Category Archives: Posts from the Group

These are thoughts and ideas that arise from our meetings.

Are You this Little Girl on a Battlefield?

Are You this Little Girl on a Battlefield?

By smorones

Are you this girl?


I see a small girl in a dress.

She is in the middle of a battlefield with bombs going off. Jesus comes in and picks her up and shields her. He protects her and talks to her for a long while. She only knows the immense love of Jesus for a long time while war is raging.

Then as the war settles down, he takes her back to her people and stands away from her so she can reunite with her family.  She doesn’t understand why her family has they were changed by war. She struggles to re-integrate with her family. She angrily judges them.

She feels like Jesus left her completely when she can’t feel comfortable with her family. She’s angry with Jesus and she wonders if he was real at all?  She feels lonely for a long time. After some time and struggles, she begins to love her family and feel loved. As she starts to love her family, she begins to feel and hear Jesus again as her anger fades.

Suddenly, she gets healing breakthrough, forgives Jesus and falls into Jesus’ arms. When she reunites with Jesus, she becomes a powerful force of Jesus’ love to her family and community that was wounded by war. She teaches them the power of forgiveness and she introduces them to her best friend Jesus.

The little girl is stronger after forgiving Jesus, but she always struggles with relationships because her community is different than her.  She experienced something extraordinary that they haven’t yet discovered.  She continually tries to bridge the divide.  Her heart aches for wholeness for her people, even as she shares Jesus’ love for them.

“This little girl is my chosen ambassador to her people.”

I don’t know who this story is for, but I received it in my prayers so I am passing it on.  I hope this story encourages someone.

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Posted by on March 1, 2018 in Posts from the Group


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2016: Reconciliation


I hope for Reconciliation in 2016.

I went out with a group of Rwandans and Americans last night in Portland. As we talked, I marveled at how much judgment and separation exists within our epic 15 year journey of “ministry” relationships.  I hear stories within stories of pain and division among people who had formerly participated in a ministry to help others.  However, within each person in the story, I also see goodness:  love and compassion and a yearning not to be distant and wounded.

I wonder why, in a big, diverse family of people who love Jesus, we cannot find the way to draw near to each other with acts of love, instead of withdraw from each other with words of judgment?

I admit that my mistakes contributed to some of the brokenness in this community. I am sorry for the pain my actions caused.   I wonder if my failure should disqualify me from receiving love from people in this community?  Is God’s desire for this story to leave us in a state of splintered relationships?

My hope for 2016 is reconciliation among this special family of Rwandan-American relationships.

This past few months I have been learning about reconciliation and it’s terrifying. Reconciliation is a scary, humbling step beyond forgiveness. Forgiveness is an enormously difficult and powerful act.  Reconciliation is a miracle that can follow forgiveness.

I’ve come to believe that the person wronged should take the first step, and that’s counter intuitive. I feel greatly wronged in our long convoluted Rwanda-America story.  I feel let down by people I thought loved me or who I saw as spiritual leaders.  I couldn’t imagine that my job could be to push through my pain and show the person who wronged me that I love them.  I felt entitled to hold onto my pain.   I feared that if I show love to someone who wronged me, I am telling the world they didn’t do what I believe they did.

I looked to Jesus and saw a different model. Jesus extended the offer of reconciliation to those who unjustly accused him and killed him.  He didn’t wait for people to realize what they had done.  Instead He said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”  And he extended an invitation to the worst sinners, to draw near to Him into relationship.  The great news is that we don’t have to be cleaned up to accept His offer.  We don’t have to fix everything we broke.  We don’t have to be correct, or justified, or theologically aligned, or a donor or the change maker.  We don’t have to bring anything to Jesus.  We are simply welcomed to Him.

I recently took a small but very scary step to show love to someone who hurt me.  The action felt like a catalyst.  I believe that God will move through my feeble effort and bring more healing than I can imagine.

I pray that a miracle of reconciliation will start to spread in my Rwandan-American community in 2016.  Everyone one of you who is part of this story, I encourage you to take a tiny step of love toward someone who has caused you pain.  We don’t have to know where it leads.  We don’t have to untangle this ourselves.  Jesus will do the hard work, if we show a willingness to participate.

A dear Rwanda friend, Pastor Elisee, spoke the most powerful words I heard in 2015.  He said to me, “Love Initiates.”

In 2016, my prayer is that Love Initiates Reconciliation.  Serena Morones


(Please share among those in the community.)


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Posted by on December 31, 2015 in Posts from the Group, Uncategorized


Partnerships at a Distance

Partnership at a Distance (a thought from Colossians)

How do we stay connected to sisters and brothers in Christ at a distance?  As I look back over the past sixty years of having good companions in many other places of the world there are several things that have emerged as important to me and to others.  The most important way of maintaining these partnerships is when we can travel to be with each other – that has been a great privilege for Kay and me over many years.  There is no substitute to sit with each other in one’s natural habitat as we do life together –even if some of the time these are only brief visits.

In 2010 it seemed that the Lord was indicating to me that my travels to Africa were no longer going to happen.  When I spoke of this to the group of twenty or so people who meet quarterly in Portland out of our love and concern for Africans one of the friends said, “Oh you will still be going to Africa.  You will just be going through us.”  And it reminded me of what Paul wrote to his friends in Philippi: “I am sending Timothy to you for I have no one else like him who will show genuine concern for your welfare.” (Philippians 2:19-20) There are lots of good things that come out of networking but it does not maintain and deepen partnerships – only when we send a like-minded friend to be with our other friend does this happen.

But if we can’t go in person or we don’t have a friend who can bring our love to these friends we still have great opportunities to communicate.  In the early days I spent hours every week hand writing or typing letters to people who were important in my life.  Much of the New Testament is composed of letters written by Paul, John, Peter and Mark.   Today, a phone call, an e-mail or a blog posting makes the process simple – but we still have to keep initiating communication with those who are important to us.

Some thoughts from Paul’s letter to believers in Colosse highlight another way.  The Apostle Paul had never been to Colosse.   But Epaphras was sent by that local fellowship to serve Paul in prison in Rome.  Because of their deep love for Jesus they were bound together in a partnership – a partnership between an insider from Colosse and an outsider in Rome to care for and support the local fellowships in Colosse and Laodicea.  Many of us in the United States have a God-given love for friends in Africa.  We are the “outsiders” to Africa but we are connected to each other and we are connected in partnerships with many “insiders” in various countries of Africa.  What does this partnership look like?

It begins because each and every one of us is clear that Jesus is the supreme creator and sustainer of the world and of each of our lives.  We know he is the beginning and the end and the reconciler of all things in heaven and earth.  And he holds first place in our lives. (Colossians 1:15-20)

This vision of Jesus compels us to work to the point of exhaustion (kopian in 1:29) as we are motivated by a strong inner concern to help everyone we know come to maturity in Christ.  In this letter Paul uses the word agonizomai three times.  It is a word describing the life and death struggle in the area.  In this struggle nothing is held back.  Paul uses the word to describe how he and Epaphras were giving everything in them to pray for those in Colosse.

It has always intrigued me that even though Paul and Epaphras would have known many of the circumstances in the lives of the believers in Colosse and Laodicea because Epaphras was one of them they chose to pray about underlying issues in the lives of his friends rather than their circumstances.  So many of the prayers I hear in this country are all about changing our circumstances.  But they prayed that these friends at a distance would:

  • Have spiritual wisdom and understanding to know God’s will.
  • They would live a life worthy and pleasing to the Lord.
  • They would be fruitful in good work.
  • They would grow in their knowledge of God.
  • They would have God’s inner strength to endure patiently with joy and thankfulness.

So it seems that we outside partners have our assignment as we love and care for our African friends.  We are to be women and men who struggle on their behalf as we give constant attention to perseverance in prayer.

And by God’s grace we shall do this. . . and more than likely our African friends are already doing this for us.

by Kent Hotaling – September 2015


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Posted by on September 8, 2015 in Posts from the Group


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The Life of Jesus in Our Organizations, by Kent Hotaling

In 1994 someone mentioned that there were 1,400 Christian organizations based in Nairobi, Kenya. There may be more or less today, but whatever the number that is a huge number of people who are doing good in Africa. However, anyone who is serious about the work of thee Kingdom in Africa has observed that often the organizational thinking and structures inhibit the free flow of the Spirit and the love of Jesus. What are some of the issues that we need to address to stay on target with what God wants to do through us?

  • Jim Peterson points out how the growth of an institution often creates a system that stifles the life of Jesus: “Function calls for form. Form is the pattern an action assumes. We need forms. But once forms are created, they tend to become virtually indestructible. They live on and on. Functions are easily lost. When forms survive their intended function, they acquire new meanings of their own. They become a part of the tradition of a culture. They acquire an authority of their own. Then it becomes heretical to even question an established form. Jesus repudiated the Tradition of the Elders. He had no other choice.”[1]
  • Another difficulty is that the leaders of these organizations have a special temptation. They are the ones who bring vision and they are the ones who rally people to the cause. The organizational structure of most Christian organizations is a pyramid rather than the leadership circle that is described in the New Testament – a circle in which all in the Body are equal and they are free to exercise their God-given gifts irrespective of role or gender. In our current systems the very best leaders lean against the temptation that rests in the system – to become narcissistic. But the danger always lies there to want to fulfill their “God-given vision”, even if it means manipulation and various means of controlling others. The prayer of Ruth Haley Barton gives a helpful perspective on how to combat this personal and organizational narcissism: “My prayer: God, help us to live within the limits of what you have called us to do. Help us live within the limits of who we are—both as individuals and as an organization. Help us give our very best in the field that we have been given to work and to trust you to enlarge our sphere of action if and when you know we are ready. Help us know the difference between being driven by grandiose visions and responding faithfully to the expansion of your work in and through us.”[2]
  • Several years ago I was introduced to another concept that has helped me put in focus what brings life inside a structure. We look at our groups from one of two perspectives: Boundary-set or center-set. If we are boundary set we define who we are by our external boundaries, e.g. what people have to believe or do in order to be inside the boundary of our group. This also identifies who is not in our group. People don’t qualify because they haven’t believed or done the right things. This might be okay if the boundaries were ones established by God, but we set up ones different from other believers because of the differences in our theology, our cultural biases, and our different insecurities. Thus we are often not living within God’s boundaries that are spacious and inclusive but within much smaller ones that make us feel comfortable and secure – but isolate us from others.

The center-set group is one who hears Jesus say, “Follow me.” and as they follow they find that Jesus is the center of their group. The attention is on the person of Jesus rather than on the rules or structures that define people as “in” or “out”. All who are focused on Jesus are connected no matter where they are in their journey. None of us can exclude any others based on the boundaries that make us feel comfortable.

The issue is one of control. We all want to be in control of our lives because of the sense of security this brings us. But if we are to control what is in our boundaries we have to include less and less – our lives and our organizations are constantly becoming narrower. However, if we give the control of our lives to Jesus, who is at the center of our thinking and our actions, we can include all that Jesus wants us to include because we don’t have to control it. We then live expanding lives and our fellowships become more loving and inclusive.

This does not mean that there are no standards of excellence in a center-set fellowship. If we are following Jesus we certainly encounter the way he lived and wants us to live; we encounter his death and resurrection. His commands to love and his commission to reach out become foundational in our lives. But the identifiers of our boundaries are no longer the issue – the issue is obedience to Jesus and this brings all into the circle of Jesus who are on that journey.

  • Then there is the cultural misunderstandings that come because so many of our organizations working in Africa have their origin in the United States, Canada, or Europe and we let our culture shape how we relate rather than let Jesus live and function in an African culture in ways that are right for them.

At heart we seek to discover a few who love Jesus, love each other, and who listen to, and be obedient to, what the Lord reveals to them. This approach produces Kingdom life that shapes the organization rather than the organization becoming an inhibitor of Kingdom life.

[1] Church Without Walls by Jim Peterson, NAV Press, 1992, p. 158

[2] Ruth Haley Barton in Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership

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Posted by on September 9, 2012 in Posts from the Group


Africa Journey Meetings: What do we talk about?

We provide these meeting notes so that our blog readers can catch a glimpse inside our regular face to face meetings, learn what kinds of topics we address, and what ideas come from the the prayers and discussions.

About 20 people gathered recently at a home in Portland, Oregon to discuss their support roles to God’s movement in Africa.  Two discussions arose that presented ideas that might be helpful to others who are also involved in loving and supporting African friends. 

The first issue came up as we thought about the way we humans often stray from what the Lord has begun.  This raised the question: 

How do we help an organization or a fellowship to stay on track with what the Lord wants for them?  Some of our reflections were:

  • Probably the first question to consider is whether or not the original vision was something that came from God or was something people thought up and have used to control others or to raise finances for the organization.
  • Given the sense that the original vision was God-given then it is important to watch for the first step or two that takes us off track.  Down the road this will be a large divergence from the original objectives.
  • A discerning process is important because God is not bound by the original vision.  The Holy Spirit clearly sent Paul and Barnabas to Asia Minor, but when Paul thought they were to go back to that part of the world he discovered God closing doors and sending the team to Europe via the “Macedonian vision.”
  • Often the personal needs of those in leadership cause them to move off as they seek affirmation and importance by promoting themselves and/or their organization.  Those in leadership need to seek to experience transformed lives.
  • In any group those in leadership need to have the gifts of pastors/shepherds who care for the needs of those in their group even if that is not their primary responsibility.
  • When nudging people back on track it is important to know that no one wants to go “back” so the original objectives should be stated in ways that they become future goals.
  • Ownership of these ideas must belong to those in leadership and not one of us as an outside consultant.
  • To make any lasting changes it has to be done relationally rather than institutionally.  Rules and procedures of an organization can bring immediate changes but they won’t last.

 We also discussed another question that is important to all of us as we involve our friends in Africa.  How can we take people to Africa on short term missions that will be helpful to them and to what God is doing in Africa?  The books we have recommended in the past: When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert and Giving Wisely by Jonathan Martin are basic to understanding these issues.  And some of the ideas surfaced in our discussions

  • Go to be with people who are deeply connected to their communities so whatever gifts of love and encouragement you bring will be giving through those who already have the relationships.  We want our presence and our gifts to build good things for those we know who are ministering to others.
  • It is important that those going see themselves as going to learn – not to contribute out of their financial surplus or their “wealth of knowledge”.
  • If there are no relationships well established with those in Africa then it is best to not have the trip be project centered.  In that case, we need to go to be with the people to relate, to watch, and to cheer what God is using them to do.  Projects can come after the relationships are well established
  • Hopefully those who go are walking together in a close fellowship so those they meet in Africa are invited to “join with us in the fellowship that we have with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.”

Notes by Kent Hotaling

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Posted by on November 20, 2011 in Posts from the Group


I’m not leaving. Carl Wilkens finally tells his story.

A Review of book,

I’m not leaving., by Carl Wilkens

Carl Wilkens was the only American to remain in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide.  He sent his family out of the country when evacuation orders came, and remained to stay by the side of his household employees who had Tutsi identity cards.    

The book title hints at the heroic themes to follow.  When I consider the legacy of abandonment that the United States left in the genocide, even the title of Carl’s book, feels like cool water on a painfully burning issue. 

I love this book.  It’s short (only 165 pages), self-published and gets straight to storytelling.  Carl does not try to extend the book with political background or much reflective philosophy.   He explains his reasons for refusing orders to evacuate, and then goes on to tell countless unbelievable stories of day by day survival and his efforts to protect orphans located in various orphanages around Kigali.  He makes simple but poignant observations throughout his book about faith, love and humanity, that knock you over with power of truth.

For me, the largest truth that I drew from Carl’s story, is the high value of individual relationship; the power of one to one humanity, over ideals, institutions or causes.

One passage drawing out this truth was letter exchange between Carl and the President of the Seventh Day Adventist World Wide Church, who ordered him to leave Rwanda by appealing to the greater good of the cause:

“Dear Carl,

I have tried various means to communicate with you personally and orally, but it has not been possible under the present conditions.

Thus I must resort to the written word.  Your total commitment and dedication is both heroic and exemplary.  Needless to say, I, and my fellow leaders appreciate you, and what you have accomplished.  However, it is for this very reason that I am “asking” you to depart Kigali as soon as possible.

It goes against my very nature to use the word “order” in this context; however, that is the word that most accurately describes the sense that I must convey.  I am aware that most of the UN personnel have left the area, and therefore expect you to determine a reasonably safe method of evacuation.

We must use your skills and knowledge to define future work in Rwanda.  Therefore we are asking that you immediately relocate to Nairobi to work with others there in the vital look-ahead plans.

Your remaining in Kigali would deny the church and ADRA the input which you could provide, and can be counterproductive.  For the greater good of the cause, (emphasis added) I want you to lay down the good work you have been doing in Kigali in order to become part of the larger task ahead.

This directive is given after much prayer and consultation.  It is a decision, not a request.  Please contact us immediately upon reaching Nairobi.  Our prayer is that Christ will be with you and protect you as you relocate.

Yours in Christ

Robert S. Folkenberg.

President of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.”

Here is Carl’s reply:

“Dear Elder Folkenberg,

Thank you very much for your letter.  I am not refusing to obey your directive, but I need your help with two things before I can comply.

First, I need your help telling my friends and Rwandan coworkers that God will be with them and protect them, and explain to them why I can’t stay and rely on that same presence and protection.

Secondly, I need your help in making arrangements for the safeguarding of the two young people in my home who have Tutsi ID cards that will surely lead to them being killed.

As soon as you are able to help me with these two things I will be glad to join my family in Nairobi.


Carl Wilkens”

Let us follow Carl’s example of releasing our cause, for the sake of one or two souls!  He disregarded any opportunity to “define future work in Rwanda” in order to save the life of two household employees.

There is no doubt that ADRA had done great work in Rwanda.  But too often, we put the value of a great human institution, before the value of one person.  Jesus radically showed us the reverse.  Jesus told the parable of the lost sheep, of the shepherd’s willingness to leave the many, to rescue one desperate person. 

Carl’s story goes on to describe very many unbelievable moments of decisions that lead to life or death.  While he initially stayed to protect his household employees (who did indeed survive), he ended up saving the lives of hundreds of others, working alongside many Rwandans who sacrificed themselves to protect their fellow Rwandans.  He describes how he learned to relate to the killers as human beings, and elicit their cooperation, in order to protect many orphans and people under his care.   

I also realized by reading Carl’s story that I think about justice and fighting against evil in black and white ideals.  Carl’s story teaches me that fighting for justice is a messy job that we shouldn’t judge.  A person’s desperate fight to survive or to save others, confuses the distinction between good and evil, removing clear paths to justice.

Read Carl’s book.  He will ground you back to one-to-one relationship, and simple truths of love and faith.

By Serena Morones


Carl’s book can be purchased from his website, or here on  



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Posted by on July 31, 2011 in Posts from the Group


Kent Hotaling’s Selections from Giving Wisely, by Jonathan Martin

An Author who has underscored insights that many of us have learned the hard way is Jonathan Martin.  I have selected a few of his thoughts as a tease for those who might be willing to read more.   ~Kent Hotaling


Giving Wisely by Jonathan Martin

             “We often unknowingly have a condescending attitude towards those in the third world.  That attitude is reflected in this thought: These people cannot spread the gospel without my money.  The fact is, Christians did it in the first century, and they can do it now.  They’re very capable, intelligent, hardworking, gifted people, and their desire to please God is often greater than ours.  Their psychological well-being is often far superior to that of our own people in this culture.” 38

            “We have, as well-intentioned generous Americans, sewn the first seeds of dependency, and thus have almost guaranteed that their church can grow only as big as our western bucks can take it.” 41

            “We need to be concerned about those who cannot take care of themselves—the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the dying, those who are alone.” 44

            “Any time we can empower locals to take care of locals and make this sustainable, our dollar has been invested for the greatest return.  Never underestimate a people’s ability to care for their own—after all, they have the knowledge needed to make it in that culture, and we don’t.  They want to make it – they often just need help to get off the ground; when they get that help—watch them fly.” 49

                        “The Foundational Big Four RAISE

Relationship First

            A working and viable relationship is the foundation for wise giving.


            To give to an individual rather than through a financially accountable organization is not a sound practice and has led to the ruin of many believers.”

Indigenous Sustainability

            Our giving shouldn’t create dependency, and it should work toward developing full indigenous sustainability.


            The financial gift should not create economic inequities in the place it is given.  Often pastors receiving western funds live at a standard high above those around them.  Ask yourself:  Does the money I give allow this man to live at a standard high above the rest of those he seeks to serve?  Does this money elevate one child high above his next door neighbor?  Find out how much someone with an equivalent education and responsibilities makes in this man’s or woman’s country, and give accordingly.”  62-65

Note taker’s note:  The rest of the book is made up of illustrations and practical issues in giving according to this RAISE principle.  I will select a portion of those thoughts to encourage you to read the book.

            “Send the cash with a trustworthy person with other trustworthy persons assuring the delivery of the gift, fellowshipping with the recipients from other cultures, seeing God work in wonderful ways, returning home as changed people and sharing with everyone in the church.” 68

            “It is far better for money to follow a good relationship than to start with money and then try to develop a relationship.  The least desirable of all is that money is given apart from any real relationship.” 75

      “I have seen too many wonderful brothers and sisters in third world countries corrupted by money that we, well-intentioned Americans, give to them when we hear of their need.  The truth is that they have never had to learn what fiscal responsibility is – for they have never had any money to speak of.  We need to do all we can to make sure we are not setting a trap for them.” 85

 “Our means for funding full-time ministry are also very foreign.  Since this is a completely unknown concept, the locals have no vision for it, and there aren’t enough believers in the local community to support them.  The foreign ministry raises the support for the national in America.  So you have the national working for a foreign paycheck and is perceived to be foreign by his own people and thus loses local credibility.” 95

 “China, by contrast:  No full-time staff?  No building?  No money? No academic institutions for formal theological training?  These are the four things we in the West deem as most important, and yet it was in the absence of these things that the greatest church growth in history has taken place.  China’s one million believers turned into forty million by the late 1980s and now perhaps to as many as 100 million.” 95

 “Money should never be used to create initiative; it should come alongside and empower those who are already taking the initiative.  When we partner with someone who’s already in motion, our money can serve to empower the already active ministry.” 103

 “This is one of the reasons it’s important for relationships to precede giving.  Without relationship, it’s impossible to know the effects of our giving—whether it is helpful or harmful.” 121

 “Who is an expert?

“Missionary kids who grew up playing with the locals, then spent time back in the U.S., then ended up back on the field as adults have always impressed me as the greatest experts.  They know the language, and they know the hearts of the people on both sides of the ocean.  They tend to love the people around them because they’ve grown up with them.” 126

 “Look at the inequities we’re creating in this village.  What damage is being done to the very fabric of these communal villages by such sponsorship that chooses one child and doesn’t choose the child next door?” 139

 “It’s best to work with the community as a whole rather than singling out individuals for sponsorship.  Unfortunately, sponsoring a village isn’t as personal as sponsoring a child.  One possible solution is to financially sponsor an entire village and the projects, which include health and education improvements, but then you sponsor a family in this village with your prayers and encouragement.  While the whole village learns to work together to take care of and provide for each other, they’re all in touch by writing letters and sending pictures with a family that is praying for them individually.”139,140

“There’s a simple rule:  If you want a person to reach his or her own culture, don’t take them out of it.  Don’t take someone out of a relatively impoverished country, show him the glitter and comfort and material excess of the U.S., and then expect him to want to go back.” 165

 “Good books are empowering and really never create dependency.  Getting whole libraries into the hands of schools, seminaries, and churches that will last and be used for years to come is a gift that keeps on giving.”  169

Visit our Amazon Reading list here that includes Giving Wisely and other books we highly recommend.

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Posted by on July 22, 2011 in Posts from the Group


When Helping Hurts; Insights to Consider

A Review of the book When Helping Hurts

By Kent Hotaling

This book, written by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert, gives insight into our efforts to help meet physical needs in Africa.  Reading it I kept thinking, “Oh, so that’s why that did (or did not) prove helpful to our African Friends.  Probably the best way to encourage you to read this work for yourself is to tantalize you with several insights from the authors. Kent Hotaling

                “Poor people typically talk in terms of shame, inferiority, powerlessness, humiliation, fear, hopelessness, depression, social isolation, and voicelessness.  North Americans tend to emphasize a lack of material things such as food, money, clean water, medicine, housing, etc.  This mismatch between many outsiders’ perceptions of poverty and the perceptions of poor people themselves can have devastating consequences for poverty-alleviation efforts.” 53

                “We are not bringing Christ to poor communities.  He has been active in these communities since the creation of the world, sustaining them by his powerful word.  Hence a significant part of working in poor communities involves discovering and appreciating what God has been doing there for a long time?  This should give us a sense of humility and awe as we enter poor communities.” 60

                “Shame – a poverty of being – is a major part of the brokenness that low income people experience in their relationship with themselves.  At the same time the economically rich also suffer from a poverty of being.  They often have ‘god-complexes’, a subtle and unconscious sense of superiority in which they believe they have achieved their wealth through their own efforts and that they have been anointed to decide what is best for low-income people, whom they view as inferior to themselves.  Until we embrace our mutual brokenness our work with low-income people is likely to do far more harm than good.” 64, 65

           “Poverty alleviation is the ministry of reconciliation: moving people closer to glorifying God

by living in right relationship with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation.  The goal is not to make the materially poor all over the world into middle-to-upper-class North Americans, a group characterized by high rates of divorce, sexual addiction, substance abuse and mental illness.  The goal is to restore people to a

full expression of humanness, to being what God created us all to be.” 78

“Defining poverty alleviation as the reconciliation of relationships shapes the methods our churches

 or ministries should use to achieve that goal.  Our perspective should be less about how we are going to fix the materially poor and more about how we can walk together, asking God to fix both of us.” 79

 “A first step in thinking about working with the poor in any context is to discern whether the situation calls for relief, rehabilitation, or development.  In fact, the failure to distinguish among these situations is one of the most common reasons that poverty-alleviation efforts often do harm.” 104

 “Relief needs to be immediate and in order to provide timely relief, it is important to engage in disaster preparedness. Relief is also temporary, provided only during the time that people are unable to help themselves.  Unfortunately, determining when to stop relief is never easy.” 110

“Once relief efforts have stopped the bleeding, it is time to move quickly into rehabilitation, working with, not for, people to help them return to the positive elements of their precrisis conditions. 110

 “Do not do things for people that they can do for themselves.  Memorize this; recite it under your breath all day long.  Every time you are engaged in poverty alleviation keep this at the forefront of your mind for it can keep you from doing all sorts of harm.” 115

Development experts have discovered the benefits of using ‘asset based community development’ because it is consistent with the perspective that God has blessed every individual and community with a host of gifts, including such diverse things as land, social networks, knowledge, animals, savings, intelligence, schools, creativity, production equipment, etc.  The very nature of the question, “What gifts do you have?” affirms people’s dignity and contributes to the process of overcoming their poverty of being.  And as they tell us of their gifts and abilities, we can start to see them as God does.” 126

“Very few Short Term Mission trips are done in situations in which relief is the appropriate intervention.  Most of the time they go to communities experiencing chronic problems that need long-term development.  Unfortunately, they rarely diagnose the situation and pursue a relief approach which does more harm than good.”  166

Suggestions on ways to improve the missions

                “Make sure the host organization receiving the team understands the nature of poverty and practices the basic principles of appropriate poverty alleviation.  Design the trip to be about ‘being’ and ‘learning’ as much as about ‘doing’.  Stay in community members’ homes and create time to talk and to interact with them.  Ask local believers to share their insights with team members about who God is and how He works in their lives; have team members share the weaknesses in their own lives and churches, and have the local believers pray for them.  Ensure that the ‘doing’ portion of the trip avoids paternalism.  Do not do for people what they can do for themselves.  The goal is for the work to be done primarily by the community members with the team in a helping role.  Keep the number of team members small.  This will promote more learning and interaction with the host environment and will lessen the damage from Elephant’s foot!” 175


Power Pressure

Americans exert power, whether we realize it or not.  Church members go on mission trips to  visit the poor, with a wide open heart to help and give.  I believe that in the process, we unknowingly pressure the people of other cultures with our power.  Jesus was most critical of the powerful, and most merciful to the weak.  Let us examine our approach to helping the poor, and learn to love without applying power pressure.

We have difficulty sensing our power pressure, because we have never lived in a community of severe insecurity.  We have options. We have money to complete a project, or we can figure out where to get it.  We can get a job and rent an apartment.  We feel confident to speak openly.  We criticize with impunity.  We believe in the American dream, where any idea is free to grow.

Our natural self confidence causes us to advocate ideas, to ask direct questions, to take action to provide a solution, such as donating money to complete a critical project.  All of these behaviors feel intuitive to us, and don’t feel the least bit inappropriate.

We have never endured great loss from speaking openly.  We’ve never lost a loved one for not complying.  We’ve never coped with a total lack of options.  We are not self-aware, that we naturally speak and act from a position of personal security and power, and that much of the rest of the world does not.  Other cultures that have suffered under ruthless political regimes, war and extreme poverty, relate from histories of insecurity, and that’s an entirely different paradigm.

After ten years of engaging in African-Western relationships, I am starting to feel great respect for my African brothers and sisters who have learned deeper personal skills of flexibility than me.   They know how to patiently endure power, how to humbly and respectfully go with the flow. They know how to give up for the sake of peace, or win by waiting.  They cope with a lack of options and money.  I have no idea how to do that. 

I speak my mind, and make my case to defend my plans, because I can.  My peers respect me for it.  American culture is a mutual power exerting culture, whereas many other cultures are mutual submissive cultures; a patient wait and see approach.  It’s critical for us to realize that our natural first response is to step forward, whereas in many other cultures, a first natural response is to yield and step back.  We need to realize this difference, so that we don’t incorrectly assume that people agree with us when in fact they don’t.

When I first travelled to Rwanda, all sorts of creative, helpful ideas bubbled up within me.  My solutions to extreme poverty ranged from very grandiose, like building a world class high school, to very small, such as donating chickens to our orphanage home.  My ideas met with enthusiastic affirmation, and I started to believe that I possessed exceptional creativity and even entrepreneurial genius.  Rwanda felt like a magical land where every idea has merit.   But as my projects unfolded, I started to see glimpses that some of my ideas were not that culturally appropriate or actually wanted.  The chicken coop only got half built, and the money invested was lost.  Other projects led to even greater painful results.

My helpful ideas met with initial agreement but not actual consensus. My friends yielded to me out of respect for my position as a visitor and person of wealth.  There is a huge difference between consensus and yielding that is lost on most Westerners.  Lack of consensus will require a great cost to be paid on the back end of a project, and of a relationship.

Jesus’ love is radical.  Jesus’ love does not seek its own way.  How can I release my power pressure, and live in mutual submission with those of other cultures? How do I truly gain consensus?  To start, I will be willing to spend time, without seeking to bring an idea.  I will also let ideas take a very long time to percolate, and gain consensus before moving forward.  I may wait to be asked to help, instead of asking if I can help.   And I will look for opportunities to respectfully go with the flow.

Serena Morones

March 19, 2011

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Posted by on March 19, 2011 in Posts from the Group


The Myth of the Blank Canvas

Africa inspires me to feel unlimited hope for life change.  When I first met Rwandan orphans who had bright eyes, wide smiles showing perfect white teeth, and surprising plans for the future, I was jolted into a swirling dance of ideas, hope and action.  I’ve lived this energizing journey for more than ten years now.  It’s a thrilling but difficult place.  Along my journey, I’ve come to discover an odd behavior in myself, and others like me.  I call it the myth of the blank canvas. 

We look at the African orphan (or widow, or poor person) as a blank canvas, ready for us to splash brilliantly colored paint that will fill out the emptiness of their life.  By blank canvas, I mean we forget to imagine what or who came before us.  We don’t realize the values, priorities and relationships that constitute the deeply ingrained identity of the person we want to help.

In 2007, I had the good luck of meeting a group of business entrepreneurs at Bourbon Coffee in Kigali.  A friend connected me because he thought I would benefit from collaborating with ambitious American businessmen working in Rwanda.  I sat within the circle of dreamers and thinkers, all of whom had become successful and wealthy in America.  They talked of founding a high quality university in Kigali, with just the right educational programs that would fill the deficit of skills in Rwanda, as well as starting business enterprises to employ the students.  The plan was enormous, and sounded perfect in every way.  They expected their plan to be one of the most pivotal events in Rwanda’s development.  Then, in the midst of the euphoria, one of the guys said, “It’s so exciting to be here in this moment today.  I feel like I am eavesdropping, as the founding fathers discuss the plans that will establish the country.”

Founding fathers?  Who do we think we are?  At least one of these men saw Rwanda as a blank canvas, ready for their big splashes of paint, that would make everything beautiful.   I have come to see this is really how many of us westerners think.   Why do we disregard what is already?  When we want to help someone, why do we not honor and learn about the other relationships in that person’s life?  Is it because we see the past as being too broken to be significant? 

I’ve helped many Rwandans over the years, and looking back I can see that in early days, I did not adequately regard the identities of those I helped.  I viewed the youth of Rwanda as enormous opportunities for growth and life change, and thought they would be open to any idea I had for helping.  In fact, I believed so strongly in the wisdom of my own ideas, I declined to follow advice from older Rwandans.   Of course, pain resulted.

As time passed, I realized that my simplistic view was a myth, especially when I saw other Americans behaving as if nothing and no one had come before them.

My husband and I brought a group of Rwandan singers on music tours for three years in row.  As we toured around the West Coast, we noticed that host families seemed very intent on imparting their knowledge and interests onto the guys.  They treated the guys like molds ready to be imprinted.  One person gave a violin and insisted that the Rwandan youth learn it.  People gave them books, CDs, art, gadgets and hobby tools,  and insisted that they adopt it all.  The guys would hear all sorts of strong advice that was wholly  impractical for their situations. This pattern was ridiculously common to the extent that my husband and I joked about it.   But the jokes pricked me into awareness of my own self-absorbed perspective.   

One of the most emotional moments of realizing the myth came a few years back when I asked my friend Angie if she would open her home to host Eric, one of the young musicians I had helped for many years, to be able to attend school in America.   Angie had been to Rwanda and had started to think about adoption, so her heart was ready and open to welcome a Rwandan youth into her home.   Several months after Eric joined her family, Angie wrote a wonderful, heartfelt blog about her adoption of Eric, and what it meant to her to have Eric like a son in her family.  Angie is a great friend (and gave me permission to tell this story), but her blog struck me oddly and made me feel empty.  The blog made me feel as if Angie wasn’t considering  the long journey Eric had travelled to get to her home, or  the other families, including my own, who had sacrificed to bring him that far. 

When we don’t know what is already there, or who has come before, we are not learning the identity of the person we are trying to love.  We are loving our ideas of how to change a person, more than loving  the person. 

There was certainly nothing negative about Angie’s high commitment to parent Eric, just as there is nothing negative about our desires to help the poor, orphaned and widowed.  Angie and her family remain one of the most important, life giving relationships to Eric.   But this kind of parenting is very different, because while Eric is an orphan, he came to her home with a huge world of relationships, experiences and identity; a beautiful and complex picture.    The best outcome for Angie, me and others like us will come after a long time of patient listening and learning how to best fit into a complex story.

Many short-term mission and humanitarian projects fail.  I believe failure is partly due to the speed at which the idea came together.  We don’t take time to listen and learn how to best fit into what is  already there.  Jean Hatzfield, author of the “The Antelope Strategy,” translated the word Muzungu as “usurper.”  I felt shocked to read such strongly negative translation of the word for white person.  But as I reflect, I realize that it’s true that our ambitious world changing plans often  usurp what was already in process, either in one person’s life or in a community.   Wouldn’t it be better to weave our efforts to help into what already is in process, than to launch a whole new initiative?[1] 

Why do we try to make people into copies of ourselves, instead of first understanding the person we are trying to help?  I don’t think it’s because we are bad people.  I believe it’s because we all deeply yearn for significance.  We want to imprint our identity on needy people, because we want to feel valuable, smart and capable of changing the world.  But our desire for significance cannot be gratified by helping others.  Our need for significance will only be filled when we live in eternity in the presence of God.

By Serena Morones

February, 2011

[1] A major thesis of the book, When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett, is that poverty alleviation projects should build upon the existing assets in a community.  Start with the strengths of a community and slowly build from there.  Bringing in outside technology and resources doesn’t have long term impact.


Posted by on February 14, 2011 in Posts from the Group