It's a logical question. Good parents want to teach their children to be charitable, love their neighbor, become more grateful....but how? In the last 5 years the options available for international missions work has exploded. There are countless ways to travel the world while "making an impact" How can my family take a trip together and also "make a difference"?
These are good and important questions to ask. And I'm asked them often. Our family foundation has been at this philanthropy thing for 20 years. We have experienced all the work we support personally. These non profits are run by my heroes. Most of what I've learned about this giving stuff is from them. Local and international, our partners are the experts. So if someone was looking for an "experience" it would be easy to refer friends to these experts. For us to say, "hey would you please take the Smith family around Haiti and show them your work and how beautiful the country is?" Yes, for sure, our selfless partners would do that for us...but it would interfere with their work. A lot. So unless the Smiths are considering a very generous donation and long term support, I would never ask them to do that.
So what IS the best answer when we get asked this question? Just to frustrate you, I'll tell you the wrong answer....all the non profits that offer to take you on a trip. Of these, there are a minuscule number who may do a little bit of good. But, honestly, I disagree with their mission and approach entirely. Brief visits to "help" poor people bring out the momma bear in me. I am disgusted with using the poor to accomplish something in our own personal spiritual growth. (Read "When Helping Hurts" and "Toxic Charity...") But there IS a way to do it well. It's called relationships.
Try this....do you go to church? Yes? Well, do you have missionaries or partner organizations your church supports? You do? Great! What if you stopped there? Lifted up the hood a little on one of these organizations and considered, "Hey how might we encourage a partner of our own church body in the work they're doing?" So maybe you want some adventure? What if you wrote to that missionary in Kenya and asked if your family could take them on a weekend getaway? Spend a couple days getting to know them, (they are the best tour guides ever!), giving them some pampering, (giving them some space!) and a chance to show off their work, a nice dinner with their spouse and a long term friendship with your incredibly awesome family? What if your kids learned about caring for their neighbor by actually caring for people...Long. Term? There are people doing very, very hard things. In very, very hard places. That you already know! And realistically, there are already plenty of local people and businesses in that missionary's life to build a school, a church, paint a building, build a latrine, etc. That's the job of the local individuals and businesses (not teams of semi-skilled folks from the US)....But there never seems to be enough money.
What if you helped them fund a project they had lined up for the locals to complete and built, instead, a ministry of friendship with that person. It is incredibly lonely work out there! What about being one less tourist and instead, a valued friend and financial partner in their work who asked for nothing in return beyond what they're already doing?
If you approach the question like this, I promise you, it will be a greater emotional expense but the returns will go farther and deeper than the memories of a week long trip. Something to think about....
"Giving Money Away" or "Grant making 101" was not covered in my science major at University of Delaware or at Ohio State. To be honest, being helpful to people was always a passion of mine but never a skill developed through study. Left to my own devices, I had a "willy nilly" approach to trying to help people that, undoubtedly, would have left a wake of destruction and broken relationships behind me. I credit my father and our long Wednesday conversations as the guiding force behind how I learned to do this thing called "Philanthropy". And somehow, miraculously, our guiding values and convictions end up indirectly being affirmed in the fancy Chronicle of Philanthropy. I chuckle and ask, "How did that happen? How did we stumble around being generous and then inadvertently do something that was encouraging and not terribly damaging to non profits here and abroad?" Honestly, I have no idea. But I have some guesses. And it has a lot to do with listening and putting myself in someone else's shoes. (and I'm incredibly grateful that other people in fancy, high profile magazines are writing about this!)
My thanks to Jeremy Courtney (Preemptive Love Coalition) for bringing this great article to my attention. ("After 25 Years of Grant Making, I Worry We have Lost Sight of Nonprofit Struggles" Chronicle of Philanthropy, September 2016, pp28-31). He shared it to encourage us to keep doing what were doing. (We had no part in writing it or contributing to it) My only motivation in sharing our core values is to shine a light on the tremendous frustration among non profits having to make concessions, in so many ways, in their work because of pressures from donors. I'm watching countless great non profits attempt to clear enormous hurdles to appease donors. 80 page grant applications!! They are forced to jump through unreasonable hoops to acquire funds (looking at you US government grants!) Hoops and hurdles are NOT the things that should occupy large chunks of a non profit leader's time. They have bigger issues to conquer! They're trying to save the world after all!
Below are the approaches that our grant recipients have told us "have been a blessing to them" and have made our relationships with these hard working folks so special to us.
1) Spend time with them. Obviously something drew you to their work. Look for more. Get to know them. Maybe even volunteer in their organization (especially before they know you are a grant maker). Ask people in the community how the work of this organization is impacting them. THIS will tell you the most about the effectiveness of their work and can not be validated by more paper work. 5 years of Profits and Loss Statements can be valuable (kind of...) but should not determine whether they are worthy of your support.
2) Invest in leadership. We all know great non-profit leaders. Find out what they need to keep doing what they've been doing. Here are some non-traditional ways we've invested in non profit leaders:
- funds for an assistant for leader of non-profit
- board training
- staff retreats
- matching grants (and training on how to raise funds)
- sharing a vacation home with leaders in order to refresh, equip and encourage them to keep doing what they are doing! It's usually burnout of a leader that destroys a great non profit.
3) Give to General Operating Support. "Project funding" is the easy way to give. We get a false sense of control and have results at the end of our grant period. BUT do we really know what that leader had to do to keep those funds for that project? Maybe an employee didn't get paid or bills are now a month behind just to make sure that project was completed how the donor wanted it to be. If we truly trust the leader, let the leader decide how to use their funds. He/she knows the field far better than we do. Let your leader lead by giving them the freedom to apply funding where they can use it best.
4) Invest LONG term and tell them so. This in no way gives them a "free pass" to accountability. But what a blessing when they consider us to be a reliable source of income. That they can rely on our financial support for 5-10 years. (Can you hear them exhaling?)Don't misunderstand, we still hold them to a renewal of their financial documents and a meeting once a year (and maybe even a site visits) but we're there to work THROUGH their challenges with them in an honest and long term dialogue not cut them off as struggles arise. After all, we want their success because we are deeply concerned about their area of influence in our community and our world. Remember that? That's why we gave them the grant in the first place. We let them know we're behind them and pray for their success!
5) Minimize the application process. We request about 10 items in our application process that should already exist in some form in the non profit organization. We go to their website to learn about their missions and strategies. We discuss and meet and ask questions. We visit and participate and volunteer. This is how we get to know them. The paperwork part is straightforward and uncomplicated. We also ask for a non profit's opinion of our grant making process. Was it too challenging? Why? What information do YOU think we should know about your organization? By all means, share it with us if you have something you're proud of in your work as a non profit.
6) Don't unknowingly manipulate with funding relationship. Sometimes this is not because of the donor's actions but is a fear of the non profit that they will lose the funding if they don't accommodate the needs of the donor. For instance, I heard a story of an inner city ministry, supported by a large church. The large church organized a team of volunteers for the day to help with their mission. One volunteer commented to me "It felt like they didn't even want us there. They clearly have a system and it seemed like we were making them nervous just being there." What that volunteer perceived was probably true! The non profit was probably afraid to say "No, please don't come but we appreciate your financial donations". Create a relationship where the non profit leader is "safe" to express honestly, the best interests of the organization WITHOUT concern of displeasing and losing a large donor.
I hope that something here in our mission will be used to encourage relational, long term and collaborative giving and real, authentic support to those organizations that are choosing the hard road of forging social progress. Philanthropic allies are vital to their journey and we are dedicated to being just that with our non-profit partners. We are so grateful for you.
STRENGTHEN THE WEAK HANDS,
AND MAKE FIRM THE FEEBLE KNEES.
SAY TO THOSE WHO HAVE AN ANXIOUS HEART,
“BE STRONG; FEAR NOT!
BEHOLD, I WILL COME WITH VENGEANCE…I WILL COME AND SAVE YOU.” (ISAIAH 35:3-4)
The ooze coming out of the blisters on her arms make me cringe and look away. It’s a natural response for any person, even if I’ve seen the same wounds hundreds of times now on hundreds of people. Her children race in and out, chattering quickly in a language I don’t truly understand. Normalized by the scene that plays out for them every day, the kids go straight to their aunt, who is caring for their mom – just half asleep there, hurting with a pain I can’t take away, nor look at without wincing.
In some ways, her children have moved on to the reality that their aunt is their new mother, but in other ways they are just children who need their noses wiped or help pulling up their pants. They skip away and out, just as fast as they came.
THIS IS THEIR NORMAL.
The stench from the woman’s dying body in the poorly insulated hut is masked by the smoke coming out of the fire burning in the center. Life goes on and people caring for her need to eat.
THIS IS THEIR NORMAL.
Whiffs of ground corn in one pot, ground nuts and spinach in another mix with the rubbing alcohol being applied to her wounds, as I sit and watch – wanting to leave, but wanting to stay to let her know that she is loved. I resist the urge to make this ordinary and seek ways to see the uniqueness. It’s painful and that reminds me I’m human.
Almost every time, I want to lean away and sometimes do, but I’m called by God to lean in, despite the discomfort that it brings. I do so yearning to feel just for a moment what it means to be part of the body of Christ here. Where people consistently and faithfully visit their dying relatives or neighbors, clean their wounds, care for their children, and dare to believe that God is present there despite their overwhelmingly painful reality.
I fight the urge to get up and walk out to play with the kids because my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ here cannot leave.
THIS IS THEIR NORMAL.
I want to co-labor with them, praying that God will take away their pain for just a moment and heap it onto my back so they may see and experience relief and know that God is sovereign over even this.
My eyes return to the wounds on her arms, now bubbling from medicine put on them. Even as ooze fades and the sores renew their long process to heal, my eyes scan down the woman’s hard-worn torso and down her too-thin to use legs. All of her is covered, a sure sign that stage 4 AIDS is about to claim its next victim. It will be hours, I think, not days.
I can’t thank God enough for bringing me to this place, even when it hurts. Because in the hurt, I see that God doesn’t ask us to be God. He asks us to be faithful.
With one hand offering faithful and gentle strokes to the tired woman’s neck, the sister takes her other hand and reaches for mine. She asks if I will pray.
I have come to see the forgotten, so I may testify to their story back home. Deep in the sister’s eyes, I am awed by her faithfulness. Her peaceful presence and gentleness even to me remind me that you and I may look away often, but God has not ever forgotten.
Yearning for the promises of God, my mind wanders for awhile before I speak because my nature needs time to relinquish control to the Holy Spirit living inside of me. My desire to flee or use pithy prayers without feeling the desperation that is apparent in her gaze eventually succumbs to a smile that can only come from God.
I can’t explain it well, but I’m thankful that my heart hurts so much with love that I ask God to stop – it is just too much love. Only God can do that and leaning in allows me to see God at work everywhere. When I’m not here, I want to be back. When I’m here, I want the love to stop and the pain to go away. Through it all, God is with me.
FOR A GOOD FEW MINUTES, I JUST SMILE AT HER BEAUTY – A CREATION OF THE KING.
Images of her childhood into adulthood appear before my eyes, as God reminds me that this shell of a person is a treasured gift from the Almighty. She is uniquely and wonderfully made, with each hair known by the One who made her.
The sister brushes away hair from her mouth to ease her breathing. It’s as if the world stands still, while at the same time death is racing toward us. Peace and chaos colliding.
I don’t remember what I spoke because the words weren’t mine and I don’t remember if my voice emerged at all. But I know I felt a love for her that can only come from the same God who made my 3 precious children and wife, who I left behind to be at this place.
Exodus 14:14 says, “The LORD will fight for you; you need only be silent.” Some translations say “you need only be still.” Here in Africa, my words often fail me and for that I am thankful. The magnitude of God’s love in this place doesn’t need Words. It requires and demands our awe.
For here, in hut after hut, home after home, city after city, the local church is growing faster. Equally called by God to care for widows and orphans in their distress, the Church is growing faster than the orphan crisis. Daring to believe God can do the impossible and wants to do it through His Church drives people here to lean in, when they want to run away.
OH, HOW I LONG TO BE FAITHFUL TO MY GOD AND NOT REJECT HIM.
Following His commands to look after widows and orphans in their distress (James 1:27) is hard. Oh how I long to be faithful to my God and not run from His instruction because keeping myself pure and Holy before the LORD is hard.
My coming here allows me to listen expectantly for where God is in the world’s most forgotten places. Then, I hope to keep returning to invite you to be part of this, too.
This trip, I’m unlikely to encounter the above story, but I’m grateful my days will be filled with encouraging the faithful who live this story every day. The people Forgotten Voices serves are daily living out the calling you and I have also received.
Their faithfulness to lean in allows us the privilege to come and see what God has done. You and I desperately want to help care for vulnerable children, but we don’t know how. But the simple truth is this: local churches here know how to care for children and are faithfully loving the vulnerable. May we see past the wounds that catch our eyes at first and instead, see God doing a mighty work through the faithful. Faithful people we have much to learn from. Allow your heart to wander and consider: what is holding us back from leaning in, too?
God doesn’t ask us to be God. He asks us to be faithful.
COME AND SEE WHAT GOD HAS DONE.
Please follow along at http://twitter.com/ryanmkeith. Enjoy the journey.
A DEDICATION OF LOVE
BY NICK LYNDON, CHIEF OPERATION OFFICER
As I sat and listened to Rosena Share, I was struck by how fortunate I was to witness this small miracle. Rosena is a beautiful young woman who has been in a Restavek Freedom Transitional home since she was taken out of her life in Restavek. Her story is a hard one, as is the story of every child in Restavek. Many of these children are working long hours, abused, and taught in direct and indirect ways that they don't matter...that they are alone.
But on this day, surrounded by her family of sisters and caregivers, it was hard to imagine that her life would hold anything other than hope and promise. Articulate, strong, and full of laughter, she was helping dedicate Restavek Freedom's second transitional home! Rosena emulated the reason we had gathered from all across Haiti and the United States in this little town in the south of the island. She represents the story of hope and love we want all children to experience.
During the dedication ceremony, Pastor Bilda, our Director of Church and Community Mobilization, shared with us the urgent need to address this issue of child slavery in Haiti. His passion for ending the restavek system is contagious, and he gave an impassioned defense of our belief that we can end this practice in our lifetime. [read more] By working and fighting together, he believed we can see a new Haiti without the restavek system.
Our Transitional Home Director, Adeline Bien-Amie, also shared why her heart was so passionate. She expressed how precious these girls are, and why she treats them as family. She knows what it is life to have to live in someone else's home and work for them, and now she provides a sense of belonging for the girls in our homes.
It was a moving ceremony as we celebrated this new home and all those who made it possible through their support and service. I believe we all left with hearts a little warmer as Rosena concluded, "On behalf of the girls, I want to thank you all for building this beautiful house. If this house is possible today, it's because of you."
*Name changed to protect child's identity.
It is the end of the year, Christmas is coming and we will celebrate in our annual tradition by taking a bunch of kids to the beach and spending the night. It's always so much fun just to be together and celebrate. This letter is always one of the hardest for me to write because it feels like, at least to me, it should be more impactful than the others since it is the end of the year. A summary of triumphs and failure, reflecting on what we have learned and how God has worked in our lives. It feels like a daunting task because so much has happened there is no way to accurately capture it all. So I think maybe a couple of stories of things that have impacted me will have to suffice. You'll see how God has moved and how you are a part of this journey with me.
First a snippet from the goat project (Give a Kid to a Kid)- In my last letter I told you about the village gangs and how God has been working in my heart. By the time you read this we will be getting ready to give out 15 goats to gang members in the village of Merger. There are 3 main groups representing about 80 people and they got to choose 5 people to receive goats. When those five give back their goats' offspring, we will add others to the project. Hopefully a little peer pressure will encourage them to respect the principles of the project.
One of my biggest heartbreaks this year was the death of a little girl from rabies. Over 130 people a year die from rabies based on world experts but less than 10 are reported by Haitian authorities. She was a week short of her 4th birthday when she died. She had been bitten in April by a dog and contracted rabies in September. She was from a small community of about 3000 people who live about an hour drive off of the main road, meaning they would have had to walk several hours to the hospital if they would have taken her. They didn't take her to the hospital because they thought an evil spirit caused her death. During the first investigation the people treated us with great suspicion and weren't sure why we were there. We told them we would come back in November and vaccinate all their dogs and that is when we started to gain their trust. We came back - so many times people here in Haiti come in to visit and say they will be back and they never come. The people of Haiti are jaded when it comes to promises from foreigners. When we keep our word it opens all kinds of doors in this culture. As a result, the people don't just tell you what they think you want to hear, they start to tell the truth. We were able to vaccinate their dogs, educate them about rabies and more importantly to build relationships. Now we are welcome in community and they want us to come back and treat their other animals and we will have a chance to share with them why we are really here. This little girl didn't have to die, rabies is preventable and something we can do something about. Sometimes people question why I am working with the government on this project and not doing more "ministry" but for me it IS ministry. I get a change to debunk the voudou myths and share knowledge with people on who can save both their physical and spiritual lives. We are blessed in Haiti that we can speak freely about Jesus and there is always a way to work it into conversation.
Always my biggest joy, is Ronald. Man I love that little guy!! Things on the adoption front moved, not sure if it was forward but movement is good. After 22 months on one lawyer's desk we got the papers we needed, however since it has been so long the Haitian adoption authorities made us redo some of the original paperwork. It's done and now we wait again. Please be praying for forward movement. Ronald is getting old enough now to understand about paperwork and knows he needs a passport to travel out of the country with me. He is just convinced it's going to come and when he's 6 (December 27). For me being a mom is still a new adventure everyday, some days it's an amazing adventure of fun and excitement others frustration and fear but always one of love. I wonder is that's how God feels about our relationship with Him? I think so and use that to guide me when things are tough- How would God treat me in this situation? The answer is always love. Ronald finally had grasped the concept of "I love you but I don't like what you are doing", that's so huge to know that you are loved even if what you are doing isn't what is right. There is so much joy in my life watching this little person become a bigger one.
With much, much love and more love,
Kelly and Ronald