Author Archives: Dave Eller

About Dave Eller

Dave Eller is the president of World Concern.

Joseph Kony and the LRA.

KONY 2012 — One piece of the poverty-injustice puzzle

The viral KONY 2012 awareness campaign around Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is succeeding in breaking through apathy and engaging people with the atrocities taking place in South Sudan, Congo and Uganda. For that I am very grateful. It misses the nuances of the issue, but it still brings light to this injustice. I see the effects of violence and injustice as I travel to World Concern’s programs in incredibly poor places. The LRA’s reign of terror is part of this injustice, and it must end. Oppression, slavery and murder must end throughout the world.

Joseph Kony and the LRA.

Joseph Kony and the LRA are among the most notorious perpetrators of violence and injustice.

Where does someone like Joseph Kony come from? Wherever people have more power than others, there is oppression. Where people have no power, they are taken advantage of, exploited and abused. Oppression happens in every nation in the world. Kony is a clear example that is being brought to light. We need to shine that same light on violence and injustice, as well as their sources, and take the discussion beyond a single person.

It is our nature to seek simple solutions. In some ways this is as simple as Kony needs to be stopped. But that is where the simplicity ends. In this case, an army must be demobilized. The cycle of poverty that creates vulnerability to abuse needs to be broken as well. Empowering people through economic security is the best defense against the Konys of this world.

Capturing Kony would be a huge victory and one we would all celebrate. But unfortunately, it won’t end the violence in South Sudan, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, or other places. As strongly as this campaign advocates for involvement by the U.S. government to defeat one person, let us advocate for the long-term work of defeating extreme poverty and its ripple of devastating effects.

Mom and baby in Raja, South Sudan.

A mother and child at a World Concern food distribution site in Raja, South Sudan. Families in Raja are frequently threatened by LRA attacks.

Real change takes time. This film took nine years to produce and it is just a call for change. The best solutions are not imposed from outside. Walking with the people affected to solve complex problems brings sustainable change.

We need this new found awareness of complex problems to lead to a shift in our sense of responsibility for the suffering around the world. The best aid is not delivered in a day by westerners, and of course, it cannot be solved over social media. I see dramatic change in the lives of vulnerable people when we help equip them with tools to take control of their own destiny long-term.

If the 70+ million people who have watched KONY 2012 get engaged and fight global injustice, it will have a significant impact ending oppression in these difficult places.

Seeing stark reality in Southern Somalia

I have just left Dhobley in Southern Somalia.  My travels with World Concern have taken me too many difficult places.  I have been to refugee camps in Chad, holding camps after Sri Lanka’s civil war, and South Sudan before independence.  Even with all of this experience with poverty and suffering, seeing the people in Dhobley was tragic.

A Somali mom with her sick child.

A Somali mom with her sick child at the clinic in Dhobley.

We visited a medical clinic that we partner with and saw three young children laying on mats with IVs, so weak they could not walk.  Their mothers were hoping that they would survive.  To be honest, I’m not sure whether they will make it or not given their acute diarrhea.  It’s devastating to know that beyond these three there are many who didn’t make it to the clinic.

The people in Dhobley broke my heart.  It was not just the extreme need.  People are hungry, sick and without resources.  There was such defeat in the eyes of the people on street.  They are not only lacking the basics of life – clean water, food and shelter – they have no sense of security.  The week before a battle took place in this town that sent people fleeing again into the bush to survive.  Are they safe today?  None believe they are.  Living day after day in insecurity has taken a toll beyond any I can imagine.  There is sorrow upon sorrow.

Yet in the midst of such darkness, there is hope.  When we engaged with people on the street and talked, the spark of hope was still there.  Hope comes in the form of others caring and reaching out.

A joyful family receives a food voucher.

Hope and joy on the faces of one family after receiving a World Concern voucher to buy food.

World Concern is bringing food and other essential items for survival, but they need so much more. There are people in need of love, joy, hope and peace.  God has called us to care for the least of these.  I found them in Somalia.  I pray we can bring healing beyond survival.

Today, as yesterday, the issue for the people of Southern Somalia is survival, and the World Concern staff is pouring themselves out to keep people alive.  My desire is to see us walk together through this immediate need into a time and place in the future where people can live in peace.

Learn more and support our work in Southern Somalia: www.worldconcern.org/crisis

A Somali family affected by the drought.

Why we help in places like Somalia

As I read the daily news articles about the famine in the Horn of Africa, I’m continuously shocked at the angry comments posted at the end of these articles. Many of them are downright hateful, and imply that we as Americans should not help other countries where there are groups that have expressed hatred toward the U.S.

I’ve even heard questions like, “Why should I care?”  Or, “Haven’t those people brought this on themselves with their violence?”

A Somali family affected by the drought.

Somali families like this are suffering in the drought and in need of humanitarian aid.

To me, this is irrational thinking. Humanitarian organizations provide aid in some challenging places. We do so because there are innocent children and families who are caught in the middle and need help. In the case of Somalia, these families have no government to turn to for help. It doesn’t exist. Their crops have failed, their animals have died, and they have left their homes in search of survival.

In almost all suffering it is possible to point to people individually or corporately that are responsible for the injustice.  The most intense suffering and hardest to overcome is that which people inflict on others.  Injustice is not limited to the rich oppressing the poor.  Wherever people have an element of power – whether wealth, land, social, political or positional – over another person, there is the risk for oppression.  This is the situation in Somalia.  There are those with power that are oppressing the powerless.  This has held people down so they have been living just above the survival line in the best of times. The drought has limited food production for the last two years and plunged the population below the survival line. Oppressed people are dying.

So what is to be done about the oppressors in Somalia and the rest of the world?  As humanitarians, we believe reaching out to people in need shows a path other than violence as the answer.  I am not suggesting that if we care for those in need the oppressors will see the acts of kindness and change their ways. But those who receive help are given a chance to see compassion, rather than violence, in action.

All other concerns aside – these are people that are dying. When a child is withering away it really does not matter whether the cause is drought, ignorance, or social injustice. It is a precious child that is dying.  If we determine that any person is of less value because of where they were born, we have lost our humanity.

Providing supplies to Somali families.

A World Concern staff member provides emergency supplies to a displaced family in Somalia.

As one who deals with the issues of injustice everyday in my profession, I realize the impossibility of meeting every need myself. I feel the frustration of the overwhelming need weighed against limited resources.  But I also know that the real question I must answer is not how much can I help? But rather, should I care?  We can all do something.  If everyone did what they could, then extreme poverty could be conquered.

What is the purpose of our freedom if not to help the powerless?  We must do more than “do no evil.”  We must “do good.”  It is not enough to point fingers at the oppressors. We must help those that are oppressed.  We must reach out to those who cannot repay us and will never know our names.

This is what compassion is about.  This is what makes us different from those that oppress.

Timely vote in Sudan is needed to keep peace

Vocational students in Sudan

Students are learning mechanics at a newly opened vocational school in Sudan. This is just one of the ways World Concern is helping improves lives in southern Sudan.

Media coverage of Sudan’s upcoming referendum scheduled for a vote in January 2011 has increased recently as the date draws closer and President Obama spoke on the issue at the UN General Assembly last week. World Concern works in southern Sudan, and the relative peace in that region over the past five years has allowed us to make great progress in extremely poor communities.

As a humanitarian agency, we limit our involvement in the political processes of the countries where we serve. We know, though, that violence hinders our work – and we expect violence if the vote is delayed. Therefore, we hope and pray for a peaceful outcome to the process this January.

Dave Eller, World Concern’s president, shares some thoughts below. He visited Sudan in June and saw firsthand the struggles people face there to overcome decades of war and violence – many of whom lost everything in a conflict they didn’t support.

“On a recent trip to southern Sudan I overheard many conversations about the referendum that is to take place in January. The people of southern Sudan are very anxious to have this vote take place as scheduled. They seem to believe that if the vote does not happen as scheduled it will be postponed indefinitely and may not happen. There is fear that if the referendum is not held there would be a return to violence.

The peace accords that were signed attest to the fact that is it is possible to end fighting. Turning back from the decisions made five years ago would seem to be a significant step backwards. While I am not an expert on Sudanese politics, it is easy to see the benefits that peace has brought.

In this time of relative peace since 2005 significant progress has been made in the development of the South. The people have had the opportunity to start rebuilding their lives. In World Concern’s work we have seen schools reestablished, businesses started, food provided equitably, and community health programs get underway. A return to violence would put the progress that has been made at risk.

The remains of a burned house in Sudan

This is all that remains of a house that was burned during violence in Sudan, which has ceased since a peace agreement between the north and south of that country was reached in 2005.

The referendum needs to be more than just timely. The voting needs to be free and fair.  The voices of the people need to be heard in this very important decision-making process. The people of Sudan desire to have a voice in their future. They have shared with me their heart to see a future lived out in peace and not conflict. The answers may or may not be found in this referendum, but clearly if it does not take place, or if it is not free and fair, it would be a step backwards.

It is my prayer that the leaders of north and south Sudan would find resolution to the remaining issues so that the people of Sudan might live in peace. Sudanese parents I spoke with desire to raise their children free from the threat of violence and war. This is what every parent would want. As international communities we should continue to hold all of the leaders to that standard, and recognize that the solutions must be found to keep from plunging the country back into civil war.

This is a critical time in the history of Sudan. It is a critical time in the lives of millions of people. Let us remember our brothers and sisters throughout the country of Sudan in our prayers.”

Every parent able to care for their children

Mother and child Sri Lanka

I have been fortunate to take a few days off to relax at a friend’s cabin in the woods.  I was thinking and praying while sitting in a camp chair in the Wenatchee River.  It was the heat of the day and I was being refreshed with my feet soaking in the water.

The conversation I was having with God was about the vision He has given me for the world.  There are many things which should be changed in our world, but I am called to a particular vision—a calling Melissa and I received in 1999 that has become clearer as we have sought to be obedient.  We choose serving with World Concern because the vision we have been given intersects with World Concern’s.

I have a vision of a world where every parent (grandparent, caregiver) can meet the needs of their children.  Traveling the world I have seen that parents everywhere care deeply about their children, even as I do about my four children.  Parents are given the responsibility by God to raise up their children and in almost all cases this is what they desire to do.  Yet hundreds of millions cannot provide the basic needs.  It is not lack of concern or effort it is bigger world issues.

We must change the world.  We must create a place where every parent can provide nutrition, shelter, health, education and spiritual nurture for their children.  Our world view is formed within our families and communities. God created the family for this purpose.  If we are going to change the world it must be done generationally through families.

How would I feel if someone else had to step in and provide care for my children?  It is demoralizing to have others care for our children.  When parents are set aside so that outsiders can meet their children’s needs, it may feel good to the outsider, but it is a very negative experience for the parent.  We need to provide for the family needs by empowering the parents.

In disaster situations this may require direct food inputs, but let us do so with the family in mind.  Most of the need in the world can be overcome through supporting the caregivers by providing education, health systems, water, food security, education, and income opportunity.  Wrapping all of that will be the need for Biblical values that direct life decisions.

We know that future generations must be prepared to run this world.  Strengthening the family to meet the needs of their children is a generational solution to poverty.  Children raised by parents meeting their needs will learn to do the same for their children in turn.  Parents have the greatest influence on the lives of children we can and must positively change that influence.