Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Just a Few More Thoughts....

So I know I said I was done with the topic of poverty for a while, but since the leading Christian magazine's cover article was about poverty this month, well....I figured I should comment on it....just a little bit.

Especially this one:

Cost-Effective Compassion:  The 10 Most Popular Strategies for Helping the Poor

And what is the #1 strategy on this list?  Well Building!  Ha.  Oh, the irony.

So since I am a novice at this stuff, I asked my amazing, community-development friends what they thought of Christianity Today's list, since it seemed to contradict a lot of what I wrote in my series.  I will quote my friends here.

One of my friends said that this list should have labeled, "relief, not development."  The majority of the projects on this list will help to bring relief to poverty, but not lasting development.  You know, like the "give a man a fish" analogy. 

One friend wrote, "The reason that water appears first on the list is that it was the best out of the 10 strategies given, which, if you notice, are not the truly innovative and cutting edge best-practices in the development world.  Each of the strategies mentioned involves a donor GIVING a poor person/country something.  It's not truly transformational development."

Another friend wrote, "[True development] takes an excruciatingly long time of patient teaching/living by example on the ground with them and it definitely does not appeal to quick fix western eyes."

And regarding the top three programs on the list?

Well Building
"We have seen government, missions, NGO's come in an dig a well and the longest it lasts is 2 years and there are no funds to maintain, repair, replace the wells.  The well dies...and then the people are worse off than before with no water source as they have neglected their own open hand dug wells in the meantime....  We have tried to train them inhow to maintain the well, but it wasn't their resources to begin with so they really don't own it and therefore don't care for it.  And then life just goes back to the way it's always been--scrounging for water--but it was nice while it lasted....Teaching them again nothing really can change!  URGHH!!!"

De-worming medication:
"It's interesting that deworming medication shows up on the list.  This is, perhaps, the cheapest medicine in the world.  I think it's something like 2 cents a dose on average.  The program that I worked with in Kenya actually went to schools to SELL the deworming tablets and then parents felt the dignity of providing healthcare for their families.  So why are they recommending funding this medication?"

And mosquito nets:
I didn't ask my friends specifically about this, but as someone who lives in a malaria-infested country, I would ask these questions of the organizations:
Are they using locally-made nets or importing them?
What about the fact that malaria is usually spread during the twilight hours, when people are not under mosquito nets?
How about the growing evidence that spraying houses with DDT is almost eliminating malaria is certain places?

More food for thought.  Don't get me wrong--I love Christianity Today, and since I only read it on-line, maybe the actual magazine's articles gave a more balanced approach to relief and development. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Fate of Africa

I spent five of my formative years between ages 6 and 12 in Liberia.  When I was 13 and in 8th grade, we were in the States on home assignment.  A civil war started in Liberia during that year.  We lost all of our possessions.  We never went back.  Many friends died.  The war lasted 15 years.

In 9th grade, my family moved to Ethiopia.  I went to boarding school in Kenya.  During that year, there was unrest in Kenya.  I remember that all of us students had to practice packing an emergency bag.  I remember that it had to be something we could carry for at least two miles.  We had to keep a list of what we would pack so that we could get the bag ready in a hurry.

Also during that year, a war broke out in Ethiopia.  My mom and my brother were evacuated.  My dad stayed behind with some other men, and a few times, they had to hide in an underground bunker.  Once, my dad was in our apartment, and a bullet came through the ceiling.  He kept it for us, but I didn't really want to see it.

I lived some African history.  But I didn't really ever study it. 

And now I've lived in Tanzania for over 8 years.  So I have studied Tanzanian history.  But not really any of the other countries.  Yet we have friends from Zimbabwe, South Africa, Kenya, and Congo. 

So when my great friend Alyssa recommended this book to me, I was eager to read it. 

And so I read it.  All 750 pages.  It took me two months, and about halfway through, I had to start reading something else sometimes because it was seriously depressing me. 

Here's the summary of just about every African country since independence:

1.  A young, charismatic leader takes over the country, with promises of socialism and equality and prosperity.
2.  Western governments get excited about supporting such a great leader, especially if he promises he will never go over to bad evil communist Russia, and then pour billions of dollars of aide into the country.
3.  This leader proceeds to bankrupt the country by amassing his own personal fortune.  He becomes a billionaire while the rest of the country lives in poverty.
4.  A military coup takes place, and the leader makes promises of socialism and equality and prosperity. 
5.  Repeat from #1.

And there you have it.  A History of Africa.  Now you don't need to read 750 pages. 

Okay, so there's a little more to it.

Like how during the 80's Ethiopian Famine, when the whole world was focused on the starving children.....what the media didn't say (or didn't know) was that it was President Mengistu's agricultural policies which caused the famine.  Or how he continued to bomb the affected areas, even while people were starving to death, because those areas contained political opponents.

Like how ordinary Rwandan Hutus slaughtered 800,000 of their friends and co-workers who just happened to be Tutsis, in 100 days.  100 days.  And the world did nothing.  Well, except for the French, who continued to fund the Hutu government even while the slaughtering was going on.

Like how South African President Mbeki refused to believe that AIDS existed and therefore provided no funding or relief or education for AIDS, even when 1 out of 5 people in his country was infected. 

Like how Charles Taylor, who started the Liberian war, intentionally forced the war into neighboring countries, for the purpose of his own financial gain.  He conscripted thousands of child soldiers, gave them drugs and a gun and told them to kill their parents.  And now he is living the high life in Nigeria.

Yeah.  So if you happen to be in a really happy mood and want to do away with it, this is a great book to read.

In all seriousness, I highly recommend this book if you love Africa or have some kind of investment in it.  It was extremely informative and interesting and so very eye-opening.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Meeting East Again

I guess it's been the month of Indian experiences for us.

We've known Menka and her family since kindergarten, so when she invited us to her Jain Temple for a fund-raising event, we went. 

And so we had lots of fun playing carnival games, and Grace and I got our hands painted with henna, and of course the food was fabulous.  Which is quite impressive considering that Jains are not only vegetarians but also don't eat anything that grows under the ground, like onions and garlic and potatoes. 

We certainly did garner a lot of attention though....considering that we (or rather I, since Gil is not white) were the only white people there, and our children were the only African people there.  Everyone was very kind and welcoming, of course, but I did wonder what exactly went through people's minds when they saw us that night.  :-)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Third Turning Three

It's true what they say about the third child....it's really just not fair.

Grace got a birthday party with friends when she turned three, and a pinata her Daddy made her.  Josiah got a picnic and face painting and balloon animals. 

Which, of course, they have no memory of. 

So why make a big deal, right? 

Poor third child. 

But since this is Lily's first birthday with her family, and well, she is pretty special, we still wanted it to be a special day.  Especially since she had been asking me for weeks if it was her birthday Today.

Since her birthday was a day off of school, we all got to go to Water World. 

And since we were making waffles for dinner, I thought, No one is really going to want to eat cake, right?  Can't we just put the candles in the waffles?

So we did.  But then, whenever I was in the kitchen the next two days, she asked me if I was making her a birthday cake.

So the girl got a cake.  Just a couple days late. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Speaking of Money.....

Imagine buying everything with cash.


Car Insurance
Major appliances
Doctor's bills
Phone credit

And THEN imagine that the highest denomination of currency was worth about $7.50.  No $100 bills, $50....not even a $10.  Only $7.50.  That's what 10,000 Tanzanian shillings is worth.

Yep.  That's a lot of cash.

To carry around.

In your purse.

On a regular basis. 

Yeah, that's my life. 

(I exaggerate only slightly....the main grocery store did start accepting credit cards in recent months.  BUT you can't use it with the cashier...you have to leave your groceries (and children in the cart) and go over to the manager's desk to pay separately....so unless you are totally out of cash, it's not really worth it.)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Lessons from Living With (But Not In) Poverty (Part 5)

Last one.  I promise.  Then I will go back to more mundane things.  So, for those of you who have tuned out this section (congratulations if you have gotten this far), please don't tune out forever. 

When I started, I really didn't realize I would have so much to say.  But the juices got flowing.  I obviously need an editor.  (It's worse when I talk, trust me.)

So let me just sum up here:

1.  We are commanded to care about the poor, and to care for them. 

2.  Make sure you are helping, not hurting (and not giving just to relieve your conscience).

3.  God wants to use all of you, not just your money, to do His work to help the poor.  Consider the idea that He might want your family involved in more "mess" than you may have realized. 

Other ideas:

1.  Intentionally move into a low-income neighborhood. 

2.  Invite a college student from a low-income family to live with you, rent free.  (My parents have done this for 5 years.  Yay, Mom and Dad!)

3.  Volunteer at a pregnancy center, or a women's shelter, or a children's home.

4.  Become a foster parent.

5.  Adopt an international orphan or financially support someone who wants to.

6.  Tutor kids from a low-income neighborhood (but kids' ministry should always be a bridge to family ministry, never an end in itself). 

7.  Cultivate your own strong marriage and help others cultivate theirs (since that's the very best way to keep kids out of poverty).

Other ideas?  Anyone?

I don't have it all together.  My primary purpose in Tanzania is not poverty alleviation.  But I can't ignore it when it is all around me.  May some of what I have learned be a means for God to teach you as well. 

Thanks for reading!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Lessons from Living With (But Not In) Poverty (Part 4)

This one might be a little radical.  But stick with me.

Lesson #5

Give Someone a Job.

Yep.  Hire Someone.  To do your cleaning, laundry, cooking, landscaping, gardening, whatever.  Be creative. 

I can hear you saying, You're telling me to hire a maid?

Well, I don't really like that word, but basically, Yes.  Giving someone a job is the best way to help that person get out of poverty.

We do this all the time in Africa.  We have two people who work for us full-time.  I know that full-time help is much more expensive in America.  So try once a week. 

But I know the stereotype.  Only the rich and lazy have maids and gardeners and cooks. 

Well, we've already established that you are rich.  Get used to the idea.

And lazy?  Well, it doesn't have to be that way.  Having full-time house help frees up hours of time that I can invest in ministry.  You don't have to use that time for watching television.  Volunteer in a pregnancy center or make meals for people who are sick or better yet, get to know your neighbors. 

It's time that people in the west stop seeing these kind of jobs as a luxury, and instead see them as ministry

I'm not suggesting that you hire someone and then make sure you are never home when she is around.  I'm suggesting that you hire somone and then invest in his life.

Which involves talking.  Getting to know him.  Finding out who her kids are.  Having the family over to dinner.  Discovering his goals and aspirations, and then helping him meet those goals.  Encouraging English classes, if needed.  Helping her take college classes.  Teaching him new skills that will help him move upwards economically. 

And maybe even spoiling her kids at Christmas.  Don't you think that would be much better than buying presents for an unknown, faceless "poor" person who will probably lose his dignity because he can't afford gifts for his kids himself?  How much better for the family to receive gifts from her generous employer!

What I'm talking about is messy business, folks.  Trust me.  There are many times when I would just prefer to do my ironing myself, thank you very much, because it's emotionally hard and complicated and just plain messy to be that involved in a person's life. 

But isn't that what we are called to do? 

Like I said, it's much easier to just throw money at the problem.  Or pick up a few extra gifts at Christmas for a person you will never meet. 

But that's not going to end poverty. 

So think about it.  If you are on a tight budget, maybe you already scrimp and save and sacrifice to sponsor a child overseas or support an Indian pastor.  And what I am suggesting is that it would be just as valuable (maybe more so) to scrimp and save and sacrifice to hire someone.

It's not a luxury; it's ministry.  If you are willing to see it the right way.

And the last one (for now!):  Part 5

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Lessons from Living With (But Not In) Poverty (Part 3)

Lesson #2

Money alone is not the answer.  To poverty, that is. 

Sometimes we read statistics about how much money it would take to alleviate poverty.  And that makes us dig a little deeper into our pockets and fork over some more at the next offering.  But all my years in Africa have taught me:  Money alone is not the answer. 

Did you know that in the 50-60 years since Africa received its independence from colonial rule, billions of dollars have been given or loaned to African nations?

And did you know that in those 50-60 years, the standard of living in most (if not all) African countries has decreased?


The opposite of increased.

After billions of dollars.

Money alone is not the answer.

(But, um....look at America.  How many people who have spent years on welfare (and not in just an emergency situation) are now living financially, self-sufficient, productive lives?  Yeah.  Goes for African nations too.)

See, the problem is, when we hear about poverty and are convicted about it, our first inclination is to throw money at it.  That way we don't feel so guilty.  But the truth is, money (or other kinds of donations) alone often makes the problem worse.

But they seem like such noble causes!

Building a church for a poor village:   But how is that affecting the local believers' sense of biblical stewardship?  What does that say to the unbelievers in that village?  (Come to Jesus and the white people will give you stuff!)

Sending used clothes to a poor village.  Or a huge box of school supplies for the children:  But what does that do to the guy down the street who is trying to make a living by selling clothes?  What does it do to the tiny stationery shop when suddenly no one wants to buy their pencils any more? 

Building a well in an area with no water supply:  Africa is littered with wells that were machine-dug, and are now broken with no one to fix them.  They can't be maintained.  The local people have no sense of ownership over it, because they did nothing to make it happen.  Now--perhaps there are times when a machine-dug well can be a lifesaver for a local school or orphanage....but ONLY if it is not replacing the work that the local, indigenous church should be doing themselves!

Lesson #3:

Money+long-term commitment+the GOSPEL=The Answer

Ohhhhh....there's too much on this to say on this for a blog post!  But if you want more, then you must read this book.  But let me just summarize by saying that the gospel changes more than just people's eternal destiny!  It gives them dignity and respect and a work ethic and integrity.  It gives them the desire to be unselfish and to cooperate with their neighbors.  It sets people free from the bondage of addictions so that they are able to provide for their families. 

And using principles from Scripture, workers can help produce long-term poverty alleviation even before there is a community of believers. 

Take, for example, another method of well-building:  A long-term worker builds relationships with the men in the village.  Over time, he develops a vision in them for building a well.  He tells them that if they provide all the labor, he will provide the materials.  He teaches them how to do it. 

The men agree and dig the well themselves, provided with about $600 in supplies.  They succeed.  They know how to maintain it themselves.  The well could last 100 years.  The men are so excited that on their own, they make plans to build another one.  Dignity.  Respect.  Self-sufficiency.  Reproducibility. 

True story.  From very good friends of mine.

Lesson #4

So where should my money go?

Make sure your donations are helping, not hurting.

Are you supporting a national pastor in the developing world that would better be supported by a local church?  Is the organization working towards that goal?

Are you paying for a church to be built and the local people are doing nothing?  Contributing nothing? 

Are you supporting an expensive short-term missions trip where the participants will be stealing work from nationals.....such as painting a building?  Distributing gifts and prizes to small children that can never be replicated by the local church?  (What if then the kids in the village only want to come to VBS when the white people are there, because that's when they "get stuff?"  What does that do to the national believers?)

Is the gospel a major part of any poverty alleviation effort that is going on?  Is it a part of a long-term, relationship-building ministry, or just a "blitz" that won't have lasting results?

Look for national involvement and decisions.  Who initiated the project?  The local church?  Or the white people with Big Ideas for fixing problems?  Look for long-term sustainment, reproducibility....and humility among the foreign workers.  Micro-enterprise.  Selling things at low prices instead of giving them away.  Using local resources instead of imported resources. 

A couple of major exceptions:

1.  Emergency relief after a national disaster.  Support organizations that are doing this in the name of Jesus, but other than that--get those poor people some water and food and shelter.  Just make sure you support a ministry that knows this should be temporary.

2.  Orphan ministry (though even in this, the local church should be involved!)

3.  Sometimes any of the above.  I'm not ready to tell anyone that they should never support a national pastor or pay for a church to be built or pay for a machine-dug well.  I'm mostly saying that you should do your homework and ask good questions and think through the long-term effects of how you donate.

(at least one more part coming soon.....to be continued)

Keep reading:  Part 4

Monday, February 6, 2012

Lessons from Living With (But Not In) Poverty (Part 2)

A few years ago, I wrote about living with poverty, but not in poverty. 

My struggle has not ceased.
However, I have learned a great deal about poverty in these last few years.  I’ve read some great books on the subject.  I’ve learned from a few amazing, talented, passionate friends here in Tanzania who know so much about alleviating poverty through community development.  I’ve witnessed the impact of various economic systems both in Tanzanian and the U.S. 
And so I don’t feel so helpless anymore.  I still feel the urge to do more, and I pray often that God will convict me as to how He wants me to better use the resources He has given me.  I don’t have all the answers.  But I am starting to get a picture of what some of the answers might be.
And that’s what I want to share with you.  Because the things I have learned are universal; they don’t just apply to Africa. 
So here we go.

Lesson #1: 
When it comes to helping alleviate poverty, and to what God expects from me, God doesn’t want just my money.
We’ve established that I am rich.  You are rich.  We have far more money at our disposal than the vast majority of people in the world. 
But it’s not just how we use our money that God will hold us responsible for.
I am a healthy person.  And I have access to excellent health care.  Thus, I should have more energy to devote to serving others than most people in the world, who regularly, daily, struggle with health issues and have no options (not even WebMD!).
I am an educated person.  Since I have some post-college graduate training, I am one of the most educated people in the world.  How am I using my education to further God’s kingdom?  How I am wisely using the money and time that was invested in my education?  Since I know about the suffering in the world—of the unborn, of persecuted Christians, of those who are in slavery, how will I be held accountable for that knowledge?
I am a citizen of a country that allows religious freedom (most of the time!).  I am living in another country that also allows religious freedom.  Am I taking advantage of the opportunities for the gospel that gives me? 
I am rich in spiritual resources.  The number of Christian books, sermons, songs, and translations of the Bible that are available to me at the click of my finger is mind-boggling.  I have a better grasp of theology than most African pastors--not because I am more worthy or have more faith, but simply because I am American and have infinite opportunity to learn.  Yet why is my faith so much weaker than theirs?
And of course, the fact that I am a financially rich person also provides for more than just nice things.  I don’t need to labor all day to provide food for my family, so I have more time for service.  I am able to take lovely vacations, so I should be all the more useful and productive as a result. 
I am a Ten Talent Servant.  Am I using all of them?  Am I putting to use all of the abundant resources God has given me? 
We hear about those pastors in India who travel around by bicycle.  They get beaten up a lot by people who hate them.  They sleep under the stars and rely on the generosity of others in order to eat.  They have been given One Talent when it comes to resources and money and health.  They have nothing, yet they are furthering God’s kingdom in amazing ways.

So if they have One and are doing all that, and I have Ten, shouldn’t I be doing ten times as much?

Keep reading:  Part 3

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Lessons from Living With (But Not In) Poverty (Part 1)

I am an aristocrat.

So are you.
I am one of the richest people in the world.  And I don’t mean that figuratively.  I mean that literally.  I do not own a plane, or a boat, or even a house.  But I am one of the richest people in the world.  Filthy, stinkin’ rich. 
I want you to please click here for a moment.  Please.  Then go on and read what else I have to say. 
Did you do it?  Did you enter your family’s income? 
Yeah.  Sobering, isn’t it? 
Oh, I’ve heard the excuses.  “But the cost of living in the United States is so much higher than anywhere else.  We need more money just to get by.”
Oh yes.  True.  But the standard of living is also much higher. 
You are one of the richest people in the world.  I know this because you own a computer, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this.  And if you own a car and have a college education, that puts you in the top 7%.
It’s difficult to fathom this when you are surrounded by people who have as much, or more, than you do.  But that doesn’t make it any less true. 
I don’t know about you, but aristocrat doesn’t really bring to mind positive images.  Rather, I think of Marie Antoinette saying, Let them eat cake.  We think of aristocrats as the very rich who revel in their wealth and ignore the poor at their doorstep. 
Are we that far from that description?
I’ve been thinking about this in biblical terms.  Remember the parable of the talents?  Each servant was given a different amount of money, and the amount didn’t matter, just the responsibility. 
Well.  If you go back to that website and see where you fall on the Global Rich List, can you claim anything other than 10 talents?
I am a Ten Talent Servant.  So are you.  We are at the top of the heap.  We are the aristocracy of the world. 
And we will be held responsible as such. 
I have always, every day of my life, had enough to eat.  My closet has always been crammed with clothes.  My housing options have been numerous.  My educational options have been even greater.  The sky is the limit; I can practically do anything and go anywhere if I really wanted to.  I can read any book in English; any kind of information is available to me. 
I have never lived in fear of starvation.  I have never been raped by a soldier who is supposed to protect me.  I have never had to put my children to bed hungry.  I have never been faced with the decision of leaving a child behind to die of starvation alone, or to get the rest of my family to a refugee camp.  I have never lived in fear of a brutal dictator.  I have never had to worry about where or how my children will go to school.  If my children get sick, I can afford the best medical care in the country.  And if that’s not good enough, I have insurance to fly them somewhere else. 
The more I learn about the suffering in the world, the more I am amazed that I have been spared from it.  The more humbled I am.  Every difficulty in my life that I have faced is nothing, nothing, nothing compared to the suffering that billions of people in this world face every day. 
I am so rich. 
I am so cared for.
I have so much opportunity. 
I have Ten Talents. 
I am an aristocrat. 
And that changes my perspective on everything. 
To whom much has been given, much will be required. 

Keep reading:  Part 2

Friday, February 3, 2012


Josiah was not happy about getting a little sister.

For the first few months, he was grouchy, mean, and nasty....all the time.

Then he started getting the spark back in his eyes, but he was still mean.  Poor Lily has been kicked, pinched, hit, called names, shoved down in the bathtub, had the door slammed in her face, and her big toe cut with scissors. 

We've been trying everything.  Every kind of consequence we can think of.  He's had a positive incentive sticker chart.  He gets little prizes on good days (and there's not very many good days).  We have been talking and talking and talking to him.  About how big brothers are supposed to be their little sister's rescuer, protector, superhero. 

Though she doesn't make it easy either.  She is stubborn and strong-willed and she starts screaming if he just looks at her cross-eyed.  Quite often I have both of them in separate corners, screaming their heads off. 

But I've wondered if Josiah is ever going to get it.  Or if I'll just be visiting him in prison. 

Slowly, slowly, I've been hearing them giggle together.  And now, at bedtime, he makes sure to say, "I love you, Lily!" 

Then there was this morning.  We were playing outside on the trampoline, and Josiah stopped at one point and ran into the house.  He came back out with two cups of water. 

"I didn't know if Lily was 'firsty, so I brought her some water too." 

And then, when she finished hers, he poured some of his water into her cup.

And my heart melted and I got all teary. 

Maybe there is hope after all. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

East and More East

Way back in 2001, when Gil and I first moved to Tanzania, I was teaching at HOPAC full-time, but Gil was helping with an Indian church plant.  In Tanzania

There are actually tens of thousands of Indians in Dar es Salaam, let alone the hundreds of thousands throughout east Africa.  Almost all are Muslim or Hindu.  And they have lived here for generations, so they are Tanzanian citizens.  But still very Indian in culture. 


Many of these families send their kids to HOPAC. 

So in order to help the HOPAC teachers better understand Indian culture (and because I just love it myself!), on Saturday I took a bunch of teachers downtown to teach them a little about it.  We visited the mosques and Hindu temples.  We listened to some friends who are working in these communities.  We had great Indian food.  And of course, we went shopping for Indian clothes! 

After Africa, India is my favorite culture.  So I get the best of both worlds.  :-)