A Library Box of Blessings

“God works all things together for good.”

Yes he does.

Here is the latest example in my life. Over the past year I have heard a little bit about Debbie Macomber. I learned that she is a writer. And a Christian. And a friend of World Vision.

But that was about the end of it. Usually I feel a bit inferior when learning someone is a published author, since a writer is what I claim to be, though I have only been published once, a short meditation, through The Upper Room, and all my other work has been self-published. Real authors, I assume, will be kind, but inwardly will look down upon these meager accomplishments.

Then at World Vision’s annual conference, I met Adele, Debbie Macomber’s daughter. We were placed randomly (really?) in a small group together and I learned more about Debbie’s widely read novels. Adele mentioned that Debbie’s novels are especially loved by women in the Middle East. Both Debbie and her daughter are huge supporters of World Vision, and so are my husband and I. Adele expressed wonder and delight at the way God was using her mother’s work in the world. I became curious.

I had never picked up, or even looked up, the work of Debbie Macomber.

So it was startling to find one of her books staring back at me in a roadside library box less than two weeks later. It was actually my first time depositing books I had read in this take-one-if-you-want-one box. Realizing it was surely no accident, I brought home this perfect condition paperback by Debbie Macomber.

Then I read it. Though romance novels are not my usual reading fare, I was drawn into the story. Debbie has written over a hundred books, many in series, and the book I picked up is Silver Linings, part of the Cedar Cove series, which has become a Hallmark Channel television series. I found myself wondering why Middle Eastern women would enjoy these books.

I was about halfway through the book when a package arrived in the mail for me. Our World Vision representative, Robin Folkerts, had send me a birthday gift. It was a “Blessings Box,” a lovely collection of items put together by none other than Debbie Macomber.

fullsizeoutput_5753The Blessings Box contains a lovely contemplative journal, written by Debbie, along with some incidental items like a candle, jam, tea bags, recipes, a pen, stickers and a tote bag. A precious box of things to make you joyful, which is no coincidence, since Debbie’s word of the year is JOY.   I would be buying these same boxes for many of my friends if they were still available, but sadly the last one has been sold.

I finished the book and learned how Macomber makes her books so popular. She portrays characters who have honest feelings, who get angry, who forgive, who love deeply, who find loyalty and honor and humor and happiness. The book I read has a thread involving military deployment in Iraq, and relationships with Muslims there. I can see now why the women of the Middle East find Macomber’s books captivating.

Anyway, I love the way God weaves our experiences together for maximum impact. It turns out that Debbie Macomber donates $5 from each Blessings Box to World Vision Education efforts. And she is a spokesperson for World Vision’s Knit for Kids program.

I am awestruck by how God uses her talents to bless the world.

I wonder what he will show me next.

Leave Politics Behind: Find Some Good News in the World

In America, we are all football fans when the Super Bowl is days away. All are baseball fans during the World Series and everyone loves college basketball during the NCAAs.   Likewise, every four years, everyone gets political.

Cable news coverage of the 2016 Presidential campaign has already reached nauseating proportions. I am struck by the exclusive focus on our political follies, with endless repetition of the ‘sound-bite of the day’ along with excessive commentary from “experts.” Only in America can we be so self-absorbed as to neglect news from any other country or any subject that does not impact, in someone’s opinion, the Race to the Election.

So to avoid the ever-increasing volume on the so-called news channels, I often switch back to the local news coverage, which, in New Orleans, is largely about local crime. Yet this hyper-focus on crime wears thin all too soon as well. Bad news is everywhere.

Social media is not free from political excess. In fact many people who rarely post narrative opinions are suddenly going on record to share their thoughts on who should or should not be elected, supported, rejected, or what is going to happen to our country if so-and-so is elected.   If not specific about political support, people begin to rail against the expression of political opinion, threatening to un-friend or block those whose views are disagreeable.   It is amazing how tolerant we seem to be for pet videos and funny memes, but when things turn political, we get very sensitive.

So my husband and I are on en route to San Diego for the annual World Vision Conference. This high-powered program will occupy our time and thoughts for the next two days, leaving little or no time for TV news, good or bad.

Instead, we will learn of amazing things World Vision is doing around the world to help people. This highly effective organization operates in nearly one hundred countries, serving people of many different religions and political persuasions. They receive love, water, food, clothing, financial and vocational training, education, and health care. Children are freed from trafficking. Quality of life is improved in their communities. Nearly half a million refugees have received water and sanitation facilities through World Vision.

The people we will meet and dine with are extended family. We traveled to Africa with some of them. We will celebrate the conclusion of a five-year campaign in which 500 million dollars were raised and spent on the global poor.

Selfless generosity is the hallmark of each one who attends. There is joy and gratitude at this conference. There is no worry, no competition, no division, no rudeness or name-calling, no fear. The reports will be about meeting goals early, about renewing efforts to provide clean water access to every World Vision area by 2030. There will be someone from a far-off country, telling a story of hope and wholeness and the love they received from World Vision staff.

Rich Stearns will speak about the need to do as Jesus did, walking where others fear to tread, in efforts to share the love of God. We will cry, but not out of pain or frustration, rather in joy for the way God has blessed us to be a blessing to others. Our horizons will broaden as we gain God’s perspective and leave our national news behind.

Every Last One Conference: Here we come!

Better Than a Handout?

What’s better than a handout?  Some would say free stuff is the greatest.  But what is the real cost?  There is one, you know.

When it comes to helping the poor, there is an axiom:  “not a handout, but a hand up.”  When we see people in desperate situations, our hearts break.  We often want to “fix” the problem quickly.  Turning our eyes toward our own abundance, we want to give whatever we can to help the poor.   Usually we want to do this without damaging any of our own net worth.  A picture of this might look like a man standing on top of a plateau, with a pile of money.  He looks over the edge to see the poor at the bottom of the hill and readily picks up some cash and tosses it to the people below.  They scramble for the coins like revelers at a Mardi Gras parade scrambling for beads and doubloons.  The money can be used for anything.  The man at the top of the hill feels good that he gave something, but knows not how the money is used, and only vaguely wonders about it.  He may even be proud of his generous gifts.  The recipients may fight over the gift, use it unwisely, or use it as an excuse to not work for any lasting improvements.  People get dependent on the handouts.

So we say a “hand up” is better than a handout.  Yup.  Well, a picture of this looks like the same man, still on top of a plateau, this time reaching his hand down the mountainside in hopes of reaching someone trying to get up the hill.  He will only reach the ones who are almost up anyway, but he feels good because he can now see someone making it to his level.  Someone is pulled up out of poverty.  He hopes, of course, that that person will reach down and pull up the next one, and so on, so that eventually everyone will be brought up to the same level. But he really doesn’t know what’s going on at the bottom of the hill. And he has yet to take any significant steps toward understanding the problems faced by those at the bottom. And he is still on the top himself.

There is another way to help the poor.

If the man on the higher level will walk down the hill, go into the villages, listen to the needs of the poor, and work with them to find a way up, together they will bring the whole community out of poverty.  This is the best way to help. And this is what World Vision does.

We recently took a “Vision Trip” to Africa. Our eyes were opened to the best way to help the poor. One experience highlights our perspective shift.

We visited a new “Milk Collection Center” in rural southern Rwanda.  We saw the neat new bulding and met the proud workers in white coats and white rubber boots as they accepted the milk the local farmers brought in that day.

Testing for purity and freshness.

Testing for purity and freshness.

They showed us how they test the milk for purity and freshness, measure the quantity, and collect it in large stainless steel vats that keep the milk at constant temperature.  It is a nice operation.  Mostly the locals bring milk to the center in yellow gerry cans, but there is also a small “pick-up motor bike”

The pick-up motor bike for local milk collection.

The pick-up motor bike for local milk collection.

that can get to some of the farms that are a bit farther away.  Still the capacity of the collection vats is much greater than what they now process.

cooling tanks only 50% utilized.

cooling tanks only 50% utilized.

The local farmers receive training in how to keep their cows healthy and how to increase milk production.  In addition, malnourished children in the area are given milk daily and their health improves dramatically.  We met one child, Moses, who was near death, who after  12 months of “milk therapy” is looking really good!

Moises, the little boy in red, was malnourished, near death when he received milk therapy.

Moises, the little boy in red, was malnourished, near death when he received milk therapy.

The milk is sold to schools and the nearby refugee camp, and the farmers who bring the milk are paid twice a month.  The head of the dairy talked about needing a truck so that milk could be collected from farms further away each day and so that their equipment could be used to full capacity.

My husband and I immediately thought about how we could get them a truck.  It seemed like a need we could help with.  No sooner did we express this thought to the National Director of World Vision Rwanda, George Gitau, than he shot it down.  “We don’t want to GIVE them the truck,” he said.  “They are learning how to get a loan, and they will be able to buy the truck themselves.”  “This way, they are learning business skills, and they are very capable of choosing a truck that will fit their needs.”

They need a truck!  Can we buy one for them?

They need a truck! Can we buy one for them?

Wow. He was right.  Our first inclination is a handout.  But so much better is the way of World Vision. They are on the ground, making strategic investments to get businesses started. Then they train the individuals and community members on what they can do to thrive.  The Tare Milk Collection Center is a small clean building that World Vision provided.  The building is the hardware.  But World Vision does not stop there. They work on the software as well – the people.  One woman described how her cow produced only 2 liters/day until she was taught how to give her cow better nutrition, and now it gives 10 liters/day.  Farmers are expected to only sell milk that is beyond what their families need.

We saw so much hope, not only in the community benefiting from the dairy, but in other areas where a vocational school has now graduated well-trained carpenters, electricians, and plumbers. We saw a seamstress who plans to build a factory in her back yard with a loan from the Vision Fund. We met a farmer who has learned ag skills that help maximize his investments, and who uses bio-gas to cook with.   Sustainable sound development.  That is how to help the poor.

World Vision is the Best Kind of Vision

My husband and I recently attended the annual World Vision For Every Child Conference in Chicago. It was our third conference and still we learned so much about this organization’s depth of commitment and holistic, sustainable approach to helping the world’s poor.

We were emotional when Andrew, a man from Rwanda, told his story of forgiveness and reconciliation. His family had been murdered in part by his childhood friend, Callixte, during the genocide of 1994. With World Vision’s help, the community has been working through the pain to reconcile former enemies. Callixte had spent 16 years in prison for his deeds. He was unable to be present, but if you watch this video, you will know why Andrew was happy to take the gift of a brand new guitar home to his once-again friend. http://www.wvi.org/rwanda/video/their-own-words Though he spoke through an interpreter, his final word to us was amazing: “Forgiveness is powerful.”

We were inspired by the giving stories of other members of the National Leadership Council, who, after witnessing the work of World Vision on various “vision trips” were moved to give significantly, even to offering large matching gifts to help the For Every Child campaign reach its goals.

I attended a break-out session on health and learned about innovative ways World Vision is helping people with issues of child malnourishment and maternal health. They are training individuals in the community to screen others for serious illness and malnutrition and offer ground level advice to families.  Community Health Care workers, like Justus, are proud to help and continue to learn basic health principles and then share them with others.   http://vimeo.com/92550415  

There is a new water pump innovation that will allow water to be pumped from up to three times the depth of the current pump technology. This will greatly enhance World Vision’s ability to provide clean water to those in need.

Dr. Allgood, President of World Vision Water, told us that a typical village in Africa can solve its water needs with two deep wells, at about $15,000 each. We would like to raise enough for one village with your help. http://www.worldvisionwater.org    What do you say? Will you help us give the gift of water to a village in Zambia?

                                                                        

Deep Well, No Bucket

Our sermon today at Munholland Church was entitled, “Beside a Deep Well, With No Bucket.”  Gene Finnell’s sermon was based on scripture from John 4 in which  Jesus meets a woman at a well in Samaria.  He is thirsty, but the well is deep and he has no bucket.

As you probably know, by the end of the story, Jesus has identified the woman’s deep thirst and offered her an endless, satisfying stream of living water.

During this sermon, I couldn’t stop thinking about the millions of children who are thirsty for clean water, and the well is deep – or non-existent – and they have no bucket, or only a Gerry Can with which to collect muddy water from a stagnant pond.   Like Jesus, those children are simply asking for a drink of clean water.  And like the woman at the well, we are thirsty, too. We have clean water, but a deeper thirst.  We can give others the clean water – by giving the money that World Vision will use to drill the wells – but even more than that, we can satisfy our thirst for a meaningful life.  In giving just a cup of cold water to one of these thirsty children, it is as if we are giving it to Jesus himself.

Satisfaction comes with giving.

If you are looking for a way to make a difference in the world, World Vision is a great way to start.  There are many options from sponsoring a child, to sponsoring an entrepreneur, to supporting innovation or child protection or water.  But to make a really big impact, consider a gift to the For Every Child Campaign, a $500 million drive over five years to put a major dent in global poverty.

Check it out at www.worldvision.org   or leave a comment and I will get you more information.

There is plenty of water for all the children.

Deep well, no bucket.