How to Effectively Help our Brethren in Developing Countries
Jesus said His disciples should care for the needy. Yet, how does one go about doing this in a world filled with needy people? It can be done!
by Victor Kubik
“Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” We all want to hear these words from Jesus Christ upon His return.
The parable continues: “…I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me… Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:34-36, 40).
This powerful lesson applies in spiritual ways, but I want to focus upon the physical application. The hearts of all Christians grieve over the terrible plight of millions of people, and we want to help. Faced with statistics like 600 children dying every hour due to hunger or 15 million AIDS orphans in Africa, we might think that the world is just a black hole of endless needs. Understandably, we can feel overwhelmed as to where to start.
Taking a cue from Christ’s parable, we should consider our own brethren in the developing world. Some of our own spiritual brothers are without jobs and must support large families. And some have extended family that also requires their attention.
Paul admonished Christians, “…as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).
I’m not talking only about financial assistance. Helping with money is on obvious way to assist, but it is only one of many possibilities within the grasp of the wealthy Western world.
In the June 2001 issue of United News, I wrote of my life-changing experience that resulted in my learning how to help the victims of Chernobyl’s 1986 nuclear accident. (See “Caring for Our Needy Brethren in Developing Areas,” www.ucg.org/un/un0106/caring.html.)
I learned about a U.S. State Department Program that paid for the shipping of 10- and 20-ton sea containers and found many volunteers willing to help fill them. I found that on the same program, it was possible to send similar containers for free to the Sabbatarians with whom we had worked in western Ukraine. We sent over two 30-ton shipments of aid before the end of 1996 that again provided large quantities of food, medicine and clothing.
Then I began asking, what can we do directly for our own brethren in the United Church of God?
The same article explains how we collected 20 tons of goods and shipped them to our brethren in Malawi. Tons of food were donated by various businesses. Thrift stores freely gave us hundreds of boxes of unsold clothing. Morton Salt gave us two tons of salt for iodine-deficient Malawi in the interior of south central Africa.
This awareness brought to life 1 John 3:16-17: “But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” We started looking for other opportunities among our own brethren.
I explained in the United News that I learned our people in Central America were in great need of habitat improvement for a number of members’ homes. The most often voiced request was to pour concrete floors for people living on dirt. Dirt bred worms and disease. Over the next two years we supplied the funds to pour 16 floors in Guatemala. In addition, we helped add extra rooms to overcrowded dwellings, in one case where nine people lived in one room.
Then we were asked to supply white shirts and blouses for our children in Guatemala and El Salvador. Why? A white top is the proper uniform for school children. You cannot go to school unless you have this uniform. But, for many large families that live on $100-$140 a month (if they work at all) to supply this uniform is just too expensive. So, we began collecting white shirts, blouses and alleviated a big burden. We were learning to listen very closely for true needs and then target specific ways to start meeting them.
In the tough economies of El Salvador, Guatemala, Peru, Colombia and Mexico, it is prohibitive for many of our young people to seek higher education. With some economies having a 75% unemployment rate, one was at a great disadvantage if he did not have higher education. But by going to university, one would have a distinct advantage in these societies. We started helping with scholarships in El Salvador where we were able to send 21 young adults to university for $450 per year apiece. They studied accounting, computer science, architecture, dentistry and other professions. What a great value and investment in the future! We’ve continued to develop this program to where we now help about 50 students in developing areas. Since the inception of a Developing Nations Scholarship Fund in 2001 we have received many letters of appreciation from both the young recipients and UCG pastors stating how their education has transformed their lives and has made them more productive members of the Church.
Medicine and water wells
In Malawi and Zambia our own brethren were going without medicines that many of us take for granted. Every year a number of the children of our brethren died during the rainy season in Zambia, because there was no medicine for treatable malaria. As of this writing, partially because of our sending medicine to our brethren who live in the remote settlements of Mumbwa, there have been no children’s deaths during the past three rainy seasons.
We have provided the only medicines for two clinics that are owned and operated by UCG members in Malawi for the past six years. We supply large quantities of medicine to Africa (about $100,000 per year) through incredible sources for which we pay as low as two cents on the dollar wholesale. In other words, we can send over one hundred dollars’ worth of drugs for two dollars.
Water is a precious resource; people walk for miles with five-gallon jugs on their heads to bring home their daily supply. Last year the Akron, Ohio UCG congregation raised the money to drill a well on a member’s property to provide drinking water and irrigation not only for himself, but also to almost 60 other people in the vicinity. Our brethren in Malawi were able to negotiate for the best prices and have the well dug at about half the going rate through a government well-driller.
Network and leverage
One of the most valuable lessons I have learned is networking.
I discovered other organizations that collect medical supplies and equipment that are more than willing to share what they have, if they are confident that what they give will be properly delivered and used. In central Indiana we are blessed with a number of sources that offer more items than we could even use. FAME (Fellowship of Associates of Medical Evangelism) in Indianapolis has provided us everything from hospital beds to wheelchairs to furniture—all for the asking.
Last summer a UCG youth camp in Ghana needed toothpaste, toothbrushes and floss for a dental hygiene class. No problem. We ask; they provide. Becky Hornor, wife of UCG pastor Noel Hornor, works for a dental supply company. She is able occasionally to send us boxes of medical supplies for distribution overseas. I have an arrangement with a number of Indianapolis dentists who have a standing offer to supply hundreds of sample items of dental hygiene products for overseas outreach projects.
The Lighthouse Mission in downtown Indianapolis has been a help, too. When we come across items we cannot use, we pass them to the mission. For example, we received a donation of several thousand new but mislabeled uniforms through a member in the Nashville, Tennessee congregation. The Lighthouse in turn, has given us hundreds of pounds of meat, personal products for our Terre Haute congregation’s outreach to an abused girls’ shelter, as well as to our outreach to our brethren overseas. Our cost with all this has been zero.
We have ample sources for all the wheelchairs and eyeglasses and linens that we use.
Through this process, we learned the value of networking. It does not need to cost an arm and a leg nor take away from resources to preach the gospel. These are definitely ways of responding to the direction given in Galatians 6:10. And these things are truly making a difference. In the last four years, we have provided $1,800,000 in overseas aid, most of it either benefiting brethren or being used by the brethren to benefit others. We calculate that for every dollar donated, we have provided $20 in benefits.
Grants, matching donations and passionate volunteers
With more ambitious projects such as building clinics in Malawi, we learned of foundations that will give grants to missions that fit their giving philosophy. We have received grants that have helped us complete our clinics successfully. It takes time and patience, but it’s so rewarding when the grants finally come through. Our largest grant was a recent award from Rotary Foundation for $44,884 to purchase two ambulances, one for each of the two clinics built in Malawi and owned by UCG members. We have found, too, that there are employers who will match their employees’ donations to charity to a certain limit. We regularly receive matching donations from banks, credit unions, insurance companies and other businesses.
Support attracts support. When people see that a project effectively helps people, they want to become part of it and identify with it. The volunteers come out of the woodwork when they see a worthwhile mission going to unplowed ground, enriching and changing peoples’ lives.
How much do we help beyond our own brethren?
People often ask if the aid that we are sending overseas goes to people beyond our members. Yes, indeed it does. Our brethren have starving parents, children, brothers and sisters, all of whom benefit from the aid.
If we helped our members only, others would be angry and resentful towards them. You can readily imagine what would happen in a starving community if only one family had food—and kept it for their own use. By contrast, we have found that when our brethren share with their extended family and their communities, goodwill develops; everyone wins, from the donor to the recipient.
We ship lots of medicine that is distributed through clinics operated by members in the developing world. The medicine is shared with our members’ families and friends.
Another obvious potential problem is that recipients (people in general—I’m not implying this of our members) will be tempted to hoard certain consumables, if they think they are not likely to have a continuing supply. We have tried to curb the urge to hoard by making certain that these items are continually replenished.
Those who give us large quantities of aid for overseas commend us for not being too picky about who the recipients are. Some have said that they have been put off by some groups who insist that every bit of aid go to a particular congregation and no further. It just doesn’t function well to try to work this way with societies where everyone is poor.
When we established a cattle restoration program in Zambia we called it “Passing on the Gift.” It followed a pattern set by Heifer Project International that uses this principle in its multi-million dollar cattle restoration projects all over the world. The first offspring of each animal goes to a neighbor; every animal born afterwards goes to the recipient. This wise principle has brought sharing and goodwill that spreads a blessing. At the Feast of Tabernacles in Zambia this past year, Andre van Belkum held a ceremony of passing on the first calves born to our herd to neighbors. Everyone rejoiced!
Helping others needs to be a transforming experience, not just a handing out of assistance that could easily become an entitlement. The most successful charities help recipients become donors themselves.
Big bang for the buck
A lot can be done for very little in impoverished areas. Labor costs are low and it’s often quite reasonable to set up small entrepreneurships in developing areas. For example, setting up a small grocery store in Guatemala City cost about $300. A widow with children was able to run a flourishing business right from home and sustain her household. She previously worked at a factory for substandard wages and had to be away from home.
In other instances we were able to build community bread ovens, also for about $300 each, providing a livelihood for entire families. We have also been able to buy commercial sewing machines and set up self-sustaining cottage businesses.
In the Philippines, for $100 per family, we have been able to set up self-sustaining goat-raising, fishing and cocoa bean businesses that have kept entire families from being dependent on others; it also gives them dignity.
From observing other organizations, studying philanthropy and by my own trial and error, I have learned some principles about helping others that might be of value.
Ø There must be a genuine need demonstrated before aid is given. There are many who would like to simply live better, just like in developed countries. But is it a need? A genuine need is where one’s life is placed under strain and pressure and where there is anxiety and deterioration in family or personal life.
Ø Provide only the kind of assistance that will result in self-sufficiency and not dependency. The easiest thing to do is to give money and not expect anything from the recipient. This can encourage bad habits and in the long run, harm the person. If the handouts end, he can look at his former benefactor as a heartless enemy in spite of the fact that the person may have helped immensely. Handouts only cultivate the now. They do nothing about looking to a future of caring for oneself.
Ø Aid must be distributed in a fair and equitable manner. When you come into an area and offer help to an individual, you affect the economy of the community. It could be his family, his congregation or even the country where others know him. When one comes into a country and offers help, it does not take long before others figure out how many are being helped and by how much. One large service organization that aids people around the world makes it a point to never offer any aid that benefits less than six people. The people of the recipient’s community must realize also that he is needy, whether from a catastrophe, ill health, loss of family or hunger.
Ø Recipients must be accountable for the aid received. There must be a reason for the aid to be given and when given it must be used for exactly that reason. Those receiving aid must demonstrate that indeed that money or beneficial action was spent for that purpose. An aid program can quickly break down and a lack of respect for the benefactors can develop, whereby the recipient thinks what is given to him is easy money for the giver! Make sure that a reporting system is prearranged.
Ø Those receiving aid must be open to learning how to better themselves—they must do their part. Before we gave a herd of cattle to our brethren, we insisted on a training seminar on calf care and feeding and veterinary care. One reason for their herds being wiped out was medieval cattle-raising practices that allowed disease to spread rapidly and kill thousands of animals in a short period of time. We want lives of people to be transformed. It is not asking too much to insist on education that will lead to success and minimize disasters.
Ø Aid must be culturally appropriate. How we help people in Zambia vastly varies from how we help in Ukraine or Latin America. There’s no mechanized farming in the interior of Africa, so there is no reason to introduce machinery. What we did do was to provide plows, bicycles and draft power to help them in the manner they are accustomed to that fits in with the community around. This does not lessen the value of the aid; it blends with the society, as it provides for better nutrition and health.
Ø Give what is really needed. Sometimes we feel that people need certain things without asking what is really of value. Don’t minimize what people ask for.
Ø Whatever you send, make sure it works, is clean and in good condition. If the shirt, appliance, tool is something you’re going to throw away, please throw it away. Junk is junk and will be viewed as such. Make sure that clothes are clean and without stains or odor.
Ø Always treat the people you help with the highest dignity and respect. With God there is no respect of persons. Just because someone is making one-fiftieth the money you are, does not mean that he is one-fiftieth the person.
Ø Be sure to deliver what you promise. When visiting poor areas, it’s easy to make wishful statements that may not be possible to fulfill. I had found in several places where I visited that others had promised but never came through. It’s much better to under-promise and over-deliver. Curb the temptation to tell people what you will do before seeing that indeed you can.
Ø If you send regular consumable items such as food or medicine, make it clear if this is a one-time shipment or whether it will be ongoing. If people do not know that, there will be a tendency to hoard. That puts undue anxiety on the recipients and renders your aid of little value.
Helping care for the needs of people is a most rewarding activity if effectively done. This is not our primary mission as a church; preaching the gospel is. But remember that when we help a brother or sister of Christ, He considers that a deed done directly for Him. How valuable is that?