Saturday, April 12, 2008

So How Do I Serve?

*Make sure to notice the footnotes on this one.

The purpose of most of my writing is to hopefully incite a healthy perspective shift in those that have never known or have lost sight of our calling (all of us) to serve humanity. Americans largely live in an extremely uncultured bubble of comfortable, self indulgent mediocrity. I don’t say that to be judgmental or abrasive; only to illustrate a painful truth that is exemplified in most of American suburbia. People get so wrapped up in “stuff” and everyday petty drama that they forget there is a whole world of poverty stricken outcasts out there that need their help. And regardless of what religion you subscribe to, if you do in fact believe in a God, most every religion speaks of their God being with and favoring the poor, oppressed and abused. And as a Christian, I certainly know that’s where my God likes to spend His time (and probably His money too).

So let’s just assume that you’ve read some of my previous postings and maybe even a few great books like “Irresistible Revolution” and you now feel compelled to serve, but you have no idea how to do so effectively. Well you are certainly not alone. There are millions of people out there that feel convicted and consequently called to serve but they just feel trapped in their own lives. They think “I am just a house mom or dad, so how do I help some poor kid in Africa get out of a bad situation and into a new life? What does that even look like? How do I help with my limited finances?” And those are perfectly relevant questions.

I want to start this by reiterating the fact that some people are called to serve those in other countries, and some are called to be teachers, pastors, life coaches, mechanics, parents, presidents, architects, and policemen in their own country, community or household. I don’t ever want to imply that you have to serve in Africa just to live up to God’s standards of serving. We all have different gifts and callings and each is just as relevant and significant as another. Some people may be called to raise up a family of world changers. If that’s your calling, you have a big job cut out for you. You now have the duty of sensitizing your children and giving them perspective which means your knowledge of the world, of the poor, and of other world leaders must be extensive and comprehensive. You must take them to the pit of poverty and teach them how to overcome it. You must teach them to be teachers. Their heads need to be pumped full of the teachings of Gandhi, Bono, Jesus, Mandela, Muhammad Yunus, and many others. (I’d suggest the principles of Bushido as well.) This is a huge, and very honorable, commitment; one that will last your whole life (literally).

I’ve spent many years working on all different sides of humanitarianism and philanthropy, and I’d be lying if I told you that we really need anything more than a big bank account with unlimited funds. (footnote 1) Rather than try and generalize here, I’m just going to use our NGO as an example in order to illustrate what I’m trying to say. We’ve been here for two years, listening and learning. We know who we are serving and what they need because we’ve been here listening to them, not imposing our American ideals into their culture. We have a strategic plan and a great crew. We are ready to make it happen. But what is our biggest road block? Funding, or rather the lack thereof. But it’s difficult to get funding on the front end of a project like this. No one believes you can do it. And we have no real track record, yet. So there are three primary ways to go about this, 1) fund raising, 2) advocacy – meaning educating and sensitizing, 3) creating our own income generation projects that help fund the organization as well as provide income to the women we serve. (Number 3 is the primary focus at KEZA.) But you really only have the ability to help with two of those. So let’s break it down practically.

1) Fund Raising – This can be done many, many different ways. You can write a check out of your own pocket, you can encourage others to do the same, and you can help to create actual fund raising events where lots of people come together to give. However, we have found that the single most effective form of fund raising is the “home fundraiser”. This is where you do your homework about whatever group of people you’d like to serve, you put together a little event at your home, you invite 10-20 of your closest friends, you serve some coffee and deserts, you give a presentation, you have a discussion and you ask for funds. Then you create an ongoing community of supporters that gather once a month or so to learn about what is going on with their project and they give money to it, constantly keeping track of where the money is going. This process is extremely effective. Instead of giving $100, do a home fund raiser that costs you $100 to host, get 10 others to give $100, and turn your $100 into $1,000. And you also get to create a cool community for like minded friends. And there's ubuntu again...

2) Advocacy – Ok this one is just a trick. Any time an organization says they need advocacy, what they are really saying is that they need you to tell everyone about their organization so they will give money to it (or act in some way). What else do you really need advocacy for? We are not out to teach people about catastrophic events for our health, or theirs. It’s in hopes that they will do something to stop it from continuing, and as most of them are not going to actually fly across the world to stop it. It’s most likely that they will just write a check. So that’s really what advocacy is about, (outside of the need for lobbying, which is definitely a relevant and important task).

So if you are wondering how you can help to end extreme poverty, fight HIV/AIDS, get orphans into homes, provide schooling for poor kids, or whatever it is you feel called to do, there are some easy and practical ways to doing so. Just remember that if you do anything, let it be the start, not an ending. Don’t give once and mark it off your list. Give consistently. Take $100 and turn it into $1,000 for your favorite charity. Host “home fund raisers”. Don’t do it once. Do it 12 times a year if you can. Be consistent. Teach your children the importance of giving, serving the poor, and building community. Encourage your church to give more of its income to missions and less to building the new coffee shop in the lobby. (footnote 2) Give 10% (or more) of your income to the poor. Not your church, the poor. Get creative. Don’t let your 10% tithe to the church be a cop-out. If you feel compelled or called to give money to the church, do it, but I encourage you to take the time to see how you might invest in the poor with 10% (maybe in addition to your tithe) of your income. Tell everyone you know about the community you’ve adopted. Be their spokesperson. Plaster your house with materials about them so everyone knows what you are about. Don’t be a weekend warrior. In the spirit of the Quakers (known for their simplicity and excellent oatmeal), “let your life speak”.

There are tons of great things you can do. I can’t give you a master list. I’m not the guru on effective giving. However, I will tell you to get creative. Don’t make giving and serving something you do on Sundays or once a month with a check. Make it your focus. For those of you that ask yourself “What would Jesus do?”, rather ask yourself “what DID Jesus do?” He lived with the poor. He made it His life, to the death. That’s who He was, not what He did.

So who are you? What are you about? The single biggest thing you can do to serve the poor, anywhere in the world, is to first convince yourself that it shouldn’t just be an item on your To-Do List for the day; it should be your life, in all that you do. It should be who you are, not what you do. You shouldn’t have to explain it to your friends; your life should be speaking it for you. Once you commit yourself to a group of people you are going to serve, you’ll figure out how to do it. Just like when you really want that hazelnut latte from the coffee store that is WAY out of the way from where you are going today. I bet you’ll figure out how to make it work. We all do exactly what we want to do. So what’s on your list today?

1 I want to make sure I say this. I believe that ANY new organization doing humanitarian work needs to be just barely above the flat broke line for their first year or two. It makes you streamlined. It makes you strategic. It makes you calculated. It weeds out the ones in your organization that may be in it for the wrong reasons. It refines you. If you are just starting out and you get a million dollars to work with, invest $900,000 and use the remaining $100,000 to do your first year of work. Trust me on this. This will have a major effect on your level of effectiveness and the sustainability of your project. It’s important to be a little poor when you are helping the extremely poor. Do this for a year and you’ll agree with what I’m saying. (And yes, we stumbled upon this little factoid, it wasn’t something we set out to do.)

2 Yeah I know it attracts the kiddos, but let’s keep some perspective on what would really impact their lives and challenge them to be better servants. Instead use that coffee shop budget to do weekly trips to visit and serve the poor in your community. Kids dig that too. Or save up for a great missions trip. Create an income generating activity for the poor. Coffee shops are easy. Get creative.

1 comment:

Kevin said...

You just gave one of the best discourses on giving to overseas charities that I've ever read. Just obvious wisdom and truth. How can we get USA Today to run this...