Independence: Evidence of a Job Well Done

This past week I moved my oldest daughter into her college dorm two states away. The milestone, as it is for most parents, was bittersweet. I kept reminding myself that although I will miss her at home, this is the purposeful outcome of 18 years of parenting. We raise our kids with the intent of molding them into healthy, stable, independent adults. The fact that she can now take care of herself means I’ve done my job well.

Two Kenyan students walk home from school.
School boys walking home from Lekanka Hills Primary School.

A recent comment from our Kenya staff reminded me that our work in developing communities has a similar intention. The staff member said, “The community based institutions are showing signs of walking on their own without the help of World Concern.” Way to go World Concern, if I do say so myself! This is an indicator that we’re doing our job well.

One of the young men who received help from our programs in Kenya is a living example of this principle. Otuma Taek had little hope of overcoming the cycle of poverty in his remote pastoralist village. He had a dream of becoming a teacher, but drought had taken its toll on his father’s diminishing cattle stock and his family could not afford the 22,000 Kenyan shillings (approximately $270 USD) annual tuition for him to attend high school. It seemed his eight years of hard work and good grades in primary school would be wasted.

But everything changed for Otuma when the village development committee chose him to receive a World Concern scholarship. Otuma enrolled at Narok High School where he had to undergo a qualifying year, which meant he spent five years in high school instead of four—another indication of his willingness to go the distance to gain an education. In addition to paying half his tuition, the program offered life skills seminars, which he says helped him avoid joining the wrong crowd in high school. He completed his final exam with a respectable C average.

Today, Otuma is a teacher at Lekanka Hills Primary School, where he teaches math to fourth and fifth graders and passes along the valuable education he received to the next generation. His hope is that this next generation of students will follow his legacy and someday make a difference in their village as well.

In this same way, we hope eventually World Concern’s support won’t be needed in this community anymore. The village will sustain itself, and we can say, “Well done.”

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.

Honoring humanitarian workers

Richard Johannessen surrounded by children in Bangladesh.
Richard Johannessen surrounded by children in rural Bangladesh.

For people like Richard Johannessen, the work day never really ends. Whether he’s responding to emails late into the night from his office in Bangkok, or visiting a remote village in Laos, figuring out how to improve access to clean water, his responsibilities weigh heavily on him every day. After all, people’s lives depend on him.

Rick is World Concern’s Asia Area Director, and his work is much more than a job. After a successful career in international business, Richard returned to a calling he’s had since he was young: serving the poor through humanitarian work.

Aug. 19 is World Humanitarian Day, founded in 2009 to honor and celebrate people like Richard who serve day in and day out in difficult places and often dangerous situations for the good of others.

But who are humanitarian workers? The answer is that they, their skills, and their backgrounds, are as diverse as the countries where they work. They respond to disasters and solve complex problems. They save lives and meet the most basic human needs: food, water, shelter, and medical care. Long term, they lead vulnerable people to a place where they have a self-sustaining, healthy future.

World Concern is blessed to have staff members who feel called to this line of work. Some have personally experienced tragedy, loss, war and famine and want to help end suffering for others.

Christon Domond distributes water after earthquake.
Christon Domond distributes bottled water after the earthquake in Haiti.

Christon Domond is one of those people. Christon has worked with World Concern in his homeland of Haiti for more than 20 years, despite offers for more prestigious and lucrative positions in the U.S. He grew up in Haiti in a family with nine children, and has chosen to serve those in his country who are close to his heart. After the earthquake, Christon immediately checked on the safety of his staff, then pulled everyone together and coordinated their response.

Selina Prem Kumar serves as a lifeline to vulnerable people as country director in war-torn Sri Lanka. As Selina helps victims of civil war, she also helps bridge peace between the Tamil and Sinhalese peoples—something she is uniquely qualified to do as a Tamil married to a Sinhalese man. In 2009 Selina helped evacuate 30,000 war-affected civilians who needed medical care and safe shelter. Today, she’s helping people rebuild their lives and heal the deep wounds caused by war.

Selina Prem Kumar with an injured child.
Selina Prem Kumar holds an injured child in Sri Lanka.

According to the UN, the danger for humanitarian workers is very real and it is increasing. Just this month, ten aid workers were murdered in Afghanistan—lined up and executed. Among those killed were Thomas Grams, a dentist from Colorado who gave up his private practice to do relief work, Karen Woo, a surgeon who left a comfortable life in London to pregnant mothers in remote regions, and Cheryl Beckett, the daughter of a pastor and student at Indiana Wesleyan University who had been working as a translator for female patients in Afghanistan since 2005. They sacrificed everything to serve the most desperate people.

World Concern President David Eller says it all goes back to the calling. “When it doesn’t make sense—when I have trouble explaining to my mother why I’m getting on a plane to Haiti right after an earthquake, all I can tell her is that this is the right thing, and I know in my heart of hearts that this is what God has given me to do. This is what God has given the organization to do. You’ll hear that from all the people throughout World Concern: This is what I’m called to do.”

Peaceful elections: One more thing we often take for granted

With the exception of that whole Florida recount controversy in 2000, one the many things we take for granted in the United States is that our votes will be counted accurately. Generally speaking, the U.S. population accepts the outcome of elections, whether or not things turn out the way we as individuals had hoped.

Trust in the democratic process is brought to mind this week as half a world away, Kenyans prepare to vote on a proposed new constitution, which would, among other things, attempt to guarantee more valid elections and limit the powers of the president.

Kenya’s most recent presidential election in December 2007 led to an outburst of violence over ethnic tensions and accusations of fraud and electoral manipulations. Hundreds were killed and tens of thousands fled their homes amid the post-election hostility. Some of the worst violence occurred in churches, including an Assembly of God church where dozens of children and adults seeking shelter were killed when the church was burned.

This week, World Concern will close our Kenya office for four days, beginning tomorrow, Aug. 3. The closure is a security precaution as the voting there takes place on Wednesday, Aug. 4. There has already been some violence leading up to referendum. Six people were killed and more than 100 were injured on June 13 in an explosion in a park where a rally was being held.

While our organization has no opinion on the referendum, we are praying for a peaceful process and that Kenyan citizens will have the opportunity to express their opinions and have their votes counted accurately. It is also a time to be reminded that our employees in the field do face security issues regularly. We serve in places where the need is greatest, and some of these areas are politically unstable. We don’t let this stop us from helping the poor in developing countries. We take every security measure reasonable – and remember to pray. It’s the undergirding of everything we do.

A school boy in Kenya
School children in Kenya.

“Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” – Ephesians 6:14-18

Fighting Poverty in a Violent Place: Somalia

Poverty in Somalia
Photo courtesy of the NY Times

Working on poverty reduction is hard anywhere in the world but is harder some places than others. World Concern is one of the few agencies that has worked in Somalia for over three decades. There is no effective central government in Somalia and the areas of our work are sometimes occupied by one of the rival groups and then another, sometimes from one day to the next. Violence in Somalia is always imminent. It is one of the most difficult and dangerous places in the world to fight poverty. We were recently asked by a donor how we are able to work in places like Somalia where there is so much violence.  Here is how our staff in Africa answered.


Somalia has one of the worst human development indices and the south in particular bears the burden. Due to the protracted conflict and natural disasters there have been an estimated 3.5 million people in need of humanitarian aid and a further 1 million are internally displaced (Somalia CAP 2009).

World Concern has worked in Somalia for almost 30 years. Through that experience, we have developed an understanding of the Somali people, especially in the areas that you referred to in your email. The current program primarily targets the unarmed, marginalized Somalia Bantus, who have small farms, and people affected by leprosy. Because of frequent conflicts with neighboring pastoralists (herders) who come in search of water and pasture for their animals, World Concern expanded the program to address water issues for the pastoralists.

The program is being implemented in an area that is located away from the main trade routes, providing some protection from conflicting groups. The residents of the area are the marginalized Somali Bantus. One of the villages a major settlement of people affected by leprosy. The project is designed to benefit 45,000 people, 24,200 of whom are direct beneficiaries.

The Somali political landscape is very dynamic with frequent changes. World Concern has always worked with and through the community elders and their structures such Community Development Committees, and Sector committees for the various activities. These are manned by the beneficiary community who come from the target groups. We do not deal with the armed groups in any way.

World Concern works with the locally elected central committee of elders which has remained unchanged over the years in spite of the constant shift of power in the area. The Central Committee is in charge of selecting the Community Development Committee. World Concern has continually trained the Central Committee and the Community Development Committees to build their capacity for project implementation.

The present programming is aimed at saving lives and reducing conflict between communities through capacity building. World Concern through consultative meetings with the community leadership has shared responsibilities in the implementation activities.

What would happen if our programs were forced to end either by a decision of the US government or because of violence from the Somali groups in power in our areas?

    1. We would have to immediately cease our activities without any planning or preparation.
    2. It would negatively reflect on the image of World Concern in the community because we failed to honor the obligation of completing the program. This would also make reentry into the community difficult. It would enhance recruitment of militants.
    3. It would negatively impact the work and reputation of our the local partners we work with on the ground.
    4. Most of the resources we and the communities have invested would be wasted because we would be unable to continue the activities essential to securing benefits to the people in the area of our work.
    5. The very fragile local economy would shrink even further because of lack of employment and reduced commerce.
    6. The community would suffer even more.  The already marginalized households and leprosy affected people would suffer greater oppression and be deprived of access to services essential to their welfare. Without our work with both of the competeing communities, conflict between pastoralists and farmers would probably increase.  Because we would not complete our planned activities, many in the area of our work would either lose their livelihoods. It would affect 80% of the pastoralists, 90% of the farmers, and 100% of those who fish as a major part of their livelihood.


Doing good well is more than simply knowing how to pursue interventions with excellence. Working in places like Somalia requires a strong commitment to the Somali people, patience, great wisdom in complex personal and group relationships. It means that we develop relationships with local leaders who are concerned about their people. It means that we must find local partners who will risk violence and carry on even when there are infrequent visits and interrupeted communication.  It means that our staff must depend daily upon a merciful God and be willing to submit their ideas and action to His direction.  It is only God who nurtures the courage of our staff to work in the face of uncertainly and sudden violence.

Women & World Poverty

Women in Poverty

On Thursday, January 29, 2009, President Obama signed his first bill – the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act (CNN article).

For many years, Lilly Ledbetter worked received much less than her male counterparts who were doing exactly the same work but she did not discover the discrepancy until she reached retirement. She wanted some restitution for the years she had been underpaid but a narrow interpretation of the Statute of Limitations required that she file suit within 180 days of her first unfair paycheck. Since she did not discover the unfairness in the pay system until her retirement, the Supreme Court, on the basis of the present law, threw out the favorable judgment of the lower courts. This law changed the Statute of Limitations to 180 days after the most recent paycheck, providing more recourse to women who do not discover the inequity for many years.

I hope that Lilly Ledbetter will now be able to receive a fair judgment but, if we trace this news event backwards from today’s headlines, we discover that it is rooted in a core belief about equity and gender that is not a part of many of the cultures where I have worked during the years.

If Lilly had herself believed that it’s OK to pay women unequal pay for equal work because that’s just how things were, she would never have brought suit to begin with. That belief, in turn, is rooted in an even more basic belief that women are inherently worth less than men. And that is the core belief, shared by both women and men, in many of the countries of our work that we challenge and begin to change through our microfinance.

On a recent trip to Bangladesh, I asked Khushi (her name means “Happy”) what in her leadership of Women’s Small Business Assistance Center (WSBAC), World Concern’s micro-finance program for women in poverty, brought her the greatest satisfaction. She did not point first to increased family income or even the impact of that income on the women’s families—kids going to school, getting needed health care or enabling the further growth of the women’s businesses. Instead she said, “When we start the program the women look at the ground, many will not speak and, those who do speak share without confidence or spirit. Later in the program, they speak directly and with confidence. They talk of what they can do. They have a much greater influence in their family—their husbands respect them more. They know that they can do things.”

I’ve come to think of this experience as “seeing the lights go on in the eyes” because, quite literally, that is what happens as something that had been asleep in the women is stirred into life, shines through their eyes and is pantomimed in their confident body language—heads up, leaning forward, even interrupting one another to share with confidence and enthusiasm.

I saw it in the eyes of Anowa who was the head of a women’s microcredit group in the village of Kalipur.  This group helps women in poverty lift themselves up.  She sews together jute bags for cement and other items. Wholesalers now place orders with her and she has hired two additional women to help her. Another, after the death of her son caused her to lose her snack shop, began a rickshaw repair business and now owns two rickshaws. A third bought a good milk cow and now sells the five liters of milk it produces a day for Taka 50 (about $.70) a liter. Others make dresses, run market stalls, buy and sell. The eight women call named their community bank “Hashi” or “smile.”

Why is giving women loans, training and encouragement to run their own businesses so different from simply giving them money? This week I discovered a new (to me) insight that I had never seen in quite the same way before. I was again reading the first few chapters of Genesis, foundational to transforming development.

God spoke the animals into being, giving them their life. But Adam and Eve spoke their names into being, giving them their identities. There is great power in both actions. Only God can do the first, giving life to a baby girl in Bangladesh, but people, especially the child’s family, give the girl and the woman she becomes her identity.

Our staff and the WSBAC program speak three new identities into being for these women—community bank member, businesswoman and borrower.

  • Community bank member—As a community bank member, the women participate in making decisions that make a difference. The group must decide who will get the loans first and who will not. The women must become critical thinkers, evaluating the credit-worthiness and character of the applicant, and the likelihood of her success. Girls who transition quickly from the rote memorization of primary school—if they are able to attend—to the passive submission and obedience of a teen-aged wife and mother, may never have engaged in critical thought and decision-making. When the women in the group pay off their loans on time, as over 95% of the over 3,000 clients do, the group members come to be known as smart, insightful and savvy rather than slow, passive and dull women how must look to men for insight.
  • Borrower—As a borrower who must repay her loan with interest, a woman, whose identity was shaped by dependence upon others, is renamed as trusted, responsible and respected. For a woman whose identity is almost exclusively shaped by child-bearing and passive obedience to their husbands, becoming a debtor is a tribute to the confidence that others have in her competence. And when she pays off the first loan successfully and moves to larger second and third loans, respect for her grows within the village and with her husband and family.
  • Businesswoman—Businesswomen must plan, use simple accounting to make business decisions, and find suppliers and markets—even if their business is only a market stall. The women, many for the first time, must make investment decisions regarding money. They must decide what risks they are willing to take. For women whose time line for most decisions extend no later than the next day, extending their sense of control and influence permits hope to take root. If we feel that the decisions that we take today will have no influence over what happens in the future, our hope either dies or slips inexorably into numbing passivity.

Why, then, does the light shine in the eyes of these women? It is because we speak the same words of identity to them that God communicated to Eve—the good news of Genesis. “You are created in my image. Therefore you have value in and of yourself. Together with Adam you are to exercise dominion and stewardship over my creation—responsibly exercising your initiative, intelligence and creativity to make it productive.” Nobody has ever spoken this identity into being for millions of women in the world—an identity that is rooted in the character and action of God. The gifts and responsibility that God gave these women by virtue of their creation have not been awakened or developed. For many this awakening is the first step on a pathway that draws them nearer to the one whose image they bear.

World Poverty and Hope

Mid-second week in the Obama administration, hope continues. More than any president in my memory (beginning with Eisenhower), no president has ever entered office buoyed by the expectations and hopes not only of Americans and all the world.

I arrived in Kenya, Africa on my last trip on the same day that the election results were announced and walked into Obamania that probably had no parallel in the world. The recent saying in Kenya that the United States would have a Luo (Obama’s father’s tribe) president before Kenya had come true and all Kenya rejoiced together. My first work day in Africa was scrapped by a hastily called holiday across the entire country.  I too join in the hope that the only president in my memory who had actually worked among the poor will make poverty reduction a priority, not just as a policy but from a heart that better understands.

As I traveled throughout Kenya during the following week, however, I realized anew that the hope placed in Obama would not soon translate into hope that will reach the people I visited.

Later on in the American election week, I stooped down to enter the narrow and low doorway  of a traditional Maasai hut. Making my way through semidarkness I sat down in the small central room with the open fire in the center, glowing red and occasionally flaming up through the smoke that filled the essentially windowless room. For about ninety minutes I talked through a translator with the two Maasai women, one a grandmother and the other her daughter—kind of—she was actually her late husband’s brother’s daughter’s daughter–who together were rearing 13 children without a man in the household.  They talked about the complexity of their lives, of how they had to fight off men who would harass them, of the problems of dealing with sickness among the children and their few cows and goats, of the second woman’s own birth son and how her husband who had deserted her had come back to try and take the son in order to sell him off to others as a laborer. When I asked about their daily joys, they said it was to see the children grow and know that they were enabling them to do it.

As we prepared to leave, the older woman who had never gone to church before suddenly and without prompting not only announced that she would begin to attend but also that she would stop brewing pombee the local and illegal brew. We were all surprised because we had never specifically suggested that she begin to attend church, and did not even know that she was brewing local beer.

“Why are you doing this?” I asked.

She said it was because we (the World Concern project) were the only ones helping her with her physical needs who also sit, listen, inquire and give her a chance to share her story.  The others just plunk down whatever they are giving and go. And at this point we had given her nothing. We had only come into her house, drunk her tea and listened to her for an hour or so, following the example of the church volunteers, trained by our program, who also visit and listen and bring practical assistance.

President Obama will, I hope, continue the assistance to World Concern and other agencies that enable us to help combat poverty in Africa. But not all help is the same. As Christians we really believe that each man, woman and child is created by God in his image and worthy of respect and dignity. When this belief is transformed into practice—in showing a Maasai widow and an abandoned mother that they are people of value by receiving their hospitality and listening to them—respect animated by the love of Christ—we go beyond assistance, powerfully inviting lives to be transformed in hope.

So, yes, I share the hope of many in the nation that President Obama will bring positive change. But transforming change is truly brought about by men and women who follow Christ and become his hands and feet bringing assistance, see the poor through his eyes and speak his words of life.

Poverty in Sri Lanka

The BBC reported today (article)  that the Sri Lankan army had taken the last of the major cities held by the Tamil Tigers and would soon have them surrounded. As in all wars, no matter how conscientious the warring sides may be about civilian deaths and injuries, they suffer tremendously. This is especially true in a fight against a terrorist movement that is rooted among a minority population. In Sri Lanka this is made worse because the Tigers tend to prevent movement of their people into a safe area. The Sri Lankan army and much of the rest of the world call them hostages to the Tigers. The Tigers call them supporters. Hostages or collaborators, they suffer.

I first visited Sri Lanka in 1983 just as the first full wave of communal violence broke out between the minority Tamils and the majority Sinhalese. The shops belonging to Tamils were still smoldering in Columbo when I arrived from Bangladesh where I was living with my family. I had come to work with Sri Lankan Christians to set up a relief response. The riot in Columbo was precipitated by a Tamil Tiger ambush in northern Sri Lanka in which nine Sinhalese soldiers were killed.

I finally returned to Sri Lanka last September to visit our work in eastern Sri Lanka among Tamil civilians, many of whom had been displaced several times as they tried to flee the fighting. As I met our mostly young staff, I realized that most of them had lived most of their youth and adult lives between my two visits. Because our work eastern Sri Lanka is largely among Tamils, most of our local staff are also Tamil. They have grown up in the face of a national conflict that became a part of everyday life.

I gained just a glimpse of what life is like now as we passed through one checkpoint after another. As we passed through checkpoints I was shielded from close questioning and body and luggage searches by my nationality and race—clearly not of Tamil or Sinhalese descent—and the World Concern flag and highly visible World Concern name and logo on our hood. The Sinhalese police and military have come to respect our integrity, the quality of our programs and our heart of service to the people.

As I passed soldier after soldier stretched out over kilometers of road, each in sight (during the daytime) of the next one along the road,  I tried to imagine the feeling of the lone military sentry in the middle of the night, whose major role is that of the canary in the mine—unable to hold off an armed assault from infiltrating  Tamil Tigers but whose violent death would alert a forceful response.

As I passed through the checkpoints, I also tried to imagine the growing panic of a young Tamil innocent of any terrorist activity or leanings as he realizes during his questioning that he is for some reason he does not understand falling under suspicion, Or the Tamil child trying to avoid forced recruitment by the Tigers.

As I reflected on the lives of our staff, so different from my own, I realized that Jesus could better understand than I.

  • Jesus lived in a country under military occupation. I imagined Jesus moving off the road with the twelve young men in his group as Roman soldiers passed, trying to obscure their “groupness” by separating, casting their eyes downward and fading into the sides of the road.
  • Many tried to recruit Jesus into the Zealots who carried out a low level insurgency against Rome. They appealed to the prophets who had predicted the coming of a victorious ruler who would free them from the Romans, portions of scripture that Jesus had heard many times from his childhood. His disciples certainly saw the military potential of a general who could heal the sick, raise the dead, feed a regiment from five small loaves of bread and two fishes, and control the weather.
  • Jesus sometimes moved in secret, answered questions in such a way to share his message without giving any specific cause for his arrest, and lived daily with his life under threat.

Even up to the night of his arrest, Jesus struggled with the decision whether to use his power to thwart and defeat his enemies or to die at their hand. During his arrest, for the first and only recorded time in his life, Jesus healed a wound given in an act of violence—a wound inflicted by his follower on one who had come to arrest him. This was the last miracle he performed before his death.

Jesus carried out his mission, giving his life to save those who killed him. He was arrested immediately following that internal struggle in the garden.

As I share with our staff, I appealed to them to model Jesus’ life in occupied Palestne, in many ways paralleling their own.

  • Jesus knowingly washed the feet of the enemy’s informant along with his other followers, illustrating for Judas and all of his disciples that true power lies in loving service and not in conquest and that true leadership is found in humble submission and not in command.
  • He showed that Christian martyrs die with words of forgiveness of their enemies on their lips and not curses.
  • By his death and resurrection, he showed that victory comes through apparent weakness and life springs from death willing suffered for the salvation of others.

I had been meditating on this quotation from Cardinal Suhard, at one time the Bishop of Paris, “To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda or even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery; it means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.”   Trying to understand how to be a Follower of Christ in Sri Lanka, torn by 24 years of war, helped me understand in a deeper way how Jesus’ way is so utterly different from any other.

Why a Poverty Blog?

Bangladesh--Where this story began.

In January 1977, just over 32 years ago, my wife, Kendra, my daughter, Heather, who had just celebrated her first birthday, and I arrived in Dhaka, Bangladesh to begin what we thought would be a two year assignment but stretched to seven.

Our shipment of supplies, dishes and things turned up about three months later just as we were moving into our field assignment in Kamalganj, a rural area in northeastern Bangladesh. As we carried boxes of paper diapers, kid’s toys, clothes and other things that we had shipped into a small house that had originally been built for leprosy patients we began to see our world and our place in quite differently.

I am the son of a Baptist pastor and grew up in Portsmouth, Virginia where he pastored a small church. Kendra, a missionary kid was born in Barbados when it was still a British colony and grew up there and in Grenada. Neither of our families were rich by American standards—probably on the basis of money alone, we would have been lower middle class. We grew up thinking of ourselves not as poor but certainly not as rich either.

As we moved in that day, all that we owned in the world fit on the floor of one of the four 100 square feet concrete rooms that comprised our new house—almost without stacking. As our possessions disappeared into the house, however, what seemed to us minimal in the US suddenly seemed excessive. With a start we realized at a gut level that we were rich. With that personal revelation, much around us began to change. Previously we were able to read biblical instruction concerning possessions without guilt, sometimes subtly seasoned with self-righteousness. With the new recognition that we were rich, the same passages became acutely uncomfortable. Beginning with that discomfort, a two year assignment also slowly transformed into a lifelong vocation, and for over thirty years we have led others in ministry to God among the poor.

We quickly came to realize that simply providing money and goods would not in itself change the culture of poverty. If the ship bringing our shipment to Bangladesh had sunk in the Indian Ocean, we would not then have been poor, only inconvenienced for a period. Neither life nor even wealth is actually measured by the accumulation of possessions alone.

In the years since, our family lived seven year in Kenya and I have traveled to dozens of impoverished countries. None of my travels have moved me to romanticize poverty—it is terrible, rooted in injustice and eats slowly away at all that a person is meant by God to be. But I have also been transformed by thousands of hours of conversations with the poor, especially those who are my brothers and sisters in Christ, and come to new understandings of God’s heart.

That is why I am writing this blog—not to give answers but to chronicle my journey especially during this leg of the trip with my colleagues at World Concern.