haiti Social Action

Help Haiti: Education

This is Pastor Wilnord. We got to know Wilnard and his ministry while in Carrefour last month.

If you are interested in helping fund the school in Wilnard’s church or perhaps your church (Or a group of Christian educators, or any combination) is interested in adopting this school to help pay the teachers, provide uniforms and shoes, or even feed the students, please let me know.

If you’d like, we can plan a trip together and I can introduce you to Pastor Wilnord myself.

The needs in Haiti are still real. The opportunity is still huge. Please don’t forget.

haiti Social Action

Social Currency

If this were your house, what would you do?
If this were your house, what would you do?

“Why don’t they just fix it themselves?”

If I had a dollar for every time someone said that to me about the people of Haiti I wouldn’t be $1700 short in my fundraising!

There are a few answers to that question. At least from my über limited perspective.

  1. Haiti is so poor that they just don’t have the infrastructure and resources to even conceive of a solution. It’s just too big and they have been too dependent on the outside world to help them to solve it themselves.
  2. Culture has put up some major barriers. There are laws and traditions to be obeyed which make seemingly easy problems to fix nearly impossible. For instance, you’d need a permit (which costs money) to haul away the rubble of a home you rent. (which you are still paying the rent for) You have to find the owner, (who might live in Haiti or the U.S., you’ve never met him but only paid his cousin) who has to provide the government (which fell down) with proof of ownership (which was destroyed when government buildings collapsed) before you can hire workers to remove the rubble. (which costs money, and the government hasn’t yet determined where to take all of the rubble)
  3. The poorest of the poor don’t have the social currency to not worry about breaking the law/culture and looking past a lack of resources for the sake of doing some good.

What is social currency?

I first thought of this often debated online phrase in the real world while in Haiti in February. Like a lot of relief workers I struggled with what I saw. It just didn’t reconcile with the world I know.

I’m not a sociologist. But this is how I think of social currency.

If my house partially collapsed, killing my family, what would I do? Obviously, I’d call 911 and 6 minutes later a miniature army of highly trained firefighters would show up. Then a news helicopter would fly overhead so that the entire metro area would know what had happened within the hour. In shock and not knowing what else to do, I’d get in an ambulance and go to the hospital. At some point soon after that my insurance agent would call me. I’d call some friends who would rally around me. Within about 48 hours I’d be planning funerals, talking to endless insurance people about life insurance and property insurance, while a group of friends would help me “get back on my feet.” In the meantime, I’d probably stay with some friends or relatives before settling into a long-term hotel that my insurance company would pay for (and going to a years counseling that my health insurance company would pay for) while they took care of hiring contractors to pull permits and level the house before rebuilding it.

That’s a lot of social currency. I’d call on all of those government and financial institutions without thinking about it because I’ve paid into those institutions! I’d call on friends to help because we have a perceived reciprocal society. Just the thought that “they’d do the same for me” would compel them to help.

How would that change if I were the poorest of the poor, living in a country with no infrastructure, and the entire city I lived in collapsed? Those with financial means would leave immediately. This would be the land-owners and business people. Those with no means (the homeless, the orphans, the widows) are just kind of frozen. They don’t know what to do because they don’t know the questions to ask nor the ramifications of what would happen if they “just fixed stuff.” Nor do they have the resources to fix stuff. Nor do they have the energy or equipment to fix stuff.

I remember Seth Barnes asking people what they were going to do and the dialogue always went like this:

What are you going to do about your home?

– I don’t know. I’m waiting for the government to help me.

Has the government ever helped you in the past?

– [laughter] Of course not.

The poorest of the poor are, unfortunately, dependent on help. The real question for them seems to be… what will accepting help cost them? Remember that Haiti is a place of both spiritual and real oppression. Accepting help may land them into a debt that costs a lifetime to repay. This is a place where children are trafficked and labor is unregulated. This is a place where, on a good day, the police are uncaring about your plight. But on a bad day, the police are just as dangerous as the oppressors. They may even be the oppressors in some neighborhoods.

What would you do? You’d laugh at those silly barriers in full knowledge that the landlord wouldn’t care that you cleared the property. At the very least you’d knock down your condemned home and pile up the rubble to be hauled away. Chances are pretty good that you’d also try to organize your neighbors into a group of workers who would go around clearing rubble for other people. Say, old women. That’s the power of social currency. You aren’t frozen. When everyone is stuck, you’d naturally rise up and take action.

This is why you should consider a relief trip to Haiti

If you are a reader of this blog I want to encourage you to find an agency of relief and pray about going to Haiti in the next 12 months. You have resources. You are ignorant of culture barriers. And you have social currency to spare.

Church Leadership management maturity Social Action

Innovating with an established ecosystem

Photo by fmgbain via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Starting a new organization is an entirely different task than innovating to change an existing organization.

Both are hard. But changing and existing organization is way harder.

For most of my career I’ve been in turnaround roles. Kristen and I have a little joke… My entire adult work life has seemed like one roller coaster ride after another.

Click, click, click, click… up we climb.

Click, click, click, click. My heart races.

Wait for it. Wait for it… Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Arms up. Screaming bloody murder. Thinking of the Tom Petty song, Free Falling.

Down the big hill we go.

Over and over again I’m left to help try to innovate our way out of the mess.

And, so far, I’ve been pretty successful at it by most people’s judgement.

How does one innovate within an existing ecosystem?

  1. Become Switzerland. There are political factions within any organization. If you want to get stuff done you need to be neither and empathetic both sides at the same time.
  2. Spike the football. When you do something that everyone is happy with its OK to just look into the camera and say, “Thank you very much. Woohoo! Hi mom!” I’ve seen a lot of people fail in an organization because they were afraid to take the credit for their own ideas doing well. Don’t be an idiot. It’s OK to be the guy to do good stuff. Spike the football.
  3. Own the data. Existing organizations are horrible at owning their data. I like to look at the results of a long-standing program that has had no results and say, “30 years of VBS and not a single new family? Why didn’t we just light that $300,000 on fire? At least we would have had a good BBQ.” When people are tied to tradition or the way they’ve always done things, sometimes you need to be the person with the frying pan who hits them in the head. Helping people in leadership own the data is the catalyst to getting stuff done in an existing organization.
  4. Be creative. Face it. A fist full of money and a fat belly has never created a single good idea. Have you seen Bing? No budget, no time, no research, shot in the dark… that’s when good stuff happens. That’s when the best ideas pop into your head. Creativity and innovation come out of suffering and frustration. These are your friends and allies, not your enemies.
  5. Opportunistic eyes. I keep a list of ideas I’ve got on ice. Then, when I’m in a meeting and everyone is scratching their heads looking for something new, bam… I’m pull out my concept. If I ran around screaming about every idea I had all the time I’d look like a mad scientist.

What are some ways you’ve learned to innovate within an existing ecosystem?

Church Leadership Social Action

Steps of Justice

Kristen and I are making friends with Phil and Amy Cunningham of Youth with a Mission.

Lars Rood kept telling me, “You need to meet Phil and Amy, you’ll love them.” Lars even took the first step and set up a dinner where we could all get together. He was right.

It’s not hard making friends with them. In fact, our hearts beat for the same types of stuff in life. Justice, Jesus, adventure, family, and a good taco. The big difference between Phil and myself is that Phil is doing a lot of the stuff I only dream about. In other words, he’s brave while I’m a wuss with a keyboard and a camera.

Steps of Justice

Last month, when Phil was gracious enough to take me to Tijuana for a day, he showed me something he was just about to launch. It was this very visual and powerful 30 day prayer journal he is calling Steps of Justice.

Let me encourage you. If you hear about injustice in the world, whether in San Diego county or your neighborhood or on television in far away places, and you wonder how you can get involved… this is a great little resource. Allow Phil to take you on a journey, show you some of what he’s seen, and allow the Spirit to challenge you along the way.

Here’s the pitch

Phil is giving this thing away. You can go to the site and download a free version right now. He’s a little too nice if you ask me. Phil and Amy are full time missionaries, they have poured their lives into this little resource, at the very least pay $5 to download the high resolution version. Better yet, order some hard copies for $6 for your small group or youth group. It’d be a great encouragement to them.

Social Action

Church Leaders Love Status Quo

Yesterday, a friend of mine sent me a link to a blog post by John Ortberg, a very successful author and pastor in the Bay Area of California.

The blog post is titled, “Stop Trying to Change the World” and is aimed at people like me and you.

Ultimately, we’re not the ones in the world-changing business. Our claims otherwise imply that history and humanity can be controlled and managed through human efforts. And–partly because of the law of unintended consequences–those attempts always end up doing more harm than good.

Only God can change the world.
Christianity is not first and foremost about creating values or establishing justice or championing righteous.
It is about the greatest good:
God Himself.

Now, I understand that the blog title was written as a bait & switch to draw people like me into a discussion as his rhetoric quickly comes down from the bold title. And I understand that there’s a good chance Dr. Ortberg didn’t even really write the blog post since he likely has people to do that for him.

But my thought for John Ortberg is pretty simple. I can see why you’d be against people in the church changing anything that might rock the boat. You’ve got it pretty good.

Isn’t he breaking the rich-white-guy rule? Aren’t rich white men, based on his zip code he’s probably in the top 5% of earners in the United States, who live in comfortable suburbs full of gated communities supposed to either be all about social justice or just not talk about it at all?

Speaking out against change… seems kind of out-of-place for a guy who writes books called “If You Want to Walk on Water You Have to Get Out of the Boat.

I don’t know which passage of Scripture leads Mr. Ortberg to say, “He says that because of the way power is widely viewed in our day, talk about ‘redeeming the culture’ or ‘transforming the world’ is largely understood as implying conquest, take-over, or domination. It means ‘our side will defeat your side by coercing everyone to do what we want.” The way I see church history, it’s precisely this tactic of seeking justice and serving the local community that lead to the rapid spread of Christianity! As the church cared for widows, orphans, lepers, and stood up for the oppressed, the church became an unstoppable force in culture because armies could destroy a community or people but the love that lived within and gave freedom both physically and in people’s hearts was unstoppable! Within 400 years of Christ, the emperor of Rome gave his heart to Jesus!

Ortberg paraphrases the Jews in Babylonian exile as an example of God’s people being blessed for not changing the world. He neglects to mention why the Jews were in exile in the first place!

The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the LORD was aroused against his people and there was no remedy. He brought up against them the king of the Babylonians, who killed their young men with the sword in the sanctuary, and spared neither young man nor young woman, old man or aged. God handed all of them over to Nebuchadnezzar. He carried to Babylon all the articles from the temple of God, both large and small, and the treasures of the LORD’s temple and the treasures of the king and his officials. They set fire to God’s temple and broke down the wall of Jerusalem; they burned all the palaces and destroyed everything of value there. 2 Chronicles 36:15-19

And why did God hand them over the Nebuchadnezzar? Let’s see what those prophets, aka the Book of Jeremiah, whom God’s people mocked, had to say:

  • I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable.” Jeremiah 2:7
  • I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine?” Jeremiah 2:21
  • “Your own conduct and actions have brought this upon you. This is your punishment. How bitter it is! How it pierces to the heart!” Jeremiah 4:18
  • This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD.” Jeremiah 9:23-24
  • “You are always righteous, O LORD, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?” Jeremiah 12:1

I could go on. But anyone can read Jeremiah and see that the Jews weren’t exiled to Babylon to be some kind of faithful presence among the Babylonians. The Jews were taken into exile because they sinned against God, making a mockery of the law, and suffered a 400+ year timeout!

I’m positive I am reading Mr. Orberg’s words incorrectly. Certainly, no pastor and Christian leader really thinks that the church is not supposed to be an agent of change within its own community?

Certainly, we are not called to maintain a status quo when thousands of people in our country are sold as sexual slaves, millions oppressed by banks in debt they can never get out of, our economy completely dependent on illegal immigrants for our way of life while not granting those individuals basic civil rights the majority enjoys, and churches who gleefully oppress and belittle the people they are called to reach.

Certainly the church is called to help our country, a nation full of no-fault divorce, more than half the kids living in single-parent homes, crumbling schools systems, a prison system over-flowing, drug-addiction, porn-addiction, on and on… right?

Are we?

Or maybe I’m just immature and idealistic.

family hmm... thoughts Social Action

Facilitating Independence

Strong opinion warning.

I’m not a fan of adult children living at home. It’s one thing if you’re on break from school and you’re a temporary visitor. It’s another thing when you’re able bodied. I’d even argue that the best thing for 18 year olds staying local for community college would be to kick them out of the house.

Trust me. They won’t die of exposure.

My opinion is that coddling teenagers leads to dependency. From a sociological perspective, I hypothesize adult coddling of teenagers and young adults has lead to an elongation of adolescence. (Some say it ends at 26? Crazy.) Likewise, raising a child from an early age with the goal that they will become happy, healthy, and independent young adults will prepare them for the swift kick that comes after high school graduation.

Enter Lisa.

I was Lisa’s youth pastor when she was in high school. She’s the eldest child from a great family. She worked hard in high school, was faithful to God, her parents, and a dedicated student. She’d be the first to tell you that she wasn’t perfect in high school. But something in Lisa’s character kept me investing in her. When she was a sophomore she and a few others started showing up for a 6 am Bible study. I thought they’d come for 2-3 weeks… and to my amazement we kept it going for almost 2 years! After high school she headed off to Grace College where she’ll earn a degree in just a few weeks with an emphasis on criminal justice and adolescence psychology.

Last November, I was on a flight using the wifi late at night when we struck up a conversation on Facebook chat. Inevitably, I asked the question: “So what do you want to do when you grow up? What’s next?

She had some ideas but expressed some frustration. She really wanted to go back home to Michigan but feared that she’d either not find a decent job at all or be forced to give up her dream of working with teenagers. Let’s face it– Michigan is a tough place to be a recent college grad.

I was afraid for her. My fear was that she’d move home, not find a decent job, end up in  something like minimum wage… unhappy and stuck in a cycle of paying off student loans by doing jobs that she wasn’t passionate about– and living at home.

I offered a potential solution we both agreed to pray about it.

What if you moved in with us, watched our kids during their summer break, and spent the summer chasing some of those social justice dreams by volunteering with San Diego-based non-profits?

Lo and behold after a month or so of praying about it we all agreed it’d be worth a shot.

Starting in June Lisa is coming to live with us. She has the first 6 weeks of time with us to volunteer for some non-profits. (We’re basically paying her to be a volunteer!) Than the second half of the time her concentration will shift to watching our kids when school ends July 15th.

We pray it’s a win-win. She gains some experience and exposure to what God is doing in the social justice community in San Diego. And our kids have a sweet nanny.

The hope, naive as it may be, that this will be a “halfway house” type of experience. We hope that through this experience that she’ll be able to find a permanent job, land a place to stay, and move on at the end of the summer to the next phase in her life. (Probably grad school being in the not-too-far distance.)

Independence is possible. We just need to facilitate it as opposed to fostering dependency.

This is how we’re helping a societal problem. How are you?

Current Affairs hmm... thoughts Social Action

Church vs. Government

Christians make strange political bedfellows

Have you noticed that a lot of Christians are exhibiting a hatred for our government?

I just don’t get it.

For those who are mad about the latest government program… (yesterday it was social security, today it is health care, tomorrow it will be something else.)

Just some friendly reminders

  • Anger isn’t the answer, it just make you look silly.
  • Agreeing with everything isn’t an option, we live in a pluralistic democratic society.
  • Living in denial of the situation we live in isn’t an option.
  • Pointing back to founding fathers of the nation is silly, they are dead.
  • Separating from society isn’t a biblical option.
  • Moving to Canada isn’t an option, they don’t want you.

What is an option?

  • Changing your attitude.
  • Being a part of the solution.
  • Loving your neighbor.
  • Caring for your neighborhood and proving it with your actions.
  • Being hospitable to people you don’t know.
  • Stop waiting for your church to start a program.
  • Putting the needs of others above the needs of yourself.

If you are Good News to your community you have to live like it.

If you aren’t willing to be Good News to your community, than shut up and let the government do what you aren’t willing to do.

Doing nothing tangible and also complaining about the government doing a bad job at your job… let’s just say that’s not “Good News.

family San Diego Living Social Action

The Future of Food

Tonight I watched the film above, The Future of Food. You can watch the whole thing, for free, on Hulu. (Or here on my blog if you so chose) You can learn more about how corporations are trying to run [ruin] the food supply at The Future of Food website.

Another great movie covering more of the food supply is Food, Inc.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist. But in my lifetime I’ve witnessed major food related issues among so many people I know. Too many. For years I’ve heard about this stuff and thought– what a bunch of whacko’s. But the more you learn, the more those whacko’s make sense.

As I wrote about a few weeks ago, Kristen and I are making a serious commitment to change both the food we eat and the way we get it. Our hope is to reduce our food waste by 25% by composting, buy most of our vegetables and fruit locally buy belonging to a CSA and shopping at a farmers market, and planting our own organic garden. (see the pictures of our garden)

So far, we’ve kept those commitments. And it hasn’t been hard at all. We’ve enjoyed tons of our own fruit from the yard and last week we started an abundant harvest of fresh lettuce. Today, Paul and I went out and bought a few more veggies, so we have tomatoes, herbs, and jalepenos coming in the next couple months. (And our compost worms are hard at work 24 hours a day eating our food waste!)

Our next steps involve increasing the percentage of food we buy from local producers, working out a local free range source of meats and fish, and finding a local bakery who is committed to non-GMO grains.

Maybe this all sounds a bit nuts? The truth is, it’s a lot of fun! We love starting a garden. We love the discipline of spending less at the monster mega-supermarket. And we love seeing what sorts of crazy things appear in our CSA box each week. Even more crazy is that I don’t think its costing us any more money per month.

There’s something so enjoyable about developing a more intimate connection between what we eat and the people who produce it.

Oh faithful reader: What are steps you are taking to be more socially responsible about the food you eat?

haiti hmm... thoughts Social Action

Ephesians 5:14 and You

A young man prays in Carrefour, the epicenter of the January 12th earthquake

“Wake up, O sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
Ephesians 5:14

I first memorized Ephesians 5 with Kristen in 1995. We were dating and we had discovered that memorizing Scripture together was a way to channel our, um, energy for one another. It worked!

This passage of Scripture has been illuminated to me in new ways since I returned from Haiti a few days ago.

On the one hand– I need to shake the trip, to focus on the action items ahead of me, to move on with being a leader, husband, and father here in San Diego. I am needed here and there is no denying it. That much is clear.

On the other hand– everywhere I go I encounter something I cannot reconcile with what I have seen. Yesterday, I spent most of my day in a coffee shop sipping mochas and working on a freelance project for some friends. I am proud of the work I did yesterday. It turned out great. I love the opportunity it provides both for my family and the organization this work will benefit. But as I walked through my neighborhood I couldn’t help but think of the contrast to what I was doing just a week prior. Last Saturday, sounds of thousands praising Jesus and shouting prayers filled every neighborhood in Port-au-Prince and Carrefour. Even as night fell and we rested in our mission station we could hear the loud speakers in the distance… people singing and praising well into the humid darkness. Yesterday, back home in my neighborhood– nearly silence. The only sounds heard were children playing soccer in the park.

One place was awake. The other asleep.

Paul doesn’t leave me there, he continues, “Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.Ephesians 5:15-17

My prayer while in Haiti were verses 15-17. I overlooked verse 14. My teammates kind of poked fun at me because I barely slept the whole week. I’d go to bed after they were asleep and they’d wake up and I’d already be up. It’s was this verse… I was doing what I could to make the most of every opportunity. I could sleep on the plane.

But it is verse 14 which stirs me now. Now I have to sort out how I can be awake to both realities.
hmm... thoughts Social Action

The Bible is Dangerous, But are You?

This message by Francis Chan will mess with you.

A trip to a third world country, in my case Haiti, will show you just how much syncretism we practice in America.

Here are some of the gods we mix with our faith.
– The safety god
– The comfort god
– The performance god
– The money god
– The staff god
– The building god
– The schedule god

I don’t point those things out to bring judgement on anyone. In fact, these are my gods, too. As I’m re-entering my culture I need to wrestle with these gods in light of the teachings of Moses in Deuteronomy.

The thing that God (the real God!) kept hitting me over the head with while in Haiti is that I live a life of dependency and faith avoidance. Before the trip, as I wrote about, I felt like God was calling me out and asking if I truly believed the things I told people I believed in.

I hope I lived up to the challenge.

And it turns out, coming home presents a new challenge of faith.

As Francis points out in this message, dangerous things could happen if we would just be obedient to what God teaches us in the Bible. Our faith can change things. But so much of that is conditional on whether or not the people are lifting God up above these false gods.

The fact is that believing the Bible is actually true is a step of faith.

But putting your complete faith in Christ and living as though the things of the Bible will happen in your midst… now that is dangerous.

The reality I am trying to reconcile is that I know God is calling me to live a dangerous life. But the life I know isn’t all that dangerous.