I’ve had a few weeks of crazy. I wish I could tell you that I’ve gone fishing, but that is not the case.
We have just opened our newest Hope Center in Burundi. A Hope Center is a community outreach center. We begin by feeding the poorest of the poor and grow into initiating holistic outreaches like giving small Microfinance loans, education and more. Our first center has been in operation in Malawi since 2007. It has taken us about 14 years to open this second one. I hope that it won’t take that long to open the third! I’m hoping for 14 months, not years, for the next opening.
But it has been intense. Even with the years of experience that I have working in relief and community outreach, any opening like this one takes every bit of energy that one can muster. It is rewarding, exhausting, frustrating and addicting all at the same time. There are many moving parts when opening and running such an outreach as the Hope Center. While I knew what was involved, starting another one all over again has refreshed my memory.
… it has also pushed me to believe for more.
The sustainability question is always the “600 lb. gorilla in the room” when working in relief. Sustainability is high on our priority list, however, we have to remember that before sustainability comes survival.
Yes, I’m going to do my best to tackle the subject of relief fatigue. We’ve all felt it when seeing someone begging on the side of the road or a homeless person holding a sign saying, “Will work for food.”
When will they ever learn?
When will they stand up on their own?
For you have the poor with you always…Matthew 26:11
If history has taught us anything, it has taught us that Jesus’ words have rung true. The poor we will have with us always. Need will always surround us but need does not have to tire us.
Since we will have the poor with us always, we can reason that we also will always have opportunity to help. There isn’t one of us reading (or in my case writing) this post who doesn’t have a need of some kind. Some of us have greater financial needs than others – but everyone has a need. If we ourselves have need, surely we can excuse ourselves from helping others, right?
My youngest daughter has always loved to play with balloons.
Fun fact: balloons are among my least favorite things.
The simple lesson I’ve learned from my daughter’s play with balloons is that they will pop and become useless. One of the reasons balloons, in my opinion, are so useless is because they are good for one use only. Popped balloons have no value.
If we view helping the poor as a one-time event only, we are about as useful as popped balloons. Helpful and fun for a moment but useless in the long-term.
I want to be worth more than a popped balloon.
The Biggest Pot I Had
The funny thing about helping people is that God helps us meet the need whenever we make ourselves available to Him. I’m not quite sure how we’ve managed to make it to this point in our lifetime and see the thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of meals distributed that we have seen. I remember a time years ago when there was severe hunger during civil unrest here in Burundi. I began to cook meals for children who had taken refuge in a local school. I didn’t advertise or write letters of appeal. I simply pulled out the biggest pot I had and began cooking porridge over an open fire. I didn’t have much but I did what I could.
Word got out about what was being done and donations began to pour in. One day, after picking up my kids from school, I came home to my garage filled with provisions for cooking. Another time, the World Food Program here in Burundi, after hearing about what we were doing, dropped off 500 kilos of milk powder at our front door.
I could go on and on but you get the picture, provision for the work came when we made ourselves available.
A Terrifying Master
I am well aware of the need to enable people to stand on their own two feet. Never have I been more aware of this fact than I am today. Here in Burundi, where we face intense poverty, more than 50% of the population is food insecure. This means that 1 out of every 2 people are wondering where their next meal will come from. The average age in Burundi is 17 years old (Burundi’s pop. 12,000,000) and face rampant unemployment. Some statistics show the youth unemployment rate as high as 65%. Every day, I see children with visible signs of malnutrition roaming the streets in search of something to fill their stomachs.
As you can imagine in our situation, where people are hungry, crime is rampant.
Hunger is a terrifying master to serve.
People do not despise a thief If he steals to satisfy himself when he is starving.Proverbs 6:30
Before They Can Fish
There are many methods that people working in relief use to decide:
What people to help?
Where are they?
How to help them?
When to help them?
For us, it has always happened organically. We simply help where we have an open door. Our new Hope Center is located in a small village/town called “Gatumba.” Gatumba borders the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) and we have a small church campus in the village. Last year, with the advent of covid and then local flooding, the already poverty-stricken area suffered intensely. Local schools were destroyed in the floods and the economy of Burundi buckled under covid-induced border closures.
The people languished.
And we began to do what we could. With the help of partners, we began by distributing emergency food relief to 200 families who had fled the flooding and were living (and still live) in tented camps. Single mothers, widows, orphans, elderly and the disabled were our (and still are) our target group. It quickly became apparent that our people in Gatumba needed longer-term assistance. It was then that the dream for a new Hope Center was born.
Here we are today, two weeks in and we are beginning to see a community form around our little outreach where we feed 500 meals Monday – Friday. We have a team of volunteers from the community who help cook and another team from our church that help oversee teaching and administration of the site. It is no small task but neither is it impossible. Our prayer is to purchase property around the center and build a school in the coming year for education is what will open doors to these who are otherwise bound in the cycle of poverty.
Begin With One
The eradication of poverty, an NGO “buzzword,” is everyone’s ultimate goal. However, before we can eradicate poverty in many, we must begin with one. And before we find the one, we must find the open door to the one.
Many well-wishers and workers have visited the flood-stricken region of Gatumba. They have taken pictures and written down stories, but few have stayed long enough to ride the storm through with these people. Often the only help that comes is short-term plastic tenting material and handouts of notebooks for school children. When the hype of the emergency wears off, so does the interest of aid agencies.
This short-term tendency has given rise to suspicion among the poor. They expect to be forgotten quickly and therefore don’t trust people quickly who come “to help.” As we are faithful to help at the Hope Center, slowly, we will see the tide of trust change. At our Malawi center, we have garnered great favor among local leaders and now have had the great honor of seeing the chief of the village where our center is located, come to Jesus. He now attends church regularly and has opened the door to more outreach in the village.
It begins with one.
Tomorrow I will get up early and head out to the Hope Center. Since we are still in early days, I am training the team and it is going well. These are days of building trust, of getting to know one another, of bringing Jesus to them. Right now, we’re bringing them something, fish, to eat.
As the months go by, there will be opportunity to help the ladies open small businesses, to help them go fishing. There’s nothing that would give me greater pleasure.
Someday, I’ll be able to tell you, they’ve gone fishing.
Sababu ya Pasaka – Africa & Beyond