Archives For Brian Fikkert

Photo courtesy of CNN

Photo courtesy of CNN

A couple days ago, I received a call from Port Salut, Haiti. My friend Ralph was clearly shaken as he shared about the devastating effects of the recent hurricane. “There is no place to sleep,” he reported. “Our homes have been absolutely destroyed. If we do sleep, we sleep standing up.”

He added that the bridge on a major road had also been leveled, meaning that no one—and no aid—could get in or out.

My heart once again broke at the reality of devastation in Haiti left in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. Recent reports about rebuilding efforts following the 2010 earthquake had been encouraging, but we are coming to the sobering realization that the new devastation in Haiti’s southwest will inevitably cause massive setbacks. There are troubling reports about cholera, food supply, and more.

I work for a nonprofit, HOPE International, which serves in Haiti. I’m committed to the nation of Haiti and its people—friends like Ralph mean my connection to the country is not only professional, but also personal. Further, we have been and will continue to be fully devoted to the long-term rebuilding process there.

But what will you not see right now is a fundraising appeal from HOPE to raise support for Haiti, and I want to tell you why.

1. Relief is necessary—but it’s not our area of expertise.

As Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett point out in When Helping Hurts, there is a difference between relief work and development. At HOPE, we specialize in Church-strengthening microenterprise development; we simply do not have the expertise to lead relief efforts. That’s not to say we aren’t remaining involved. Our country director in Haiti, Lesly Jules, is working with churches to coordinate efforts on the ground. We are committed to praying for those affected by the storm. But as an organization, relief is not our area of focus.

2. We want to partner with those who do specialize in relief work.

After having the eye-opening experience of serving in a refugee camp during a crisis situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I can tell you, relief work is a different skill set, mindset, and approach from long-term rebuilding. I am so thankful for the Church in Haiti, as well as our friends at 410 Bridge, World ReliefWorld VisionFood for the Hungry, and other organizations with dedicated teams that are experts in strategic relief efforts. Already, these groups have all mobilized to provide food, water, clothing, and shelter in response to the hurricane. We want to point people to these groups as they use their God-given gifts to bring comfort and care to our Haitian friends.

3. We want to remain focused on what we do, so that when the time comes, we’re ready to step back in.

The outpouring of generosity that flows into hurting communities that have experienced a disaster can easily entice well-meaning organizations to step into areas of need that they’re simply not equipped to meet. These well-intentioned efforts often leads to long-term damage, and it’s never been our approach. Instead, we remain focused on the future. The long-term work of rebuilding in Haiti is going to begin again—and when it does, we will be there. Until then, we remain committed to standing with our Haitian brothers and sisters and our church partners, as well as to pointing people to the organizations equipped to meet the immense immediate needs in affected communities.

Charlie Tremendous Jones not only has a great name, he also has a great quote: “You will be the same person in five years as you are today, except for the people you meet and the books you read.” We can’t always control the people we meet, but we can control the books we read.

Over the past few years, I’ve post a couple lists of a few of my favorite books. If you’ve finished your summer reading and are looking for some new books to add to your list, here are my recommendations:

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  • The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. The most enjoyable book I’ve read in the past year, this tells the fascinating story of the nine members of an American crew team and their quest for gold at 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Their humble beginnings, work ethic, and team commitment, all with the backdrop of Hitler’s rise to power, make this book hard to put down. The writing is outstanding, with details and descriptions that make you like you’re literally in the boat.
  • Think Like a Freak by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. In the follow-up to Freakanomics, Levitt and Dubner use gripping storytelling to challenge our core assumptions and to reveal the power of asking the right questions.
  • The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes by Bryan Burrough. I’ve grown to love Texas, and the stories captured in this book have helped me better understand the unique culture and identity of Texans. Reading about the burden of wealth and the negative impact on each family also made me pray, “Give me neither poverty nor riches…”
  • United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity by Trillia J. Newbell. This book beautifully articulates the need for diversity in the Church. Using her own experience as a black member of a predominantly white church, Trillia provides Scriptural and experiential arguments for the importance of multi-racial churches.
  • Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution and Not the Problem by Jay W. Richards. Before debating with Shane Claiborne earlier this year, I reread this book. Jay combines clear communication with clear thinking to make a draw clear conclusions about what really makes a community and nation flourish.
  • Clearing Obstacles to Work: A Wise Giver’s Guide to Fostering Self-Reliance by David Bass. With so much talk about how traditional charity doesn’t solve the problems of poverty, this book refreshingly focuses on solutions. Looking at case studies and examples of ways to promote human flourishing, Clearing Obstacles to Work takes an uplifting look at solutions to poverty.
  • Half a Piece of Cloth: The Courage of Africa’s Countless Widows by Jane L. Crane. By capturing the daily realities and experiences of women living in poverty, this book reminded me to not allow distance to develop between me and the people we serve at HOPE. May we never grow cold to the realities of so many in our world.
  • From Dependence to Dignity: How to Alleviate Poverty Through Christ-Centered Microfinance by Brian Fikkert and Russ Mask. We all remember how When Helping Hurts stopped us in our tracks, forcing us to confront our most fundamental misconceptions about what it means to serve others well. Now, in this follow-up of sorts, Brian takes a closer look at the effect of Christ-centered microenterprise development and even shares some incredible generous things about HOPE. I’m so thankful for the friendship and partnership of Brian and the Chalmers Center.
  • Look and Live: Discover the Soul-Thrilling, Sin-Destroying Glory of Christ by Matt Papa. Written by a worship leader, this book talks about how right behavior comes not from trying harder but from focusing more on Christ. Such a good book, especially for us “older brother” types.
  • A Resilient Life: You Can Move Ahead No Matter What by Gordon MacDonald. Gordon writes about what it takes to sustain a life of service. The message of this excellent book profoundly shaped our thinking on 40/40 Vision.
  • Dangerous Passions, Deadly Sins: Learning from the Psychology of Ancient Monks by Dennis Okholm. Lately, I’ve been fascinated by the seven deadly sins and historic understanding of our frailty. Details how pride is the root of all vices.
  • Real Christian: Bearing the Marks of Authentic Faith by Todd Wilson. Real Christian describes markers of Christ-followers that might surprise those of us in the American Church: broken-hearted joy, a humble disposition, a readiness to acknowledge sin, an ability to live balanced and avoid legalism, a deep spiritual hunger that drives growth, and most of all―love.

Next books I’m planning to read are Five Gears: How to be Present and Productive When There is Never Enough Time by Jeremie Kubicek, and For the Love by Jen Hatmaker. What else should I add to my list? 

Disarming the Ugly American

November 7, 2014 — 4 Comments

Despite what Ann Coulter says, I am convinced that compassion is one of America’s greatest exports. I see evidence of it every summer, as droves of men and women—stirred by dreams of radical service and love—leave their sanitized, suburban lives behind and board planes bound for the ends of the earth. That desire is a hallmark of the Imago Dei, the God who left the splendor of heaven to come to us. It reflects the Creator to His beloved creation, and there is immense beauty in that.

plane window

While I celebrate the heart behind these short-term trips, I am also deeply convinced that we can do better.

If you want a serious treatment of how to help without hurting on short-term trips, you must read Brian Fikkert’s excellent new book, Helping without Hurting in Short-Term Missions. But if you want a very quick list of some things to ensure that you don’t perpetuate the well-deserved stereotype of the ugly American, here you go:

  1. Don’t be pejorative. On the plane on a recent trip, I overheard a man describing how he was going to work with “my refugees.” While he had sponsored a village, I think we can all agree that the refugees were not “his.” No pejorative ownership of people, people.
  2. Ask before taking pictures. It’s simple, but it’s common courtesy. How would you feel if a stranger began taking your picture? What if a stranger began taking pictures of your child? Your home? It would feel invasive at best, if not threatening and dangerous. We have a word for people who do this: stalkers. Let’s not be good-hearted stalkers and agree to extend the same courtesy that we would wish to be shown.
  3. Don’t go if you suffer from extreme Mysophobia. I’ve watched some people reflexively reach for their Costco-sized bottles of Purell after any sort of direct contact with the people they came to serve. When you reach for your hand-sanitizer immediately after shaking someone’s hand or sharing a meal, the message speaks clearly across cultures and continents: You are dirty. Friends, I’m all for Purell (indeed, I’ll probably use it after shaking YOUR hand!) but please be more discreet. If you feel you need a HAZMAT suit before going over “there,” then you probably shouldn’t go.
  4. This is not a zoo. Don’t throw candy or peanuts at people. It’s offensive. Seriously.
  5. Relax if things don’t immediately work. Breathe deeply and see what God might be trying to teach you in the moment. It might simply be a time to unclench your American fist from around the clock we all love so much, and detox from your own adrenaline.
  6. Don’t complain about cold showers. You have water! Be wildly grateful for that.
  7. Don’t  immediately go into problem-solving mode. First, become obsessed with simply trying to understand.
  8. Think about long-term relationships. A mission trip should never be a one-week stand. One of the most valuable outcomes of the trip is not the wall that you painted, but the people you worked alongside. Relationships and learning are the goal.
  9. Follow up. Don’t promise that you’ll do something if you won’t. There already is a well-worn path of unmet expectations. Don’t contribute to it.
  10. Don’t freak out if you are unable to get half-caf soy iced venti mocha latte. The trip that you’re on? The gift is that it’s not about you. And surprisingly, the majority of the world gets by beautifully without a Starbucks. Leave your expectations, routines, and creature comforts on the plane—a little flexibility goes a long way.

Again, please hear me—I LOVE the heart of compassion behind short-term trips, and I’ve personally been profoundly impacted by these experiences. With a few attitude adjustments, we can continue to see short-term trips provide significant impact on the friends who go and the friends who graciously receive us.

The last few months, I’ve had a number of conversations with friends who wonder how the principles that drive HOPE could be applied domestically. It’s an important question, and although HOPE has decided to remain focused internationally, I strongly believe we need more organizations working to help restore dignity through the gift of employment in the U.S.

legos duplo

Here are some examples of organizations I admire that are creatively addressing poverty in the U.S.  Some provide job preparedness. Others provide access to financial services. All are having a positive impact.

1) Mentoring  

  1. Defy Ventures and Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP). M.B.A. boot camp for convicts and ex-convicts, PEP and Defy are built on an interesting hypothesis: Often criminals are born entrepreneurs. Many students used to manage networks—albeit illegal—and possess ingenuity, the ability to think on their feet. Defy and PEP are helping them transfer these skills to thrive in the business world. Eighty nine percent of criminals who return to prison are unemployed when arrested. In sum: A job keeps people from going behind bars again. PEP offers business training, giving prisoners a second chance. Results are remarkable. Within 90 days of getting out of prison, 100 percent of individuals at PEP find jobs. And the recidivism rate of PEP’s graduates—five percent. (Nationwide it’s 60 percent.)
  2. Assets Lancaster. Based in the city of HOPE’s headquarters, Assets provides a 10-12 week course in business training and management, as well as business mentoring for entrepreneurs. It’s also hands-on training and it is having an impact in building a better city. See www.assetslancaster.org.

2) Business Training/Job Preparedness

  1. Jobs for Life (JfL). JfL taps into one of the most overlooked resources to provide job training—the Church. Through JfL, the Church is equipping individuals with skills to interview, to network, and to find and to retain a job. See www.jobsforlife.org/JfL-profile.htm and video.
  2. The Chalmers Center. World class, Chalmers develops curriculum to provide a hand up. Faith & Finances is their course empowering churches and organizations to teach foundational principles of finance. See www.chalmers.org/work/gtc/programs/financial.

3) Financial Services

  1. Grameen AmericaProsper.comAccion USA.  Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus made microfinance a household name.  He decided to take his pioneering Grameen Bank—which has served the poor globally—to New York City. Now it has spread throughout the U.S.  Grameen, Accion, and Prosper.com are just three organizations giving financial services, such as savings and small loans, as well as business training to get people on their feet again.  See grameenamerica.org, www.accionusa.org, and www.prosper.com.
  2.  Grace Period.  Loan sharks and “payday” lenders—with interest rates as steep as 400 percent—are  often the only option in an emergency. Grace Period offers an alternative.  Providing small loans, Grace Period also requires members to save for the next emergency. See www.graceperiod.org.

One last organization which you should explore – Hustle PHX. They “encourage the creation of sustainable business ventures that affirm the dignity of people and lead to the flourishing of all communities in Phoenix” and focus on providing three essential kinds of capital: Intellectual Capital (training), Human Capital (mentoring), and Financial Capital (investment). Check them out at http://www.hustlephx.com/.

These are just some organizations doing important work in giving people a hand up, rather than a handout throughout the U.S.

Which other groups am I missing?

February 12, 2015: After publishing this blog, friends have sent other examples of excellent organizations operating in the US, including:

  • Center for Peace in Texas is a subset of Perpetual Help Home in Victoria, TX, an organization that walks alongside women as they break the cycle of incarceration and homelessness. The Center for Peace helps women learn business, computer, and office skills to become marketable for employment.
  • Sunshine Gospel Ministries in Chicago walks along local business owners and entrepreneurs to set them up for success in their endeavors.
  • LAUNCH Chattanooga offers support to budding entrepreneurs in underserved areas to create sustainable businesses, thus helping their families and communities thrive.
  • Restorers is a training program in Grand Rapids, Michigan that seeks to help build budding entrepreneurs turn their ideas into thriving businesses.

added March 17, 2016: