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.