Listening to: The Beatles
Reading: When Helping Hurts
Writing About: Relief, Good Intentions, and Best Practices
When I was 16 I went on a mission trip to Jamaica. One of our team members spent a day day building wooden awnings onto the exterior of an orphanage, he wanted to make the place a little more beautiful and provide some shade. At the end of the work day, the director of the orphanage came on site and rewarded my friend with a thorough scolding. I was furious when I saw all of that go down.
How could this guy be angry about our team providing free wood and labor to make his facility more beautiful and cooler?
It turns out a couple of things were going on:
1. He was worried that the awnings would be blown away by the high winds of their rainy season, leaving a wall full of holes where it was attached.
2. He was unimpressed by the beauty of the awnings. I failed to mention that the my buddy had no experience as a carpenter.
3. He didn’t ask anyone to install awnings, the team was there to replace a tin roof.
He did what he wanted, the orphanage did not want what he wanted to offer.
The Orphanage was right, it was their ministry, they should have decided.
Did you know that literally tons of donated clothing was piled up and burned in Indonesia after the Tsunami?
Aid groups have a term: “The Second Disaster” to describe the flood of items that follow a disaster. Donated items and good hearted delivery people tend to add to the chaos and distract trained aid workers.
Everyone wants to help in their own way, its a reflection of the unique gifts and generous hearts of American people. That is fantastic.
However, I think we would do better to flip that question on it’s head.
Instead of asking: how do I want to help?
Perhaps we should ask: what is the most effective way to help?
I don’t believe we just want to imagine we did good. I think we all truly want to help.
Here’s the Kicker:
If we are committed to doing the most good, as opposed to just “doing our part”
We need to send money.
Cash is best
If you want to do the best, send cash.
They may humor you with some “in kind” suggestions, but it’s only because they know some people will not give money (only stuff)…so they may as well ask for stuff they can use.
A Quick Logic Exercise:
I think I am belaboring the point, and I know I am on a soap box,
but imagine if you will:
You collect 15 box fans for Louisiana, an item the United Methodist Committee on Relief is asking for. You yourself purchased one for $15.
Then, you drive them all to your local depot and they are shipped to Louisiana.
Two weeks after you sent out the call, they arrive in Louisiana to be sorted and distributed by busy, tired, overwhelmed aid workers.
But wait, three days before your shipment arrived UMCOR got the last box fan it needed from a church in Texas. Now yours gets shipped off to a warehouse to wait for the next disaster. Which is well and good, they will need it at the next disaster.
The problem: Your Box fan travels slowly, and it can only be a box fan.
Now imagine you gave your $15 directly to UMCOR. The same day you sent it, they can buy a box fan from a local source (Louisiana has Wal Mart too). Or, they can decide that right now people need bottled water and towels, so they go and buy that.
The Solution: Your Money travels instantly, and can become anything needed on the front lines.
I am the one who makes you nervous
I know we don’t trust authority. If anyone understand that, it’s me.
We are all worried that our dollars get sucked up by charity leadership structures and doesn’t actually affect the front lines. Our stuff can not be squandered by bureaucrats.
But our stuff is just as wasteful. Someone pays for it to be driven around the country. Someone has to sort it, sift it, and deliver it. We paid tax when we bought it. I’d prefer my waste go towards a professional who is training and mobilizing prepared people.
Oh yeah, and I am a professional missions pastor. Money that could go directly into mission paid for the computer I am typing this on. I feed my family with mission dollars. And, if you can excuse my boldness, I believe my position is worthwhile. I believe that leading, training, and thinking thoroughly through missions issues makes us more effective and more efficient. Even if it costs mission money to enable me to do that. I am the bureaucrat you fear. Mwa ha ha ha.
How then shall we proceed
I don’t want to nag, I wan to affirm
I want us to all use our unique gifts and skills
I want our generosity to be an expression of our personality.
I love how much we all want to be engaged.
And I want us all to send cash.
Don’t send cookies, have a bake sale and send cash.
Don’t send food, challenge your office to not eat out, then send the money you saved.
Don’t send clothes, sell your fancy clothes on a FB swap site and send money.
Create art, sell it, and send cash.
Stand on the side of the road an rattle a can, and send cash.
Cancel your vacation, sell your camera,
be creative, do something that feels like you, and send cash.
Send cash, send cash, send cash.