You know the commercials. Pictures of starving African children splash across the screen tearing at your heartstrings and you know you have to do SOMETHING! So you send a donation or sponsor a child. Africa and other third world countries are certainly healthier places today because of ministries such as Compassion International, Mighty Acorn Foundation, Light Ministries, Children’s Defense Fund, and the International Mission Board. But it’s just not sustainable, not over the course of the next 100 years. Here’s why. Mike Curry and Light Ministries have seen this pattern repeat over and over. A well-meaning donor agrees to sponsor a child, but then a year later life changes. A job is lost. Cancer is found. Another need presses in. So the support stops. But the child in the orphanage is still there and the overseers have to determine how to make the remaining resources last for all the children. Many missionaries spend a good portion of their year fund-raising. Most churches talk about planning an ‘exit strategy’ for overseas initiatives.
Don’t get me wrong. We absolutely have an obligation to help the poor. We can all quote James 1:27 that tells us that “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” The work that organizations such as those listed above is absolutely critical. But keeping them warm and well fed is only half the battle. We must help those we support not only survive, but to thrive on their own. That is the goal of the Tentmaker Initiative. We want to help pastors and their wives develop small businesses so they can become self-sustaining. We want to support and assist the GFE schools teach the children in the feeding program basic life skills to give them a better foundation. We want to help widows and street children learn a trade so they can earn the basic necessities of life. In Leviticus the Lord told His people: “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the LORD your God.” Notice that the poor and foreigner still had to go and glean the edges. There is a dignity that comes from working.
The ministry in Kenya with which we work is filled with Godly men and women. They are diligently
working to further the kingdom. I do not presume to think any of us can do a better job of evangelizing their community than they do. What we can do though is come alongside these servants and work to help them stand on their own. James 2:16 says “If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” On our last trip to Kenya we were able to share a very practical set of business lessons with over 500 Kenyans. Two men from Baylor University, Blaine McCormick and Van Gray have developed a set of 14 basic business lessons that can be learned from a Coke bottle. They call it ‘Message in a Bottle’ and it’s designed specifically to teach basic business principles in third world countries. I taught their material in 4 different towns and each time those in attendance were given a basic foundation that will hopefully help them become more successful. They loved the teachings! Here is one pastor’s comment:
“Hi Jeff, hope you arrived safely in the US. It was so good to have you in Kenya, thank you for the teachings in Kitale. I was so encouraged in fact from how you taught us I have now known where I have been doing wrong in my business. Kindly Jeff can you send me the booklet you used when you taught us I want to learn more on business because I don’t want to repeat the same mistake I did”. Pastor Issac
Make no mistake, this is no prosperity gospel. This is the gospel of hard work. Success won’t happen overnight. But the Kenyan’s have a saying that I really like: “polepole na polepole” (slowly by slowly) or as we might say, ‘little by little’ things improve.
What can you do? Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can!