Category Archives: Ministry

Light it up!

Matthew 5:13-16 – You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Last weekend my family and I packed meals for Feed My Starving Children‘s #LoveSomalia mobile pack event here in the Twin Cities. Our first shift was on Sunday, so of course I came down with a migraine that afternoon. Some prescription meds and a nap later, I called on my faithful prayer warrior friends to pray that I would have “a supernatural burst of health and energy” for the event. God answered our prayers, and a burst of health and energy is exactly what I got! By the time the introduction/training portion of the event was done, I felt great. And as we developed a rhythm on the packing floor (I run a sealer and Jacob is a pro boxing coordinator/table lead. Scott usually helps in the warehouse, but for this event he stayed with the fam and scooped the vitamins and veggies), I was having a lot of fun! Jacob and I had a rhythm going. As I finished sealing a bag, I tested the seal then flipped it into the air, and he would reach out and snatch it up and put it in the right place. (We were very careful. I never threw them high enough to damage a bag if he didn’t catch it, and I tossed them over the sorting table so they didn’t hit the floor. One actually missed the table and landed right in the box!) We laughed, we sang along with the music playing in the arena, and even danced a little (or what passes for “dancing” in our family…) I physically worked to pack meals for about two hours, yet I left with more energy than I had going in! When Scott and I talked about it later, the only way I could explain that energy and why I keep signing up for events like that was to say that it “lights me up.”

Do you know the feeling of being lit up? Maybe you LOVE babies, kids, or teens, and spending time with them gives you that burst. Maybe you’re an actor, musician, comedian, or public speaker, and you feel the thrill of the live audience. Maybe creating artwork, playing a sport, or writing your novel gets you too excited to sleep. I’ll bet that there is something in your life that energizes you in spite of the calories it burns. This is passion. This is what you were put on this earth to do.

That may leave some of you baffled, or even insulted. The first time I heard a sermon on giftings and passion, I was hurt. I remember sitting in church and praying, “God, I make good cookies. What are you going to do with that?” I didn’t see my passion for food as something God could or would use. My “spiritual gifts” test always came out as “helps” which means pitching in where needed. So my passion was food and my gifting was pitching in. I thought that was pathetic. I thought it relegated me to bake sales and funeral lunches. But I wanted to make a difference in the world!

It took time for me to mature and for my interests and giftings to come together into something I could think of as a calling. Now here I am: writing, sometimes raising funds, and volunteering to my heart’s content for the cause of global hunger relief. I believe that when I asked God what He could do with my talent for making cookies, He had a fatherly chuckle and said, “Watch me.” Your talent may seem small, or like something that doesn’t coincide with spreading the gospel or changing the world, but God doesn’t make mistakes. He gave you your gifts and personality because He needed just that you in just the life He gave you. Let your light shine!

My Hunger “Bucket List”

My Hunger Bucket List

Are you familiar with the concept of a “bucket list?” The idea is just a list of things you really want to accomplish before you “kick the bucket.” Some people have a literal checklist, but most of us just have general ideas. For example, my bucket list includes visiting Paris (I studied French in high school and college), to see the Eiffel Tower and the Mona Lisa in person. Even if you’ve never heard of a bucket list, I’ll bet you’ve dreamed about things you want to do before you die.

I have a Food Shelf Friday bucket list as well – things I want to do or experience as I advocate for the world’s hungry. So today, I’m going to share those dreams with you.

  1. Meet my Compassion child: I’ve told you before about my friend Edouard, whom we sponsor through Compassion International. One of the great things about Compassion is that they can also arrange for you to meet your sponsored child if you visit his or her area. They even plan missions trips a couple times a year and take sponsors to different parts of the world to serve and meet their kids. They just went to Burkina Faso last year, and Edouard is pretty young yet, but I would really love to do this when he’s older and we have more history together.
  2. Build and maintain a revolving portfolio of microfinance loans: Microfinance is another topic I’ve covered previously. At the time when I first shared this revolutionary tool, I also made my first loan through Kiva. Loans pay back in five years, and the money can be reinvested in another loan at that time or cashed out. My plan is to make a new loan twice a year (December and April), until I have ten loans out there. At that point the first one will pay back and will fund the 11th. My investment, built during the first five years, will become a self-feeding revolving portfolio of investments. Of course, not all loans successfully pay back, but the occasional failed loan can be replaced by a new investment on my part. Now, that may sound like a lot of business mumbo jumbo, but it’s not as elaborate and complicated as it seems. Kiva does all the work for me; I just invest about $30 at a time and pick a project that I would like to fund. So far, my first two loans have been agricultural and seem to be loans that will yield long-term opportunity for the lenders.
  3. Transition my wardrobe from “fast fashion” to fair trade: Like microfinance, fair trade is a long-term, sustainable way to provide opportunity, and thus poverty and hunger relief, for people around the world. I am determined to care for my wardrobe, making things last as long as possible, and to replace things (when needed) with items that were made with fair employment practices that empower rather than imprison the workers.
  4. Continue to develop a personal reputation for serving others: When someone has a need for volunteers, I want them to think of me. Not because I want the recognition, but because I want more opportunities to love and serve. I want my life to be an offering to God, and for Him to put me to work loving and serving others the way Jesus did.
  5. Develop Food Shelf Friday’s reputation as a resource: Bloggers try really hard not to get caught up in the numbers, especially faith-based and non-profit blogs. We’re torn between wanting God to build His kingdom as He sees fit, and peeking at the stats to see if we’re doing a good job.
    It’s really not about the numbers, anyway. I would rather have a hundred people know about Food Shelf Friday if it blesses and informs their efforts and service than to have a million followers who don’t read the blog, or only come here for a laugh.
    And yet… I feel that this blog is something God has called me to do, and that the information I offer here is valuable. It does no good if I share it with an empty room, right?
    So as you can see, it’s a back-and-forth debate. In the end, I do care if people read my blog, and I work hard to build a social media following, find opportunities to write for other publications, and provide you with well-researched and interesting content. I really want Food Shelf Friday to succeed, and I want it to be a tool that you use as you make decisions about your lifestyle and plans to serve those in need. I repeat (as I often do) that I will NEVER use guilt and sad pictures to prod you into action. Your motivation should come from your own beliefs and the spirit’s convictions. Food Shelf Friday is just a tool to help you act on those convictions. You should never have cause to fear what you’ll see on this site or on my social media feeds.

 

Obviously I have a ways to go. Hopefully I’ll have many years to reach and refine, and I’m sure I’ll come up with many more dreams as well! Leave a comment with some of your bucket list dreams (personal or service-based), and/or topics you would like to see covered here on Food Shelf Friday. I welcome your feedback!

Nervous: Facing Need Head-on

Nervous

About a million years ago, back when I first started my undergrad degree, I took a public speaking class. It was good for me. I went into it afraid, and came out far more confident in my ability to speak in front of a group. One of the things our professor taught was that you never tell the audience that you’re nervous. “If you’re nervous, they can already tell,” he would say. “And if they can’t tell, you should let them keep that illusion.” He pointed out that once you tell the audience about your nerves, they start to see your nervousness instead of your message.

Rules were made to be broken, right? I’m nervous writing this post. I’ve learned something about myself and I don’t like it. Worse than that, I’m afraid of the consequences of changing. I’m afraid that by telling you and admitting it to God, I’ll be held accountable to change.

You all know that I care deeply about the world’s hungry. I love service projects, volunteering, and supporting great organizations. But hands on, face to face with need, I’m terrified. I like my service projects, volunteering, and support to be clean. I like to pack meals at Feed My Starving Children. I actually enjoy serving in the kitchen during church events. I’m overjoyed to speak to the middle class and church people. I’m happiest doing research and writing about best practices and great organizations here at Food Shelf Friday. But making a small sacrifice here in my safe, clean home is one thing. Coming face to face with need on the streets and the uncertain mental and moral status of individuals feels dangerous and threatening.

We finally gave away our last “blessing bag” this week. J and I enjoyed planning out the bags, shopping for the supplies, and preparing the packages. But handing them out was unnerving. The first bag I handed out was on a busy urban street corner in broad daylight. I was alone. As I approached the intersection where a man stood with a cardboard sign, I realized he would be on my passenger side. I grabbed my purse and put it on my lap, grabbed the bag, and opened the window as I approached.  “Here are some things for you,” I said. He thanked me, and I waved as I pulled away, heart pounding. The second bag went to a man on a highway on-ramp. It was a public but less busy area. Again, I moved my purse away from the window, rolled it open, and handed out the bag. Again, the man thanked me, and again my heart pounded as I pulled away.

Several months passed after that encounter (Minnesota winters aren’t really conducive to street corner begging). I realized a flaw with the blessing bags – they were only helpful if I was in my car and if the people in need were somewhere I could reach from my lane. Most of the time I see people begging when I’m not in my car. After being approached on a light rail train, I realized that I needed something more portable. So I picked up a couple of $10 Subway gift cards. I chose Subway because they offer reasonably healthy food, and because they don’t sell alcohol. If someone wants to sell the gift card and use that cash for alcohol, I can’t stop that, but I feel like this gift card offers something truly useful. I won’t accidently spend the gift cards, as would likely happen with cash, and they’re so portable I can carry them in my phone case at all times.

This past weekend we saw our third blessing bag recipient. This time J was with me, so as I approached the intersection, I instructed him to grab the bag and open his window. He was immediately nervous and flustered. As he handed out the bag and settled back into his seat, I noticed two things. First, I wasn’t nervous. Either the recipient being female, the fact that I wasn’t alone, or the fact that I was the driver and not the hander-outer was apparently enough to keep me from getting nervous. The second thing I noticed is that J was worked up. “That was scary,” he said several times on the way home.

Ok. So apparently it’s not just me. Why do we get scared? I know one thing that worries me is the unknown mental state and motives of the stranger. One day when I was driving home from work, I was spending some time in prayer, and I offered God my willingness to do anything He might call me to do. “…except picking up hitchhikers. I’m sorry Lord, but the only way I will ever let a strange hitchhiker in my car is if he looks exactly like the Jesus of Renaissance art and holds up a sign that says, ‘Hey Karah, this is Jesus, give me a lift.’ And even then, Lord, I’m not sure I could do it.”

I’m afraid because as a woman I have heard stories my whole life (mostly fiction and Dateline-style news drama) about female joggers dragged into the woods and back alley assaults on women out after dark. Jacob Wetterling, Elizabeth Smart, Jacycee Dugard – their stories are part of our collective memory. They scrape away our faith in humanity, our personal security and confidence, and our willingness to “get our hands dirty.” We want the police and missionaries to handle it, and we’ll just take up an offering or hold a supply drive.

Sometimes that’s ok. I don’t want my sweet grandma to start working with bikers or even to answer the phone when scam artists call. I don’t want my teenage son rehabilitating reformed prostitutes (God forgive me for even saying that…). And offerings and supply drives make many amazing ministries possible. Some things are just not appropriate, and some situations need to be handled by people with special training.

But I do not want to be afraid of people. I want boldness and confidence in the God I serve. I want to bless others and not always hide and distance myself from need. I want to learn to love people because God loves them. I want to overcome my nerves because I know that I am called to serve and advocate on behalf of the hungry.

There, I said it.

Do you identify with this discomfort/anxiety? Have you overcome it? What worked for you? Share in the comments!

Organization Profile: Venture Expeditions

venture

If you have been reading Food Shelf Friday very long, you’ve heard me talk about the Hope for Dinner initiative. If you missed that, Hope for Dinner is a fundraiser for Venture Expeditions. Every year during the week before Thanksgiving and/or the week before Easter, families give up their normal evening meal and instead spend 5 nights eating rice and beans. The family gains awareness of life on a limited diet, and they save quite a bit of money on their groceries. That money is given to Venture Expeditions. That’s how my family became familiar with Venture, and I know some of you have participated in or read about that fundraiser. But what about the organization itself? What does Venture do?

Venture Expeditions started in 2002 when a group of guys from Northcentral University here in Minneapolis decided to bike across the country to raise money for a church in Argentina. They made it safely across the country and raised over $17,000 along the way. The second year, the group grew and the trip did to. In 2003 they biked across Europe and raised $23,000 for HIV/AIDS patients in Africa. It was clear that this program had legs. Or, um, wheels.

In 2006 Venture became a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. They have continued to raise funds and awareness through physically demanding expeditions: biking, running, hiking, etc. They also hold an annual gala fundraiser and get support from individuals and churches through donations and fundraisers like Hope For Dinner. The money they raise provides for physical needs, fights for justice, and spreads the message of Jesus Christ. Today most of their work takes place on the Burma/Thailand border, one of the hardest to reach places in the world. They provide Feed My Starving Children’s Mana Pack meals to the hungry, education to children, and discipleship to anyone willing to learn about Jesus.

Venture has not yet been rated by Charity Navigator, but they will be soon because they just hit Charity Navigator’s threshold of raising at least $1 million/year. GuideStar gave Venture a silver award, which means that they feel Venture is committed to transparency in its operations. Venture uses less than 10% of the money they raise for operations, so over 90% of your gift goes right to work. They claim that a donation of $10 is enough for them to provide 100 meals, and $300 can educate a child for a year, or provide food, clothing and shelter for one child for a whole year. That’s a really good return on investment!

As you can see, Venture can do a lot with even a small gift. If you want to help, go to their website and click the “donate now” button. Or, if you’re an Amazon user, start signing in to Amazon through smile.amazon.com, and set Venture as the charity partner that will receive a portion of your Amazon spending. All the prices, selection, and Prime membership benefits are the same, and most Amazon products do generate a donation.

The timing of this post is no random chance. I have been working on an amazing, unique piece of jewelry – a joint effort between Food Shelf Friday and Voice Jewelry by Hannah Kallio. We can’t wait to unveil it (soon!). I know you are going to love it, and it will make a perfect Mother’s Day gift. The project will benefit Venture Expeditions, so I wanted you to have a good understanding of who they are and why I chose them for this project. Keep your eyes peeled (that’s such a gross metaphor…), I’ll probably be spilling the beans via Periscope this week and then on social media by next weekend. To find Food Shelf Friday on Periscope search @foodshelffriday (it’s an app, so I can’t just give you a link 😦 ). I’m absolutely giddy about this project and we have been working really hard on design, ordering materials, and preparing the marketing. It’s going to be great. Keep an eye on the FSF social media outlets (Links: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest) for the announcement!

 

Have you participated in Hope for Dinner or one of Venture’s expeditions? Tell us about your experience!

How to Focus Your Giving for More Impact and Less Guilt

How to Focus Your Giving

Years ago, I struggled to find my passion and my place in this world and in the kingdom of God. I was still involved in helping out here and there and giving a little to this and that, but I felt like my meager efforts were spread so thin, and I wasn’t sure I was making an impact anywhere. I prayed for God to give me a specific passion, something to focus my efforts to multiply my impact. I actually sat down and made a list of all the things I was involved in and all the things I really cared about. That thought and that exercise were part of my journey, and as my passion for hunger began to reveal itself to me, that thought about spreading or concentrating efforts stuck with me.

So I have introduced you to a number of programs and organizations that are helping the hungry, and there are many more to come. But I don’t want that to become overwhelming to you. I don’t volunteer or donate to every hunger cause, and I don’t automatically say no to every non-hunger thing that comes up. So in the interest of transparency I’m going to let you in on what I actually do for those in need. I hope it helps you clarify your mission and learn to say yes or no with confidence instead of guilt.

First, as a Christian I believe that I am called to give 10% of my income to the support of the church (Malachi 3:10, Leviticus 27:30, Deuteronomy 14:22). Some people accept this responsibility but include their other charitable giving in this number, and some think that tithing went out with the Old Testament. They both make good points, truly, and I don’t condemn anyone who sees this differently than I do. But if people are tithing by giving to a different charity or not tithing because they no longer feel obligated, how will the church survive? Because I believe in my church, because I want to live a more generous life, and because I see it in the Bible, I have chosen to give the first 10% of my income to my local church. In my heart AND in my checkbook I am invested in my church.

For us, that’s the big one. But there are smaller things we do on a regular basis or on occasion. We have a sponsored child through Compassion International. That costs us a mere $38 a month, and it lets us invest in the life of one individual. We also keep mini M&M tubes to collect quarters for Feed My Starving Children. When they’re full, we schedule a time to go pack meals at their facility and swap out our full tubes of quarters for new empty tubes.

And of course there’s Food Shelf Friday. Every Friday night (or another night if Friday doesn’t work) my family exchanges our regular meal for a simplified meal like food shelf users receive. The experience makes us more thoughtful donors (aware of things like protein sources and sodium overload in canned foods), and the savings allows us to donate the identical meal. I collect our Food Shelf Friday duplicate meals in grocery bags in my home office. When the bags are full I take them to my church’s food bank. Sometimes I donate it somewhere different. The Scouts and the mail carriers both hold door to door food drives. In October I’ll probably be giving it to another food shelf, as I am hoping to do a tour and interview for the blog, and in December I’ll bring my stash to work for the food drive we do at our annual community Christmas event.

So that is my family’s regular giving plan: tithe, Compassion sponsorship, quarters and volunteer packing for FMSC, and Food Shelf Friday. We also chip in now and then to one-time things like the recent Convoy of Hope event, or last fall’s Hope For Dinner. When we can, we give a little for school and sports fundraisers, benefits, and pancake breakfasts. Those things are kind of hit and miss and I don’t really think of them as giving as much as just being part of a community. When asked to donate or participate in something, my first consideration is if I can afford to do that without sacrificing my commitments. Second I ask myself if it will advance the kingdom of God, meet the actual physical needs of people, or help build my local community, because those are the things that matter most to me. This allows me to confidently say yes or no depending on my resources and priorities.

I hope this post helps you in two ways:
First, I hope it helps as you see many FSF posts about different programs and organizations to know that I don’t give to everything. I like to share about these organizations because it might be one that you want to participate in, and also just to give us all hope and faith in humanity by hearing about all the people and organizations that are out there doing good work for the poor.
Second, I hope that it helps you evaluate your passions and priorities so you can focus your efforts, giving to and volunteering with quality organizations that share your values and priorities.

Leave a comment – share the causes you’re passionate about and the organizations you love!