Friday, October 27, 2017

why you should think twice about giving “gifts” to the poor

A gift! How thoughtful! Thank you!

I remember back in the day, driving to spend Christmas with certain relatives, my mother would always prep us with, “now remember, no matter what, you need to say ‘thank you’ and be grateful, ok?” Now that I have kids, I’ve taught them a similar script – A gift! Thank you! – and I’ve communicated my expectation that they not embarrass me by being ungrateful brats.

I’ve thought about this lesson a lot lately – how saying thank you is an act of both gratitude and basic decency. Furthermore, I’ve thought about it outside the context of my childhood Christmases in America. I’ve thought about all the gifts that we personally are asked to hand out on behalf of donors and even more about the thousands of OCC gift boxes being packed NOW that will pass through our region next spring. OCC is by far the largest “gift-giving ministry” working world-wide and as such they provide the most obvious examples. Among the many negative articles circulating about OCC lately (like this, and this, and this, and this) one push-back comment I keep seeing is, “Remember, these are gifts.”

I’ve written about OCC myself – more than once, in fact – so I obviously have thoughts. But it wasn’t until recently that I honed in on that repeated phrase – remember, these are gifts. Every time my eyes read that line, I’d think, yeah, so? until Jeremy and I were talking about it and we remembered to pass the phrase through our magic ‘America filter’ and it donned on us – Mom’s telling us to be grateful, regardless.

The third world and missionaries like myself who are attempting to serve here, have spent a good amount of time and energy trying to communicate a specific message to the generous peoples of the first world: random stuff from America is not helpful. But then mom reminds her kids again to be grateful… and what’s left to be said?

WELL, how about this:

The following is why I believe “But it’s a gift!” is neither relevant nor appropriate, and why you should think twice about giving “gifts” to the poor.

Let’s say a friend of yours has been struggling financially. She finally comes to you and says, “hey, I need to fill this prescription for my kid, but it costs $50 and I just don’t have that,” and you respond, “Aw, girl, you know I love you! Here’s a gift basket of stuff from Toys R Us worth $50!” And she just stares at you and doesn’t immediately say thank you and you get all feely and annoyed by her ingratitude… Your actions would have been unreasonable, right? No one could be that insensitive or crass as to not meet their friend’s stated, pressing need… Right???

Meet the need first is fairly intuitive in this case. But the reason why most Americans don’t respond as instinctively when it comes to giving unnecessary gifts to the poor overseas is that they are too far removed from third-world poverty to get it.

America has a lavish gift-giving culture; we give presents for everything!  New Baby! House Warming! New Job! But despite this generous tradition, many, if not most, of the people we are giving these gifts to aren’t simultaneously looking for solutions to life-threatening situations. Most Americans have never been confronted with the either/or dilemma of “meet a desperate need” or “give a random gift instead.” The struggle is quite literally foreign to them.

The driving proviso behind, “But it’s a gift!” is that Americans (as a generic unit) can afford to spend money on unnecessary things all day, every day – and we assume others do to. BUT, the developing world does not function this way. Luxury is appreciated when it comes, to be sure – but by luxury, I’m not talking fancy jewelry and the latest iphone. Luxury in our village is water that has spent time in a fridge, a car ride (instead of a bike ride) to town, and getting to eat the gizzard of a chicken. So let me say this: it is ignorant and tacky to pretend that frivolous luxury is a reasonable replacement for basic human needs that are not being met.

You can give any single unnecessary item from Target to your best friend and rightly expect a thank you from her because she probably has a roof over her head tonight. You can give a bag of party favors to your neighbor kid and even tell the goober to say thank you to you because chances are good that kid is getting fed tonight. If your friend didn’t have a house and your neighbor didn’t have food and you knew that but decided to use your expendable cash to buy trinkets instead, the word ‘negligent’ would be appropriately applied.

In the place where we live, families routinely go hungry, don’t have shoes and can’t send their kids to school. Our neighbors sleep in crowded huts, wear the same clothes for a week and walk miles to see a nurse. And yet, with this scene as the backdrop, the same American Church that can manage to buy millions of dollars worth of “Just because we love you!” gifts refuses to use those same dollars to alleviate human suffering.

Americans have the luxury of having skewed priorities because, by and large, their needs are already met. What would truly change the American-gift-giver’s perspective is an exit from the first-world bubble and a true desire to know what the legitimate, third-world needs are. From much experience, I can say that, once on the field, it does not take long for American bauble to look alien and offensive when the intended recipient in front of you is either hungry, sick or afraid.

In case I sound like a gift-giving curmudgeon, let me free ya’ll up: Buy the candy and the bouncy balls and the glow in the dark toothbrushes. Yes. Go ahead and buy them. And send them! But here’s the caveat: Do that AFTER you’ve made sure that each and every recipient has a home and clothes and food and everything she needs.

You see, that same mama who taught me to be grateful at Christmas also taught me how to spoil the people I love. Here in the land of Where there is no Target, we have to wait for many of our American items to come across with visitors. Because space is limited and our list is usually pretty extensive, I have to do some negotiating with my mother to make sure that the innate Grandmother urge to spoil her grandkids doesn’t usurp actual necessities. Because I know she loves me, I’m free to say, “Grandma, the kids don’t need sugar. They need vitamins and socks and school supplies. Can we prioritize that instead?” And Grandma always says, sure! Because as much as she loves – and lives – to spoil those grandbabies, she cares about them enough to make sure their needs are met first.

So she sends vitamins and socks and school supplies… and all the s’mores ingredients that the left-over luggage space can handle. Despite my joking protest, the spoiling with sweets isn’t bad. We just need the other things as first priority. If I had told Grandma our needs and she had said, “I DON’T CARE. IT MAKES ME HAPPY SO I’M SENDING MARSHMELLOWS AND NOTHING ELSE…” Well shoot, Grandma. That wouldn’t be very loving, now would it?

If your gut reaction to negative press for OCC is, “they should be thankful,” you need to recognize that it is your purchasing power speaking – not compassion towards the poor. Because yes, all humans should be grateful for gifts, no matter what. But it is not ingratitude that leads those of us working amongst the poor to make the needs known. It is necessity. And urgency. And Stress. And if that does not call you to sympathy, you are in this for the wrong reasons. 

Giving gifts to the poor aught not be a consumer activity. But when first-world donors announce that they will only pay for that which makes them feel good, this “generosity” takes on a controlling element that needs to be exorcized. A true gift is one without stipulations, including your desire to “participate” or “teach your kids the true meaning of Christmas” or to foster some artificial “connection” to a small child far away.

Leveraging financial privilege in a way that self-gratifies and puts the rich-giver ahead of the poor is not Christ’s way.

Psalm 41:1 says it right:

Blessed is the one who considers the poor.

Are you considering?

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

my "hard" life in Africa

Social media has been a total game-changer for those of us abroad. Facebook, instagram and the like provide the perfect platform to share life across the distance. Birthdays, anniversaries, a beautiful garden or craft project… With a click of a button our joy goes out to the world and we receive the gift of being known. But it’s not only the good we share. We let loose on the hard too. Social media has made it easy for us to be vulnerable. The brevity of status updates means I don’t have to look you in the eye or answer any questions or let you actually see my tear streaks to let you all know that I’ve had a terrible, horrible, no good very bad day.

Expats are particularly adept at online communication since for most of us, this is THE WAY many of us communicate with our friends and family back home. We use it to supply information, but also to solicit responses. It’s a powerful tool, this sound-bite communication stuff, and truth be told, most missionaries are masterful at milking their daily drama for all its worth.

“I have a cold. In Africa. Colds in Africa are so much worse than the colds in America. I don’t have a neti pot. I will likely suffer for three days and not be able to save anyone’s life during this trying time. In Africa. Life is so hard.”

“My kids are on their last box of imported Cheerios and re-enforcements are not coming for another eight days. The sixteen other kinds of circular cereal in this country obviously weren’t blessed by angels and my fragile, third-culture kids have been asked to sacrifice so much. This is clearly a scheme of the devil. Please pray for us.”

It’s possible I’m exaggerating a bit, but really now – I do run in these circles and I see this blubbery, yet persuasive mess every day. Sometimes I even author it myself! While many of the struggles shared are legit and painful in any context, some of these “terrible” situations are just so run-of-the-mill-part-of-life, that, upon reading, I fully expect to reach the comments and find a steady stream of “suck it up buttercup”… But you know what? Time after time, the comments section EATS IT UP. All the single tear drop emojies. Pity heaped upon pity. Donations to fund the neti pot. People who haven’t prayed in a month are all of a sudden hands to the heavens casting out the demon of deprivation and praying for provision of Cheerios. I have no idea why some budding psychologist hasn’t made a winning PhD thesis out of this crazy. 

It would almost seem as if the folks back home have actually bought into the myth that E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G. in in the third world is harder. It’s our own fault, really. When missionaries talk about their life in “the bush” or “the jungle” or on “the islands” without clarifying that that is a geographic marker and not a classification of hardship, we create a suggestive void to be filled by nothing but imagination and worst-case scenarios.

Honestly, misperceptions flow our of our thumbs so easily. When our Provincial grocery store burnt down I’m pretty sure I made it sound like we would all starve to death. I appreciated the solace, at the time. Cheeeeeeese! How will I live without it! But I never did tell you that a few weeks later they opened up a little outlet and lo and behold, we haven’t wasted away. They are even stocking cheese. It’s a selective game, and whether we mean to or not, we all play it.

Admittedly, for those of us overseas, our sharing is often curated to achieve a certain response. This is something I’ve wrestled with a lot. When I read or write posts about the traffic or the tropical diseases or the long waits for absolutely everything, and people react with some variation of “wow you’re amazing and I could never…” the conscientious objector perched on my shoulder whispers, Is our life really harder than theirs?

I’ve been sitting on this question, rolling it around in my head… When I share (whine) about my Zambian problems, am I really any different than my children who are honestly convinced that getting their hair washed is some form of torture? Am I showing my immaturity by failing to balance my problems against those facing truly dark situations?  

To my dear friends in America, let me say this: my life is not harder than yours. How dare I complain about the fact that my children have giardia when I have friends in the states whose children are undergoing heart surgery. How dare I complain about goats eating my begonias when I have friends who have to get in the car and drive to find green space.  How dare I complain that there is no decent ice cream when I have an unlimited supply of avocados for 30 cents a piece. Just. Shut. Up.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down all attitudinal with my journal and instructed myself – COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS. YOU HAVE NO REASON TO COMPLAIN.

I have the best life ever, actually.

The Zambian bush is the best place ever to raise children. My kids get approximately 6 hours of outdoor nature play every day, all year round. Eat your heart out, Charlotte Mason.

My work allows me to be creative, inspired, sacrificial, inventive, risky and loving which is a character bundle that describes not a single for-profit, 9-5, cubical ever. I am spoiled beyond reason.

I have zero debt and live in a house that is paid for and drive cars that are paid for because home and auto loans aren’t a thing here anyway. This is ridiculous luxury.

We can go on a legitimate African safari for the same price our friends pay for a day at the zoo. We can travel to and hang out at one of the seven wonders of the natural world for the same price our friends pay for a day at the water park.

We can country-hop the way our American friends state-hop. You zip down to Florida, we zip down to South Africa. Such is the nature of regional transportation for us.

I have not seen snow or been cold for over 700 days and counting. (And don’t tell me that some people like being cold. No one likes being cold. People like getting warm after being cold, but that is not the same thing.)

I have zero commute. I have survived the traffic in NY, LA and DC and NO THANK YOU. I am blessed and highly favored that I walk a dirt path to all my jobs and pass zero cars on the way.

I shave my legs approximately 3 times a year and strap on a bra approximately never because Zambain women are not oppressed in these Western ways and thank heavens Jeremy is basically Zambian and just lets me live.

Mango season is a thing here and there are so many mangos that they are rotting on the ground before they can all be eaten. Never will we pay 2 for $5 at an American Safeway. That is heresy.

But here’s the thing: I still struggle. A lot. I’ve spent a really long time trying to process how, with full awareness of all this awesomeness (and so much more), how I can still find life here to be hard more often than not.

What in the blazes is wrong with me? It’s like I have a gratitude processing disorder or something.

I was actually starting to be really hard on my self until I finally went on a mental health hunt to figure out why the impressive list of good was not compensating for the modest list of bad.

And finally, it took having someone with special letters after her name to explain it to me to stop feeling guilty about feeling the way that I do.

When you move overseas, you take your First World expectations with you. Slowly those expectations do melt away, but the memories and habit of comparing and contrasting, do not. While I no longer **expect** the clinic to have the medicine for my children on hand, the automatic recall of, “but in the States, they would” can often introduce a surprising angst over what feels like unnecessary pain.

The First World butting up against the Third creates dozens of little moments each day in which we are keenly aware that it doesn’t have to be this way… and all the mangos and warmth and creative inspiration of the village doesn’t blot out these thoughts.

Two of our neighbor babies are in the hospital, slowly dying under a heat lamp because the hospital does not do alternative feeding. (But if we were in America…)

We’re being hounded by the ZRA, RTSA, the ABCDEFG, choose an acronym it doesn’t matter, we’re being hounded because we are white and these offices want money. (But if we were in America…)

My husband lost half a finger because the closest surgeon to reattach it was 12 ours away and we were told it wasn’t worth it. (But if we were in America…)

My third born child sat in an institution for 400 days for no other reason than because a few people were too busy to sign a paper. (But if we were in America…)

We have forfeited a bazillion kwacha (hyperbole) to every shop in town because no one ever has change and pleasing the customer is not a thing. (But if we were in America…)

It took a month to figure out that our kids had giardia because the hospital held onto lab results only to report back to us that they didn’t have the reagent. (But if we were in America…)

And its not that these things are hard-er than any of the trials that our friends in the US are facing. As much as I sometimes want it, I don’t deserve that pity party. However, to be fair to my own emotions, I have to admit that most of these things are hard-different – a byproduct of life as a foreigner and the admission that, if we were in America, these things would likely play out differently.   

I’m willing to stick around a few more decades to find out for sure, but I have a suspicion that no amount of integration or cultural acquisition lets you turn off pre-recorded message in your brain that says, “This dysfunction and/or different value system is causing unnecessary trauma…” And having to process that recoding, day after day, makes the hard-different a unique kind of burden. 

I’m bothered by things that my neighbors don’t think twice about because I have had a different set of experiences. Everything from how families operate to customer service to health care has been colored from my earliest upbringing. And realistically, most people around me carry on just fine because they’ve never encountered a different reality.

It absolutely blows my mind that my daughter’s best friends go to bed hungry two or three nights a week because their parents just didn’t collect food for them. (But that’s the way things are…)

It drives me bonkers that I have to debate with the post-master to give me my mail just because it is addressed to Bethany and Jeremy Colvin. (But that’s the way things are…)

I have to take actual deep breaths when life-saving drugs are only provided on certain days and on certain times. (But that’s the way things are…)

My face gets hot when my paperwork is delayed because they think I’ve falsified my age. “You can’t be that old, you don’t have enough kids.” (But that’s the way things are…)

It kind of makes me want to quit every committee I’m on when rules are made but never enforced and development shoots itself in the foot over and over again… (But that’s the way things are…)

And the balance must exist – to not whine and carry on about it like a five year old, but to create space in my own head to recognize why it all takes a few extra seconds to process and put all the junk away.

And sometimes, in those crucial few seconds, I grab my phone and Mark Zuckerberg does his magic and brings you into my brain-space and it comes out in the form of my life is harder than yours… and for that, I am so sorry. I will continue to count my blessings, as we all should. I SHALL REMEMBER THE MANGOS, FRIENDS. But the next time I post a picture of a snake in my house – please know that I’m not suggesting that the snake is hard-er than your frozen pipes or the flu or cracked iphone screen. It’s just hard-different – for whatever that’s worth.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

boxing up expectations: reflections on OCC and the church

It was a fairly typical Thursday in our house. My husband went to the Mansa Pastor’s Fellowship, the meeting ran late, he got home and scarfed a “used to be warm” meal and gave me the run down of news from our region’s pastors.

So the boxes came up again, he started. I paused from my counter de-greasing to hear this one. Just a few days prior at the Fellowship’s Valentine’s Day event - capping off an otherwise delightful evening of food, love and laughter - the issue of “paying for our boxes” came up in the announcements. Through the thick murmur of voices, we gathered the sound bites of boxes, pay, free, why and no. Missionaries are really good at rolling with confusion so we held onto our questions. (And it was late – the newlywed game went long because we could not stop cracking up.)

Thankfully, at the next weekly meeting of the Fellowship, the topic came up again, and this time, being a more appropriate venue and atmosphere for discussion, the voices of all were heard, one at a time, and a thorough conversation went on and on.

Livid, Jeremy told me. They are livid. These pastors are the most gentle shepherds, so I had to know more. In bullet-point format, Jeremy explained that the Operation Christmas Child boxes had reached the warehouse in Ndola and that the Mansa churches needed to come up with eight kwacha per box for 5,000 boxes to receive their shipment. That’s $4,000USD, Jeremy said, telling me what I had already calculated. He continued to share that comments from the pastors ranged from, “We don’t have this kind of money,” to, “Aren’t these boxes supposed to be free?” to, “Next year, let’s just refuse the boxes all together!”

We haven't always been at these gatherings during OCC distribution time, and so we were back-peddling a little to make sense of these statements. Wait, wait, wait…  is this how it always is? What’s the money going for? Who is responsible for it? Despite the remaining questions, two things were crystal clear: the pastors were forking over cash for OCC boxes, and they were NOT happy about it.

Truth telling and transparency are core values for me, and the details out of that Thursday’s conversation just felt like something that needed to be shared.

This went up on my facebook wall and I honest to goodness didn’t expect much interaction with it. After all, it was a fairly bland statement – I didn’t flavor it with any personal opinions or emotional judgment. I posted because I myself was wrestling with unmet expectations, and I figured a few others out there might be as well. My goal was to describe the gap and let it speak for itself.

Days later, that conversation was still going, and I started composing this post as a way of saying all that I couldn’t say in a comments section. (Speaking of which, I made that particular post public so that anyone can read the full comments … in case you wanted to catch up…)

Having taken time to both dialogue and reflect (thank you, by the way, to everyone who shared thoughts and opinions with me,) I have observed that many, if not most people who engage with Operation Christmas Child do so with three main expectations. I will describe those below along with my observations regarding how those expectations seem to be playing out in Zambia.  

a quick side note...

(Before saying anything further, I need to make the disclaimer that the following opinions are 100% my own and not necessarily representative of anyone I work with or for. Furthermore, my opinions are drawn from my experiences in Zambia alone and may not be reflective of every country in which OCC operates.)

OK back to business…

Expectation one: The $7 shipping cost gets the box TO THE CHILD

This is certainly the most flagrant of unmet expectations. In my initial quest to understand why the churches of Mansa were paying to receive their boxes, I learned from OCC USA directly that the $7 only ships the container(s) of boxes as far as the central warehouse in the country – in our case, Ndola. It is OCC policy that the National Leadership Team (volunteers, and all Zambian) be responsible for distribution and raising funds to cover in-country transportation costs. Historically in Zambia, this has meant levying a transportation fee/payment amongst the churches in each district. This fee is not optional – this is not a free will offering – and it is announced to the churches that those who do not pay will not receive.

OCC policy clearly states that boxes are not to be sold. However, the Leadership Team’s directive to “raise funds” and their decision to do so by levying a “standard transportation fee” has effectively translated to a system of selling and buying the boxes – the National Team sells and the churches buy and that money takes care of the in-country transportation cost as per OCC’s plan. Some churches have chosen to absorb the cost on behalf of their congregants; others have merely fronted the costs and will then re-sell the boxes to the families themselves.

In dialoguing with many box senders in America, it is clear to me that no one actually wants to be a burden to the recipients. A lot of discouragement was generated by the thought of the rural poor having to scrape together funds to buy presents, and I was asked if there was a better way. Well...

I spoke directly with OCC USA regarding the policy and potential solutions. We didn’t have a particularly thorough brainstorming session, as that wasn’t the point of the call, but it did stand out to me that all “solutions” mentioned still kept the burden of transportation cost on the rural communities. Again, this is OCC policy. It was explained to me that OCC strategically does NOT charge the sender $7+K8 in order to ship all the way to the children because they WANT the churches to pay something. As an organization, they do not want to create an unhealthy dependency

This comment about dependency leads me to my second unmet expectation:

Expectation two: The gifts are HELPFUL both in evangelistic outreach and material aid

I’ve already written a full post outlining my thoughts regarding OCC and the coupling evangelism with Christmas gifts. I’d encourage you to read that post as well as I don’t intend on going into it here, but the spoiler is that I thoroughly disagree with this methodology for moral, cultural, and theological reasons.

As for the second element – helpful material aid – when the kind OCC staffer in North Carolina told me that they insisted that the churches pay so as to “avoid dependency,” I heard in that word choice the patent use of “development worker speech.” I started to wonder, just how many people really consider the shipping of these boxes to be an effective form of relief and/or development aid? It seems like Christmas presents don’t necessarily need to be sustainable, so… are our friends packing their boxes full of socks and washcloths and toothbrushes and Band-Aids because they believe they are supplying items that the child actually, desperately needs?

It may be quite right that a child would not have gotten a new toothbrush without that box, and that makes us all feel so useful on this planet, but if material aid is the expectation, this is not good stewardship of resources. For the cost of that new (American) toothbrush, a child in Mansa could buy 10 toothbrushes in the market. This pattern holds true for many of these “necessity” items.

A cost analyses on the boxes as a whole is even more striking. Expenditure certainly varies, but if we guestimate that the average box – contents plus shipping – is worth roughly $30, then have we done a good job of counting the “alternative cost?” Have we considered what could be done with that money instead?

in rural Zambia, $30 can pay for…

60,000 liters of potable drinking water

100 kg of maize meal – feeding a family of 5 for 4 MONTHS

school fees and uniforms for 6 elementary kids for a year

2 breeding goats

6 insecticide treated mosquito nets

15 gallons of soy beans

wages for 3 weeks of farm work
The families are not consulted, of course, (further evidence of poor development practice) – meaning, no one has ever asked them directly, “would you rather have a box of assorted American goods, or would you rather send all of your kids to school this year?” Yikes. Do we even want to know the answer? Would it bust our expectations left and right? And if it did, are we courageous enough to do something else?

community based needs assessment is not an optional step

One thing I did learn from the comment thread on the original post is that there are plenty of families who do NOT share in this expectation. They fully recognize that this is maybe not the best evangelism tool, and it is without question NOT the best aid, but they do it anyway because of the benefit to their kids. I thought about that one long and hard, and to this group I say – despite all my other feelings – GOOD ON YOU, parents, GOOD ON YOU. You have taken intentional action to make your privileged children more generous, aware and missions minded, and this is so very worthwhile. I have heard your question, “is there a better option?” and I desperately want there to be. The impetus is on the local church and its sent-out-missionaries to strategize and facilitate this caliber of experience. We have not done all that we can do, and for that, I am sorry. Nevertheless, you deserve all the props for being both third world savvy and good disciplers of your kids.

As a final observation, I’ll share a third expectation:

Expectation three: A reputable organization like Samaritans Purse can be trusted to  provide oversight

The first responses to hit the wall after my post went live were filled with disbelief. What? How is that possible? There must be an explanation! Not Samaritans Purse!?!?!? Even after I shared “the rest of the story” (that OCC knows that the recipients pay and actually expects them to pay), a handful continued to defend OCC by offering a variety of positive examples from around the world. The sharers of these stories are likely believing that these gold-star results in one location are representative of results everywhere.

As I said at the outset, my perspective is 100% Zambia specific. All I know is that the disappointment over the cost of the boxes HERE is unmistakable. Every other commenter with experience in Zambia said the same thing.

What for all the yeah but… yeah but… yeah buts…stemming from those alternative examples from other countries, still, as far as I’m concerned, ^^^ this means something.

An addendum to the above expectation would be that we expect uniform results across the board. However, a basic rule of a GLOBAL aid organization, is that one-size-fits-all (and works for all,) is not a thing. The cultural climate, relationship to the west, perceptions of power/respect/authority – these all matter hugely.

OCC handles its oversight requirement largely by working with National Leadership Teams, seconding to them great authority in each state of the process. Here, the Team in Ndola – for cultural and other reasons – was not shuttling report of the discontentment across the ocean. The American representative told me that he works closely with the Ndola team and would follow up with them… I was only mildly comforted considering that this voice was 7 time zones away. “Work closely with” can mean so many things… I mean, Jeremy and I would say that we “work closely with” our local pastors; and by this we mean, we know them. Henry Mumba is a jovial leader who almost fell in our pond going down our zip line… Pastor Bwalya fasts and prays quarterly at our farm and never lords his title of Chairman of the Fellowship over anyone… Bishop Chimanga prays for provision while refusing to takes a penny from his extremely poor congregation whose roof we re-constructed this year… Reverend Mwansa is a phenomenal worship leader who is always helping others despite having nine kids of his own. These partnerships are relationally rich – and effective for that reason.

I’ve always been an advocate of supporting the little man because THIS is where accountability WORKS. No one has ever had to call us from another continent to tell us that one of our programs is not working. When something flops, we know it in about twelve seconds because the casualties of that flop usually come knocking on our door. In the same vein, if someone has a question or concern and would like an audience with the top-of-the-top of our organization, I’m pretty sure I can arrange that – dinner is at 6 and please don’t mind if my children throw peas. They lose their minds when we have visitors.

Scope and size of impact grow as an organization gets larger and larger, but quality control is almost always inversely impacted, and that is an understandable tradeoff.

Actually, so much of what we’ve observed with OCC is “understandable” and this is why I “stated the gap” without overt judgment. On some level, I get it. My point in sharing what I have is that the massive donor base of North America is not well versed at vetting, monitoring and evaluating the projects that our funding goes to. We trust the big names – sometimes too much.

At the end of the day, each donor is responsible for his or her investment, and no one else’s. Merely assuming that the stewards of your money are living up to expectation benefits no one. Asking questions and following up need not be hostile or cynical; BUT, with great (financial) power comes great responsibility.

Also, I concede that a lapse in expectation need not be a deal breaker. This too is a personal choice. For me, the unmet expectations outlined above are not palatable, and I will probably never participate with OCC for this reason, nor would I recommend others to participate either. But this is just one opinion, and my perspective is both biased and inherently imperfect. I appreciate the others who have shared their perspectives with me and expanded my understanding. You make me a better missionary, and I thank you.