to begin again; all remnants of our previous civilization destroyed and scattered. They would send their leader, whose name I can only loosely translate to you as Yhwh, (as it is called in their tongue. The pronunciation is difficult to be written), to do this through writing. Yhwh would watch carefully over humanity. Determined to teach us the ways necessary for harmonious survival in our universe, it would start a book, starting with a parable the fall of man due to their arrogance, using myself as an example for all other humans to look upon. They…or should I say you, will see the mistakes I made. This Other being will stay with humanity, acting from a distance. It will disguise itself as something different, a creator as it were. It will remain here, ensuring our survival, protecting us, and guiding us in the hopes that humanity can find love and peace. As we become more self-sufficient Yhwh has assured me that it will step back and allow us to decide what path to take. But make no mistake; there was a time where we did not truly know love. Do not ignore the teachings that the Others have offered you. The Earth has been around for much longer than their book would say as has humanity. The Book details your creation but really what it details is humanities rebirth. Soon their terraforming will be complete and Earth will be habitable again. I will be deposited without any memory of any of this and will be charged with the recreation of our race.

My name is Adam. In my world I was a historian, a guardian of the annals. However to you I will most likely be known as the First of our Kind. You will have been told I have caused all the pain and suffering our race has endured, but you have been told a tale. The snake was our hubris- the tree of knowledge of good and evil; our thirst for exploration. Humanity was given a second chance, human. We failed the first time because of our pride. We will not be given a third chance. Make use of the chance you were graciously handed and ensure that you do not follow the path we did.

Monday, November 30, 2015

"A Problem For Every Solution"

Some of the pastors and the MELTI team in Cairo
Since beginning my work in Egypt, I have heard several Egyptians say that Egyptian pastors have "a problem for every solution."  I certainly know that there are people in the world who are like that - glass half empty people, as they are sometimes called - but I wondered whether this was more a statement of frustration than actuality.

I can't say that I've come up with an answer for the veracity of this comment.  Two visits to Egypt can't reveal that type of information.  But I have made an observation of some of the differences of pastors that I have encountered in Egypt, versus Kenya, Ghana, or North America.  The message of Discipling Marketplace Leaders was not received in the same way in Egypt as in these other places.  Egyptian pastors seemed to react defensively and stated that their relationship with their business people was very healthy, despite the very verbal anger and frustration heard from Egyptian Christian business people toward the Church.  There seemed to be a lack of willingness toward self-reflection on the part of the pastors.

This could be explained by the fact that the Church in Egypt is 2000 years old, as compared to the relatively young Church of Sub-Saharan Africa. Age and precedent can make thinking "outside the box" more difficult.
The narrow streets of Cairo.

But there were also a number of "problems" that were brought up for every solution.  Some of those problems listed below are quotes from the pastors as they processed whether Discipling Marketplace Leaders was a ministry that could work in their church:
  • "If I start working with business people, people will think I'm just after their money - both the business people as well as other pastors."
  • "The business people in my church will not tell me anything, even if I visit them.  They will think I am only there for their money."
  • "Pastors are absolutely forbidden to get involved in business."
  • "Work is part of the curse."
  • "It takes too long to change the mindset of people."
  • "Business people have no time to meet with us."
You can see a challenge here.  Rather than viewing themselves as the leader of the Church, and the under-shepherd to the people, the pastors seem to present themselves as victims of the culture and victims of their members.   This may be a result of what has been describe to me as part of a "siege mentality," which is more of a position of "we are under attack" and therefore walled off.  A siege mentality may include a sense of not being able to think or plan too far ahead as the future is so uncertain.  A siege mentality can show itself in defensiveness and victimization.  Wikipedia describes a siege mentality as a "collective state of mind whereby a group of people believes themselves constantly attacked, oppressed, or isolated in the face of negative intentions of the rest of the world....the result is a state of being overly fearful of surrounding peoples, and an intractably defensive attitude."

An outdoor restaurant with a proud server.
I think we sensed that in Egypt.  By the end of our trainings we were left with a remnant of pastors who seemed to understand the need of Christian business people and be open to going to next steps. But the response was underwhelming compared to the overwhelming responses that we've seen in other places.

What does that mean for the work of Discipling Marketplace Leaders?  That is something I have been processing for the past week.  I think it means a couple of things.  First of all, the Church in Egypt needs our prayers.  Working in a Muslim majority, having undergone several revolutions, with threats around from Muslim extremists is challenging enough.  But some of the hidden threats come from within - a deep seated fear that has paralyzed church leaders, or positioned them in such a stance of defensiveness that they are unable to hear truth, even when presented it by their own members.

Secondly, I think it means that the need is even more present in Egypt than in the areas that are so readily willing and able to run with this ministry.  Sure, it's easier to work with those who "get it" immediately.  Sure, it's easy to say that we should "shake the dust off our feet" if not experiencing a great welcome.  But that is surely not what we are called to do as Christians when it comes to building the Church.  We are called to preach, to teach, to equip.  We are called to pursue, just as we have been pursued by Christ.  It is for us to be obedient and leave the results up to God.

While I was on my last visit, I learned that only 3% of the land in Egypt is used.  The rest is deemed "wasteland."  The picture shows the dry land just outside of Cairo where one of conference centers was located.  It is incredible to me that only 3% of one million square kilometers is used by 82 million people.  As we traveled from Cairo to Minya, you could see the miles of desert stretching for miles.  This is not a land where people have historically had a "problem for every solution."  This is a land where people have historically found a solution for every problem. 

After snapping the picture above, I turned and snapped another one.  This one caught the sun rising, along with a bird.  I didn't try to catch those - I just got lucky.  But it reminded me of life and work and ministry - like the dry land, it can seem challenging and even hopeless - full of problems and lacking solutions.  But the tenacity of people, the inherent beauty of the earth, along with the gifts provided from God that are surprising, can make it beautiful.  We lift our eyes and keep going.  We keep trying.  And we trust God to bring the joy, restoration, and beauty.

In this time of Thanksgiving, I am thankful for each of you who continue to pray for this work.   Please continue to pray with me to be people who see solutions to problems, rather than problems to every solution.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

"Don't be afraid."

It was 9 pm and I was sitting in the office of an engineer/contractor in a small city in Egypt. The office was on the fourth floor of a building he had designed and built some years ago.  For me, it had been a busy day of travel, teaching, and meeting pastors and business persons.  For Aheb, it had been another long but normal day of work, overseeing his three businesses.  Aheb had just shared his story of the challenges of doing business as a Christian minority in Egypt, challenges that include things that Westerners could hardly imagine.  I asked him with whom he shared these challenges – who encourages him, who mentored him, where he gets his support?  His answer, sadly, was the same that I heard from each business person with whom we met.  “No-one. There is no-one I can trust to discuss my business, not even my family.  The church does not care.  There has been no one to mentor me.”  After a moment of silence, I said, “It must be both a lonely and frustrating path for you to walk.”  He quickly responded, “I am not lonely or frustrated.  I love what I do.  God has made me in a way that I am able to keep moving forward.”
The beautiful river Nile and streets of Minya

After more discussion, I wrapped up with a final question.  “Aheb, if a younger version of you walked through the door, ready to start his work as an engineer in the construction field, knowing what you know now, what advice would you give him?”  Aheb thought for a moment and then quietly said, “I would tell him, 'Don't be afraid.'”  He paused, then added, “The future is a mystery.  Fear is an obstacle.” As soon as those words left his mouth, I saw tears well up in his eyes and he struggled to maintain his composure.  

I quickly felt very aware that a nerve had been touched. I was also unsure of the Egyptian culture, as it relates to the appropriateness for an Egyptian man to show this type of emotion in public.  I decided to not push the question further.  This was a man who had shown, through his story, that he was not afraid to take risks.  He was running several businesses, doing a ministry of church leadership development in Chad, raising three beautiful daughters, survived two revolutions in Egypt, survived his office being burned, faced oppression and persecution as part of being a Christian business person in a religious minority, and had, moments before, boasted of his love for Egypt. While many Christians are fleeing the country, he has never even been tempted to leave.  So what did those tears mean?

I’m not sure.  But if I were to guess, he caught a glimpse of his younger self coming through the door. He flashed back on the many moments of struggle and pain over his 18 years of business experience. The same pain that he chooses to fight through each and every day, and for a brief moment allowed himself to feel the weight of the struggle.

Farms outside of El Minya
The next day we visited another business person who gave us the same answer of having no one to support encourage, mentor or trust as it relates to his business.  He then shared that we are the first to EVER ask him about the role that the church plays in his business.  He said this sadly, yet with some frustration.  He said, “The church doesn’t care at all what I do during the week, as long as I come with my family on Sunday and give when they need funds.”  Then he leaned forward and asked, “What do the pastors say when you ask them the same question?”  He knew that we were teaching pastors and church leaders about Church-based business as mission.  We squirmed in our seats as we had just spent four hours the day before with pastors who insisted that all is well with their relationship with business people. The pastors believe that they are affirming and supporting their business people. 

Dr. Walker teaching the pastors.
This same businessman then shared that he has taken fifty-five (!!)  loans in his eight years of business, with five loans going concurrently as we talked.  I didn’t want to tell him that he probably wins the first prize out of the thousands of businesses that I have interviewed for the highest number of loans.  My fear for this man is that he is in a vicious circle of robbing Peter to pay Paul. But he never really faces the music as his book-keeping system is simple, at best, and not giving him the feedback he needs to make good financial decisions.  He said that he is working fourteen hour days and never sees his family – he has a three year old son and a forty day old son.  He is unsure when this will ever change.

We returned to the training with the pastors that afternoon, and shared with them some of what we had heard.  Dr. Walker encouraged the pastors to think of what would happen if they never visited or inquired about the lives of their grown children – in many ways, those children would feel like orphans.  He then said, “I am here to tell you that you have many orphans in your church.  They need you to care about what they do.  They want you and the church to affirm, encourage, and disciple them in how to be the Church from Monday-Friday.”  It was a somber moment.
At the end of this training, all eight churches from this town decided to forsake denominationalism and work together to bring Discipling Marketplace Ministers to their town, and reclaim the redeemed Marketplace.

We know that this is just a first step.  But we are thankful for that first step, as difficult as it was to get there.  We will start this training at the end of February.   Each pastor will preach a sermon series on business as mission, meet and pray for and with the business members in their church, and choose 5-10 of their members to join the training.  Please pray with us for this group of eight churches. Pray also for these business people who seem so eager to share, so thirsty for support, so hungry for companionship.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Word from Hannah, in France

This post is from my daughter, Hannah, now 22 years old, who is studying French for one semester in France.  She is living in Grenoble, about 300 miles from Paris, and is safe after Friday night's attack. I was in a small town in Egypt with limited internet capability when the Paris attacks happened, so after checking in with her through texts, I was able to chat with her more on Sunday morning.  I expected that she might be a bit scared and a bit shaken up about what happened in Paris.  What I heard instead made me smile and think, "That's my girl!"  Her blog is below.  She has had an international life and that is coming through.  I wonder what God has planned for her in her future?

Hi everyone, Hannah here.  This blog was originally going to be about my amazing adventures here in France and, believe me, it has been amazing.  I’ve been paragliding, climbed mountains, visited some of the most historic places and seen some of the most amazing things that this world has to offer, from the Mona Lisa to the mountains and valleys throughout France.  And could, and would love to, go on and on about these things.  But there is something more important I would like to talk about.

Paris has been in the news a lot in the last couple days.  Two and a half weeks ago, I was in Paris, loving and appreciating the sights and sounds of the city.  The attacks in Paris on Friday, the 13th of November, struck a powerful cord with me in part because of that recent visit and in part because of my residence in France at the moment.  Saturday morning, I woke up to messages from friends and family checking in, making sure I was safe and okay, and reading posts from people around the world as they thought and prayed about France and Paris, those affected, those wounded, and the families of those who died.  It was touching to see people reach out in care and love to a wounded city and nation.  

However, it didn’t take long for my sadness to be joined by feelings of anger and frustration.  As profile pictures started being changed to show the French flag, and as posts continued to pour through with prayers for France, I was struck by a sense of déjà vu; we have been through this before, as a global community, where we band together in face of a tragedy, giving our unwavering support in a beautiful moment of unity, love, and grief.  However, I don’t think we experience that as often as it is called for, given the violence that exists in the world today.  

Did you know that a terrorist attack killed more than 40 people in Beirut on November 12th?  Or that on October 10, just over a month ago, 102 were killed and 508 were injured when suicide bombers bombed a peace rally in Turkey?  And how about that flight that crashed in Egypt around two weeks ago?  ISIL claimed responsibility for the 224 people who lost their lives there.  In fact, if you go to Wikipedia and look at the terrorist attacks committed in 2015, there is one almost every day.  Thankfully, few are as large as the attack on Paris, but there are people dying all around us.  And yet we do not see the posts of support, love, and unity show for some of these nations as we have seen for Paris and France this weekend.

The reason that I was frustrated Saturday morning is not at the overwhelming and amazing support shown by so many around the world for Paris.  It was because so many have died around the world who receive no recognition.  Why is it that the world begins rallying behind one nation within hours of the attack, where other nations who undergo serious attacks go almost unnoticed in the media?
We can’t spend all our time grieving, and if we paid as close attention to every terrorist attack as we did to the attacks in Paris, that is all we’d be doing.  Because even with our short attention spans, terrorist attacks happen so often that we’d be grieving all the time.  However, ignoring some countries and giving so much support to others saddens and frustrates me.  Have we become indifferent to terrorist attacks in some countries, like Iraq, Syria, and Nigeria because they happen so often?  Has the media decided for us that certain massacres are less interesting and less attention grabbing, and so are unimportant?  

I am in grief and shock for Paris, a place that is now much closer to my heart than before, but I am also in deep grief for the world.  I am saddened by those who will look at this attack and use it to fuel irrational hatred towards all Muslims.  I am saddened by the refugees fleeing from countries constantly under these types of attacks, only to be turned away or suspected of committing the same attacks from which they are fleeing.  I am saddened by a world that can ignore the loss of lives in one context, only to be up in arms over the loss of lives in another.  I’m saddened by a media that seeks to entertain and boost ratings, instead of a media that reports on everything equally.  I grieve for those who lose their lives in massacres that are ignored, whose deaths are marked insignificant because death is so normal in their part of the world or because their part of the world is not attention-grabbing enough to be reported on.   
Please continue praying for Paris- this is a nation still reeling in shock and grief that needs prayers, love and support.  Please continue to pray even once our profile pictures go back to normal and the news media moves on.  But please do not forget to pay attention and pray for other people in other nations who have lost their lives or who experience attacks like this far too often.  Don’t forget to send love and support to forgotten nations that suffer in relative isolation.  Keep the rest of the world in your prayers even once it stops being the trendy thing to do.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Global Poverty Industry

[I leave for Egypt tomorrow, Tuesday, November 11.  A number of my loved ones are concerned because of the recent plane crash in Egypt, possibly linked to terrorism, but I have often felt that the best time to travel to a troubled region is just after such an incident, as security tends to go way up.  Feel free to pray as you feel led, but also pray for the Russian families who lost loved ones, as well as tourism industry in Egypt which has gone down 95% since the revolutions started in 2011.  One in nine Egyptians work in the tourism industry so many families are suffering and this recent crash will not help matters!]

This last week, I heard the phrase "the global poverty industry."  That phrase immediately caught my attention and made me think.  An industry designed for the purpose of the production of poverty.  Hmmm.  Could people really be so crass as to have the objective and purpose of perpetuating poverty?

I think, for the most part, the answer is no.  But I also think, for the most part, that our actions do exactly that, despite our intentions to do the opposite.

What do I mean?

Let me give you an example relating to orphanages and child sponsorship programs, which are pet peeves of mine.  Many of you may support these (and of course I know that adoption is necessary in certain contexts), so I'm not meaning to offend, but having spent so much time in Africa, I have seen how much money gets poured into orphanages and child sponsorship programs in ways that are not healthy and actually seem to perpetuate a "global poverty industry." 

This past week, I heard a statistic from the director of a documentary called Poverty Inc., that 80% of orphans in Haiti have one living parent.  I also heard that 22 out of 26 children in orphanages have one living parent.  I saw proof of this myself in Liberia, Ghana, and Kenya.  An American Christian couple told the story of going to adopt a child, and were asked by the director of the orphanage if they wanted to meet the mother.  They were surprised to learn that the child had a mother, but agreed to meet her.  They learned that this mother visits her child every two weeks and tries to bring him something in each visit.  When they asked her why she wanted to give up her son for adoption, she said, "I don't want to.  But I can't afford to keep him."  This couple was about to spend $20,000 on an adoption. They had reflected on James 1:27 which says, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."  They wondered whether a lot of the care for the orphans was creating economic incentives for parents to give up children - to make their children orphans - rather than helping parents keep their children.

The advertisement that I have posted here from a large non-profit child sponsorship program makes me very uncomfortable.  To say, "Her tomorrow depends on what you decide today," implies that her future is not in her own hands but rather in a stranger's hands - who might not know or understand her context, culture, or condition.  It is giving way too much responsibility for a small gift of $38/month.

 And of course for me, in the work that I do with Discipling Marketplace Leaders, the answer seems so obvious.  What if we focused on ministries that created jobs that allowed people to keep their children?  If we help people get jobs...if we help people to do business be job creators...poverty can be alleviated for the long term, rather than giving to something that potentially perpetuates poverty.  And if we disciple people to do business to the glory of God, not only can poverty be alleviated, but the church can be built,  and the will of God can be done "on earth as it is in heaven."

People in the North America have very good and compassionate hearts toward the poor, and it doesn't take long to look around and see very creative ways that people find to raise money to help the poor.  We are problem solvers!  But we need to apply those skills and that passion to solve problems for the long-term and not the short term only.  We need to be sure that our efforts are not going toward supporting a poverty industry, but rather for long-term poverty alleviation.

But I also know that it feels good to help one child - to receive a picture and a name of an orphan being sponsored. Helping a business develop does not pull the heart strings as much....or as Bob used to say, "is not as sexy" or attractive to people.  But James 1:27 says to help orphans in their distress - surely it is more stressful to lose the family home, parents, and culture, than staying there; surely it is in the best interest of a child to stay with their parents, and for their parents to financially provide for their own children rather than relying on the kindness of strangers.  And surely, the world will determine ways to "solve" these problems that help to keep those non-profits in business, with employees that are very well paid.  FYI - did you know that the majority of foreign aid stays in the donor countries and goes toward debt relief or the activities of poverty alleviation rather than to the countries themselves?  In Denmark, it is 70%!  I also read of a very large non-profit where only 2.5% of the money raised actually goes to the intended beneficiary!  We need to be informed through places like Charity Navigator, or actually looking at the IRS 990s that charities are required to put on their websites to see what the executives are being paid and make informed decisions about how our compassion is directed.

As you consider your year end gifts, I would encourage you to put your hard earned dollars to work in a way that will make a long term difference in this world, and not contribute to the "poverty industry."  My friend, Jeff Bloem, sent me a link to this video, "How to Feel Good about Poverty."  It's only a couple of minutes long but I encourage you to watch it.  It doesn't provide answers, but rather questions.  And as I wrote last week, we can find those answers within ourselves, if we ask the right questions.