Wednesday, May 16, 2012

When Helping


Kampala taxi traffic
September, 2001.  It was my first real cross cultural experience. One day I was caressed by  the comforts and conveniences of the world's leading nation and the next day I was confronted by the harsh realities of a undeveloped nation.  The putrid smells confronted me initially.  Garbage and debris everywhere. Masses of people walking everywhere.  Traffic was a snarled web of pedestrians, small motorcycles, bicycles, taxis, buses, and trucks ... ALL attempting to be the first to beat the others to any open space. There were no fat people.  I later learned that not sleeping hungry was a good day. Though survival was possible due to small vegetable gardens, employment with paying jobs was barely reaching double digit levels. This was a really poor nation and it must certainly qualify for the term Third World Nation. Death, polygamy, divorce, poverty, and abandonment left their unmistakable marks of  widows and orphans ... everywhere.

Paying customer with a few chickens
That was eleven years ago.  I knew very little and less than I thought I knew.  These past years have provided a constant cross cultural classroom for me. Of course I will never graduate.  The more I learn the more I realize I don't know.  My lack of knowledge of the nation, the native language, the culture, and the people is covered by the passionate love the Lord has gaven me for it all. God was sneaking up on me and creating a transition others were aware of before I was.  By 2005 my wife, Pam, and I were renting a house and spending at least half of each year in a nation we both loved.

Products of our Western culture, we assumed that the "gods" of education and wealth would solve some of the circumstances of the African culture.  We began listing the widows we met and assembled sponsors from the States.  Americans are compassionate and generous.  The appalling lack of these dear women brought instant donors and the funds were transferred to our contact every month.  He was a pastor, but without a conscience ... like most people who have grown from a witchcraft environment that yielded pervasive lying, stealing, and deceiving.  By 2004 it was obvious that he had not only used large donations for personal benefit, but had been taking advantage, from the beginning, of the weakest and most needy: our nine widows.  He gave them a small amount of oil, sugar, flower and other food essentials to keep them dependent on him, but keep most of the money for himself.

Sissy, Regina, Margret, Florence, Sarah
His subsequent exposure ended any working relationship with us.  It also resulted in a loss of a few friends for me and loss of trust from many more.  I've discovered that my culture gives trust to everyone until someone does something to destroy it.  In Uganda it is opposite.  Here we trust no one until they earn it.  I sometimes tell people here that I love all of them, but trust no one.  I'm sure that will be hard for some of you in the States to understand. My automatic trust, lack of discernment, and passion to help, all contributed to one of my greatest failures here in Uganda.  One of my friends wrote an article about it and you can read more about what we learned from it here.

These nine widows, equipped with just enough courage, broke free of this "pastor's" intimidation and we began to support them directly.  Our goal was not fo create a lifetime conduit of financial assistance, but to help each of them to progressively become self supporting.  Our dear friends Arthur and LaFonda Dunlap had a great passion to be directly involved and helped the widows with their initial income producing effort.  LaFonda and a friend also taught them the ways of God of love, unity, integrity, and basic business principles.  As of several years ago, all financial sponsorship ended as each widow was able to care for their own needs.  It is more gratifying and life changing.  Corporately they bake and sell wedding cakes.  They also rent wedding gowns to brides.

Regina's deteriorating mud house
What an amazing pleasure it was to sit with five of these women within the last month and hear some of the plans they had to expand their business efforts and continue to develop.  Pam and I noted each of their ideas and requested that they write out their specific strategies for success.  Today I went with Peter to receive their efforts. Sissy sustains her self with agriculture and needs capital to expand her cow barn in order to increase her herd and accommodate more cows.  Florence attempted to operate a small shop and now needs capital for a pig farm.  Margret is currently involved in raising and selling chickens and needs some capital to stagger her broods for constant income.  Sarah owns a piece of land and is praying for the capital to construct a building to use for rentals. Regina has been able to purchase some building materials for a new house from her small pig and dairy farm.  The mud and dung house she has lived in for years is badly deteriorated and she will build a new brick and concrete structure around it before dismantling the mud house.

I have a lot left to learn.  I'm convinced that those who have a heart after the Father's heart will have a passion for the poor and vulnerable.  James called it "pure religion."  But, the sponsorship idea of helping sometimes ends up hurting.  Since those initial days of mistakenly thinking money will solve poverty problems, I have been in class to learn the ways of God to genuinely encourage, equip, and empower the poor and vulnerable.  Among other resources that helped develop a better sense of how to do this was a book titled When Helping Hurts.

Capital is always a challenge in a genuinely poor nation with few resources.  I want to do all that I can to help these women with their desire to prosper and be self-reliant.  I am not a business person by nature and my experience is limited.  I love to connect people to people just as our motto communicates .... A River of Relationships Connecting Resources To Needs.  If you would like to come alongside any of these widows with any type of resource, would you please contact me at

Let's see what people can do together that couldn't be done apart.

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