Too Mutch

...a safe place to dance with ideas, play with theology, and re-create a life implicated by God

Monday, April 30, 2007

A Confession of a Prospective Short Term Missionary to Burundi

Honesty is not always the best policy. Honesty can be painful--viscerally painful. Being honest with someone can invite a harsh response. In fact, it could go beyond invitation to provocation. Beware of being too honest. On the other hand, honesty can be wielded as a vicious WMD. Insensitive honesty is often a horrendous policy. In an attempt to be honest tonight as I share some thoughts, I hope my honesty is taken as intended. This is not intended FOR anyone in particular, yet it could very well apply to many. It is not intended to thrash or wound, but it could perhaps bruise the ego. Now, I've just about talked myself out of writing the rest. I'm tempted to "delete" and change topics and ideas. Hmmmm.

What I've been wanting to say for some time now is more of a confession. Our team of 11 is leaving in one month to go to Burundi to serve and honor the country and people of Burundi. We are 11 white--pasty white if you disregard the lotion that can give you the appearance of a tan--Christians from West Michigan. More simply...just the West. Our team has written into our team covenant the need to engage this mission with a posture of humility. I love that we have talked about this need to recognize that we will be learning FROM the people of Burundi and that they have as much to offer us as we do to them. But...

It just won't sink in. I am struggling to believe it with any depth or conviction. Instead, I see the resourcing and education and experience that I bring to the table. I am guilty of believing that I have MORE to offer. I confess that I am living in the dream that though I will have some peripheral benefits from the trip, most of the benefit will go to the people and country of Burundi.

Does it make it any better that I'm ashamed of myself? Will it help if I read something to set me straight? Will God set me on my roof and tell me to kill and eat? If that happens, I'm more likely to get a fresh prescription of a psychotropic and go to bed, hoping it all to be a wild hallucination. And if someone comes to the door, I'm sending my wife to answer it! No, I'm not sure that much of any of this will help ME. Who or what, then, will help ME?

Two things come to mind. The first is that I must again remind myself to live in in the gray in the fog. And I'm happy to do this, but I fear for the "other" b/c I'm likely to do a lot of damage if I go playing "save the world" in the fog. Secondly, I'm trusting that the experience itself will provide some teachable moments...some fodder for sanctification...even some brokenness. Perhaps this is one of the answers to the question, "Wouldn't it be better just to send the money over there?" Without having the experience, won't I remain stuck in the same prideful and shallow mudhole?

Deliver us from the west...from the deception of our prominence...from our arrogance...

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just...

Lord Have Mercy

Monday, April 23, 2007


While there are a lot of questions to engage with here (and I'm having a hard time finding space in life to get to them all), it seems prudent to give those who are connecting to the medium the basic gist on micro-finance. Our support letter mentions that we are going to spend a day (or perhaps a couple) getting more familiar with the micro-finance projects and initiatives in Burundi. Why? Mars Hill has committed to resourcing micro-finance in Burundi in hopes of helping the most economically challenged people in a country with a struggling (that doesn't quite say it) economy. Micro-finance is a promising future for many. Keeping in mind that I am not an economist or an expert on this, here is how it works...

Imagine that you are a woman in your 30's with three children of your own. Several years ago you became a widow when your husband was killed in an ethnic clash that took the lives of hundreds of thousands of men and women. Your household has swelled to include 3 more, who are the children of your sister. You have lost her and her husband to AIDS. You are doing all you can to faithfully serve and raise this family. Some days there is just enough food for everyone. Other days, some go without. Education? Only a dream that must take back seat to breathing and drinking.

But you are blessed with a skill--you are a gifted weaver of baskets, purses, etc. You work fevereshly everyday, but you can't get ahead. Because you have no capital, you have to borrow money from the man who provides your materials. He charges you high interest and requires that you sell almost all of your products back to him for a price he sets. You hover somehwere between "barely scraping by" and "I'm ready to give up."

Do you have any idea what it takes to help a woman in this situation begin to make a sustainable living? A sustainable life looks something like this...

*Enough food to meet the needs of the entire family

*A proper shelter/home where they are protected from the elements, which helps them stay healthy and strong and less likely to develop illnesses that for many are life-threatening.

*It enables you to send some or all of your children to school, the linchpin to a more sustainable future.

Again, what do you think it costs? If you are like me, you'd have guessed the figure to be reasonable, but still in the hundreds or low thousands. While figures vary depending on the country and need, MANY women like the one I've described can get out from under the oppression of the loanshark and into generating a sustainable income for between $1-$40. I know that sounds ludicrous, but story after story will confirm it. Here's generally how it works, understanding that it has a different setup and expression in different parts of the world.

A small group of women will be gathered in a town or village. Their group will be oriented to the philosophy and rules of this lending method. They will function as a communal recepient of the help, meaning that their individual success is tied to the success of each of the others in the group. Each will apply for a loan, usually smaller loans for first time borrowers. Upon receipt of the money, they will put it to work and begin paying it back weekly at little or no interest. You will pay each week by gathering with your team and a representative from the lending organization. In this way you are held accountable and resourced all at the same time. If you have a difficult week, your team must cover you. And you cover them when needed.

Having this small loan means that you can buy materials at a competitive cost, rather than being taken advantage of by a swindling loanshark. You've been empowered. The playing field has been ever so slighly leveled. You are also able to set a reasonable price for your goods and participate in the local and nearby markets. Over the next several months, you have paid back your loan in full while also being able to provide proper food and shelter for your family, who is now healthier than they have ever been. There is talk of sending your oldest son and daughter to school next year. In the next several months, you have taken a second loan to expand your business and you now employ three other women and are able to pay them a sustainable wage so that they can provide for their families.

And the story goes on. Small loans leading to a bright future. Does it really work? Yes, unbelievably well. But won't the poor just take the money and run? It doesn't happen. The repayment rates, especially with women, are in the 90-95% rate. Those that don't pay back are often the subject of some catastrophe (natural or otherwise) that makes it impossible for them to pay back the loan. Why women, you ask? Research and experience have shown that women funnel the benefits to their children and families. Men often do not have the same track record, but progress is being made in that dimension too.

When the $40 loan gets paid back, it gets redistributed to others--not dropped into someone's deep pockets. The money keeps getting put into action where it can help desperate families lose the title of "desperate." Can you think of any better way to spend $40? It goes a long way...and with great impact. Micro-finance isn't so "micro" after all. And it is changing the shape of economies and people's lives all over the world.

If you want to read how Micro-finance got its start, you can read Nobel Peace Prize-winning Mohammud Yunus's book Banker to the Poor. Yes, it's an Oprah selection!!!

NOTE--PLEASE go into the comments section and read Jason's (aka wicked smaht guy) comment/clarification on micro-finance organizations. This is why we are going as a team!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Burundi or Bust!

Several months ago, Christine and I sat in church--I was people watching, listening to the music while she was reading through bulletin. She interrupted one of my favorite pastimes to show me an announcement about an upcoming short term missions trip to Burundi. She said, "maybe we could be part of a sending team for this trip!" I thought for a moment and leaned back over a dryly suggested, "Or you could go on the trip." She was lost for the rest of the service. Mind racing. And that's how we started our journey to Burundi.

At first, I was cautious about commiting or even getting excited about the prospect. I was well into my 10 months of unemployment--with no end in sight. I couldn't imagine taking such a trip under those financial conditions. And if by chance I actually rejoined the working world, I wasn't optimistic of being able to take 2 weeks in June to go to Africa. Fast forward a couple of months and BAM...I get a new job with enough vacation to take 2 weeks in June. So, Burundi or bust!!!!!

"Why," you might be wondering "would we be going to Burundi?" Contrary to your presumption, we are not going to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary at an all-inclusive resort! We are joining a team of people who are all part of our church. Mars Hill Bible Church has made a long term commitment to the region of East Africa, which currently includes initiatives in Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Other countries may be added down the road, but these are the current and ongoing relationships. With help and guidance from World Relief, we will join the local church in serving this country as the hands and feet of God. These are the ways we desire to incarnate the embracing grace of Christ in two very short weeks...

1. HIV/AIDS--one of our primary goals will be to work alongside local youth pastors to lead retreats that will teach young Burundians about this deadly pandemic. We will share the truth about this disease, dispel myths about how it is contracted or how one can be healed from it, and teach about preventative measures.

2. We will spend a day or two getting first hand experience of micro-finance at work in Burundi. Mars Hill has committed to increading the income of the poorest 30% of the economically active in Burundi, primarily through micro-finance initiatives.

3. Finally, we will do whatever World Relief discerns we can lean into. These things are likely to be determined closer to the trip date as they spend time getting more familiar with the particularities of our team--building, serving in orphanages, etc.

Over the next several weeks, I will be chronicling our preparation for this trip. But in addition to narrating the latest and greatest, I'd like to engage with some of the difficult questions that surround this kind of trip.

I'd love to hear your are a few to get you started...
  • Does it make sense to send 12 people at 3G's apiece for a mere 2 weeks? Woudn't there be greater impact if we just sent the 36K to Burundi?
  • Is it irresponsible for a mother or father to leave their kids at home for 2 weeks while they go to Africa? Isn't parenting their primary mission right now?
  • There is plenty of work that can be done in the US in regards to HIV/AIDS and helping the poor. Why should we send 12 people to a country that they will likely never go back to?

Murabeho (goodbye)


Team Burundi