What Every Parent Wants

Every parent knows what it’s like to care for a sick child—the uncertainty, the frustration, even the fear.

For me, what always gets me is the moment I realize I can’t comfort my son. Or when he complains about something that I can’t possibly solve on my own. It’s heartbreaking because I want to be his protector, his hero, and make everything right again.

Most parents would gladly trade places with a sick child. And this is Alexi’s lament right now.

“When my son gets sick, it’s like I am sick too,” he says as his little boy sits quietly on his knee.

John is Alexi’s youngest (and sickest) son. All his children have been sick at one time or another, and all with the same symptoms—severe diarrhea, constant nausea, horrible stomach pain. This father is very familiar with effects of intestinal worms, some of which come and go, but John’s problems are persistent. And the worms are refusing to move.

“He’s really suffering right now,” Alexi tells me. “If it’s not the pain in his tummy, it’s the fevers. It’s one or the other and I don’t know what to do.”

This father of six lives in Haiti, high up in the hills and far removed from anything we would describe as livable. There is no medical clinic in this village, not even running water. There are no faucets. No flushing toilets. No place to bathe.

This is why John is so sick. The dirty water and unsanitary conditions are the perfect breeding ground for parasites. These nasty worms are now multiplying in John’s belly, and sapping all the nutrients from his tiny body. The cure for this horrible condition?

A miracle pill that costs just 44 cents. 

But Alexi can’t afford it, and that was the reason I was visiting him. Thanks to the generosity of donors, World Concern is distributing these life-changing tablets to hundreds of sick Haitian kids.

The 44-Cent-Cure is the most cost-effective solution to poverty’s biggest problem, because within days of taking the pill, the worms are dead, John is cured, nutrients are being absorbed back into his body and he’s able to return to school and enjoy life as a happy, healthy child.

Alexi is a farmer, or at least was until Hurricane Matthew destroyed his crops.

Now, Alexi survives day-to-day, working odd jobs to scrape together enough money for the occasional meal and to send his kids to school. He’s planted some corn and some grain, but the plants are not even close to harvest yet.

So this single father does what he can and puts on a brave face. Yet he admits even this is getting harder and harder to do. Especially since John has been so sick.

“I am responsible for him and have no time to cry,” he whispers, not wanting his son to hear how difficult things are. “I must work.”

In just a few days, the pill that we gave John will have killed all the worms in his belly. His fevers will be gone. The nausea and diarrhea will be gone. And Alexi can return to work.

All because of a pill that costs less than 2 quarters.

Alexi and I have something in common. We are both dads and dearly love our kids. We love Jesus. We both  work. And we both want our families to be healthy.

After praying together, Alexi and I shook hands. And that’s when his story really hit home for me. Our hands could not have been more different.  His are strong; his palms calloused and his fingers tough and weathered. Mine are the exact opposite. We have lived vastly different lives.

The biggest difference though? I am in a position to help.

I had the opportunity to pray with Alexi last month. Will you join us in praying for the families in Haiti who need your help?

Beyond the End of the Road in Nepal

It’s 7:30 a.m. when our little team of four load up our Jeep and head to Sri Nathkot.

This mountaintop village is just a three-hour drive from our hotel here in Pokhara, a popular tourist town in Nepal. The earthquake that rattled much of this region seemed to have mercy on this town with most of the buildings surprisingly still intact. But we’ve learned that just a few hours away, the village of Sri Nathkot was not so lucky. This community, home to around 150 people, has suffered major damage.

This Jeep took us to the end of the road...and beyond.
This Jeep took us to the end of the road…and beyond.

As we begin our journey, the clouds lift just enough to offer us a glimpse of Fish Tail, a majestic peak, not much lower than the famous Mt. Everest. Nepali driver barely took much notice. Living in the foothills of the Annapurna Mountain range, these sights have become commonplace to them.

We drive for a few hours and abruptly come to the end of the road. To this point, the earthquake had been quite selective, leaving most of the villages we passed through untouched. But ironically, as we leave the pavement behind and drive onward down dirt roads, the damage shows the magnitude of this earthquake. Homes are destroyed, some flattened, others partially collapsed. But almost all are uninhabitable. It was suddenly very easy to see how in just 90 seconds people’s lives were torn apart.

While some homes still stood, others lay flat. But all were unlivable.
While some homes still stood, others lay flat. But all were unlivable.

We press on towards Sri Nathkot, to visit with one of World Concern’s partners who has been working to help the survivors of this disaster. As we approach the foothills surrounding the village, the road narrows and the terrain changes dramatically. We carefully negotiate switchbacks etched into steep hillsides, mindful of the 100 foot drop-offs just a few feet from our tires.

As we make our way up another switchback, we see ahead that the road is completely impassible – for hundreds of yards, rocks had been placed in pile after pile by a local group of Nepali trying to improve passage up the mountain. We decide to turn around, go back to the fork in the road and try the other way. Our driver has not been this way before, but believes it to circle around and eventually provide access to Sri Nathkot.

The three hour mark has long passed, yet we press on and climb again for what seems to be an endless zigzag of switchbacks, each one taking us higher up the mountain. Then we reach a village. We stop and ask if this is the way to Sri Nathkot. and to our relief it is, but it’s still a couple of hours of driving on this ‘road’.

Walking the road ahead to see if our Jeep would even make it through.
The view from the Jeep window, shows just one of the dozens of switchbacks we’d encounter.

We arrive at a second village, and we’re told the same thing; a few more hours. With each turn, I’m convinced the road is becoming more and more impassible yet amazingly, we manage to climb higher. At this point, the driver tells us that he has never driven a road like this before (would have been nice to know before departing), but he’d brought us this far, so we push on.

By now, the sun is setting below the mountain tops and we are led only by the dim headlights on our Jeep (and a lot of faith!). We joke that it may be better we don’t see where we’re headed as the view in daylight, while breathtaking, was at times quite terrifying.

The sun quickly set and the moonlight was obscured by clouds, making it so dark that I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. But around (what felt like) one more switchback, we saw the glow of light coming from a small village….Sri Nathkot. We had arrived!

And as I reflect on this marathon journey that ended over 12 hours after it began, the reality of World Concern’s commitment to serving the most remote communities hit me. They truly go where no one else goes. There is simply no valley too deep or mountain too tall.

While we rested in Sri Nathkot that evening, my thoughts moved towards the people already here and the tragedy they’d just survived. I looked forward to meeting them, hearing their stories, and seeing how World Concern is bringing hope back to this isolated community.

In Sri Nathkot and beyond, World Concern is quite literally working at the end of the road to transform lives.

A simple cure for Dashna’s pain

In the back of her classroom in rural Haiti, 12-year-old Dashna often puts her head down on her desk and prays. The pain in her stomach gets to be too much and she can no longer concentrate on the lesson being taught. She winces with pain and silently cries out to God for help.

The worms in Dashna's belly cause her so much pain, she can't concentrate in school.
The worms in Dashna’s belly cause her so much pain, she can’t concentrate in school.

Worms are ravaging Dashna’s insides, sucking away vital nutrients she needs to grow like vitamin A, and causing her excruciating pain. Can you imagine try to learn in a classroom when you are in so much pain?

This is common in places like Haiti, where children walk barefoot, drink from filthy streams contaminated by raw sewage, and parasites are rampant. Worms enter the body through dirty water, or when a child eats or touches her mouth without washing her hands after going to the bathroom. They can even enter through the soles of her feet.

Once worms enter a child’s body, they multiply and begin their painful pursuit of eating away at what little food she consumes. Sometimes, this can cause her stomach to hurt all day long.

Even more, parasites spread easily between family members living in cramped quarters with no access to toilets or a way to wash their hands. Because of this, Dashna’s two younger siblings are also sick.

This pill will cure Dashna's pain and get rid of the worms in a matter of hours -- and it costs just 44 cents.
This pill will cure Dashna’s pain and get rid of the worms in a matter of hours — and it costs just 44 cents.

The good news is that deworming medicine is inexpensive and can begin to work within hours of taking the pill. When coupled with vitamin A, which is depleted by worms, and long-term solutions like clean water, sanitation, and hygiene training, the 44-Cent Cure can prevent reinfection.

We believe every child should have the opportunity to live a life free of treatable diseases and have the resources to be successful in school. Please pray for students like Dashna and help us provide the 44-Cent Cure to children who are suffering from parasites.

 

One Year Later, South Sudan Remains in Turmoil

In December 2013, the world’s newest nation, only two years into a season without war, plunged back into crisis-mode. Though the explanation for this eruption of conflict is far from definitive, one thing is clear – South Sudan is still hurting.

As we approach the one year anniversary of this newest conflict in South Sudan – a land that has suffered almost continuous war for over two decades – we (the world) need to remember that this war persists and tensions are only growing. And, as we so strongly believe at World Concern, we remind ourselves that war is about so much more than politics and land and resources. It is about the thousands, if not millions, of people whose lives are torn apart.

According to the UNHCR, South Sudan now has more than 1.4 million internally displaced people who have been forced to flee their homes. Additionally, tens of thousands of people (at this point an exact number is difficult to track) have lost their lives.

Though there has always been community tension and a scarcity of resources, we have never ceased to see the country for its potential to transform. When South Sudan gained independence in 2011, we celebrated with them. Unfortunately, the celebration was short-lived. South Sudan has faced immense challenges over the past three years. The recent conflict is bringing the nation to the brink of famine and starvation continues to be a very real risk.

Since the country’s independence, World Concern has focused on empowering South Sudanese communities to move beyond a state of relief and toward long-term development. Eager to farm their own land, feed their own children, and be educated, people have been more than willing to take part in their community’s development. In fact, many of the communities we partner with now have their own gardens, banks, savings groups, job opportunities, and thriving markets.

But many others were displaced from their homes and land when violence came dangerously close to their communities. As a result, hundreds of thousands were unable to plant crops before South Sudan’s annual rainy season. Because of this, many will go hungry this year. And too many are still homeless, living in squalid camps, waiting for peace.

Mary (right) and her newborn son sit inside a vacated school they now call home.

Last February I traveled to South Sudan to visit Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps, sit with people, and listen to their stories. Among the many painful narratives shared, I will never forget Mary YarTur’s. Nine months pregnant when violence broke out in her village, Mary had no choice but to run.

“Both of my neighbors were killed when we were running,” she solemnly explained. “My uncle was also killed.”

After days on the run, Mary and others settled outside of a closed school building. Two days later, she went into labor.

Women sit outside of the school where Mary gave birth.
Women sit outside of the school where Mary gave birth.

“At the time I delivered I was feeling bad. My body was in pain and it was not well,” she shared. “During the time I came from my home in Unity State, I was running with little food. Then I delivered right away when I arrived here.”

In the three days I spent visiting camps, Mary was one of five women I met with newborn babies – a small representation of the thousands of children that have already been born without medical assistance beneath trees, outside of buildings, and underneath haphazard shelters.

A silhouetted pregnant woman rests at an IDP site.
A silhouetted pregnant woman rests at an IDP site.

“My child was delivered outside, now they have problems,” Mary told me. “I’m not feeling better now. The food we have to eat takes a very long time to cook – and when I eat it it gives me stomach pains. So, I don’t eat much – I feel weak and faint. I live in fear because I don’t know where my husband is and I sleep in the open, many days without food and no income.”

Sick, taking care of a newborn, husband-less, without food, homeless – it’s no wonder so many people feel hopeless.

A Bleak Future Without Development

Because of the recent crisis, funding for development projects has reduced. Life-saving disaster response efforts are vital, but without the ability to fund long-term projects, the country’s development comes to a halt.

Hundreds of thousands of displaced families have fled northern South Sudan to Warrap State, where we work. With no choice but to build makeshift shelters on land that was once someone else’s farms, their presence is a cause for tension and puts a strain on local resources.

The majority of the people we serve know at least one person who has been killed. Thus, a large portion of a family’s resources and time have been spent on hosting and traveling to burial services.

Additionally, the South Sudanese pound continues to lose value against the American dollar, skyrocketing import costs and consequently making many resources unbearably expensive.

“Foreign exchange is low. Prices of commodities are rising every day. Many markets are in short supply of essential commodities,” said a World Concern staff member in Warrap State. “The chamber of commerce has attributed this to lack of dollar in the market. Given that he country heavily relies on import of food, fuel, and almost all essential commodities, shortage of dollar in the market spells doom for ordinary citizens of the country.”

Much of South Sudan’s younger generation was born into war, thus all they know is war. When asked, many say they would love to live in a world without war, yet most of them have no idea what that would look like. Because of this, instilling the notion of hope and the possibility of change can be a very complex process.

We believe that we have been called to South Sudan for a reason. And we believe that reconciliation, peace, and healing are possible. We know that the One who created us all, can surely bring hope and peace to the seemingly hopeless circumstances in South Sudan. And despite the horrible things we, as humans, do, He is still holding out for us, waiting patiently and moving us toward a world renewed.

So today, this morning, this evening, whenever you read this, though you may feel bombarded by a world of painful things, we ask that you remember South Sudan and pray for peace.

And please continue to pray for South Sudan’s leaders – that they would lead with integrity. South Sudan was recently ranked the 5th most corrupt nation in the world. Also, pray for safety, healthy, and strength for our field staff – they are the hands and feet of world Concern.

Please consider giving a gift to bring hope and life to the people of South Sudan.

In the midst of pain, in the depths of suffering, under the tarps of IDP camps and tin roofs of refugee shelters, we know that there exists a surpassing peace and hope for a world transformed.

 

The Photo That Changed My Heart

Bangladesh boy

It’s not a particularly artistic or perfectly composed photo. It’s even a little hard to tell what’s happening in this photo, which is probably why I paused for a moment while browsing through photos of Bangladesh’s slums.

It was my first week at World Concern, four years ago, and I had looked at thousands of photos of the places World Concern works as part of my orientation. There were many stunning photos of beautiful people, faces, families, and extreme poverty. But this is the one I’ll never forget, because it’s the one I was looking at when it “clicked” for me.

I stared at the image of a little boy, not more than 8 or 9 years old, wearing pants that are cinched at the waist so they won’t fall down, standing in the midst of a sea of garbage. He is smelling what appears to be a piece of rotten fruit. He was doing this, I’m sure, to try to determine if it was edible.

My stomach turned.

Several thoughts slammed into my mind as I stared at the boy in the slum:

  1. He is a real person.
  2. He is hungry enough to consider eating from that pile of garbage.
  3. I must do something.

When I came to work at World Concern, I considered myself a compassionate, caring Christian. I gave regularly to my church, donated to our food bank, and supported a few charities, including humanitarian organizations.

But at that moment, my heart broke for the hungry, the poor, the forgotten ones in the world. I felt compelled to help. I believe God used that photo to break my heart for what breaks His.

I wiped my tears away, glancing around my new office to see if anyone was looking. Then I whispered a prayer: “Lord, help this little boy. Please reach down into that horrible slum and rescue him.”

I felt like God responded, “I will. And you will.”

I knew that didn’t mean I would hop on a plane to Bangladesh and find that one little boy out of the 162 million people in Bangladesh. It meant I would pour myself wholeheartedly into the mission and work of World Concern so that the experts in ending extreme poverty and rescuing children like this boy from its clutches can do their jobs.

Our 234 Bangladeshi staff members, along with our Kenyan staff, our Haitian staff, and all the others in the poorest countries in the world are pouring themselves wholeheartedly into this work. With our support, they provide real, tangible, lasting ways out of poverty. And my job is to spread the word about this cause, this mission, so people like you and I can do something too.

The Power of a Single Story – How the 44-Cent Cure Can Change a Life

Sarah Kaczka is a social media intern at World Concern and will be posting on the blog this summer. As a sophomore at Wheaton College, she is interested in journalism and humanitarian aid, and hopes to use her love for storytelling to spread Christ’s love and encourage others. 

As an avid reader and aspiring writer, I am fascinated with the art of storytelling. There’s something about a good story that pulls directly at my heart strings, and they often stick around in my mind for days after I hear them. Besides a riveting plot, intriguing setting, and a memorable cast of characters, a good story ultimately requires purpose and development, challenging the reader to consider a new idea or way of thinking. I especially love ones that have a redemptive ending.

Kahinur’s journey is definitely one of those stories.

FortyFourCentPillMom_FIN2917 - low res
Kahinur and her son at their home in an urban slum in Bangladesh.

As a mother living in a crowded urban slum in Bangladesh, Kahinur feels helpless to care for her infant son who has been sick for months. Her little boy likely has intestinal worms caused by the filthy environment and lack of sanitation in the slum where they live. These parasites suck the nutrients from her baby’s food and keep him awake all night, crying in pain.

This sweet little guy rests his head on Kahinur’s shoulder as she talks. His eyes are half closed, and his thin body is limp in her arms.

“I took him to several places for treatment, but nothing is working,” she pleads. Beads of perspiration cover her worried brow. The stifling afternoon heat causes a nauseating stench to rise from the garbage piles in the slum.

“I don’t know what will happen next with my son, and I am scared,” cries Kahinur. “If I fail to provide, then I fear my son could die.”

Parasites, like the ones attacking her baby’s body, can lead to malnourishment, diarrhea, and even blindness. And they stunt the development of a young child, causing permanent deficiencies if left untreated.

I can’t even imagine the fear Kahinur must have been facing in that moment, or her desperate frustration at not being able to provide relief for her son. Here in my suburban home, I am blessed to have doctors and hospitals nearby, never once having to worry about not having access to medicine.

Thankfully, Kahinur’s story continues. After receiving the 44-Cent Cure (deworming medicine), Kahinur’s son was fully restored back to health. Now Kahinur’s overwhelming worry is replaced by joy, and her tears are replaced by peace of mind and gratitude.

As much as I wish the story could end here, the truth is that there are thousands of families still suffering from parasite infections in Bangladesh. And their cries for help are not fictional – they are heartbreakingly real.

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The 44-Cent Cure provides lasting relief, evoking beautiful smiles on the faces of cured children.

But the good news is, it isn’t hard to help. For a small handful of pocket change, we can provide medicine that changes lives. Isn’t that exciting? When I first heard about the 44-Cent Cure, I couldn’t believe that providing immediate relief for sick children could be that simple – but it is. Learn how to get involved and partner with World Concern today.

In Christ, our stories are beautiful ones of redemption and hope. Our stories are important – they shape our identities and are the means by which we connect with one other. It’s so exciting to think that through organizations like World Concern, the story of an American college student, like me, can intertwine with that of a woman in Bangladesh like Kahinur.

How does your story empower you to take action and make a difference in the lives of others?

 

The Joy of Clean Water in One Village

For the first time ever in its 40-year existence, the village of Maramara has clean water.

Life in Eastern Chad has been a constant struggle. Water is scarce in the parched Sahel desert. Most of the region was destroyed during the Darfur conflict, causing communities like Maramara to have to fight even harder to survive.

Up until last month, the nearest source of clean water is a three-hour walk—each way. Mothers often abandoned this burden and gathered dirty, contaminated water from a closer source. As a result, children were sick with diarrhea and diseases like dysentery.

Water gushes from the newly drilled well in Maramara, a village of about 200 families in Eastern Chad.
Water gushes from the newly drilled well in Maramara, a village of about 200 families in Eastern Chad.

With the support of World Concern through a One Village Transformed partnership with Northridge Church, the community was empowered to contribute to the construction of their new well. Village members provided 500 bricks, sand, gravel and their own human resources. A drilling rig was brought in, and the result is fresh, safe drinking water, better health … and joy in the hearts of Maramara residents.

We invite you to share in the excitement of what clean water means to this community through their own words:

“To God who exposed water to dust! Now, I make as many trips as needed and plenty of water. Enough time to look for food for my children. Children take a bath every day. I now can make supplies of hay in good quantity for my cattle. May God reward love towards us.” – Amkhallah Souleymane

Ahmat Abbo Dahab
Ahmat Abbo Dahab

“Since I started drinking clean water from the pump, I wake up each morning energized. Kids have shining faces and clean clothes. There are no more worries about women delaying when fetching water. Thank you very much and may God bless you.” – Ahmat Abbo Dahab

 

Mustapha Mahamat
Mustapha Mahamat

“The taste makes me want to drink without stopping! Pains that I often used to feel at certain times of the day have begun to disappear. The water well we use to drink from is now used by many to make bricks for housing. From the bottom of your heart you decided that we get water and I see the commitment you have to help us. May the Almighty bless you.” – Mustapha Mahamat

 

Hassani Moussa
Hassani Moussa

“When I see how clean the water is in a container, I laugh. My body and clothes are clean since I started using this water. The millet I wash is clean. The food is well prepared because I have water and time. I am grateful to God and ask Him to protect and bless you in your activities.” – Hassani Moussa

 

Fatimé Zakaria
Fatimé Zakaria

“I follow my mom with a small container. It makes me happy to see mom jump when pumping water. Thank you.” – Fatimé Zakaria

 

“I feel less pain in my body.  I don’t have to borrow a donkey to fetch water. Invitations to fetch water are over.  I’m thankful for the rest you allow me to have.” – Achta bireme

Learn more about how you can partner with a village like Maramara and help transform lives.

 

Former Hear School student passes on the ability to communicate

Asad could only mumble sounds as a child. Today, he teaches other hearing-impaired children in Bangladesh to communicate.
Asad could only mumble sounds as a child. Today, he teaches other hearing-impaired children in Bangladesh to communicate.

From the time Asad first learned to communicate, he dreamed of being a teacher so he could help other hearing impaired children speak, just like he had.

When Asad was born, his parents were hopeful their son would become a doctor someday. They were concerned when, at two years old, he still couldn’t speak and didn’t respond to sound.

The village doctor assured the family that he was normal. But an ear, nose, and throat doctor recommended a hearing test. The family traveled to Dhaka for the test in 1990, and young Asad was diagnosed as severely deaf. He was referred to a special school in Dhaka, but his family couldn’t afford it.

When they heard that World Concern was opening a Hear School for deaf children in Barisal, Asad’s parents took him there. Assessments showed profound hearing loss. The staff recommended hearing aids and orientation classes for his parents. The teachers were confident Asad could learn to communicate with treatment and special education.

Asad teaches a hearing impaired boy to speak at World Concern's Hear School in Bangladesh. Asad learned to communicate at the same school as a child.
Asad teaches a hearing impaired boy to speak at World Concern’s Hear School in Bangladesh. Asad learned to communicate at the same school as a child.

When he started at the Hear School, Asad could only say simple words, like “mom,” and communicate through gestures. But with compassionate training, Asad started speaking in complete sentences. Soon, he was also able to read English and solve math problems easily.

Asad eventually integrated into a mainstream primary school. He passed all ten classes with good grades, and in 2008 he was admitted to college.

Asad kept in contact with the Hear School even after graduating, talking with and encouraging parents and students with his story. He had become skilled in computers, and writing in both Bangla and English.

When one of the teachers at the Hear School resigned, Asad was hired, fulfilling his dream of becoming a teacher for deaf students.

Asad works with parents to help them understand their hearing-impaired children's needs, and learn to communicate with them.
Asad works with parents to help them understand their hearing-impaired children’s needs, and learn to communicate with them.

Now, he’s able to share his success and encourage children who are struggling to communicate, just like he was.

You can open up a world of sound to hearing impaired children in Bangladesh. Donate here.

5 Key Principles for Working with the Poor: #2 Dignity Matters

This is the second in five posts covering key principles in ministry with the poor intended to help churches move from transactional to transformational ministry.  In the previous post, we discussed the importance of listening to the poor before acting.

2. Dignity Matters

Consider the message when we try to  fix what’s broken.

When I was a sophomore in college, some friends were talking about a spring break trip they were planning to Juarez, Mexico, to build houses.  I was a fairly new Christian and was excited about the idea of an adventure with a great cause attached to it.  Other kids were headed off to beaches in every direction, but I felt like this was an opportunity to see the real world, and serve the Lord at the same time.

For my first “mission trip” it was just about as eye-opening and real as you could get.  The part of Juarez that we worked in looked like an attempt to reclaim a garbage dump.  As we dug up the ground to prepare a place to pour the foundation, we discovered little plastic bags that we jokingly called “goodie bags” because they had anything but goodies on the inside.  For a kid that had grown up in the suburbs, this was extreme, and I honestly felt pretty good about my willingness to serve the Lord by digging up human feces in the hot sun of the desert.

More students signed up for the trip than the organizers were expecting, and we looked a little bit like stirred up ants on an ant hill.  We had so many people that we didn’t even have enough jobs or space on the work site, so we had a team of people in the street prepping stucco and other materials for those working on the house.

One afternoon, the man who would be receiving the house came home from his day of labor.  He picked up two trowels, one for each hand, and began applying stucco to his new home. There were five other college students working on the adjacent wall, but this man did his work faster and with a higher level of quality than all five of the students combined. This man was clearly a skilled construction worker by trade.

When the house was completed, we concluded with a ceremony where we presented this home to the family.  We brought them into their home, waited for their reaction to this gift.

As a husband and a father myself, there are few things more important than having a family who is proud of you, as a person and as a provider. Being unable to give your family something as basic as a home tears at the fabric of who you are as a person. I can’t imagine the shame a dad must feel when his kids are asking for basic necessities he can’t provide.

I wonder how this man felt, having a lifetime of experience in construction, when 100 unskilled kids from America came to do what he was unable to do for his family. As a man with such expertise, could we have honored him in front of his family by at least putting him in charge of our efforts?

When we “see a problem, fix a problem,” the message we send often reinforces some of the unseen problems of poverty, like lack of dignity. Dignity matters.

5 Key Principles for Working with the Poor: #1 Listen First

When your church helps the poor, could your actions be summarized: “See a problem; fix a problem?” Many churches work to repair what’s fractured in the lives of the poor or try to solve their problems for them, but they forget that poverty is about people and ministry is relational.

1. Listen First

Often we act on behalf of the poor without actually knowing them, or even asking them about their situation.

Shortly after college, I began going on short-term trips with my church to a rural part of Central America.  Many of the kids had tattered clothes, rotting teeth, and gnats circling them as soon as they stopped moving. We quickly grew to love these kids and wanted to do what we could to help.

Giving hygiene kits to these kids in Central America failed to solve the hygiene problems in their community.
Giving hygiene kits to these kids in Central America failed to solve the hygiene problems in their community.

We had seen this problem and we decided to do what we could to fix it. So, throughout the year we started collecting travel-size hygiene items at hotels. The next year we returned with enough large Ziploc bags for each family in the community to have items like soaps, shampoos, tooth brushes, and toothpaste.

We walked through town passing these out door to door. We felt good doing this, but we never actually asked the community if they wanted hygiene kits or felt like they had a need for them.

Over the next five years I went back on the same trip and passed out hygiene kits every year without seeing any change in personal hygiene in the community. We were unable to fix the problem. But I worry more about how we affected problems that can’t be seen. Without listening first to the community about things they could change, our actions carried a clear message: You look dirty. Here’s something to fix that.

Years later, I read about a study done by the World Bank in which they asked 60,000 poor people from around the world about poverty. I expected to read quotes from the poor talking about hunger, lack of clean water, the need for adequate shelter, and poor hygiene. But instead, the poor spoke more often of issues that are unseen, things like dignity, hopelessness, oppression, humiliation, and isolation.

It helped me realize that poverty is not only more complex than I thought, but it goes much deeper than what I can see on the surface.