Category: Effective Compassion

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Food aid destined for Zimbabwe is still stuck in South Africa

Harare (ENI). At least 37 tonnes of food aid sent by the South African Council of Churches (SACC) to benefit victims of Zimbabwe’s internationally condemned “clean-up” operation are still in South Africa due to Zimbabwe government red tape that has held up the shipment for more than two weeks. The aid includes staples such as white maize, sugar beans and cooking oil. “All the paperwork has been submitted. We are waiting,” said Ron Steele, spokesperson for the SACC, which responded to the plight of more than 700 000 Zimbabweans.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, August 22, 2005

Given the discussion last week about the ONE campaign and it’s position as a “first step” in fighting poverty in the developing world, I thought I’d pass along this story about evangelical pastor and best-selling author of The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren. He clearly doesn’t view his participation in the ONE campaign as the last word on the matter.

Rick Warren

John Coleman blogs about Warren’s work “with his global network to turn genocide-ravaged Rwanda into the world’s first ‘Purpose-Driven Nation.’” Coleman references a TIME magazine article about the effort, which reads, “For months the clergyman has alluded in general terms to an immense volunteer effort called the PEACE plan, aimed at transforming 400,000 churches in 47 nations into centers to nurse, feed and educate the poor and even turn them into entrepreneurs. Its details remain unknown, but its Rwandan element seems to have outrun the rest.”

Warren’s efforts in Rwanda have moved forward so quickly in part because, as Warren says, he was “looking for a small country where we could actually work on a national model,” and President Kagame, impressed by Warren’s book, volunteered Rwanda as a pilot nation.

Coleman remarks observantly, “It seems to me that two of the biggest movers of political and cultural reform over the coming century will be private charity and globalization (the extension of Western security and economic rule sets–free markets, private property, etc.–to developing or war-ravaged nations); and Warren’s initiative might mark something of a turning point for both Africa and the church.”

I, along with others, have something other than unrestrained praise for The Purpose Driven Life. John H. Armstrong, for example, thanks God for Rick Warren, and thinks he “shines as a star for graciousness and balance.” But even so, Armstrong thinks Warren’s “definition of purpose is just too small. This is where a more theologically developed view of divine purpose would help him if he studied, and used, the great Protestant catechisms.” My own criticisms are no so much related to the book itself, even though after three tries I have been unable to bring myself to finish it.

It’s not that there is anything bad about the book, but I find it’s observations so basic, even pedestrian, that as a theologian I find it hard to read. It’s a bit like reading a Dr. Seuss-level book but without the humorous rhymes. This accessiblity (as it might charitably be called), strikes me at once as both the book’s greatest strength and greatest weakness. The simplicity of style and content no doubt has played a large part in the book’s popularity.

But it also is a bit disturbing that something so theologically basic can be so new and novel to so many American Christians. The rave reviews you read about the book make me wonder what in the world these Christians are hearing from the pulpit every Sunday! And this is to say nothing about what they should be learning in small groups, education classes, or, as Armstrong recommends, catechetical training.

In any case, Warren’s Rwandan effort should be celebrated as the kind of Christian work that moves beyond the political activism of the ONE campaign. The location of this effort in Rwanda is remarkable in part because of the ambivalent role clergy played in the genocide. According to TIME, “Catholic and Protestant clergy have been convicted in connection with the genocide in his country in 1994, and Kagame has repeatedly stated his disdain for religious organizations.”

If you haven’t yet seen the movie “Hotel Rwanda,” based on a true story and starring Don Cheadle, I highly recommend it (read a review here). On his recent first visit to the country, Cheadle said he is co-authoring a book about how individual Americans can responsibly engage the problem of poverty in Africa. Citing common complaints from the West, “I had the same concerns and skepticism about sending aid to some shadowy situation where I didn’t know if a warlord was going to get the money,” he said.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, August 18, 2005

Zimbabwe churches form body to help demolition victims

Harare (ENI). Church groups in Zimbabwe have formed a coalition to help victims of a clean-up drive that left hundreds of thousands homeless and drew condemnation from the United Nations and international aid organizations. “Churches have formed a broad-based ecumenical body in the aftermath of the clean-up operation,” the Rev. Charles Muchechetere of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe told Ecumenical News International. The alliance comprises EFZ the Zimbabwe Council of Churches and the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, August 17, 2005

A wide ranging piece in Policy Review by Robert W. Han and Paul C. Tetlock examines current aid practices, suggests the implementation of “information markets,” and looks at how such markets might impact current policy analyses like the Copenhagen Consensus and the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG). The MDG are the nearly exclusive focus of the ONE Campaign, and the failings of the MDG as such become closely tied to the failings of the ONE Campaign.

The authors write of the MDG in “Making Development Work,”

At this point, the MDG represent little more than a wish list specifying what some well-intentioned practitioners would like to see happen. The goal setters do not appear to have paid significant attention to the benefits and costs of different options before setting goals; nor does it appear that the goal setters paid sufficient attention to real budget constraints so that they could provide a realistic assessment of the feasibility of meeting the goals. It also does not appear that the goal setters have given much serious thought to putting proper incentives in place to assure that maximum benefits will be achieved for a given level of expenditures. Instead, hundreds of countries and organizations have signed on to support the goals without any clear rewards if they are reached or penalties if they are not.

A move to a performance-based policy arrangement, linked to well-functioning information markets, would have the ability to transform the vagaries and ineffiencies of traditional aid programs, like the MDG, into a system that “encourages accountability. It also encourages openness, because the information gained in evaluating the effectiveness of projects and paying for results could be made public.”

One other possibility is that “because the performance-based policy framework increases accountability and transparency, it may prove to be part of the solution to the corruption problem as well.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, August 12, 2005

Check out this piece at Christianity Today about churches in Zimbabwe providing shelter to the poor who have been dispossessed by Pres. Mugabe’s “drive out trash” campaign:

“One Christian worker who requested anonymity said, ‘In some parts of Harare, people have gone to spend the nights in their local churches. People are squeezed into just about every space available. Churches have been openly warned not to help the ‘refugees,’ but how can you turn down someone who is hungry and homeless?’”

The difference in perspective from the ONE Campaign and directly responsible charitable efforts is summed up in the first two sentences from this article in Christianity Today:

“Eighteen-year-old Lauren Tomasik had a vision. This Wheaton Academy senior wanted to see her Christian high school raise $75,000 to build a medical clinic in Zambia to combat HIV/AIDS. And she wanted the money to come from the pockets of her 575 fellow students.”

The “We don’t want your money, we just want your voice,” mantra of the ONE Campaign, besides being disingenuous, undermines the kind of motivation for personal action shown in these Christian high schoolers’ effort.

Alumna Natalie Gorski gets at this when she says, “How awesome a God we have. He was able to use us as his instruments and say, ‘Look at what I did through Wheaton Academy. I can do that all over the United States.’”

The difference in attitudes is perfectly displayed in this Ad Council campaign on Youth Civic Engagement, revolving around the slogan, “Fight Mannequinism.” You may have seen one of these on TV, like the ad where a bunch of people stand around looking at a piece of trash laying next to a garbage can, talking about how terrible it is that someone just left it there.

“Don’t just take a stand. Act.”

One of the bystanders says, “Man, I’m like this close to throwing it away myself.” When their voices reach a crescendo, a passerby simply sees the trash, walks over, picks it up, throws it away, and keeps moving. A voiceover at the end says, “Don’t just take a stand. Act.”

While the ad campaign is aimed at voter participation, I think it speaks just as well to the difference in attitudes behind government lobbying like the ONE campaign and personal charitable activity. We could all stand around talking about how terrible the AIDS epidemic is and asking someone else (e.g. the government) to do something about it. Or we could act ourselves, like the students at Wheaton Academy have done, and be God’s instruments of charity.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, August 11, 2005

While post-tsunami aid pledges totalled $2 billion for Sri Lanka, “Politics and bureaucracy though have kept that money from those most in need,” reports APM’s Marketplace.

The report goes on to describe the importance of micro capital loans for rebuilding the economic marketplace, since it’s essential not to create an aid-dependent society. Nevertheless, the key to revival for many shopkeepers ends up being the need for foreign tourism…the same kind that many talking heads decried as the causes for the extent of the tsunami damage.

Immediately following the tsunami, Acton put together a “Tsunami Guide to Giving,” which emphasized some important considerations to think about before giving, including the reality that “beyond the immediate alleviation of suffering, relief efforts should be aimed at long-term self-sufficiency of local populations.”

Acton senior fellow Marvin Olasky writes about two examples of churches placing the needs of Christians and evangelism in the developing world above their own congregational comforts. In the first piece, Olasky discusses Mount Zion United Methodist Church just outside of Baltimore.

While mid-Atlantic heat can be oppressive, it’s nothing compared that of the everlasting lake of fire. With this priority of the eternal over the temporal in mind, the congregation decided “the sanctuary would get air conditioning only after the congregation built a church in Africa.”

To this end, Olasky writes, “The church came up with the money, and from there, amazingly, everything — personnel, permits, property, governmental approvals, construction — went right. The orphanage opened in 2003 and now provides food, shelter, medical care, clothing and schooling for the children at a cost of about $11,000 per month.” And thus the Children of Zion orphanage in Namibia was founded.

The second story is about Damascus Wesleyan Church, north of Washington, DC, that instead of expanding worship space, “went to purchase a 99-year-lease on 10,000 acres here in Senkobo, 15 miles north of Livingstone and the Zimbabwe border. The land came with a beautiful farm house, 2,700 fruit trees, cattle and other animals, four deep wells, three dams, a tobacco-curing barn that could be turned into apartments, and other farm buildings that could become orphanages and classrooms.”

It’s great to hear about Christian churches taking action themselves, loving their neighbors, and not succumbing to morality melting materialism.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, August 2, 2005

The issue of the federal regulation of non-profit groups, including churches, has meshed with a number of other questions, including allegations of government discrimination against faith-based groups. Charles Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries, writes of an attack on funding for faith-based initiatives in the New York Times as “typical of what’s been happening in the press and in Congress. Year after year, a Senate minority blocks votes on faith-based legislation. They demand that ministries not ‘discriminate’ by hiring only people of their own faith.”

But this is the inherent danger in taking money from the government (or anyone else for that matter). The tendency is to become increasingly dependent on that revenue source, and to become correspondingly beholden to the interests of the benefactor. If that benefactor is the government, the fight becomes more and more political, as a faith-based group might lobby for greater freedom in hiring, while a secular program might lobby to exclude some of the faith-based competition. In the process, valuable time, funds, and intangible resources are spent politicking.

And if government policies do change disfavorably, a program might face the hard choice of seeking replacement funding elsewhere or acquiescing to the new guidelines. But since much of the focus has been on lobbying government, necessary skills and infrastructure for grassroots fundraising have probably atrophied greatly in the interim. The choice might come down to the collapse of a program or meeting the demands of government.

Churches face similar pressures, in that their dependency on tax-exempt status can become a way for the government to manipulate their activities. A pastor may feel compelled to speak out about a particular policy or political issue, but refrains from doing so out of fear of retribution. In accepting the government’s tax breaks, churches run the risk of compromising their independence.

Karen Woods, director of the Center for Effective Compassion, spoke about many of these kinds of issues in an in-depth interview yesterday on The Inquisition (MP3), a web-based radio program.

The latest issue of Policy Forum, co-authored by Woods, studies how faith influences the behavior of charitable organizations, and finds that “a program’s faith element relates to the people they serve and the type of help they provide, as programs with more explicit and mandatory faith-related elements are likely to be substance-abuse programs.”

The study is based on Acton’s Samaritan Award program, “a national search for ten United States charity programs that receive little to no government funding and that agree that effective charity is rooted in the unique dignity of the human person.” The emphasis on the “little to no government funding” comes from the recognition of the complicating problems that dependence on government funding can bring for faith-based organizations.

I can therefore agree with Colson that “faith-based programs work where secular efforts fail,” and “that the Gospel is the best answer to our social problems.” But such agreement does not mean that we should necessarily seek government funding for our charitable work. It may, in fact, lead us to purposefully avoid it.

Hard as it is for me to believe, we are quickly approaching the first anniversary of my father’s death. He had struggled with kidney cancer for a number of years, and had in fact lived a relatively healthy and active life well beyond medical expectations. But as time went on, the disease gradually took its toll, and in September of 2004, my father passed away.

Grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

I remember very clearly the day of his final trip home from the hospital, after it had been determined that the pursuit of additional lifesaving measures would be futile. Throughout that first night, my wife and I sat with my father as he lay on a hospital bed in the family room of the home that he and my mother had built when their family was young. He had lived the majority of his adult life and raised his children in that home, and now he would live out his final days there as well. Every few hours, I would inject a dose of pain medication into a port that had been placed in his abdomen. Though at that point he was still occasionally lucid, I did have to convince him to stay in bed a few times, as he had somehow made himself believe that it was time for him to get up and go to work.

I remember even more clearly his last words to me, on the morning of September 10th. At the end of a visit with my wife and three month old son, I turned to him and said “I love you, dad.” He squeezed my hand and responded – “I love you too, Marc.” If there is a better phrase that a son could hear as his father’s last words to him, I don’t know what it is.

10 days later, he was gone.

We hear a lot in our society about the importance of “death with dignity.” Often this phrase is used in the promotion of physician-assisted suicide by people who argue that those with terminal illnesses should have the right to “hasten their death” in the face of suffering. In so arguing, however, advocates of assisted suicide reinforce the idea that those who suffer have no intrinsic value as human beings that would cause society to favor sustaining their life; and as a result they strip those who suffer of any dignity at all. They seem to say that the terminally sick and aged have no inherent dignity – but it can be earned by choosing suicide.

The assisted suicide movement – like so many well-meaning “compassionate” efforts – fails because it does not recognize the inherent worth of every man, woman, and child. Dignity and value are not commodities that rise and fall on some moral market in response to the fluctuations of human frailty. They are intrinsic to what we are as humans. They are a part of our very nature, as real a part of us as the blood that flows in our veins.

These thoughts come to mind as I read of the passing of Dame Cecily Saunders, the founder of the modern Hospice movement. Her life’s work has allowed countless individuals to face the end of their life with some amount of physical comfort, often in their own home surrounded by their loved ones. There is a profound truth at the core of the movement that she founded: that dignity in death comes not through the act of dying, but through the act of living one’s life to the fullest until death.

My family’s experience with Hospice is just one of many stories that could be told. In fact, the genesis of this post came as I read this remembrance, which touched me deeply because it is so familiar to me:

Dad fought the good fight against colon cancer for about two years until the day he was sitting on a hospital bed contemplating a bile drainage bag doctors inserted to prevent jaundice caused by tumor blocking his bile duct. Dad looked at the bag taped to his inner thigh. He sighed deeply and his shoulders sagged and he looked up at me with an expression I had never seen before. That was it, I knew. Dad had made a momentous decision: his fight to stay alive was over.

As a society, we too often make dying a shameful thing, something unnatural to be hidden away in a dark corner. Mom and I were determined that wouldn’t happen to Dad, that just because he was dying that did not mean his life was over. We shifted emphasis from cure and life prolongation, to comfort, dignity, and peace. That meant hospice, which then was still a relatively novel concept.

Dad benefited tremendously from hospice care. His last several months were peaceful, pain-free, and nurtured. He was cared for deeply by my mother and by dedicated hospice professionals. He would spend hours sitting on a bench in his back yard overlooking his beloved cactus garden, contemplating his life and the ultimate issues raised by human mortality. As an only child, I carried a heavy burden, not only in caring for my father, but also my mother, who was devastated by the depth of her pending loss. Hospice provided me with grief counseling–before Dad died–an invaluable aid in helping me help my folks. Dad died in a veteran’s hospital hospice unit in Los Angeles, and with his passing he gave me an invaluable gift: my father taught me how to die with dignity, courage, and fortitude.

St. Francis said that “it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” We should all be thankful for the work of Dame Cecily, who – taking his words to heart – did so much to comfort and console not only the dying, but those of us who are left behind.