Saturday, December 31, 2011

Love, Props and the T.Dot

In the early 80's, I was the only white guy I knew that was into hip-hop. Heck, I was the only guy I knew who was into it period.

It all started on a grade eight class trip to Quebec City, where we were all shuttled off to a roller skating rink, more than likely to give our teachers a break from 30 hyperactive adolescents. It was in that rink that I heard Rapper's Delight by the Sugarhill Gang for the first time. Immediately I thought it was the most amazing thing I'd ever heard and, upon arriving back home in Toronto, started calling up the local radio stations to play the song. Every time I called I heard the same response: "we don't play that kind of music." The funny thing is, I don't think anyone really knew what "that kind of music" even was yet.

While most of my friends were discovering punk or new wave, I was trying to find more of this new music somewhere. Eventually I found a couple of other people who had heard of hip-hop (I actually ended up trading a long-forgotten record for the 12" single of The Message by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five) and before long it happened: I heard a rap song being played...on the radio. Thanks to Ron Nelson and his Fantastic Voyage show on college radio station CKLN, my musical world changed forever. For the next several years, no matter where I was, I tuned into 88.1 to hear Kurtis Blow, UTFO, Kool Moe Dee, and Run-D.M.C. among many other of the early greats of the genre.

This documentary, produced by CBC Toronto, is an incredible retrospective of those early days of hip-hop with a particular focus on what was happening in the Canadian (mostly Toronto) scene. From the Maestro to Michie Mee to Kardinal, all of the great names of the Canadian hip-hop movement are here. So set aside 45 minutes and watch this amazing documentary that had me grinning from ear to ear thinking back to those early days with an old radio and a cheap set of headphones that I took with me everywhere I went. This is a throwdown!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Favorite Lyrics #5: Until The End Of The World

"The music that really turns me on is either running toward God or away from God. Both recognize the pivot, that God is at the center of the jaunt." - Bono

Haven't seen you in quite a while
I was down the hold just passing time
Last time we met was a low-lit room
We were as close together as a bride and groom
We ate the food, we drank the wine
Everybody having a good time
Except you Y
ou were talking about the end of the world

I took the money I spiked your drink
You miss too much these days if you stop to think
You lead me on with those innocent eyes
You know I love the element of surprise
In the garden I was playing the tart
I kissed your lips and broke your heart were acting like it was The end of the world

In my dream I was drowning my sorrows
But my sorrows, they learned to swim
Surrounding me, going down on me
Spilling over the brim
Waves of regret and waves of joy
I reached out for the one I tried to destroy said you'd wait 'til the end of the world

- U2

One Church

Over the course of the past several weeks I've been catching up on the weekly video podcast from The Meeting House in Oakville, Ontario. Their summer series, entitled One Church, has looked at the similarities and differences among a variety of Christian denominations. The great thing about the series is that they didn't just talk about the other traditions behind their backs so to speak, but they actually invited representatives from each denomination to have a discussion about their history and distinctive interpretations of scripture, as well as an opportunity to share a short message with the congregation. Bruxy Cavey, the teaching pastor at The Meeting House, introduces each session by focusing on the need for us to learn from one another, to take a "learning posture" as he puts it, so we can understand where our distinctives lie without becoming hostile or defensive about our own positions. Not only have I learned more about church history than I ever did in BIble College, but I have gained a far greater love for my brothers and sisters in other church traditions.

It has long troubled me how easy it is for we in the church to say I'm right and you're wrong, therefore I can dismiss you and your traditions outright. What an incredibly arrogant position to find yourself in! And yet, it's not that many years ago I found myself in the same place. I grew up in a conservative evangelical church which I am incredibly thankful for, because they pointed me toward Jesus and His saving sacrifice to bring me into right relationship with God. That being said, they also instilled a sense that any other denomination was not to be entirely trusted or perhaps even avoided altogether for fear of falling prey to their "heresy". As a result, I spent most of my life suspicious of everyone from Catholics on one end of the spectrum to Pentecostals on the other, believing they somehow were so misguided in their ways as to be dangerous for those of us who were pursuing the true way of Christ. Were I living in Biblical times I would repent in sackcloth and ashes for my pride, but since this is 2011, I'll simply say "sorry dudes, I was wrong."

As you will soon discover if you listen to the conversations from the One Church series, there are far more similarities than differences between Christians and those points on which we disagree are, for the most part, not central to the core beliefs of the faith. For example, as a relatively new anabaptist I take an egalitarian view of women in leadership while the more traditional evangelical denominations would ascribe to a complementarian view. I believe I am right based on my reading of scripture while a more conservative believer would say I am wrong based on their reading of scripture. We can agree to disagree on a point like this while still loving each other because at the core, we both believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Besides, as Bruxy says in one of the podcasts, "I believe I'm right and you're wrong...but I could be wrong." That is the proper position to take when it comes to the non-essentails of the faith.

While I attend a Mennonite Brethren church, I've come to realize over the past few years, that I am a Christian first and foremost. I quite admire the Catholic focus on liturgy and reverence for God, while at the same time, I have come to love the vibrancy and freedom that my Pentecostal friends bring to their faith. I've had my mind challenged by some incredible Anglican scholars and I've had some powerful supernatural encounters with God that only my Charismatic friends would appreciate. Right now, the Anabaptist tradition seems to fit me best, but ultimately, I want to be known as one who follows Christ above all else, regardless of which particular Christian stream I happen to be swimming in at a particular moment. As long as Jesus is at the very centre, then I'm all in.

If you have ever wondered why there are so many denominations or perhaps you can't figure out why us church folks can't get along, I'd highly recommend you take a listen to this series. Like me, you might discover we're not that different after all. The denominations addressed, in order are:

1. Anglican
2. Brethren in Christ
3. Salvation Army
4. Presbyterian
5. Catholic
6. Pentecostal
7. United Church
8. Harvest Bible Fellowship

Click here to go to the Meeting House teaching page or The Meeting House VideoCast for the iTunes page.

Friday, September 16, 2011

I Can't Stand Hypocrites...

I can't stand hypocrites...and by the way...I am one.

As a matter of fact, I think we are all hypocrites to some degree. We all say things with our mouths that we don't follow up on with our lives. This truth has been brought home to me this week as I've been considering my response to the drought and famine in the Horn of Africa. Yes, my wife and I did make a donation to help with famine relief (which I was sure to send it in before the September 16 deadline for the Canadian government to match my donation.) But then I turn on the TV and see the thousands upon thousands of people who have been displaced from their homes, who have watched their children die, who have been shot at and raped by Somali militants, and I it enough?

As I write this, I'm sitting in a comfortable home, with my breakfast to one side of the computer and a coffee to the other. I'm full, I'm warm, and I'm safely tucked away in my suburban neighbourhood where the biggest threat of late has been a pair of skunks skulking silently around the shrubs at night. There are literally thousands of dollars of technology all around me, my bookshelves are filled to overflowing, and I have so many clothes I have to switch them in and out of my cupboard for winter and summer. How do I reconcile my lifestyle in light of the hundreds of scriptures that tell me I need to care for the poor and oppressed as a demonstration of my faith?

Sell your possessions and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for you in heaven! And the purses of heaven never get old or develop holes. Your treasure will be safe; no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it. (Luke 12:33)

Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow. (Matthew 5:42)

Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon. (Isaiah 58:10)

If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister[a] in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? (1 John 3:17)

All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need. (Acts 4:32-35)

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice. (Proverbs 31:8-9)

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. (James 2:14-17)

Those are just a few examples. Some would say there are over 3000 verses in the Bible that talk about the poor, our responsibility to care for them, and how believers are to use their money and possessions. There are those who would try to contextualize these verses (and some of them do have very specific applications), but generally speaking, those are the same people who would extrapolate an entire doctrinal position based on a verse or two. As I read the scriptures, there's no denying it: God wants us to act. That being said, to what degree do I act?

I'm thinking of going out to buy a new pair of shoes tonight, even though I have lots of shoes already. I just don't have these shoes. I want them. Does my want overrule the need of the millions of children who don't own even one pair of shoes? If the answer is yes, then I am a hypocrite based upon the words of scripture. Truthfully though, I'll probably end up buying the shoes. What compounds the problem is that, in my role at World Vision, I engage people every day, encouraging them to donate, to run a fundraising campaign, to advocate in some way on behalf of the poor. The old adage "do as I say not as I do" seems to come into play here and yet, based on the struggle I'm experiencing, I think slowly but surely I am taking baby steps to becoming less hypocritical. I see God stretching me in all kinds of new ways to make my life less about me and more about Him with the natural extension being that it is more about those in need.

God help me stay on that path and not turn back to spending all of my money on me. My cupboard can't take any more crowding and neither can my soul.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

"There's been a plane crash in New York..."

Those were the first words I heard in relation to the attacks on the United States ten years ago today. At the time I worked for a small company with only seven or eight employees. The owner's father would often drop by the shop to say hi or bring in some treats from a local German bakery. On the morning of September 11, 2001 he had just heard a report on the car radio that a small plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York and popped in to ask if we'd heard about it yet. While certainly tragic, it didn't sound like there was any suspicion of wrongdoing at that point. The oldies radio station that was on in the office hadn't said a word about the "accident" yet so we all went back to our desks to get on with the day's work.

It was shortly after the second plane crashed into the south tower at 9:03 AM that the DJ on the station broke in to give the news of what had happened and we all looked at each other with an immediate sense that this day would be like no other. It wasn't long before someone (it was either the owner of the business or his father) brought in a small TV for us to watch what was happening. There was no cable in the small office so we stood, mostly silent, watching the day's events unfold through the snowy haze of the small screen.

While the rest of the day was a bit of a blur - an attack on the Pentagon...a plane down in Pennsylvania...rumours of other planes being hijacked all across the U.S...all commercial flights being grounded - one moment in particular remans very clear for me. When the first tower collapsed I very clearly recall one of my coworkers having a bit of an emotional meltdown as he stomped through the warehouse cursing at the as yet unknown attackers and repeating over and over again that things will never be the same. Little did we know at that moment just how right he was.

I also remember leaving work early to go home and spend the night with my wife, glued to the TV set just like everyone else. As we watched the planes crash into those towers over and over again, the smoke billowing up into the clear blue sky, and the implosion that rained paper and dust on the streets below, there was a palpable sense of fear running through both of us. What was going on? Why was this happening? Could it happen in Canada? Was there more to come? Do we need to be afraid of the Muslim neighbours who live down the hall? Should we be calling our relatives? Do we know anyone in New York? Is the church getting together to pray?

That last question was perhaps the most difficult one of all. We were scared. We wanted to be surrounded by our church community. We wanted to be with them to pray, to support each other, to cry together. To do what the body of Christ is supposed to do at times like that. Sadly, the church we were attending at the time was silent. There were no phone calls. There was no prayer gathering that night, or the next, or the next. There was a brief mention of the tragedy the following Sunday and a prayer during the scheduled prayer time, but that was it.

All of us were and continue to be affected by 9/11 in some way. We all have our own unique stories of what that day was like and what we were doing at the exact moment we heard the tragic news. For me (and my wife), the greatest impact was the decision to find a new church to call home. In the aftermath of that fateful Tuesday morning I had never felt so hurt, lost, or confused by a church in my life. A small price to pay I realize compared to the immense loss of life that had taken place, not to mention the loss of a way of life. But it was clearly time for us to find a church who knew how to care when people were hurting, who knew how to open their doors - and their arms - to embrace its people at the time of their greatest need. We found that church and have found in ourselves the ability to open our own hearts as well to the pain and suffering we see around us every day.

No church is perfect and certainly no individual is perfect, but I am convinced that in our time of greatest need, our God is perfect and knows exactly what we need to find healing and rest. Ultimately, security can't be found in better airport screening or in better policing tactics, but only in the arms of a Saviour who gave his all so that we could find peace.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Kids or Commodities?

I watched the story of Amanda Lindhout on CBC a few nights ago (you can see the story here). In case you are unaware of Lindhout's ordeal, she was a freelance
journalist working in Somalia in 2008 when she was kidnapped, beaten, and tortured by her captors for 15 months.
She was only freed when her family paid an undisclosed amount as a ransom. She recently returned, CBC cameras in tow, to the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya where tens of thousands of Somalian refugees - mostly women and children - are seeking relief from the drought and famine that has devastated the southern part of the country (as well as parts of Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti.) After coming home, Lindhout decided to start a charity to help educate the girls of Somalia. It's a moving and courageous story, particularly after all she endured in that country. So why did the feature leave me feeling so hollow?

I can't seem to put my finger on it, but there was a sense that Amanda Lindhout's purpose in revisiting Somalia and starting the charity is to somehow help...Amanda Lindhout. I don't know her personally, so obviously I'm making some assumptions, but too often I've seen people working in the charitable sector for the entirely wrong reasons. Perhaps I'm being too altruistic, and goodness knows my motives are not always pure, but ultimately, working for a charity should be about the people you are assisting and not your own goals. Working for a non-profit myself, I far too often hear people talking about getting their numbers, beating the competition, or referring to child sponsorships as "inventory" to be sold. It both sickens and saddens me, and the worst part of all is I found myself playing that same game just a few nights ago.

Some good friends decided to sponsor two children - one through World Vision and one through Compassion Canada. My first reaction (which I kept internalized) was, "why would you sponsor through them?" As if, Compassion's concern for kids is somehow less dignified than World Vision's concern for kids (there are some significant operational differences but that is not for this post.) My second reaction (not internalized), was, "that's great! Let me give you my code to make sure I get credit for the sponsorship." Ugh. I found myself caught in the same numbers game that I complain about in my co-workers. Yes, I need my "numbers" in order to keep my job. Just like any for-profit business, if I don't produce, then it makes sense to ask me to move on. But there is something different, dare I say something holy, about our work. We are not selling just another commodity. I'm not asking people to buy more widgets. I'm asking them to participate in the restoration of a life and a community. It's not about me, it's about the children we support, and ultimately it's about the fulfillment of the good news of the gospel.

I'm thankful my friends sponsored two children. That's huge! The fact that they were motivated to change the life of two children is what really matters, not whether they went through me, World Vision, Compassion Canada, or another organization. They are responding to the call of God on every believer to care for "the least of these brothers and sisters" (Matthew 25) and that's worth celebrating.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

On Beelzebub & Boils

I've been thinking a lot about the Old Testament of late, and just how does the version of faith and faithfulness we see there coincide with the faith that is presented in the New Testament by Jesus. I've been faced with this on a personal basis recently which has caused me to examine my own theology (never a bad thing to do) and has reaffirmed what I believe to be true about sickness and suffering.

For the past week I've been dealing with some incredible pain as I've broken out with some kind of infection on my side and back. I thought it was shingles; my doctor says it's not, although he's not quite sure what it is. Despite the penicillin and pain killers I'm on, the pain has been almost unbearable at times, making sleep especially hard to come by. The bumps, the rash, and the pain have made me think about Job and his response to the suffering in his life. I realize I haven't had my cattle stolen or had a building collapse on my offspring (I suppose I would need cattle and offspring for that to happen), but I can relate to the boils that covered him from head to foot. Why do these things happen and how should I/we respond to them?

While I believe that God occasionally does send affliction in order to mold us in some way, and while, just like Job, I'm sure Satan can be the direct source of our suffering at times, for the most part I'm a naturalist on the problem of pain and suffering. It's part of the human condition, one of the results of the fall. Sickness just is. I have some very good friends of the charismatic tradition who would likely disagree with me on this point. From their perspective everything from an upset stomach to cancer is a demonic attack and therefore, can be cast out in the name of Jesus. To be fair, and to avoid stereotypes, not all charismatic folks would believe this or may believe it to varying degrees, but far too often I have seen the flu attributed to the devil when it most likely should be attributed to the guy you shook hands with at church.

Now don't get me wrong, I've seen some miraculous healings in my time and I've laid hands on friends to pray for their recovery from more minor illnesses with an absolute assurance that they would be up on their feet in no time. In both cases however, I believe it was God who intervened into the circumstances of the present human condition for that healing to take place. There was no demon of stomach flu to be rebuked, but there was the very real presence of God who stepped in to repair that which was broken as a result of the fall.

Which brings me back to Job and my present illness. Whatever it is (and thankfully it seems to be getting a bit better this morning), I neither blame God nor do I think a demon has somehow afflicted me with painful red spots. I simply go back to what Job said after his oh-so-encouraging wife told him to curse God and die: "Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” Be it God, Satan, or just the fallen human condition, in this life I don't think we can expect to avoid all illness or never to experience pain. When it does come along, pray for healing, but accept too that whatever you are suffering from, it just may have to take its natural course before you get better. And be encouraged by the promise that one day, "He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain." (Rev 21:4) Now that's something to look forward to.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Favourite Lyrics #4: All My Favorite People Are Broken

I just can't get enough of this song by Over The Rhine right now. There's such truth and such beauty in the recognition that we are all broken. There's so much freedom to be found in admitting that you don't have it all together. That you are filled with anxiety, doubt, and fear...and so is everyone else you meet. Despite all of the junk, we are all loved by the Father, whether we choose to turn to Him or not.

All my favorite people are broken
Believe me, my heart should know
Some prayers are better left unspoken
I just want to hold you and let the rest go

All my friends are part saint and part sinner
We lean on each other, try to rise above
We are not afraid to admit we are all still beginners
We are all late bloomers when it comes to love

All my favorite people are broken
Believe me, my heart should know
Awful believers, skeptical dreamers, step forward
You can stay right here, you don’t have to go

Is each wound you’ve received just a burdensome gift
It gets so hard to lift yourself up off the ground
But the poet says we must praise a mutilated world
We’re all working the graveyard shift
You might as well sing along

Cause all my favorite people are broken
Believe me, my heart should know
As for your tender heart, this world’s going to rip it wide open,
It aint gonna be pretty, but you’re not alone

All my favorite people are broken
Believe me, my heart should know
Awful believers, skeptical dreamers, you’re welcome
Yeah, you’re safe right here, you don’t have to go

Cause all my favorite people are broken
Believe me, I should know
Some prayers are better left unspoken
I just want to hold you and let the rest go

- Over The Rhine

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Waking in Quito

It was exactly one year ago today that I woke up in the Reina Isabel hotel in Quito, Ecuador for the first day of a two-week visit that would impact my life significantly. The first week was spent with World Vision, traveling to various Area Development Programs to learn about the impact our work was having on the local indigenous people while the second week was pure vacation time. You can read all about the trip here.

Not long after returning home I was sharing with someone my excitement about the trip and the impact it made. "Life changing" is the phrase I, and so many others, use to describe an international mission experience. The person I was sharing with at the time said something to the effect of, "well that's great but let's see what kind of impact it has a year from now." In other words, has it really been life changing, or just a blip on my regular day-to-day life? It was a good question then and remains a good question today. Looking back a year later I would say yes, my two weeks in Ecuador were life changing, but perhaps not quite in the way I had expected.

When it comes to my work with World Vision, the impact has been tremendous. I had a really strong head knowledge about poverty and could quote statistics verbatim. My public presentations would be filled with facts and stats which, in the end, really don't motivate many people to action anyway. We all know there are a lot of hungry people in the world. But it is far easier to dismiss the facts about one billion hungry people than it is to dismiss the story of one hungry person. I never get tired of sharing the stories of the individual fathers, mothers, and children I met. My connection to them and to my job in general is far more emotional now. I don't do this because I need a job. I don't do this because I want to reach my performance goals. I do this because I love the people I met. And, while that was just a handful of people out of the billions who live in poverty, that handful represents for me anyone who struggles to meet their daily needs. Every time I say the Lord's Prayer, the "us" (as in "give us this day our daily bread") means far more than me or my family or my circle of friends. It means all of us. And if I'm asking God to give "us" our daily bread, and I have more than enough bread for myself (I'm using bread here metaphorically), then I'm the one who has a responsibility to share my bread with those who are doing without. We don't need Jesus to do another loaves and fish miracle. In developed countries we have more than enough bread and fish. We just need to loosen our grip on them to share with those in need. That's where it gets personal...and far more difficult.

I like to think I'm more generous with my resources - my time, talents, and treasure - than I used to be, but honestly, I just don't know. For the most part, I still get antsy when I'm in the grocery store or a shopping mall. When I first arrived home though, I couldn't actually stand to go shopping without having a bit of a meltdown. Seeing the unbridled consumerism of Canadian culture would make me angry...really angry. Unfortunately, my wife took the brunt of that far too often but was gracious enough to recognize where that anger was coming from. I know I've fallen back into just buying what I want (within reason) but my relationship with money and possessions is far more complicated now than it used to be. That's probably a step in the right direction, but it's not good enough. I know kids who will go to bed hungry tonight yet I really needed that new shirt I bought today (even though I now have to discard something to make room for it in my cupboard). Consumerism is a sickness, an addiction, but like all addictions, the first step to overcoming it is to realize you have a problem in the first place. I'm probably a few healthy steps down the road on this one but I still have a long way to go.

I wish I could say more, but it's late and I need to get some rest. If you've checked in on this blog from time to time you'll see that I'm not writing nearly as much as I used to. I find that when I write, even though it often appears on screen as an intellectual process, it comes from an emotional place inside. I try to give myself emotionally to my work so I find there is often not a lot of gas left in the tank to spend updating this blog at the end of the day. Also, Facebook and Twitter have been tempting mistresses that have pulled me away from blogging regularly but I'm starting to lose my fascination with them. Hopefully I'll get back in the rhythm of writing more often. Until next time...Dios te bendiga.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Favorite Lyrics #3: Forever Young

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

- Bob Dylan

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Interview with the Flamborough Review

From the Flamborough Review:

In developing countries where poverty rates are soaring, people are starving. In an attempt to raise awareness of world hunger and raise funds to help feed some hungry bellies, World Vision Canada is encouraging Canadians to take part in a unique challenge.

The not-for-profit organization’s 30-Hour Famine is an annual event that sees youth go without food for a 30-hour period. In turn, the participants raise money that will help fund different projects, such as health and nutrition programs, in the developing world.

In 2010, Waterdown residents raised $1,333.81 through World Vision’s 30-Hour Famine. This year, local participants have signed up to boost the cause and contribute to the organization’s $4.65-million fundraising goal.

While no Flamborough schools, organizations or churches have formally signed up to take part in the Famine, according to World Vision’s southern Ontario rep, Brad Saunders, local residents are taking on the national challenge April 8-9.

And it’s not too late for groups to participate.

“It’s certainly not too late for anyone who wishes to be involved to get involved,” said Saunders, adding that the 30-Hour Famine can be completed anytime of the year.

The format of the event was conceived to give Canadians a taste of what it really feels like to be hungry.

“Of course, we know that at the end of the 30 hours, they will get another meal, but there are millions of people who don’t,” said Saunders.

With nearly half of the globe’s population living on $2 a day or less, according to World Vision, poverty and hunger are issues that the not-for-profit organization is looking to solve.

Money raised through the 30-Hour Famine event helps support various programs established in Africa, Southeast Asia and regions of South America. And new this year, event participants can select which project they wish to support, including clean water projects, education initiatives, health and nutrition programs, and child protection projects.

For more information on World Vision and the 30-Hour Famine, or to register for the fundraiser, visit

Link to original article: Going Hungry For A Good Cause

Monday, March 07, 2011

Going Missional

I love this quote from Going Missional about the challenge of remaining 'out there' when it is so much easier to just go back to our place of comfort:

"It is a missional challenge of no small consequence to transform from a taker to a giver. It is an even deeper challenge to not fall into the trap of believing that the world is very lucky indeed that I have finally shown up. And it's a personal missional challenge to come face to face - as I have again and again - with what a jerk I can be. My short-lived commitment to all I say I believe in sends me skedaddling back to my comfort zone again and again. Multiply this by an entire generation and you can see where the biggest challenge is - it's in our hearts. Maybe that is where some of the spiritual growth found in serving actually come from; sometimes when the light is shining in the darkness, you can see yourself really, really clearly. Now, there's a challenge if there ever was one." - Karen Stiller

I have faced, and continue to face these challenges every day. I like my comfort zone. It's...well...comfortable. It doesn't cost me any time, any money, or any commitment. Yet I can say with absolute certainty that when you throw your heart into serving Jesus by serving your neighbour, yes - you will come face to face with your own weaknesses and insecurities, but God will use you anyway and that's what makes me love Him more and more all the time.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Today I Went To Church

I went to church today. Well, sort of...

After two very intense weeks of work and just general busyness, Rebecca and I decided to skip off church this morning (oh my!) and just stay home to do our own devotional time. Well, this has been one of the most encouraging 'church days' in a long time.

I spent the first part of the morning reading through the book of Mark and praying. After that I wrote a letter to one of our sponsored children, then I put on my boots and headed out to shovel the driveway of our neighbour whose mother had passed away this week. I didn't know that they had arrived back home from the funeral last night, so they came outside and we ended up having a brief spiritual discussion about faith and religious traditions before finishing the driveway together. There was no falling down in sackcloth and ashes in repentance before God, but it was a conversation that hopefully will lead to other discussions (and in the end, it's God who takes care of that stuff anyway, not me).

I really believe that this morning is what being a follower of Jesus is all about. It's not just about sitting in the pew or hearing another sermon (although that has it's place), it is the being with God and being with my neighbour that ultimately matters.

So if you haven't skipped a church service for a while, give it a try. You might just discover you 'did church' after all.

Friday, January 21, 2011


"This is what the devil does to little girls."

That line will hit you like a punch in the gut as you read Priceless, the latest novel from Tom Davis, the president and CEO of Children's HopeChest. I try not to write reviews immediately after finishing a book because the reaction can be too raw, too emotional to offer a balanced approach to what I've just read. In this case, a raw, emotional response is exactly what's required.

Priceless is the story of Stuart Daniels whom we met in Davis' previous novel Scared. This time, photographer Daniels is on assignment in Russia when he gets swept into rescuing young girls from the underground sex slavery trade. Young girls who are primaily orphans that the rest of the world has either forgotten or turned a blind eye towards.

If this were simply a novel, I might be tempted to think of it as hyperbole, the product of an overactive imagination by an author with an agenda. Sadly, this is not hyperbole, and author Davis is all too familiar with the horrors of the sex trafficking industry as part of his work with HopeChest. Just like Scared, Priceless left me angry at the animals who perpetuate the sex trade and profoundly sad for the young girls whose innocence is stolen from them at the time of their greatest need.

To call Priceless a great read is to imply that it is simply entertainment intended to while away a few hours. Yes, it is well written and difficult to put down, but this book will do far more than will educate you and hopefully motivate you to learn more, to become involved in the fight against sex trafficking and the plight of orphans wherever they may be.

As with Scared, I recommend you get a copy of Priceless immediately and immerse yourself in this story about the dark world of sex-trafficking. Even here you will find the light of redemption - and you just might discover that God is calling you to be that light.

Resources to check out:
She Is Priceless
Children's Hope Chest
International Justice Mission
Not For Sale
World Vision: Child Trafficking in Cambodia

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


We read the following confession out of the Worship Together hymnal in church this past Sunday. I thought it was refreshingly honest...

We confess to You, Lord, who we are: we are not the people we like others to think we are; we are afraid to admit even to ourselves what lies in the depths of our souls. But we do not want to hide our true selves from You. We believe that You know us as we are, and yet You love us. Help us not to shrink from self-knowledge; teach us to respect ourselves for Your sake; give us the courage to put our trust in Your guidance and power.

We also confess to You, Lord, the unrest of the world, to which we contribute and in which we share. Forgive us that so many of us are indifferent to the needs of others.

Forgive our reliance on weapons of terror, our discrimination against people of different race, and our preoccupation with material standards. And forgive us for being so unsure of our Good News and so unready to tell it.

Raise us out of the paralysis of guilt into the freedom and energy of forgiven people. And for those who through long habit find forgiveness hard to accept, we ask You to break their bondage and set them free, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Myths of Aid #5

MYTH #5: The more money raised, the faster the response.

There is a tendency to simplify humanitarian aid and assume that the more money that is raised, the faster and less complex the response will be. However, money is not the only resource needed when it comes to a disaster response. Unfortunately, natural disasters and humanitarian crises are by their very nature complex situations which take more than money to fix. No matter how generous donors are, myriad factors can delay work in the field:

• Access – Physical devastation such as damaged airports, seaports and roads can clog the aid pipeline. Bad weather might also be a factor if it prevents aid workers from reaching a disaster zone. Even a fleet of brand new aircraft cannot deliver aid if there is no runway to land on!

• Local political stability – Weak governments can impede the efficiency of relief work. A lack of political will to support a disaster response can cause aid workers to find themselves “swimming in mud” to get the necessary permissions, permits and paperwork to do their work.

• Poverty – Poor countries often lack infrastructure such as health systems and transportation networks that provide an operational foundation upon which to mount a disaster response.

• Lack of coordination – The presence of new and inexperienced organizations who do not participate in the existing coordination mechanisms can lead to problems of duplication and overall inefficiency.

The Haiti Earthquake
The Haiti earthquake response is a case in point. Donors were incredibly generous, but a year later find it difficult to understand why more than a million people lack safe housing and are still struggling to survive. All of the above factors are causing slow progress; shelter issues are particularly daunting.

World Vision had funds to start building transitional shelters immediately; however, we faced challenges such as:

• Land tenure: NGO’s cannot build homes when the ownership of land is in question; only the Haitian government can clear up the legal issues involved in land tenure. So far, it has been unable to do so quickly enough to provide safe land to rebuild homes for the vast majority of Haiti’s homeless.

• Rubble removal: In a heavily urban setting, this work is no small task. There is a shortage of heavy machinery sufficient to complete the task with any level of efficiency. Also, there are pre-existing factors such as a lack of building codes (or adherence to national building codes) and a lack of disaster-resilient materials available for construction, resulting in poorly planned and constructed infrastructure.

Getting it right
Finally, it’s worth noting the importance of taking extra time upfront to get it right. In Haiti, World Vision invested the time needed to consult earthquake survivors to get their input into the design of our transitional shelters. While this may have lengthened the construction timeline, we wanted to ensure our shelters would be well-received and appropriate to the local environment.

Despite the challenges, progress is being made. As of January, World Vision has constructed more than 700 transitional shelters, and is committed to further construction throughout Port-au-Prince, La Gonave, and Corail. Ultimately, over the course of the next three to five years, World Vision’s goal will be to see families in safer, more permanent communities with homes, functioning schools, and jobs that allow them to support their families.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Myths of Aid #4

MYTH #4: Aid agencies should spend donations as quickly as possible to address immediate needs

When images of destruction and despair in the wake of a disaster are splashed across the world, the natural reaction is to want to help as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. Certainly recovery and rescue efforts, as well-as getting life-saving food, water, shelter, and medical care to survivors, must be accomplished as quickly as possible. However, aid will also be needed in the months and even years ahead; experienced aid agencies know they must plan to meet both the present and the future needs of a community seeking to recover from a disaster. Of course, this doesn't mean stock-piling food in warehouses while children go hungry. It does mean that aid agencies should follow best practices to respond to emergency needs and keep relief supplies flowing, while planning for the long-term recovery.

Today’s fast-paced lifestyle can create a false set of expectations for fast results when it comes to disaster response. We live in a world of live video chats, online ordering, same-day delivery and on-demand movies, so we expect needs to be met instantly. After all, people were even able to send aid to Haiti via cell phone donations after the earthquake, but that doesn’t mean that the aid itself can (or should!) be delivered instantly.

Many who have not experienced a disaster first-hand assume that things can “get back to normal" within a few months, but in fact as any survivor of a flood, wildfire, or other natural calamity here in the U.S. can attest, the effects of a disaster are most often long-lasting. After the 2004 tsunami, it was at least five years before the majority of families were able to return to a home. Today, in Pakistan's Swat Valley, more than 1.2 million people remain displaced after a 2009 conflict forced them to flee their homes. Parts of New Orleans have still not fully recovered more than five years since Hurricane Katrina. Keeping long-term recovery needs in mind, it’s critical that aid agencies take a longer view when budgeting to help restore communities.

The Haiti Earthquake
Since the earthquake in January 2010, World Vision has been running two races in Haiti: 1) an “emergency sprint” to meet urgent basic survival needs such as food, water and shelter; and 2) a “long-term marathon” to help rebuild Haiti.

As on of the World Food Programme’s biggest partners in Haiti, World Vision worked frantically to deliver millions of kilograms of food to over one million people during the first three months. At the same time, we were also planning for livelihood recovery programs which now, one year later, are critical to reduce reliance on food aid and make it possible for families to meet their own needs.

So just how quickly is World Vision spending earthquake funds? As we approach the one-year mark, we have invested about 60 percent of our earthquake resources ($107 million) into a multi-sector response. With the remaining funds, we will continue to provide for immediate needs such as shelter, while accelerating medium- and long-term recovery and development, including projects in rural areas for displaced families, as well as disaster risk reduction programs to strengthen communities against hurricanes and other potential disasters.

Although speed is important in a disaster response, efficiency and coordination will, ultimately, help the most people in the shortest amount of time possible. Consider shelter construction: land tenure and debris remain hurdles, further complicated by the lack of a “master blueprint” for the resettlement of more than a million Haitians still living in camps. So while we continue to build transitional homes, World Vision is encouraging the government of Haiti to create a common shelter strategy so that construction work is coordinated and meets standards set by the humanitarian sector.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Myths of Aid #3

MYTH #3: Good intentions are enough to provide valuable help during a disaster.

The days and weeks following a major natural disaster often bring an immediate outpouring of generosity from the public and a swell of interest from journalists to cover the story. A common desire is to do more than donate funds; well-intended people from all walks of life want to become involved, doing everything from organizing a local food or clothing drive, to actually traveling to the disaster site in hopes of providing additional on-the-ground assistance.

In a disaster, the best people to help on the ground are those with appropriate skills and training for disaster response, those who understand the language and the context of the particular disaster, and those who have the professional training and experience to work in a disaster setting.

While motivated by generous intentions, the efforts most often are counter-productive. Aid agencies have learned that donated food and clothing can clog up the supply line, and usually costs more to sort and ship than it is worth. And while volunteers with the needed professional skills, language, and experience can help save lives, local relief staff often has enough work to do without having to provide logistics, translation, and even care for untrained and unprepared volunteers.

Consider this: would you prefer to have life-saving surgery done by a friend who sincerely means well and cares for you, someone who wishes the very best for you and wants you to be well? Or would you prefer to have such life-saving surgery done by a highly skilled professional with years of training in the medical field? The same is true when it comes to the logistics, skills, and experience needed to mount a relief effort in the days and weeks following a disaster. It is not simple to feed millions of people, bring in shiploads of medical supplies, or handle an outbreak of cholera like the one we’ve seen in Haiti this year. It is not simple to create a disaster response program that is sustainable, culturally appropriate, and serves to build capacity with local partners and government ministries. In a disaster response, when the lives of children and their families are at stake, simply showing up to a disaster with a desire to help can do far more harm then good, both in the short run and the long run.

In addition, basic supplies like food, water, and shelter are limited for humanitarian aid workers following a disaster. Untrained volunteers with little practical experience to offer can strain an already overburdened system and unintentionally divert resources from those who are able to best help the survivors.

In today’s constantly moving, 24/7 culture, we all have a tendency to expect quick results. But a disaster response (particularly one as catastrophic like the 2010 Haiti earthquake), requires a long-term view. World Vision’s experience has shown that relief and recovery work takes at least 3 – 5 years to help communities truly begin to reestablish themselves after a major disaster. Short-term trips to the field by volunteers who want to help for a week or two can actually set the timeline back

It is natural to want to rush to help when we see families and children in need around the world. We feel the same way, and that’s why we want to help you understand that the very best way to help those in need is through your financial gifts. Cash donations can be used immediately to purchase critically needed items – either in the affected country (thereby helping its economy at a time of great need) or in nearby countries. Relief organizations have established logistic channels that will get the aid to the country in the most-efficient way possible, through customs, and to those who need it most, while avoiding duplication.

Take the time to research an organization you believe in (Charity Navigator and GuideStar are great resources), and then support them in their work! Financial gifts allow these professional humanitarian aid organizations to respond as quickly as possible to the most-urgent needs on the ground, and your gift will be an important part of that work.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Myths of Aid #2

MYTH #2: Aid agencies are not accountable or transparent.

Accountability is a responsibility and one that professional humanitarian agencies take seriously. According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ Humanitarian Code of Conduct, aid agencies are accountable to “both those we seek to assist and those from whom we accept resources.” World Vision is currently compliant with every relevant donor accountability standard. Accountability emphasizes providing feedback to donors and the children and families we work with by embracing accountability mechanisms to ensure high standards of program quality and the responsibilities of meaningful community participation.

Over the past several years, World Vision has strengthened its global policies and practices to ensure greater accountability, including a robust internal “whistleblower” program as well as a “community of practice” to share lessons learned. In addition, World Vision provides things like executive salaries, general income and outflow information, annual reports, and overhead rates to the general public. All of these things can be accessed on our website.

World Vision International is a signatory to the People in Aid Code of Best Practice in the Management and Support of Aid Personnel and of the Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in Disaster Relief. World Vision is committed to implementing the standards of the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP) across its humanitarian programs. World Vision’s commitment to accountability and to meeting these international standards in programs is captured in World Vision’s Program Accountability Framework (PAF) which outlines how field programs can ensure transparency, consultation, participation and methods for feedback and complaints handling are integrated into our programs.

Accountability in Haiti Programs
Accountability has been woven into World Vision’s Haiti response from the beginning. We formed a Humanitarian Accountability Team (HAT), which aims to improve accountability in meeting the basic and urgent needs of children and their families in Haiti. The HAT works closely with communities living in several camps to provide camp residents with information on who we are, how we work, and what we are doing in the target location as well as communicating how children and adults can be protected from exploitation.

Community consultation is undertaken frequently through assessments, household visits, beneficiary registrations and verification, project design, camp management committees and conflict mediation. Many front-line staff and community mobilisers are hired within project locations and provide regular input into program implementation.

Another important accountability mechanism is a complaints and feedback process, which includes the dissemination of feedback forms to capture complaints and feedback each day. Issues resolved, unresolved, or requiring further action are communicated back to World Vision, and where applicable, emphasis is placed on community suggestions to resolve the issues. Suggestion boxes have been installed in project sites to build safe and strong communication channels.

Designing, monitoring and evaluating (DME) projects is another key way World Vision promotes learning and accountability, as well as good development practice. Using effective DME ensures that interventions are appropriate for that context and enables World Vision to remain responsive to a constantly changing environment. In Haiti, assessments have gathered information using focus group discussions, key informant interviews, contextual analysis, and technical assessments. Regular monitoring is undertaken using indicators developed during the program design phase. Evaluation of World Vision programs is carried out to ascertain its impact and to make key changes where the appropriate impact is not being achieved.

As in any emergency response, World Vision ensures staff are trained on the Sphere Standards and HAP accountability tools and Red Cross, Red Crescent and NGO Code of Conduct, highlighting and reinforcing that services are provided free of charge, on the basis of need alone, and should not be exchanged for goods or any kind of favours.

World Vision is committed to the highest levels of accountability in the Haiti Earthquake Response and will continue to practice integrity and transparency in the implementation of programs.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Myths of Aid #1

MYTH #1: In a disaster response, relief efforts are uncoordinated, chaotic, and haphazard.

Following a disaster, it is common to read reports of too much aid reaching one location, and not enough reaching another, or of a community receiving triple rations of food but no water. Over recent decades, relief agencies and local governments have become more intentional about coordination. Still, gaps remain, and are intensified by the severity of the disaster; number, size, and experience level of responding agencies; and functionality of local infrastructure and services. Coordination is central to improving the quality, effectiveness and efficiency of an emergency response and reducing burden on recovering communities.

While time-consuming, coordination is vital to humanitarian organizations. By coordinating their response with other NGO’s, local authorities, and the communities themselves, they can ensure that the most-needed items reach disaster survivors as quickly as possible, without duplication of effort.

World Vision has worked in Haiti for three decades, and has developed relationships with communities, other organizations, and local officials that are critical to the coordination of aid.

Who does World Vision collaborate with in Haiti?
World Vision is an active member of the interagency cluster system, a grouping of United Nations (UN) agencies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and other aid organisations that work to improve information management, coordination of activities and response standards and practices. There are eleven clusters within the system: Protection, Camp Coordination and Management, Water Sanitation and Hygiene, Health, Emergency Shelter, Nutrition, Emergency Telecommunications, Logistics, Education, Agriculture and Early Recovery. Sub-cluster groups, such as the Gender-Based-Violence group within the Protection cluster, also operate to focus on specific areas of intervention. Cluster groups meet regularly, have set objectives and share lessons, activities and plans.

World Vision is also a participant in the United Nations’ Humanitarian Country Team, helping to ensure that the activities of organizations are coordinated and that humanitarian action in-country is principled, timely, effective and efficient, and contributes to long-term recovery. The HCT is a key decision-making group that includes the directors of the humanitarian organizations involved in the disaster response. It is under the leadership of the UN Humanitarian Coordinator and seeks to coordinate with national and local authorities and address critical issues when they arise from the humanitarian response.

World Vision is engaged with the International Council for Voluntary Agencies, InterAction, and the Comité Permanent Inter Organisations (coordination body for international organisations in Haiti) to coordinate on humanitarian standards, accountability and response efforts.

Partnerships with local and international organisations have ensured the provision of locally appropriate services to target communities. World Vision partners with many local Haitian organizations as well as the United Nations and international humanitarian agencies such as Oxfam, Save the Children, Mercy Corps, the American Red Cross and Handicap International, among others. Ongoing coordination with the Haitian government is also a priority. In addition, World Vision has worked with local churches and communities for three decades.

World Vision is an active participant in the Joint Haiti Security Forum to ensure information sharing on security matters. In compliance with its civil-military engagement policy, World Vision has coordinated with UN peacekeeping forces, local police and international security forces, including the US military, to provide assistance during food distributions where contextually appropriate.

As in any disaster, World Vision adheres to the coordinating mechanisms and professional standards set by the United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the United Nations' Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), which is an "inter-agency forum for coordination, policy development and decision-making involving key UN and non-UN humanitarian partners."

The Five Myths of Aid

In light of the one-year anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti that killed over a quarter of a million people, there has been a lot of media coverage this week about the successes and failures of the relief and rebuilding process. While there have definitely been some missteps along the way, for the most part the reporting has been largely based on some basic misunderstandings of how the aid process works.

Thanks to the great folks in the World Vision International and Canadian Programs department I'll be posting information about the Five Myths of Aid - one per day for the next five days. I hope you'll follow along each day in order to get a better understanding of just how the process works in the wake of one of the worst natural disasters the modern humanitarian community has ever seen.