Category Archives: Ministry

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!

Book Review – When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikker

When Helping Hurts

I read a story in one of Jen Hatmaker’s books about a school in Africa visited every summer by a group of American teens on a short-term mission trip. Every year the local leaders sent kids to muddy the walls of their school in preparation for the Americans coming in. The building didn’t need painting, but they needed the Americans’ support, so they had to give the missions team something to do to feel useful. Clearly the Americans thought they were helping, but the local people didn’t have the heart (or possibly the power) to tell them they were wasting time and ridiculous amounts of money. Having been on a short term missions trip and part of outreaches, it made me wonder how often I have reinvented a perfectly good wheel and gotten in the way of what really needed to be done.

A few years ago I heard about the book When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. I’ll admit it paralyzed me. Until I read the book, just knowing that it was out there made me afraid I would find out that the mission trip and outreach programs I had participated in were full of mistakes that had done more harm than good. As we prepared for the Convoy of Hope event, I decided that it was time to read the book. Maybe it would give me some guidance as we planned the outreach.

I didn’t love it. There are some good points, for sure. But I feel that it lacks focus. Some parts are for average people who want to help, and some parts are like a policy manual for people starting a non-profit or establishing benevolence policy for a church. Not being a pastor or policy maker, I became frustrated with the advice about things I can’t control, and bored with the technical financial jargon. There are a ton of acronyms and technical financial concepts (not my particular skill set). I feel it should have been two books – one for minimizing the mistakes of average people involved in charitable work, and one more technical manual for pastors and policy makers.

Least you think I hated the book, let me share with you some of the good parts:

“Our relationship to the materially poor should be one in which we recognize that both of us are broken and that both of us need the blessing of reconciliation. 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.” (p.79)

There is a necessary emphasis on helping the poor in a way that empowers them and restores dignity. The authors encourage people to start their charitable programs by taking an inventory of what a community has to work with, rather than what it lacks. “…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, helping us to overcome our superiority, that is, our own poverty of being.” (p. 126)

“Pouring in outside resources is not sustainable and only exacerbates the feelings of helplessness and inferiority that limit low-income people from being better stewards of their God-given talents and resources.” (p. 126)

“The money spent on a single STM (short term missions) team for a one- to two-week experience would be sufficient to support more than a dozen far more effective indigenous workers for an entire year.” (p. 173)

So you see, there are valuable practical insights throughout the book, but I’m afraid they’re lost on the less business-minded. I found it hard to keep reading when the authors spent several chapters on banking details and interest rates, as that’s not likely something I’ll ever make decisions about.

The other problem I have with this book is the way the authors encourage us to judge people in need to determine not just what type of aid will be most beneficial, but whether we should help at all or let people learn from consequences. In my experience, most people are more than happy to blame the poor for their plight and use that excuse to not help. A Christian engaging in relief work should look first and foremost to the Bible for direction, and the Bible tells us “judge not.” On the other hand, if you’re a policy maker for a church or non-profit, there are judgments you have to make to efficiently and responsibly manage your organization. Separating this into two books would have made this clear and allowed the authors to go into greater detail for the different audiences.

So I give this book a mixed review. On one hand it has many thought-provoking insights, and on the other hand, it spends too much time on technical financial issues and encourages judgment over mercy. If you’re in a position to be making benevolence policies for your church or non-profit, it’s worth a read. If you’re just an average volunteer who wants to avoid making blunders, don’t let the knowledge that this book exists stop you from getting involved. A little compassion and respect is what you really need to make sure your help doesn’t actually hurt.

Washing Feet and the “Least” of These

Washing Feet and the Least of These

The big weekend is finally here! Naturally the last minute stuff for the Convoy of Hope Minneapolis rally is taking up a lot of my time, so my blog post today is based on the devotional I have been putting together for the Children’s Shoes volunteer team. If your mission this week is Convoy, serving at your church, or any other means of blessing others, let this word encourage your work!

John 13:3-17 (at the last supper)
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”  “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Right away verse 3 just jumps off the page to me. Jesus KNEW his place in the kingdom. He knew who he was in God’s eyes and had eternity in mind. When we know our worth we don’t have to go around proving it by seeking status. When we keep eternity in mind we’re less interested in the earthly version of position.

Have you ever had a really good boss? He or she probably supported you, encouraged you, and made sure you had the tools to succeed. Bad leaders are all about their own ego and reputation. The best leaders are servant leaders like Jesus. It’s not about being on top, it’s about making sure everyone has the support and resources they need to succeed.

Jesus knew who he was, he knew it was all about eternity, and he led by taking care of others so the message could be magnified.

Matthew 6: 31-46
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

I have long been bothered by this word “least.” It sounds like a statement of value, and Americans don’t like that idea. We like “all men are created equal,” not greatest/least. So who are the “least of these”? I don’t think Jesus was referring to value when he said “least.” The Bible affirms the value of people over and over. The psalmist says that God knit you together in your mother’s womb and journaled out the days of your life. Jeremiah reminds us that He has good plans for us. Romans 8:28 says that all things work together for the good of those who love God. I think what Jesus means by “least” is those with the least power or least access to resources, like widows, orphans, and those with physical or mental limitations. The people we minister to through our volunteer work are valuable, hardworking people, many of  whom (and for a variety of reasons) have less power and less access to resources. Our role is NOT to judge whether or not they are truly in need or if they are to blame for their own situations. Our only role is to be the hands and feet of Jesus – the same Jesus who forgave prostitutes, healed lepers, and forgave tax collectors.

We volunteer so the hungry, jobless, shoeless, etc. can get back on a more level playing field where we can run the race of life side by side.

We can’t “fix” the poor and hungry. We are broken, flawed people, not gods. But we can recognize that there is need in this world and that we have the means (money, time, etc.) to partner with these people who are just trying to take care of their families. I hope that you to see the people you serve as your equals in value who may be the “least of these” in terms of their power and/or access to resources.

So laugh with a child. Bless a mom who is working hard to get her kids ready for school. Make an immigrant family feel welcome in their new home. Wash some feet. And remember what it says in Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.

Screenshot_2015-07-31-09-32-22-1
Two Convoy of Hope trucks have arrived at Spring Lake Park High School for Saturday’s Minneapolis rally

Hope is Coming: Convoy of Hope Minneapolis

Hope is Coming

I’m running a little behind this week. My husband is on vacation, so while my days are filled with the usual work, we’ve also been working on home improvement projects like refinishing the deck, and entertainment like movies and baseball games. It’s exhausting. As much as I have loved having S around more, I just wish we could have been on vacation at the same time.

One of the things that has been keeping me on my toes is the upcoming Convoy of Hope rally here in the Twin Cities. I’m serving on the organizing team as the lead for children’s shoes. Donations have been rolling in, the planning and red tape are going well, and it’s going to be a great event. So for today’s post I thought I would tell you all about Convoy of Hope as an organization and the upcoming rally here in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Convoy is a faith-based non-profit organization that provides disaster and poverty relief around the world. They are probably best known for the truckloads of supplies they deliver after natural disasters. They also have feeding programs in eleven countries, and dozens of domestic rallies every year that provide immediate physical relief to people in poverty.

Convoy of Hope has an excellent reputation, with a four-star rating from Charity Navigator. They scored 100% in transparency and accountability. They have developed partnerships with churches around the world as well as major corporate partners.

The Twin Cities rally is coming up on Saturday, August 1, at Spring Lake Park High School. Gates open at 10:00 am. Every adult (up to 10,000 people) will receive a ticket that they can redeem for a free bag of groceries as they leave, and a free lunch will be served to everyone. During the event there will be tents where different local organizations will be providing health screenings, pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, job services, and community services. We’re giving away shoes (provided by Toms) for women and children. We’ll be taking family pictures. There is a DJ coming, and a whole kids’ zone filled with games and inflatables. The entire event is free.

Convoy, the local organizing team, and the volunteers who are giving their day to this event hope that the rally brings an infusion of hope and alleviates some of the immediate physical needs of people in our community.

-If you are in need, all you need to do is show up. No one will ask you to apply or qualify for the event. If you have needs, come have them met. Free of charge, and free of judgment. You are our guest of honor.

-If you can spare a few hours to help out that day, we NEED you! My tent, children’s shoes, needs 125 volunteers to organize the inventory, measure little feet, and run shoes to their new owners. Volunteers will be given a free t-shirt and lunch. All volunteers need to be ten or older. Volunteers between 10 and 13 need to be working alongside a parent or guardian. Volunteers between 14 and 18 will need a waiver signed by their parent or guardian. Volunteers over 18 can sign their own waivers J There is a volunteer rally on Friday night at Emmanuel Christian Center (7777 University Ave in Spring Lake Park) where the volunteers will get their shirts and all the details about logistics. If you want to volunteer, all you have to do is come to the rally on Friday and sign up. If you want to be guaranteed that you will be working in the cool tent (kids’ shoes!), let me know and I can get you signed up for my team.

If you don’t live in the Twin Cities area, you can still help out! We need prayer warriors to join us in begging God for good weather. There is no backup rain date, the show goes on as long as the weather isn’t actually unsafe. Pray also that people who need this boost would hear about the event and be able to attend. And if you can’t be here but you want to physically contribute, the kids’ shoes tent needs a few more supplies for the event. Contact me by July 15 and I’ll get you a link to the supplies we need. Convoy is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, so if you do make a financial contribution to the event, it’s tax-deductible.

I am really excited to be a part of this rally. When I was a kid my family went through some lean times. I didn’t get new shoes for back to school. I was lucky if I got them when my old shoes wore out! I remember when I was in 5th or 6th grade, the sole separated from my shoe. As I walked down the hall it went flap. flap. flap. My mom tried several times to repair it with rubber cement, but it just kept flapping. I made light of it; that’s just what I did. But inside, I was embarrassed. I believed that I wasn’t as cool (and dare I say even as valuable) as the other kids because my clothes were off-brand and hand-me-down, my shoes were in terrible shape, and I never got the fancy new school supplies other kids had. I cannot tell you how I coveted the big box of Crayola crayons with the sharpener in the back. God and my parents saw to it that I had my needs met – we never went hungry – but I know how it feels to feel like less. I’m excited to put new shoes on hundreds of kids before they go back to school this fall!

A few links for you:
Convoy’s site about the Minneapolis event, including a video about volunteering.
The Facebook Event page for the Minneapolis rally
Charity Navigator‘s review of Convoy of Hope

Edited to add:
It occurred to me during my thinking time/commute that I should tell you the rest of the story about my flapping shoe. I was in 5th grade at the time, and my little sisters were 7 and 4. We had been living in a small town for about a year, where my dad was the pastor at his very first church. The church wasn’t doing super well financially, so we weren’t either. On top of that dad had his brand new bible college (read: private university tuition) student loans to pay for. Our needs were met, but that was pretty much it.

So I was in 5th grade, wearing a cheap pair of shoes that I was undoubtedly hard on. I was one of those active, forgetful kids who was hard on things. I remember being surprised that the sole of my shoe was letting go so soon after we bought them. I knew my mom would be upset, but I also remember picking at it, because 11 year olds are neither wise nor terribly smart… So as I mentioned above, the sole of my shoe was hanging on by a thread, and everywhere I went it made a slapping flapping sound. I played it off as a joke. I made it flap loudly on purpose. It’s a shell game, a defense mechanism that kids use. If I make my embarrassing thing a joke, then you won’t judge me about it. In theory.

But it was basketball season, which made it that much harder. I was terrible at basketball. Really, really, terrible. But I played in 5, 6, and 7th grade because that’s just what we did. I rode in the bus and sat on the bench and practiced, but that was about it. And I did that in my messed up shoe. I’m not sure why I didn’t give up basketball; the clues were all there that this was not for me, and I didn’t harbor any delusions of becoming good at it. But I had to be strong and funny and as much like everyone else as I could be.

A couple weeks into the season, my mom showed up at practice. This was the 80s, maybe 1990 at the latest. Moms did not come to sports practice. They were at home dust bustering or something. The coach whistled and waved me over to mom, who had a shoe box in her hands and an eager look on her face. “Here,” she said, “this just came in the mail.” I lifted the lid to find a pair of white high top LA Gear tennis shoes with peach and pastel green trim. To this day I don’t know if my parents ordered them from the Sears catalog or if one of my grandmas sent them, but they were my first pair of real, kind-of name brand shoes (LA Gear was cool for a short time and then faded into pop culture history with Girbaud jeans and big hair). I clearly remember how I felt – the surge of self-esteem and joy at the newly leveled playing field. Am I dramatizing? A bit; it’s hard to make words that describe that fleeting lift. The shoes didn’t make me good at basketball (they weren’t magic). But they gave me a boost up from “mockable” to “normal.”

As an adult I regret that it mattered that much to me. I know that my true worth is not based on brands or fads, and I abused, wore out, and outgrew the new shoes too. I’m sorry that my goal in life was to blend in and be normal. But for kids, especially those in the tween/teen phase, “normal” and blending in really matter. Perhaps you’ll be happy to know that my son doesn’t get new shoes for back to school just because it’s fall. He gets them when he wears out or outgrows his current pair. I did get him new crayons every fall during elementary school, but it was the typical 24 pack, not the mega box with the sharpener. As Mary Poppins said, “Enough is as good as a feast,” and perhaps because I remember, I am satisfied to provide J with “enough.”