Friday, February 22, 2019

when the data doesn't know your name

It’s overcast today, which seems quite representative of how everyone around here is feeling. Yesterday, a little boy died who shouldn’t have.

He was extremely ill and needed more intensive care, and the staff at the clinic knew it. They told his mom that the child should go to the hospital right away. They handed her a referral note and when mom asked how soon the ambulance would arrive they simply said: the ambulance only comes for maternity cases.

It’s a phrase I hear regularly these days as this is the new policy. One of the most reckless public health initiatives I’ve encountered in my 12 years, I don’t know who specifically wrote the new ambulance rule, but it’s maddening. Patients (who are not pregnant) needing the hospital (25km away) are expected to stand on the side of the road and pray someone picks them up, which is doable if you are sniffling or in need of a mere consultation, but absolutely insane if you are unconscious or actively dying. Family members trying to save their loved ones often rush to our home where they speak the words, “maternity only,” leaving us to decide whether to pick up the government’s shirked responsibility – or not.

Not that it changes anything, but at least we know where the policy came from - just follow the money. The vast majority of funding in the health sector right now is targeted at MCH – maternal & child health. Zambia’s statistics are more than embarrassing when it comes to birth outcomes for both mothers and newborns and the influx of money is specifically meant to change that. So long as numbers stay happy and programs are deemed successful, the money keeps flowing which creates huge incentive for health departments to push systems that please the funding source – at whatever cost.

In Zambia, MCH is the priority of today which means that if you are neither pregnant nor post-partum, you are quite literally not the priority. This narrow emphasis has meant that emergency medical services – such as ambulances – have been reserved primarily for maternity cases in an attempt to save all the women in labor… at the expense of everyone not in labor.

The father of the sick boy rushed to our house and begged for help. I explained that while we would normally take him, Jeremy was in Lusaka with the vehicle and that he needed to push the issue with the nursing staff and remind them that an emergency is an emergency – maternity or not. He shrugged his shoulders in a way that resonates with how I usually feel when talking to government workers: preemptive defeat. He turned and slowly walked back – not rushing, since there was no where to rush off to. I shrugged also, mirroring his sadness and simply murmuring in his general direction, this sucks.

Four, short hours later, the sounds of mourning grew audible and the little boy died while an ambulance somewhere sat waiting for a “priority” case to call.

Wavering between acceptance and rage, I called Jeremy and talked/screamed/wept into the phone. We invest so much into community health, give me one reason why we should keep doing so while the people who can save the lives won’t!  The steady voice on the other end reminded me that the clinic staff are just following orders from someone above them – probably from someone who doesn’t care either, but is also following orders – orders from someone who is probably not in this country and whose paperwork keeps them detached from localized pain.

Fighting for women’s health might include reserving life-saving resources for mothers in need but truthfully I don’t think the woman burying her child today feels any bit of solidarity in this fact.

The ambulance policy is just one piece of a much larger MCH package by which women and children are being victimized for the sake of better outcomes on paper. Along with the promise of an always-available ambulance, our village received a “mothers shelter” which is a waiting house for women who live far and need a place close to the clinic to stay while awaiting childbirth. The concept makes great sense. On paper. But after the NGO seconded the building to local staff, the warm and welcoming maternity “shelter” soon became a concrete and controlling maternity “jail.” All women – even those who literally live across from the clinic ­– are required to move into the shelter a minimum of a month before delivery. If a mom goes into labor without having slept in that shelter, she is issued a fine. If the fine is not paid, the child’s immunizations are withheld until she pays.

Awesome. (insert face palm) 

Women loathe the shelter because they are consistently under-fed and constantly worried about the children they have left unattended at home. Many resort to using herbs and traditional “medicines” to induce labor – the only hope of jail break.

Apparently the only way we can improve delivery outcomes is to hold mothers hostage. After all, according to clinic staff, “You know how these women are.” Actually yes, yes I do, I know quite a lot of them, and they would love a safe and competent delivery in a place where they are treated with dignity and respect. And what’s happening here is not that. I was once asked by a regional MoH official why I chose to birth my children in America instead of at our local clinic and I couldn’t find any words for him other than, “are you serious?” The disconnect is unreal.

I have two friends who delivered babies in the last month. One mom, six weeks after moving into the mothers shelter delivered a baby that only lived a few hours. Mom had torn significantly during labor but the attending nurse, wanting either to protect herself or to avoid recording the infant’s death, decided to handle the stitching on site. For three weeks, mom was refused discharge while “waiting for her swelling to go down.” Finally the family demanded referral. Transporting her home from the hospital, I asked what the OB-Gyn had said. Sitting on her left hip and staring blankly out the window she answered, “he asked who the hell did this to me.” I gripped the steering wheel a little tighter, stewing on how I’m sure my friend must be so glad to have spent two months in maternity prison only to walk away empty handed and unable to sit.

I ran into another mom-friend crying outside the shelter. Her eldest, a three year old, had fallen into a fire and been terribly burnt. With mom gone at the mothers shelter and without a consistent person to watch him, the boy had been neglected and seriously injured. I encouraged her to go home and take care of her son, reminding her that she could come back if she went into labor. Wiping tears from her eyes she explained that she couldn’t leave because she wouldn’t be able to pay the fine. Realizing she wasn’t going to take my anarchist advice and just walk out, I told her I’d look after her boy’s burn care. With every dressing change, listening to him scream for his mommy, I felt both their pain. A few weeks later, mom went into labor and this baby too did not live. She went home to her burnt child, and wept bitterly for days.

Every funeral feels like emotional deja vu and I yell into the phone at Jeremy who is missing all this while enjoying ice cream in the capital, Is this what “saving mothers” looks like? Systemic violence and denial of agency, and still, the children die? I don’t believe for a moment that the public health experts want this. I’ve seen their shiny white pick-ups arrive for data collection, occasionally accompanied by a researcher from the US, looking very “fresh-out-of-Michigan-in-the-winter-white.” Brilliant minds have rallied around the challenge that is improving maternal & child health and their skilled research is meant to drive productive change. The data says “do this,” so the money creates systems to “do this” and the people on the ground are told they’d better “do this” – but I’ve attended three baby funerals in the last month and something here seems remiss.

And maybe, today, the people who call the shots and cut the checks are staring down at papers and not people, and they are looking at numbers and not names, and they will produce P scores that say this is all ok because, “on average,” the initiatives are working. But 184 villagers will gather around another little coffin tonight, and a mother will bring her burnt child to me for a fresh bandage, and a young woman will wince as she gingerly sits on a wooden stool, and none of them have the luxury of knowing where their stories fall on the scatter-graph. 

I don’t believe that the researchers who are driven by faceless data and impersonal  indicators are evil or that they hate women, but I don’t think they hear the stories that matter either. “Data,” as compared to living, breathing humans are two different sources of information and the unspoken confession of the NGO world is that data is just less messy to handle.

Sometimes, I’m frustrated by our search for funding to make our work go farther and deeper only to hear, “you’re too small.” Really? And by too small you mean too intentional? Too compassionate? Too relational? I get your math and what you mean by “efficient,” but my moral compass won’t lead me down that path. The individuals matter. The Big Numbers will win the Big Grants, but neither will feel the weight of grief resting on this village today. A small body will be lowered into the ground and the data capturers of Big Aid will take no responsibility because they didn’t even know his name.


His name was Raphael.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

the real reason missionaries don't stop

I lay flat on my back, unwilling to disrupt the IV awkwardly placed in the crook of my left arm. I inhaled – slow and intentional – a barely-there blood pressure not allowing for much vigor. I stared vaguely at the ceiling – white particle boards stained by drip spots. I closed my eyes and let go the words: “this is so nice.”

I caught that thought mid air before it had a chance to float very far. Then, talking back to myself, a revealing conversation followed.

Me: I’m sorry… what? Sickly in a third-world hospital, in no way classifies as “nice.”

Also me: Yeah, but no one is expecting me to do anything other than breathe. And that feels so good.


Also me: Dear God, how did I get here.

I would spend the next six weeks in recovery: physical, mental and emotional. My goals were getting my organs back into the range of “alive” and psychologically unpacking the twisted relief I had clearly found in hospitalization.

The lead up to the breakdown should have been predictable.

We’d been on the field for three and a half years without a meaningful break. We were trying to adopt: a logistical and emotional battle we never foresaw. We were expanding our ministry: a spiritual and mental battle we foresaw, but still. Three kids, two in diapers: enough said. Malaria: times seven. A season of grueling meetings with no conclusions. Midnight wake up calls. Other people’s needs. Mom guilt. Bureaucracy. Police Corruption. Loneliness. Exhaustion.

Despite being a recipe more obvious than a pb&j, it still caught me by surprise. After all, burnout is something that happens to other people. And yet I was apparently oblivious to the dwindling fire within. I kept putting on my brave face, telling myself and others , Yes this is hard. But it’s a season. I can do anything for a season. So I kept going. Always ramping up. Never letting down… But the season wore on, and my humanity –  ie the part that can’t lie – ran out of flame.

In my weeks of recovery, I accepted responsibility for my self-care failure. I was clearly beyond tired – which only happens to those who never stop. But why, exactly, had I failed to stop? I honestly didn’t know.

I set my mind to unpacking my mess. The habit of rest hinges on conviction, doesn’t it? I had solid theology on this point: God gives sleep to those He loves, and the Sabbath earned a spot in the Top Ten for a reason. Furthermore, I had read and accepted the research that proves that setting aside work and recharging properly improves not only happiness but also work performance. And yet… a stumbling block in the way of life-giving rest clearly remained.

After my discharge from the hospital, Jeremy, in his good-husbandness, packed up our family and took us to the capital so that I could get some advanced medical care and heal in a place where no one was demanding my participation. During that time, we received a call from one of the pastors in Mansa who was checking in on my progress. He said to Jeremy, “Tell Bethany not to even think about us. She needs to be well.” And as I heard his voice through the phone at Jeremy’s ear, the dammed up tears of a decade forced their escape. While Jeremy hung up and pulled me in for the hug, I found the words that explained my emotion: he gave me permission.

Permission to stop. Permission to withdraw. Permission to let go completely.

That phone call revealed a crucial felt need. Pastor Bwalya’s words were a healing balm on a wound that’s been festering for a third of my life – as long as I’ve been in Africa. And finally I realized more clearly that, even as I receive permission to rest from God above, and hold tight to self-granted permission within, I still consistently struggle with the lack of permission from a very important third party: other people, and specifically, “the donors.” 

Be gentle with my soul as I bare it for you here, dear friends. For those of you reading this who support missions – and in particular, support us – this is neither a guilt trip nor an accusation. It is purely honest. You need to know that I’m coming out of a very crowded missionary closet when I confess that there is a tension between finding the rest that we need and meeting the expectations of our donors.

My burnout story is not unique – which is part of what makes it so important to tell. There is a legitimate crisis in our modern missions culture as defined by missionaries who do not feel free to retreat from their work for the purpose of self-care without judgment and or financial consequence from those we depend on. 

The tricky thing about this topic is that any descent Christian would encourage their missionaries in keeping the Sabbath – so long as it’s not more than one day and it’s not away from home – ie, it doesn’t look like vacation. I’ve talked with our missionary friends about what this means in reality - how the implied constraints on Sabbath rest are so destructive that “Sabbath” often ceases to be Sabbath at all.

To give you an idea, Jeremy and I Sabbath at home weekly. It usually looks like a “peaceful” day starting with pancakes, followed by a three hour church service in a foreign language in 90 degree heat, followed by a late lunch with overly-exhausted kids who eventually will snap-and-nap (bless it), at which point the adults might try and relax by reading a book or watching a movie, during which we will  be interrupted a mere sixty-seven times by neighbor boys wanting to borrow a soccer ball, pregnant women wanting a baby hat, someone with a nasty wound needing a bandage and young men looking for work. The evening will be spent solving the crises that only happen after dark and apparently can’t wait 12 more hours. Throughout this day, shutting the phone off and closing the door is out of the question. The callers will always send a child to ask us in person why our phone is off and if we try and ignore him, said child will stand outside and yell our names until we open the door. (Record yelling time: 37 minutes. Not one thing will dissuade the child who knows you're in there, my friends.) We try and hurry these interruptions along so we can get back to our peace, but alas: African time. And so, most Sabbath days, we can’t wait to go to bed so that we can rest from our rest. Lovely.   

Certainly, different missionaries have different living and working situations, allowing for different amounts of “closing out work” for the sake of rest and proper self-care. But a significant portion of missionaries around the globe have determined through trial and error (and hospitalization) that the only way to truly recharge in a way that is healthy and holy is to literally LEAVE  which is a scenario most Americans have a hard time relating to. The idea that “home” would be anything but a haven sounds unnatural.

It's the lack of division between work and life for missionaries that makes “Sabbath on the field” extremely difficult to achieve. Our proximity to the pressing needs, the interruptions at the door and phone calls reminding us of the problems we have not yet solved – even  sights and sounds themselves that keep the mind in the “on” position. For many, Sabbath in the village – or island/jungle/city/wherever they serve – isn’t Sabbath.

It just isn't.

Some missionaries have explained that expecting them to “stay home and rest” feels kind of like expecting a surgeon to Sabbath in the waiting room of the ER. It’s like asking a factory worker to heal without stepping away from the assembly line. It’s telling a soldier to take a nap in the middle of the battle field.

And so the word to the wise is that sometimes you have to get away… which unfortunately to outsiders looks an awful lot like a vacation.

church meme committee nailed it

We know missionaries who are criticized for Sabbathing at a “resort” because that’s literally the only place to go where the water won’t kill them… Missionaries drawing heat for flying somewhere to Sabbath because the country next door is cheaper…. And all African missionaries’ personal favorite, the subtly snarky: “Gee, I wish I could go on safari for my Sabbath.” (Side note: You can, America. It’s called the zoo.) The fact of the matter is that many missionaries have figured out exactly what it takes for them to find real rest, but it’s the negative feedback that keeps many from even bothering to try.

To be fair, opinions on how missionaries should use their time and money is absolutely a spectrum with as much diversity as my six year old's style.

But disapproval of missionaries resting away from home squarely rests at the top of the opinion bell curve. This is one of those “off the record” covos your missionary friends are having amongst themselves. Precious few have been bold enough to pull back the curtain and reveal their own journey but if you read those who have, you’ll notice a common theme: their words feel risky – scandalous even – as they share their stories. The pieces I've appreciated include:

There’s not a ton of published material on this topic - compliments of its taboo status. And in case you can’t blog hop right now, I’ll share a handful of comments we’ve either heard said to others or personally received over the years.

“We don’t pay you to go on vacation. We pay you to do ministry.”
 “I don’t think its right for you to go on vacation if we can’t afford to.”
 “You’re going on vacation? Maybe don’t tell anyone.”
 “We thought our missionaries were responsible... until we found out they went on vacation!”

Depending on how you personally feel about missionaries taking vacation, you’re probably either saying “amen” or “ouch” or “wowza” but let me reiterate that these are typical sentiments driving missionary families either to the brink of exhaustion or into actual hiding… and the results are not something to be proud of. Do a little research on missionary burnout, trauma in missions, mental health and missionaries or other related topics and you’ll quickly see how deep this rabbit hole goes. (I recommend getting lost for a while on Sarita Hartz's blog for some of the most thoughtful pieces in this genre.)

I believe that most mission supporters have strong feelings about this topic because it wrangles not one but two of America’s most precious commodities – time and money. Particularly in white American culture, it is not acceptable to waste either. Giving money to support church planting, clean water or outreach to children will make many a donor-heart sing, while funding the missionaries to sit on a beach and watch the lapping waves produces frowns. But missionary care is never a waste, and this is where a shift in missions culture needs to happen.

Wayne Muller in his book, Sabbath exposes the negative impact of serving apart from Sabbath rest. “We are a nation of hectic healers, refusing to stop,” Muller writes. “Our drive to do better faster, to develop social programs more rapidly, to create helpful agencies more quickly can create a sea of frantic busyness with negligible, even questionable results. In our passionate rush to be helpful, we miss things that are sacred, subtle and important.”

The western church-missions culture would benefit substantially from appreciating that when funds are responsibly used for the sake of missionary R&R, it has the effect of amplifying effectiveness in literally every other realm. Spend some to get much more is not waste – it’s wise. The economics of human resources decrees that we need to keep our people in tip-top shape in order to achieve maximum output.

I can hear a distant amen from my missionary friends across the web. We know experientially that busy, fatigued, harried service does not draw out our best. We know – even intuitively – that if we could just step out of it all for a time, we’d be able to come back and serve better, which is our hearts desire.

While Muller speaks exhortation to those who refuse to stop, I feel a great sympathy for all of the missionaries who simply fear to. Many are afraid because they experienced the push back once and vowed never to do it again. Others are afraid simply by the perceived disapproval that seems to float in the air. Regardless, I believe that it is vitally important for both the senders and the goers to join hearts and commit to self-care, soul-care and Sabbath rest.

We, the missionaries, need to stop sheltering our supporters from important truths about our work environment, the pressures, and our need for release. We need to stop our work – and leave home if need be – not hiding our actions in the closet thereby perpetuating the myth of the super hero missionary who never takes a break. 

And as for the broader church culture, we need to stop praising missionaries who over-produce, and we certainly need to stop leveraging financial power to reward those who never stop while withdrawing support from those who do.

When we get this right, I have a feeling that kingdom efforts the world over will find for themselves eagles wings.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

pastors' response re: OCC

Last year, I wrote a blog post concerning Operation Christmas Child in Zambia and the breakdown in expectations between box packers and what is happening on the ground. I particularly highlighted that churches are paying money to the National Team to receive their boxes. Since this post has recently re-gained traction, OCC has published an official response.

The original blog post can be read HERE, and OCC’s response can be read HERE.

As many, many people have forwarded OCC’s note and asked me to respond to it specifically, I feel morally obligated to do so. However, not wanting to speak on behalf of our region’s Pastors without their input and permission, my husband, Jeremy, and I chose to first sit and talk with the leadership of the Mansa Pastors Fellowship. What they had to say was challenging to say the least. Desperately wanting to see change, the pastors requested that their words be shared with the larger audience that continues to follow this issue.

To provide readers with the most accurate account, I’ve chosen to transcribe the conversation with our local Pastors. My words are italicized, and all plain text are direct quotes from the Pastors. The transcription has been edited slightly for readability and length, but none of the pastors words or sentiments have been changed. Bracketed text has been inserted for clarification purposes only.


26, October, 2018
Location: Wetuna Gardens, Mansa
In attendance: Missionaries Jeremy & Bethany Colvin, and four members of the Executive Leadership of the Mansa Pastors Fellowship.


The number one question I’m getting is, ‘has this issue been resolved,’ and I’ve been avoiding giving the answer because I don’t feel like it’s my place to give your response.

[Reading of OCC’s official statement, passing out to pastors, after which the pastors take turns speaking.]

Some more than ten years ago, the same [National] team came to Mpika with one gentlemen from America and his wife. I was just invited, I wasn’t in the management team. During the discussion, that gentlemen from America was explaining that these shoe boxes reach the beneficiary free of charge. ‘It’s free. It’s covered in the costs.’ So… when his explanation was heating up, it was perceived it was going to attract questions, like, ‘why are we paying?’ and so [National Team Member] came out and spoke in Bemba, saying, “Bane, ifya ku sosela tafyawama…” (Brothers, tattling is not a good thing, let us not report each other.) And the gentlemen from America asked, “What are you saying” and [National Team Member] said, ‘I’m just clarifying for them,’ as if we weren’t getting what he was saying. And so in a matter of ten seconds, he [National Team Member] changed everything that the gentlemen from America was saying. To shut us up. And no one could speak against that. And it has haunted me for years that none of us was bold enough to tell the truth. And that gentlemen went with that perverted version of what is happening. What’s happening now is just a repeat. When they came to Mansa they brought a pre-typed letter saying that everything has been resolved and we the leaders refused to sign it.

I was very disappointed when I read this letter from OCC because they are shooting these gentlemen [fellow pastors around table] and hiding criminals in the name of this update. The least they could have done would be send some folks who are not a part of this, and instead they send [the National Team] to come and ask us questions. But there was nothing like questions, they just came to threaten us by saying “your children will not benefit from this.” And they have carried out their threat. Last year we did not receive boxes and this year, since we have not heard anything, we conclude we still aren’t receiving. They came to shush us. It was a rebuke. As if we are doing something scandalous, trying to stop something that’s beneficial to the children, when actually the key issue is trying to expose an immorality that has been going on.

They [the National Team] are the principle suspects. They are cashing in on the program. Why should they be sent to investigate? [OCC] should have sent an independent person or group to come and hear from us. That could have given us a fair trial. But now the same group comes here… what kind of investigation is that? They’ve been in this thing for more than ten years. And they have been manipulating the system.

[National Team Member] has bought a truck, and that is the same truck he uses to deliver the boxes. We suggested here, “Can’t we send our own truck to collect the boxes” and he said, ‘no, you have to use our truck,’ because it belongs to him and he charges [for its use], and that money goes into his pocket. Is that not corruption?

When we were told how much we should pay per box, for Luapula Province, it was more than K200,000 ($20,000) and for Mansa specifically it was K40,000 ($4,000). To bring a truck from Ndola to Mansa, you can hire that [a private truck] for K3,000 to K4,000, now they’ve charged K40,000 and where has the rest of that money gone?

Before the boxes come, they [National Team] has to come and do a training, but when we look at the cost implications of the [training], we pay a flat fee per church but then each individual Sunday School teacher has to also pay and you are required to send a set number of people to the training per X number of boxes you are to receive which forces the churches to send more people to the training, each of which have to pay to attend. The [National Team] says the money goes towards their accommodation here, but what happens is they will come and see us in Mansa, Samfya, Nchelenge all in one trip without sleeping here yet still having collected all that money. And this doesn’t include the payments the children have to make.

And when they [National Team] came they said, “No, the reason why we are charging you is because there are other regions that are more vulnerable, like Shangombo,” and then when you call Shangombo, you find out that they’ve paid too, so its all a lie.

They [the boxes] are not helping in terms of building the church. If anything they are destroying the church. Our colleagues from Ndola have not been faithful. We are not against paying something, but when the money does not go for what it was said it was for, it’s going into someone’s pocket, and then they declare that God has blessed them… that’s what we should discourage. And so if the same individuals are being entrusted with the task, then I would say, its better not to have it. Unless if they [OCC] can find a fairer system to help the churches. Because like our brother said, they [the National Team] has been doing this a long time. This is something they [National Team] has gotten used to, they aren’t going to change. If they [OCC USA] is going to keep using that same channel, then I think let it not come to us.

The little I know about Americans is that they champion the spirit of openness, the free mind, freedom of expression… now when we want to express ourselves, someone comes and says ‘shut up’ and follows with an action – suspension – now are they representing the spirit of the donor? Let the American people know that when things are pointed out by the locals here, they [National Team] stop giving boxes to people who are reporting those wrong things.

We are the people on the ground. We know ourselves. We are Zambians. And these people are Pastors. How can I submit to [National Team pastor] who is cheating me? If it were just a secular person we could just say, ‘well they are sinners,’ and let them go. But these are people with collars, showing the world that ‘we are servants of the Lord.’

What has to be highlighted is that an investigation has not been done. What was done could just be termed as a cover up – an intimidation. OCC, Samaritan’s Purse from the United States has not investigated. What’s missing categorically from this process is an independent inquiry towards the actual interest of protecting the huge investment that is being put into all this. It’s no longer even what we can call a gift box. They [the donors] would be amazed to learn that the children are buying these gifts and those people are proud to sell. I remember one of them [national team during training] trying to encourage us, “even I’ve benefited a lot just from doing ministry to children.”

In this section on the official response, it specifically says that the $9 covers shipment to the countries and to the 1,100+ delivery sites within the country. I don’t know how you read it, but it makes it sound like boxes are supposed to be sent from Ndola to Mansa and then from there the distribution costs are upon you. But what I hear you saying is that you were even willing to help cover the Ndola to Mansa cost – which just shows how much grace you have in the situation. But this is what a few hundred thousand people in the US are waiting to hear, whether this issue has actually been resolved in terms of the churches still being charged to cover transportation to the distribution sites – Mansa, Solwezi, Choma, Chipata etc. That’s what people are waiting to hear.

Actually I just called Reverend [name withheld] since I know they are still receiving boxes and I asked, ‘Were you charged anything this year?’ and he said ‘Yes, we paid for the boxes as a church.’ And he explained that they were told, ‘Don’t charge the children but you as a church pay for the boxes,’ and they were given an amount to pay and he also said, ‘We know how these people are, they’ve really benefitted from these boxes so just know that the way you’ve started talking to them, you’ll not be receiving boxes,’ and I said, Exactly! We didn’t receive and the Reverend said, ‘yeah, that’s what they do.’

These things are not gifts any more. These are enterprises. Those people are no longer qualified to represent Samaritan’s Purse. We speak for Zambia. We have to do whatever it takes for the sake of the children we are representing here. We know that those people are stealing from the children – it’s not speculation. It’s not rumor. Because [states denomination/branches around the whole country] has paid money each year for the children we have registered. We have receipts. It’s everywhere. It amounts to thousands and thousands of dollars. That’s what has been covered up. And no one seems interested in that.

Are there things that you want HQ to know?

We don’t agree with the statement that the matter was resolved because those who came to investigate are the suspects and secondly, the whistle blowers have been suspended for two [cycles] so far. Was this the resolution? Or is America aware?

We have not seen the values that OCC has projected to us applied in our region. If OCC can come up with a different [National] team whilst they are carrying out a proper investigation it will really serve us.

How connected in the past have boxes been to child evangelism. Are children coming to know Christ or are the boxes just a demonstration of Christian love.

The program is not happening like its supposed to. The same kids get the boxes over and over, and it’s the ones that can pay for them. [Evangelism] has been the emphasis [of training] in the past but practically, no. When they [National Team] comes they conduct those programs and say, ‘this is a tool for evangelism, and the emphasis is that the child will know how Jesus loves him through another child sending them this.’ But this is not evangelism. A lot of people are participating thinking we can just pay ten kwacha and get a box and go home.

If we could convince them [the donors] to just send it [the funds], it would be a very good idea, because I feel that even though this is for the sake of Christmas, the things that the kids get, and we thank God that what they are getting is American standard, but still it doesn’t really meet the needs of the children. These kids get a box – they’ve never been to school! They might get a toothpaste that is of a higher American standard, but we also have toothpaste here. So it’s nice that Christmas comes once but we can use cheaper things and in that way Christmas can go on and have a more lasting impact. Maybe we can convince some to just turn that [their box] into money. Because child-centered programs are incredibly important. And there’s a lot that can be done to mitigate the challenges that the children are facing.

People have asked us if there are alternatives. What if we were to put together a list of needs within the churches (school fees, blankets, clothes etc.) and collect funds to connect people with Mansa directly to meet tangible needs?

It can really have a lot of impact. We would be more confortable if our friends in America would be able to convert their boxes into cash so that we partner with Jeremy & Bethany [] in terms of administration and accountability for those resources. As we partner with you [Colvins] it would be an opportunity for the Church to focus on what it’s supposed to do and in a way that its supposed to be done. We have to go the Biblical way with structures of accountability. It’s not about dishing out money, its about making sure that things are done Biblically and people are accountable to leadership that is set.

We didn’t know what to do about this whole thing but the sharing you did, God used it to try and help us find the way to really address an injustice. We were stuck. We thought they [the National Team] was the beginning and the end. We didn’t know there was elsewhere we could report and other contacts we were able to get through to and you were able to do that for us and I think that was a major breakthrough. And now we are hoping that we can use our voice and correct this – even if they [OCC] doesn’t support us any longer – but maybe correct it for the other regions that are receiving, that would be a major breakthrough, and God will have really helped us.

I think the transparency of this is really helpful and people are going to thank you for taking something that was previously in the dark and putting it into the light.


Meeting closed in prayer.