Tag Archives: HOPE International

On Helping the Poor: Book Recommendations

I often get asked by friends for book recommendations on helping the poor. There are many wonderful texts on this important topic, but here are a few of my favorites, all of which are very reader-friendly:

  • Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life, Robert LuptonProbably the most influential 100 pages I have read on this topic. Lupton’s focus is on his experience in domestic urban ministry, but the principles are broadly relevant. I wrote an entire post about this book last year.
  • Giving Wisely or When Helping Hurts, Jonathan Martin or Brian Fikkert/Steve Corbett – I share these two as an either/or because there are such similar themes woven throughout both books (in short: we need to closely examine whether our attempts to “help” internationally are truly helping). Giving Wisely is a must-read for all missions pastors/committees and is oriented towards church programs to help the poor. When Helping Hurts is still a nationwide bestseller, nearly a year after its release, which is indicative of this book’s poignancy.
  • Blood River, Tim Butcher – I felt like I was traveling with Tim Butcher in his harrowing cross-country journey through Congo while reading the account of his travels. Weaving in reflections on Africa, Congo, and poverty, this book gives you the taste of what life is like for many of our world’s poorest citizens. If you enjoy reading books in more of a narrative style, this one is for you.
  • The Poor Will be Glad, Peter Greer – Full disclosure: Four years ago, I was Peter’s executive assistant at HOPE International, where I still work. After returning from a trip to Afghanistan, Peter handed me a stack of his own wrinkled business cards with small handwritten notes lining both sides. These business cards, the only paper available to Peter as he flew over Afghanistan in a rusty Russian helicopter, were the first draft of this book. Peter asked me to translate the scrawling into a Word document. Fast forward to October, 2009…and the book was published by Zondervan and is on its third printing. I have already identified my personal bias, but, that aside, this is an excellent book, specifically if you want to learn more about Christ-centered microfinance. And it’s loaded with award-winning photography — who doesn’t love a good picture book?

There are a few excellent academic books, which are fantastic if you are looking to dive a bit deeper. These books are not easy reads, but each is loaded with great content:

  • Walking with the Poor, Bryant Myers – Great overview of why Christians should be concerned with helping the poor. Myers also outlines the theological underpinnings for how we should help.
  • The Bottom Billion, Paul Collier – An examination of what makes poor countries poorer, and on what factors have prevented these poor countries and their citizens, the bottom billion, from entering the global economy.
  • Portfolios of the Poor, Stuart Rutherford – How do the poor really live on less than $2 day? This book looks at the financial habits, tools and coping mechanisms the poor use to manage meager incomes.
  • The Mystery of Capital, Fernando de Soto – The title is a great summary. De Soto looks at why capitalism has thrived in many parts of the world, but not caught on in others. Focuses heavily on property rights, legal systems and financial inclusion.
  • White Man’s Burden by William Easterly or Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo – As you might surmise, these two books illuminate the incredibly low ROI the West has received from the trillions of dollars we have invested in aid in the developing world. Both Easterly and Moyo are scathing in their criticism of aid, but the data is irrefutable. In most cases, there is an inverse relationship in countries between a) the amount of government aid received and b) the prosperity of its citizens.

That should get you started. Have I missed any of your favorites?


A Tale of Two Cities–Healthcare and Job Creation

Charles Dickens originally released his literary classic A Tale of Two Cities in weekly installments in the 1850’s. In this vein, join me on a voyage, in monthly installments, to two fictional cities, Assetsville and Needsville—both poor communities in Africa.

I doubt any two topics are creating more news in our country right now than healthcare and job creation. And rightly so—they are important issues. In both Assetsville and Needsville, healthcare and job creation are also major issues. Easily-treated illnesses like malaria and diarrhea have wreaked havoc on families in these cities. Even buying medicine is a lethal guessing game. Job creation is a related and serious issue. In both cities, millions are unemployed and nearly everyone is underemployed. These cities feature identical problems, yet remarkably different approaches to addressing these issues.

In Assetsville, churches, charities and government assistance are focused, as you might imagine, on building on the existing resources and strengths of the community. As a result, hopefulness, respect, and mutuality line the streets. In Needsville, the same types of groups are focused not on the assets, but on issues, weaknesses and problem-solving. As a result, these groups collectively form a proverbial toolbox designed to repair Needsville’s problems. Sadly, this approach has driven out entrepreneurialism, community initiative, and even self-worth. Because of these differences in values, Needsville and Assetsville are worlds apart in their approaches to healthcare and job creation.

Needsville worked with various government agencies to establish foreign-run health clinics to address these serious problems. These clinics are facing insatiable demand for their services. The city also hosts teams of medical volunteers which come to treat common illnesses, conduct surgeries and bring in as much medicine as they can carry. These groups make a huge difference, but come sporadically. With these initiatives, incentives to provide good service are lacking, resulting in dim prospects of long-term viable health solutions in Needsville. In regards to jobs, healthcare is provided almost exclusively to the people of the community, but is not provided by the people of the community.

In Assetsville, however, a different story unfolds. Many new initiatives bring hope that quality healthcare and real job creation are not pipe dreams. A locally-run microfinance institution recently partnered with an innovative healthcare provider to provide loans to nurses interested in business ownership. These nurses  buy franchises from the healthcare provider, receive training and purchase start-up medical kits (shoulder bags complete with malaria tests, a thermometer, medicines and supplies), which enables them to treat 70% of common illnesses. They do not work out of a facility. Rather, these nurses travel to their neighbor’s homes and bring quality healthcare to the people.

Another fresh organization uses a similar solution for vision problems. Aspiring entrepreneurs are trained to diagnose and fit eyeglasses and thousands of Assetsville residents are now working more effectively, learning to read, and seeing the world in a whole new way. In the center of the city, aspiring business owners opened several new pharmacies, providing legitimate medicine and health supplies to those living downtown. Entrepreneurship, employment, and the engine of business, are driving innovation and quality healthcare service.

Two similar cities. Two vastly different prospects for the future of healthcare and job creation. But these cities have issues beyond healthcare. What about education? Food? Clean water? Financial services? Future installments will examine these issues at greater depth.

Reflections from Caribou Coffee

Honestly, man, we don’t. My advice is to go down the street to Bruegger’s Bagels. Their bagel sandwiches and lunch specials are second-to-none.

Because I work remotely, I often office out of coffee shops. Today, I happen to be working at Caribou Coffee in downtown Denver. When the lunch hour rolled around, I asked one of the baristas if Caribou sold any good lunch food. Without a second-thought, he pointed me down the street to Bruegger’s, a direct competitor.

While Caribou lost the two bucks I would have spent on a blueberry muffin, in the end they will have gained a lot more! The barista was concerned, more than anything, about my interests. He put himself in my shoes. He knew that a blueberry muffin wouldn’t hack it. And you know what? The guy garnered instant credibility from me. Anybody can get you to buy their product. It takes someone special to gain your loyalty.

This is true in economics as well. Protectionist economy policies never work. While it seems more advantageous to focus on our jobs, our economies and our communities, it has proven that will hinder vibrant economic growth. When we open our borders and trade freely with our neighbors, only then will we see flourishing happen in our own communities.

I think about this often in regards to fundraising. We talk about this as a team at HOPE. We need to be committed to Missio Dei, not solely to the our organization’s mission. We have to be focused on the grander story of what God is doing in the world, not on building our own closed-walled fortresses. Sometimes, as a HOPE representative, that means I need to be willing to open-handedly introduce potential and current HOPE donors to other organizations, and, yes, even to “competing” ministries. In doing so, by being responsive to the needs, interests and passions of those who I meet with, hopefully these folks will know, with confidence, that I care more about them than I do about their resources.

I so often fail…and meet with folks with my “HOPE blinders” firmly in place. But, then I remember the wise words of the Apostle Paul, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 2:4-5)

Well, time to get back to work. And you better believe I’ll buy an afternoon latte from this savvy barista to power me through to the weekend.


Cocaine Charity

My friend, Brian, recently returned from a missions trip to Kenya. He led a group of youth as they supported their Kenyan partner church ministry for two weeks. The Kenyan ministry’s focus was HIV positive mothers in its very poor slum community. They provided food, money, prayer and helped their children—demonstrating the love of Christ in word and deed. Brian and the youth group dove in. They spread the news of the church’s ministry into the neighboring communities.

A week into the trip, Brian had a stirring, even haunting, realization. This Kenyan ministry had become “the cocaine of its community.” He shared candidly with me that these mothers were completely dependent upon the charity, and indirectly on Brian’s church which funded it. Instead of working, these capable women would sit every day at the door of the charity, waiting for the free distributions. As a result, their children saw their moms time-and-again not as providers, but as placid receivers.

The more I study, the more I discover how different the biblical prescription of charity is from my own. Consider gleaning. God’s people were not commanded to harvest the fields fully and give a tithe of their grain away, but rather to leave portions of the fields unharvested. Doing so provided the poor, the widows and the foreigners with meaningful work, sustenance and on-the-spot vocational training. And gleaning was a command for all business owners, not just the wheat farmers.

When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. (Deut 24:20-21)

I believe we have misinterpreted God’s commands to help the poor. Jewish scholars state that woven through the Torah is an understanding that “not all charity is created equal.” They cite that “the greatest level [of charity], above which there is no greater, is to support a fellow Jew by endowing him with a gift or loan, or entering into a partnership with him, or finding employment for him, in order to strengthen his hand until he need no longer be dependent upon others.”

Does this prescription align with the majority of our charitable endeavors? Brian had deep respect that this Kenyan ministry served the “least of these.” But, was this charity in alignment with the biblical model of charity? Were they helping these women…

  1. To no longer need to receive charity?
  2. Experience the dignity of honest work?
  3. Enjoy the blessing of providing for their children?
  4. Know the joy of giving charitably to others?

In fairness, there are times when the only appropriate response is to freely give things away. The Haiti earthquake and support to the disabled are examples of such. But, barring such exceptions, our long-term aim should always be to help in a way which frees recipients of the need for our charity, “so that they might help others in need” (Eph. 4:28). Well-intentioned charity devoid of this goal can lead to unhealthy dependency, it can strip parents of their God-given role as providers, and, as Brian saw in Kenya, it can lead to addiction.

How Then Shall We Help Part 3

This is part three of a three-part series, “How Then Shall We Help?”

It’s not just about serving and it’s not just about preaching. There’s the eleven word summary of the first two parts of the series. So…what is it about? How then shall we help? As Christians, what is our calling in a world that desperately needs the saving grace of Christ but also needs food, homes, clothing, and access to financial services?

Where better to look than the life of Christ? The story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 families is a familiar one. In John 6, we read about how Christ miraculously multiplied just five barley loaves and two fish to feed an expansive crowd. It is interesting to note Jesus’ motivation for this act. “When Jesus went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them” (Matt 6:34). Christ’s act of love and service to the people flowed out of the compassion of his heart.

The word “compassion” is used many times to describe Jesus’ ministry. We read later in Matthew that “Jesus had compassion on the crowds and healed their sick” (Matt 9:36). Literally, the Greek word used in these passages means “to be moved by compassion.” There is greater richness in this word than can be gleaned at first glance. Charles Spurgeon describes it this way:

The original word is a very remarkable one…It is expressive of the deepest emotion; a striving of the bowels—a yearning of the innermost nature with pity…I suppose that when our Savior looked upon certain sights, those who watched him closely perceived that his internal agitation was very great, his emotions were very deep, and then his face betrayed it, his eyes gushed like founts with tears, and you saw that his big heart was ready to burst with pity for the sorrow upon which his eyes were gazing. He was moved with compassion.

Christ exhibited in this story a “yearning of the innermost nature.” When is the last time you had that sort of deep emotional churning deep in your gut? Jesus felt it often. He looked out over crowds of people—the sick, the hungry, the beaten-down—and was moved with compassion. We read in this specific story that Jesus went on to feed the crowds of hungry people. But, Jesus’ ministry did not end there.

Later in the day, Jesus left with his disciples and sailed to the other side of the sea. The crowds followed him. When they found him, Jesus offered these poignant words (John 6:25-27, 35). “You are seeking me…because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life…I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” First, we met Jesus the social worker. Now, Jesus the evangelist. He fed the crowds…and shared the Gospel. Matthew 24:19 described Jesus as “a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word.”

And there we have it. In this brief snapshot of Jesus’ life in John 6, we have our answer. As Christians, we are called to give bread and to proclaim the Bread of Life. It should never be separated. Jesus fed the five thousand, healed the sick, spoke against racism, and defended the cause of the outcasts in society. Moved by compassion, he provided bread. And, he demonstrated the absolute necessity for heart change. I am the bread of life.

Theologian Christopher Wright says it beautifully: “It is not a matter of engaging in both the gospel and social action, as if Christian social action was something separate from the gospel itself…Biblically, the gospel includes the totality of all that is good news from God for all that is bad news in human life—in every sphere..” It is not an either/or. It is a both/and. Not one without the other. Word and deed. Evangelism and service. Bible-translation and microfinance. Clean water and church plants. Hospitals and seminaries. Adoption and Christian youth camps. The seen and the unseen. Bread and bread of life.

Sounding the Alarm for Haiti

Those of you who know me well know that I am not an alarmist. I think non-profit organizations often ride the “horse of emergency” all too often in trying to raise money and get people to give. Motivating Americans through guilt-laden campaigns featuring pictures of bloated babies causes more long-term harm than good.

But, the recent happenings in Haiti are reason enough for me to “sound the alarm.” Friends, the situation in Haiti is dire. And I’m honestly concerned the worst is still to come. In the midst of all the confusion and unanswered questions about what is happening there, here is what I know:

  1. The situation in Haiti is absolutely devastating.
  2. We serve an all-powerful God.
  3. Generosity exudes from the transformed hearts of Christians.

My encouragement on how to help:

  1. Fast and pray on behalf of the people of Haiti and the courageous people who are traveling to Haiti to help from the Dominican Republic, elsewhere in Haiti and around the world. To guide your prayers, perhaps view this slideshow.
  2. Give generously, effectively* & quickly. This is a situation where I believe we all should consider giving “above and beyond” our normal charitable giving.  Here are a few organizations I recommend as I know they will bring both “clean water and the Living Water” to the people of Haiti:

*There are many wonderful Christian organizations which need funds for food, medical supplies, clean water, shelter and the rebuilding process throughout Haiti. It’s easy to just give to whoever asks first. I would encourage you to think strategically about where to give. Please comment below if you support organizations you know to be ministering in “word and deed” and in ways which promote dignity among the people of Haiti.

Donors = Checkbooks with Mouths

A few months ago, an acquaintance of mine, a fellow fundraiser, introduced me to a prominent business owner in Denver. It was a gracious gesture as we likely would not have met otherwise. The business owner and I connected deeply at our lunch. We talked at-length about family, politics, and faith.

Later that afternoon, I got a call from the fundraiser who had introduced us. He peppered me with questions: “How did it go, Chris? …what’s your strategy to get him to give to HOPE? …how do you plan on maximizing that relationship?”

I felt sick to my stomach when our conversation came to an end. Is that what fundraising is all about? Really? His comments had reduced that business owner to nothing more than what was in his wallet. It was not about who he was, what he cared about, or about who God had created him to be. It was about how much he could fork over if and when I asked.

An email I received today took me back to that memory. It was from the organizer of a weekly lunch for high-profile Christians in Denver. Apparently, several non-profit leaders had sniffed out the luncheon and had begun hitting up the lunch-goers for money. The leaders of the lunch heard that this activity was going on. Like an elementary school teacher who caught wind of recess bullying, the organizer sent out this note:

“Out of respect for our organization and the vast majority of our members, the leadership team requests that no solicitation of any kind take place among group members. We only say this because in our five year history together, many men we’d love to have still with us have dropped out because in their words they feel “worked” or pushed by some of our members. It saps the joy and ease for guests and members alike if they are made uncomfortable by someone obviously working an agenda…”

In any position, be it sales, fundraising, or pastoring, it is easy to view people by their capacity to give (be it their money, time or abilities). As soon we view people that way, we strip away their humanity. They are no longer people. They are just a checkbook. Or a skill-set. Or a Rolodex.  Once we reduce someone to what they can do for us, the prospects of developing a true relationship are very dim.

How Then Shall We Help Part 2

This is part two of a three-part series, “How Then Shall We Help?”

Last month I stated that decreased suffering does not necessarily follow increased prosperity. In many cases, increased prosperity simply leads to new kinds of suffering. Helping our neighbors materially is not enough. It would be easy to assume from those reflections that the answer to the question, “How then shall we help?” would be this: Plant churches, hold evangelistic crusades, distribute Bibles, and get people saved. As Jesus said, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matt 16:26) Why, then, does HOPE waste its time doing economic development when it could be focusing solely on the real work of preaching the Good News? The core issue here is whether our efforts should focus unilaterally on the spiritual condition of humanity.

The truth is this: We cannot ignore our clear call to generously give to the poor—and not just because it amplifies our words. Throughout Scripture (over 2,000 biblical passages) we are called to help the poor in tangible, material ways. Humans are not simply spiritual beings which happen to exist in a physical state. The needs of the present must be met while we seek to address the needs of the eternal. Why?

  • The Bible says our faith is void without it. If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?– James (James 2). Viewing compassion and justice as a “means to an end” (to get people saved) illustrates a troubling disconnect between body and soul. Our concern for the poor should be a natural and generous outpouring of our hearts, which have been transformed by Christ. As James said, if we ignore suffering, of all types, in our communities here and abroad, even if we share an encouraging word, “What good is that?
  • The historical Christian Church has embodied it.”Nothing has contributed to the progress of the superstition of the Christians as their charity to strangers…they provide not only for their own poor, but for ours as well.” –Julian. As the anti-Christian leader of the Roman Empire, Julian made this comment in 360 A.D. History indicates that the early Church saw people as more than spiritual beings. It was that radical generosity which provided fuel to the message of Christ. Early Christians, it seems, as Tim Keller describes, “were promiscuous with their charity” and it showed in the Church’s rapid growth in that time.
  • Jesus taught and practiced it. Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” – Jesus, in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus, as Creator and Almighty God, chose to come and live among us, the poor. His Incarnation alone speaks to His concern for more than just our souls. He came from heaven to live among us on earth. While on earth, he healed the sick, befriended street-dwellers and prostitutes, and cared for the poor. In response to Jesus’ question above, someone in the crowd answered, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus replied to him, and to us, “You go, and do likewise.”

There is a problem if we view our sole purpose as Christians to proclaim the Gospel verbally. It illustrates a severe disconnect if we overlook the physical, emotional and social condition of our neighbors in our attempts to introduce them to Jesus. Further, our acts of service must not be viewed as a “means to an end.” Certainly, radical generosity opens doors to proclaim the Gospel. But, the Good Samaritan was not heralded because his mercy led to a conversion. He was heralded because countercultural compassion is the only appropriate response from a person whose heart has been transformed by the love of Christ. Thankfully, this is not an either/or proposition.

Next month, final reflections in the series, “How Then Shall We Help?”

We’ll Come to You

I love online banking and e-commerce. I love the convenience of checking account balances, making transfers, and purchasing products in sweatpants from my living room. I’ve quickly become accustomed to the ease of doing business from home, although this luxury is unique to the past decade. It’s easy to forget that just ten years ago online banking was nothing but a dream.

Last month I visited HOPE’s work in the Dominican Republic. There, I had the privilege of meeting our clients, seeing their businesses and soaking in the culture of a country I have come to love. One of the questions I asked to a few of the community banks (groups of 15-30 clients) was “Why HOPE? Why did you choose to become a HOPE client?” Time and time again, in different communities throughout the country, our clients responded, “Because HOPE came to us.”

It’s hard to think back to what life was like ten years ago, when we had to drive to the bank or the store for just about everything. It’s even more challenging to imagine how extremely inconvenient it would be if we lived a few hours from the center of town, where a trip to the bank or to the store meant a day’s worth of travel. Yet, this is the reality for many of our clients. In Congo, our clients often live two or more hours away from the closest commercial banks, large stores, and even HOPE branch offices. To service these remote communities, our loan officers must travel two hours by bus on shoddy dirt roads or, during the rainy season, traipse hours by foot through the mud to reach these communities.


In that context, you understand why they list it as a primary reason for choosing HOPE. Our hardworking and diligent loan officers go into the communities where our clients live. This is about even more than convenience. That message—No, don’t come to us. We’ll come to you—speaks dignity, loud and clear, into the lives of our clients and into their communities. They matter. Their neighborhoods are not forgotten. When everyone tells them they aren’t, we tell them they are worth our time.

One client’s comments are still ringing in my ears. I asked him, “Why HOPE?” …and he responded, “When everybody else makes us come to them, you come to us.”

Hitching Posts

Lancaster, Pennsylvania is the home of Auntie Anne’s pretzels, the nation’s oldest-running farmer’s market, and HOPE International. It also has one of the largest Amish communities in the country. Recently, while in Lancaster, I visited Costco and noticed hitching posts in the parking lot where Amish customers could park their buggies.

Costco hitching post

Costco is headquartered in Seattle, Washington. While I can’t verify this, I’d guess that Lancaster is their only store with hitching posts. If Costco had used one of their standard site plans, that detail would have surely slipped through the cracks. Only through soliciting the input of Lancaster residents could they develop a strategy relevant to the local economy and culture. By bringing in the expertise and contributions of individuals familiar with the Lancaster market, Costco developed an appropriate and localized plan for their operations.

If this complexity exists across a single country, how much more are these variances multiplied when operations transcend borders, languages, cultures and economies? It is often surprising to our supporters when I share that less than one percent of our staff members internationally are not native to the country where they are working. Of HOPE’s 1,500 loan officers, branch managers, clerks and country directors employed across 14 countries, 1490 (99.3%) are working in their home country.

There are many benefits to this approach. Employing national staff members creates local jobs and is significantly less expensive than sending Americans. But, there is also strategic value gained by hiring Rwandans in Rwanda, Moldovans in Moldova and Haitians in Haiti. They understand their context. If an executive in Seattle would have trouble planning a new Costco in his own country, how can we expect to operate successfully internationally without employing local community members?

In Ukraine, we recently saw this exemplified when we encouraged our Ukrainian country director to hire a human resources director to coordinate the growing team. After encouraging him in that direction, he shared that the human resources profession doesn’t actually exist in Ukraine. He suggested instead that HOPE Ukraine reorient their existing team to solve the problem. A solution only a Ukrainian national would propose. In the Dominican Republic, one of our American interns recently was interviewing a client and, from her experience in marketing, asked a client why she did not put a sign on the front of her house advertising her business. The client laughed heartily and responded, “Why? Everyone in my community knows me! A sign would not be appropriate.”

Depending on local participation is critical as no one understands the context better. It’s true with Costco establishing a store in Lancaster, and it’s true with HOPE operating programs in 14 countries.