Equal Exchange

equal-exchange1MISSION asks  families to volunteer in their communities before they are eligible to earn a new house through our program. We actually get a lot of questions about our process. Wouldn’t it be more loving if we just built a house for them, no questions asked or strings attached? Short answer: no. Long answer: continue reading.

OPTION 1: Fly a team in and build a house for a family of 6 that currently lives in a cardboard box in the rainy mountains of El Salvador.

OR

OPTION 2: Ask that they become engaged in their community and in the process, meet many other people just like them who live and work in their community.

Let’s fast forward 10 years:

OPTION 1 IN 10 YEARS: The family lives in a decent house that is beginning to fall apart. The really good news, however, is that no one living in the house has died from hurricanes, mud slides, earth quakes, or respiratory problems.

OPTION 2 IN 10  YEARS: The family lives in a decent house that is beginning to fall apart. The really good news, however, is that no one living in the house has died from hurricanes, mud slides, earth quakes, or respiratory problems. The even better news is that most of the community knows each other from when they all helped build each others’ homes. If the neighborhood watch program works in America, imagine how much more engaged these community members are. How would you feel about your neighbor if he actually helped build your house? Also, the community now has access to reputable doctors, pastors, teachers, and government officials because they interacted with them while volunteering to earn hours for a new home.

Which option seems more loving? A community who “does life” together or a bunch of individuals that received something for free from some foreigners?

If you still think option 1 sounds more loving, you are probably motivated by feelings and emotions more than truth and authentic development. The remedy for this usually requires two things. The first one is observing a genuinely dependent community and seeing the harm caused by dependencies first-hand. The second one is some honest personal assessment about why you’re in this line of work in the first place.

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Measuring Success

I’m a strong advocate for the saying, “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.” That means that if you aren’t measuring something, it’s probably not getting better. If you are a runner who isn’t tracking your time and distance, you probably aren’t improving as a runner. So many churches measure attendance because it’s an easy number to obtain. What happens when all you measure is church attendance? You have a lot of shallow people filling your church every week who aren’t connecting to God or to each other. The evangelical church has been guilty of this for years.

In international work more than ever it is important that you have measurable results. There are countless ways to measure success. In the work of a Christian, one possible way is laid out for us at the end of the second chapter of Acts.

Acts 2:42-47 says:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

This is describing what a Christian community looked like right after Jesus died. One thing we have to be aware of, is that this passage is a description of what the early church looked like, not a prescription of exactly what our communities should look like. Too often we read passages like this and try to force fit our culture into it, this can have very damaging results.

That said, here are some measurable results you can use to know if you are on the right track. Since a lot of our success is spiritual and therefore intangible, it’s easy to fake. Be very cautious of this, it will only harm you and your ministry by pretending to have results. The real challenge, however, is it’s even easy to deceive yourself! Sit down with a trusted supporter, board member, or colleague every month and measure your success based on the following results:

What is a disciple?

Short-Term Missions (again)

There’s been a lot of talk about short-term missions (STM) lately. Most of it is well grounded and theoretical but not super practical. I really want to dive into why STM are the way they are and what we can do about it. This is incredibly hard to do because there are so many STM organizations and so many different groups of people that want to do something about it.

It would be one long (and hard to read) post if I tried to answer all of that at once. Instead, I’m going to do a series of posts looking at STM from a bunch of different angles. Churches, organizations, groups, and individuals all look at STM in completely different ways. Just like community development work should be done holistically, so should developing a new definition of STM. I’ll start off with a few links to other useful resources that introduce different perspectives on STM.

Here’s a blog post I wrote so you can see my bias right off the bat (though I’ll try to keep it objective throughout the series).

Here’s a book I highly recommend about the subject. I’ll be doing a review on this book shortly.

Lastly, a blog post I’m not affiliated with that does a good job explaining the big picture of STM.

Some things I’ll address in this series of posts:

  • What does an individual need to know about STM?
  • What should you be on the look out for when searching for a good trip to go on?
  • What types of organizations can host an effective STM?
  • Why do STM have such a bad reputation?
  • What can someone do to be most prepared for a STM trip?
  • What are some basic dos and don’ts?
  • How to take and how not to take pictures on a STM trip.
  • What is our role in world missions and community development?

Just so you know: I will not say that you should not participate in any short term missions. I do not think that you should stop giving money. I still think STMs can be an incredible way to share life with people all around the world. It’s an opportunity that my grandparents certainly didn’t have and I’m appreciative that my generation can now do things like this. That said, with great opportunity comes great responsibility. We must do everything we can to make sure STM are helping who we say they are meant to help.

I’ll update this post with links to each new post in this series so you can always come back to it for reference. This is such a big topic, I’d love to get a discussion going. Email goodmudblog [at] gmail.com if you’re interested in something like that and I’ll help set up a google hangout or a Skype session.

The Joy of Giving

joy-of-giving

In 1 Chronicles 29, David prays a prayer over the new temple in Jerusalem.

In verse 14 he says, “Who am I, and who are my people that we should be able to give like this?”

He was mystified that the creator of everything would deem him and his people worthy of giving anything. He goes on to say, “I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you.”

There is an honest joy associated with giving. David understood this and he was experiencing it when he prayed those words.

When we send money oversees, we could be robbing a local community of this joy. Are there exceptions? Sure, but they are few and far between.

A new measurement of success could be: how much are the people you’re serving with giving?

No matter what aspect of international work you are involved with you have to ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do the people I serve experience the joy of giving?
  • What actions could send the message that their gifts aren’t enough?
  • Have we ever discouraged someone from giving (with actions or words)?
  • How are we encouraging people we serve to give?

Giving to a bigger cause is almost always a sign of maturity and development. It’s also a command from scripture. Are we being faithful to the full teachings of Christ? He commended the poor widow that gave just two coins. If I had seen that widow, I would have probably tried to convince her that giving away 100% of her money was bad stewardship.

The joy of giving is such an important part of our spirituality. Please make sure you are not robbing anyone, or any community, of this joy.

Book Review: Poor Economics

I just finished the book so its still fresh on the mind, it’s called: Poor Economics.poor-economics-book-cover

This is the FIRST book I’ve read that does a good job of explaining both sides of different important issues.

There are a lot of differing [valid] arguments when it comes to how to fight poverty.  What everyone can [finally] agree on is that there is no silver bullet.  It’ll take multiple efforts in varying sectors to really put a dent in poverty.  Most organizations and individuals represent one of two arguments.

The relief argument says that Africa needs more clothes, more food, and more money handed out to the people.

The development argument says that Africa needs to learn to make their own clothes, grow their own food, and produce their own wealth.  How can we help Africa accomplish this self-sustainability?

If you’ve read my blog for any amount of time you know squarely where I fall.  I’ve alway said we need to emphasize development and IF we use relief it must be to kickstart the development process.

This book does a good job of explaining why neither relief nor development alone can solve the problem of poverty. It cannot be either/or but both/and.  It is a great overview of almost everything that is currently being done by governments and NGO’s alike.

Food, health, education, family size, children, savings & loans, and politics are all addressed.

This book gives real examples of what has worked and what hasn’t worked in the fight against poverty all over the world.  Its written by two MIT economists that studied 18 different countries over the course of 15 years.

The basic conclusion of the book is that the policies and efforts to fight poverty have failed in the last 50 years because we haven’t truly understood it.  We filter poverty through our personal lenses and make policies or programs based on what we would want if we were in a given situation.  The answer, is to understand it on a ground level and work our way up.

I appreciate that the book emphasizes the fact that true change will come from the bottom up, not the top down.  I also like that it does not ignore the responsibility that those on top do have to advocate for those on bottom.

Its an all around good book, though it can be difficult to get through at times (both authors are professors of economics at MIT).

There are some shortcomings.  It mildly addresses spiritual issues.  The fact is witch doctors, the occult, and many false religions have a strong hold on poverty.  Without truth in the form of a loving God that does not motivate through guilt and fear many people will never break the chains of poverty.

My conclusion: This book has had a significant impact on the world and on me personally when it comes to viewing and aiding the fight against poverty.  Anyone involved in social justice issues that deal with the poor, must have this book on their bookshelf.  If you give money to charities I would highly recommend reading this book to determine if your charity of choice is on the right track to truly put an end to poverty.

Chronic vs Crisis

I wrote a post on short-term missions that wasn’t super helpful. It explained a problem without even starting to talk about solution(s). That’s not the way I like to do things.

One solution can be found in the “Chronic vs Crisis” discussion. One way to determine if relief work is necessary (as most short-term mission trips are), is by asking the question, “Is this situation a crisis or is it chronic?”

A crisis is usually caused by a natural disaster, a war, or some other act of God that cannot be predicted. After the earthquake in Haiti, it’s perfectly appropriate that organizations went there with airplanes full of food and medical supplies to hand out. Like I’ve said before, if someone is about to drown, it’s not a good time to teach them how to swim; just pull them out of the water.

What probably isn’t appropriate, however, is that years later some of those same organizations are still handing out food and medical supplies without any local involvement or ownership.

Chronic is everything that isn’t a crisis. Normal life. Every day. Most poverty around the world is chronic poverty and although it’s getting better it’s been around a long time and probably won’t be going away tomorrow (though I still believe it could go away in our lifetime).

The solution to a crisis is immediate relief.  The solution to a chronic problem is long-term development.

If you try to do development during a crisis, people will die. If you try to do relief work in a community with chronic poverty, you’ll be reinforcing their poverty.

It’s crucial that we understand the difference between the two and implement solutions that are fitting.

Poverty Reinforcement

broken-arm

How does giving handouts reinforce poverty?

Imagine someone with a severely broken arm. They are screaming in pain and every move they make hurts, so they stop moving. You come along, you aren’t a doctor but you do have some pain meds. You have friends back home with pain meds too and they are willing to help out. So you start dolling out a consistent amount of pain meds to keep your new friend painless.

Eventually, one of two things will happen: 1) The arm heals improperly and will never function the right way again. 2) Bone fragments enter the blood stream and the patient dies a slow death, without ever knowing it.

You see the correlation?  Handouts dull the pain of poverty enough to keep the underlying issues below the surface. When we hand things out, it may feel good, but we are driving communities around the world farther and farther into poverty.

If the irony of hurting those we set out to help doesn’t keep you up at night, I’d say you’re in this for the wrong reasons.

Book Review: When Helping Hurts

book_when_helping_hurts_thumbWhen Helping Hurts was one of the first widely accepted books on Christian development work. I know I’ve read it countless times over the last 5 years, every time gaining new insight.

Pros:

Gives an incredible introduction to development work and why it’s so important. Describes perfectly how damaging thoughtless charity can be. If you are ever discouraged about development work, this is a great book to rely on for some inspiration. Presents the problem well.

Cons:

Misses opportunities to present solutions to the problems of international work. Leaves the reader wanting more.

Conclusion:

If you have ever been on a mission trip, if you want to go on a mission trip, if you have anything to do with missions, or relief, in anyway this book is a must read.

Favorite quotes:

Saving souls is only a subset of the comprehensive healing of the entire cosmos that Jesus’ kingdom brings.

While poor people mention having a lack of material things, they tend to describe their condition in far more psychological and social terms than our North American audiences.

The problem goes well beyond the material dimension, so the solutions must go beyond the material as well.

Development work is not done to people or for people but with people.

The North American need for speed undermines the slow process needed for lasting and effective long-run development.

Participation in its fullest sense is not just a means to an end but the most important end!

Development is a lifelong process, not a two-week product.

The Doctor

929266_98674800Imagine going to the doctor. He’s been a doctor for 20+ years and he truly believes in helping people. He’s compassionate, has all kinds of doctor friends, and is super connected in the medical world.

He spends some time with you, checks you out, runs some tests, and makes a diagnoses. He’s the expert and so full of confidence, why would you dream of questioning his opinion? He gives you some medicine and recommends a few changes to your diet.

No matter how compassionate, caring, and well-intentioned your doctor is, a misdiagnoses means you won’t get better.

So it goes with development work. That’s why Africa can receive countless amounts of aid dollars and not see a marked improvement. These aid dollars are going toward solutions based on a misdiagnoses.

If you’re motivated by compassion, as I hope you are, please combine it with serious thought, intentional actions, and real experience. Emotions by themselves will almost always get us in trouble.

Sustainability

nepal_village_small1

The following is a story I heard during a CHE Training. If you are interested in community development at all CHE is the absolutely first place I would recommend starting. I wandered around community development for a year and a half before stumbling on CHE and I haven’t been the same since.

Here’s the story (word of warning, it’s longer than my usual posts):

There once was a village located on top of a steep mountain. On a regular basis, as people were coming down the mountain, they would slip off the trail and fall to the valley below. A number of people were injured and some even killed.

A visitor came to their village, saw this problem and wanted to do something about it. He thought about what he could do and then decided that the best thing would be to station an ambulance at the base of the mountain. Therefore, when a person fell, a driver could rush with the ambulance to pick him up and bring him to the closest hospital 10 kilometers away. The people in the village were excited about this idea.

One day the ambulance broke down, but the people ignored the problem until another person fell off the trail and needed the ambulance to be taken to the hospital, but there was no transport available.  They then became very concerned and went looking for the outsider who had put the ambulance there. They complained that his ambulance was broken down and wanted to know why he didn’t keep the vehicle in good repair. He fixed it for them.  However, the same problem happened several more times, again with the people coming to the outsider wanting him to sort out the problem.

The outsider finally decided that there were too many repairs required on the vehicle and he didn’t have the money or time to keep fixing it. He told the people it was their problem, he had tried to help but no longer could.  The people felt sad about this, but did nothing. They were now back to the place where they had begun.

Representatives from the church diocese came, saw the problem and said they wanted to help. The diocese decided that what was really needed was a clinic at the foot of the mountain, so if someone fell they could get immediate medical care. The diocese then built a clinic, provided equipment, staff and drugs. The people were very happy that those who fell could now get immediate attention and not have to make the 10-kilometer drive to the other clinic.

This worked well for awhile, but eventually those working at the clinic wanted some time off so the clinic was left unattended. The people went to the diocese and complained about the poor service that the clinic was providing and said the diocese had to give them better care. The diocese put in extra staff to cover during the holidays.

Several times the clinic ran out of drugs and the people complained about the poor care the diocese was providing for them. The diocese ran low on money and had to stop some of their operations to conserve their money. They decided to stop staffing this clinic and providing drugs for it. They shut it down. The people were very angry with the diocese.

The people didn’t know what to do. The two ideas which outsiders had done for them, the ambulance and clinic, were no longer available and working. A respected man in the community said, “Let’s meet to talk about the real problem.”  They looked back at their original need, which was to somehow take care of those who fell off the path as they were traveling up and down the mountain from the village.  The two solutions helped somewhat, but there were problems with each solution.

As they talked, the respected man said, “I had an idea when we first talked about the problem, but no one would listen to me. The outsider was going to do everything for us for free. My idea would have taken some work and money on our part so no one was interested in what I had to offer.”

He then told them his idea, which was to build a fence along the trail to keep people from falling over the edge. It would take work on the part of the people to cut the wood for the fence and to put it up. It would take a little money to put the fence posts in cement so they would last longer.

The people responded with, “That’s a great idea. Let’s do it.”  So they raised the little money they needed and began to work. After several weeks the work was done.  Now, when someone slipped, the fence stopped them from falling over the edge to the valley below.  After a few years the wood began to rot, but instead of going to an outsider, they went and fixed the fence themselves.

Now, instead of looking to the outside for help, they began to look to their own community for solving the problem. This one project gave them confidence that they could do things for themselves. Now when someone from the outside came to give them something, they said “Thank you, but if we think it is important we will do it ourselves.