Finding Bromance

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Everyone loves a deep, solid bromance: Turk and J.D. from Scrubs, Wyatt Earp & Doc Holiday from Tombstone, Joey and Chandler from Friends, Captain Kirk and Spock from 26 different movies, you get the idea. The definition is pretty simple:

bro·mance / ˈbrōˌmans / noun; a close but nonsexual relationship between two men.

Women cannot have a bromance, females just function differently, not better or worse, just differently. (I know I’m going to get complaints about this last politically incorrect comment.) You can and should be best friends with your spouse, but it’s still very different than a guy friendship. Two women might be close, wonderful, supportive friends; but it’s just not a bromance.

Bromance involves a lot of hanging out and giving each other a hard time. Bromance will include a few practical jokes, and almost always involve some type of competition. It will involve not so subtle put-downs or ribbing, (My wife does NOT understand this part at all). The definition might seem simple, but the nuances and impact can be dramatic. Guys need this bonding with other guys. We need it for accountability, for support, and to know that the other guy will be there no matter what. Job loss, marriage problems, the death of loved ones, financial hardship, a solid bromance will remain as the one thing to count on outside of God.

The idea of bromance is actually a biblical principle.

Jesus did everything with a purpose; He sent the apostles out in twos for a reason. Two can keep each other accountable, two can encourage, two can support each other through the trials that will come into anyone’s life.

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17

“Iron sharpening iron” is very specific. Iron against something soft just becomes dull; it doesn’t say “As aluminum sharpens iron.” When iron does sharpen iron, it involves friction, sparks, and bumping against one another. But if sharpening is done correctly, all that friction creates something very sharp, something ready to be used, something much better than before.

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their work; If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

We live in a broken world, and the battle is very real. We are at war. In the last few years, I know two men who’ve committed suicide, a few who’ve fallen into sexual sin, some who battle substance abuse, and others who fight other issues. I know many people in ministry who are tired and worn thin from the battle. I’ve had my own struggles over the last few years. As we struggle and fight in this ongoing war, we need others around us to hold us up when we can’t stand on our own. We need others who understand the struggles we are going through, people who we know will be there for us. We also need to be the one holding others up, supporting others, giving a non-judgmental ear.

I’ve been richly blessed in my life with several very solid male friends. Way more blessed than I deserve. Some of these friends have come into my life in just the last few years, some go back decades. Many times I’ve been able to be there for them through their trials, and they have been a steady force while I’ve gone through my own battles. I am here today thanks to the small group of men in my life that I have the privilege to call my brothers. They have helped shape me and kept me going, I hope I’ve been a blessing in their lives.

Choose your friends carefully. This sounds like obvious advice but who you spend time with has a considerable influence over every aspect of your life. No one is perfect, but choose people who have character, who have vision, who are seeking God on a daily bases and not just on Sundays. Have people in your life who stretch you and help you be the best version of yourself. Once you have those people in your life, protect them, cherish them, be there for them. You will be better for your efforts, and it will help you survive the inevitable battles that will come into your life.

In the movie Gladiator, Maximus says to the other slaves at the start of the Barbarian hoard scene, “Whatever comes out of these gates, we stand a better chance of survival if we stick together, do you understand? If we stay together, we survive.” There is a lot of truth in that line. We never know what will be coming out of the gates to attack us. We need to stick together.

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Giving Bacon to Vegans

Screen Shot 2018-12-14 at 8.35.23 PMI like bacon. A lot. Bacon is the meat candy of the food world. Bacon is compelling proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. Few things are not made better by adding wonderful, crispy bacon to them. I once made bacon chocolate chip cookies, and the salty, sweet, gooey combination was life-changing. I want everyone to experience the joy that is this greasy aromatic gift from God, but some people just don’t appreciate it.

I have some vegan friends. I don’t understand why they don’t want joy in their lives, but hey, that’s their decision. Maybe they don’t feel worthy of bacon? Who can answer such odd mysteries as why people would give up this tasty joy? There are many decisions I don’t understand, but I do understand people have the right to make these types of decisions. I would never force people to eat bacon. I would never give people bacon knowing they would throw it away. It makes no sense to give bacon to vegans. It would offend the vegans, and it’s a horrible waste of bacon resources. Unfortunately, people in short-term missions do the equivalent thing every day.

I’m not actually talking about people getting on planes with loads of bacon to be given out to underprivileged people (not that this is a bad idea). I’m talking about serving people and giving things away to people, who have different priorities and goals than us without taking their opinions and desires into consideration. Just because something makes sense in our eyes, does not mean it’s important to others, or even wanted.

A few years ago, after a severe volcanic event in Guatemala, a very well-meaning celebrity stepped up and did something very cool. He bought a substantial tract of land, divided it up, and built five very nice houses for five families who had lost everything in the volcanic explosion. On almost every level, this was a cool event. The families graciously accepted this incredible generosity. There were a lot of tearful photo ops and articles written about it. What could go wrong?

Over the next ninety days, four of the five families sold their new houses, took the money, and headed back to the burned out shells of their old property to start over. The new houses were nice, and clean, and new, and they hated them. The new houses were a couple of miles from their old homes, and they missed the old neighborhood (even though it was mainly gone). The kids missed the old schools. The parents had a history in the old area; the old area was home. No one had asked the families what they really wanted; assumptions were made, time and money were wasted. Bacon had been given to vegans.

We had to learn the importance of considering the recipient the hard way in our own ministry. One of the ministries we run is building homes for needy families in our area. Years ago, we would build fairly humble “shelter housing.” One big, kind of unfinished room, and then give it to a family. The families were always thankful and gracious, but we noticed that within a few months they would either take down the house and use the wood to build what they really wanted, or they would abandon the house and move on. It took us a while to realize that we were doing it all wrong. We started working with the families, building alongside the families, and helping them construct what they really wanted. Today, we visit the families months and years later, and they have pride of ownership, they add on to the houses, remodel, and create a home, not just a shelter.

I speak with orphanage directors all the time who ask me how to educate their donors to do a better job. Most people bring piñatas, candy, and toys to an orphanage. I can guarantee, what any orphanage really needs is food, cleaning supplies, and other day-to-day supplies. The candy and toys make the donors feel good, there are some great photo ops, but most children in orphanages get plenty of candy. As I was writing this an orphanage director came by, he shared that he’s asking groups to bring food instead of Christmas gifts this year. The kids will still get something for Christmas but “The $20 toy will be broken in two days, $20 of food can feed the whole orphanage a meal.” He’s hoping his donors understand.

When giving to others, whether it’s an orphanage, food bank, needy family, or even people in your own life: consider the recipient. Is what you’re doing honestly about blessing others in a way that makes a difference, or is it about you feeling good? Are you assuming what is important to you, HAS to be important to those on the receiving end? In any relationship, communication is critical to understanding needs and expectations. We should all ask, listen, and seek to understand more about those around us.

Please stop giving bacon to vegans. Save the bacon for those of us who appreciate it.

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Migrant Caravans and a Missions Response

migrant.jpgIt’s been interesting to see the response to the migrant caravan moving through Mexico and landing at the US border. From both countries and every political persuasion, there are strong opinions and emotional reactions. Usually, this blog is not used as a platform to discuss current events, but this topic is (quite literally) in my backyard. I’ve spoken with ministry leaders serving the migrants, some of the US border guards, and politicians here in Mexico. I’ve had churches contact me in fear, and other churches contact me asking how to help. I’ve also had the profound privilege of spending time with the migrants themselves, serving with others, and serving alongside some great people in the “caravan.”

Within the group assembled in Tijuana are families, some young teens traveling alone, some single men, etc. They’re a cross-section of any society in the world. Are there some scary people? Not as many as the media would lead you to believe. Generally, this is a large group of people who left a horrible situation hoping to make a better life. They were mistaken or misled into believing it would be simpler than it is. Now they’re stuck; some are going home, some are finding jobs and settling in Mexico, some are still holding out hope for the golden ticket into the US. All are scared, tired, cold and hungry. They are like any of us, looking for a secure future and a place to raise a family.

The topic of the migrants is a hot-button issue. People have been VERY clear on social media and elsewhere about their specific opinions. Even here in Mexico, the response is very divided; many people are stepping up to help feed and care for people in the camps, others are protesting and complaining about their presence here in Baja.

So what should our response be to the migrant caravan? Politics and agendas aside, there are clear biblical directions as to what our response needs to be.

“I was naked, and you clothed me, I was sick, and you visited me, I was in prison, and you came to me.” Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Matthew 25:36-40

It’s interesting to see that Jesus mentioned, “I was in prison, and you visited Me.” Well…this seems kind of extreme. Jesus never specified whether or not the person made bad decisions to wind up in prison, He never said the person in prison deserved it, He was just pointing out that we need to visit and help those who need help. Period. There is not a lot of wiggle room here. It doesn’t matter if we agree with why they’re in the position they’re in, it doesn’t even matter if we are put at risk or not, we are called to help.

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:43-44

Hmmm, “pray for our enemies?”, This also seems kind of extreme. But our faith is also called to be extreme. Even if we disagree with why people are in the caravan, even if we feel they should just go home, even if we know from our gut they should never be permitted into the US, we are still called to pray for them. We are called to show grace and shower blessings on them as God has blessed us.

Our response to the needs around us, and more importantly the people in need around us, says a great deal about the maturity of our faith. Are we responding like spoiled children defending our toys? Or are we showing grace and generosity to those around us? Our response in challenging times and circumstances means more than we can possibly understand. Our response is a stronger testimony than a thousand sermons. It matters how you respond to an enemy, perceived or otherwise.

Are we more loyal to our politics? Or to God and our faith in Him? We have a guidebook to tell us how we are to respond. We have a faith that directs us. Political parties come and go. Men will always fail us eventually. Stick with the only cause that is truly worth fighting for.

The migrant problem will eventually fade away; our response might be brought up later on: “I was hungry in the migrant camp, and you fed Me.”
If you have questions or would like to know how to donate to help migrant families in need, please contact me at my e-mail. My team and I will point you in the right direction.

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The Best Advise I Ever Got

shoesMany years ago, a few months after taking over management of a struggling orphanage, the lady who ran it for years came down for a visit. She had been gone for quite a while before I got to the orphanage and I had never met her. I was terrified. Everything I tried to do, I was told, “Well, Agnes never did it that way.” After six months of working in the shadow of a legend, I was finally going to meet her. I just knew I was going to be judged by her the same way everyone else was judging. Yikes.

Twenty-five years later I still remember the meeting, where we sat, the time of day, everything. She turned out to be incredible, very gracious and encouraging. She told me two things that I didn’t fully understand or appreciate at the time, “It’s OK to leave now and then.” She wanted my wife and me to make time away from the ministry. The second thing she said was, “Buy good shoes.” Agnes had wrecked her knees walking miles around the property wearing old, donated shoes. She hadn’t wanted to “waste” the money on herself and paid for it in other ways years later.

It took me a very long time to fully understand the advice, and much longer to start to put this sage wisdom into practice. What she was saying was, “It’s OK to take care of yourself. If you’re going to survive orphan care, or any full-time ministry, learn balance.”

Full-time ministry is hard. Yes, I know this sounds cliche or self-serving, but a lot of the time ministry just sucks. There can be a great deal of joy, but there is also a relentless stream of problems and challenges that wear away at a person. Every week you can read of another pastor or ministry leader who falls into deep sin, suicide, substance abuse, etc. You can attribute this to spiritual attacks, pride, or just the broken world we live in. But whatever the cause, there are a lot of casualties in ministry.

In the ministry leader circles I run in, I can list a suicide, a couple of people battling substance abuse, and a few that are so worn down they are just going through the motions at this point. I know others who’ve not only walked away from ministry, they’ve walked away from the faith.

While working through this article, I happened to meet with the head of a children’s ministry working in the middle east, and I brought up the topic of burn-out. Although he said he was doing pretty good now, he shared that he had considered “swerving into oncoming traffic” a few times over the years. I know for me I’ve gone through some very dark times in ministry, usually not relating to any big issues. Oddly, the big challenges can energize me, but it’s the day-to-day that can wear me down. More than a few times I’ve been smiling on the outside while sharing with a group or spending time with a child, and inside I was screaming and wanting to run and hide. I could relate to my friend’s “wanting to swerve into traffic” moment. Been there a few times.

We are called to serve. It’s biblical; it is Christ’s example to us. But it’s so important to find a balance, find a support system, and keep strong in our walk with the One who provides our strength. Jesus spent a great deal of time alone, getting up early to pray. He also had a small team around Him, and He would ask them to pray along with Him. The battle is real; we need fellow warriors when we’re weak.

A few years ago a young pastor came into my office, and I asked how everything was going. He gave me the standard boring pastor answer, “Doing well, some challenges but excited to see where we’re going.” I’m not sure why, but I asked again but with some force, “No, honestly, how are you doing? I know as a pastor it’s hard to find people you can talk to. Nothing you say will leave this office.” His eyes widened, he paused for a moment, and he broke down. He unloaded so much pain over the next hour. He shared about his loneliness; he shared about the strain the ministry was putting on his marriage, how the people in his church had hurt him, he just shared. I had no great advice (I’m not that bright) he just needed an ear, a safe place.

If you are in full-time ministry, a caregiver, or are just worn down by life, please find people or only one person who will listen. Find someone you can be transparent with. Find someone who will not judge you or try to “fix” you. If you’re leading a life of service, odds are you spend a great deal of time giving of yourself to others both physically and emotionally. We can not give to others if we have nothing left to give. I want to re-emphasize this: find someone you respect that you can go to and be safe when you’re hurting. We all need support. It’s sad how few people have this in their lives.

If you feel you’ve reached the point where it might be clinical depression, please seek help. It’s not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of bravery to confront this real problem. It’s not your fault, it’s life.

Taking care of yourself is OK. It’s OK to “buy good shoes.” It’s a long walk to the finish line, you want to be able to keep walking.

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Crazy Cat Lady Orphanages

cat2People often don’t think about it, but orphanages tend to have distinct personalities. Some great, many not so great, but every orphanage has its quirks, weirdness, and oddities. Not unlike many churches: the legalistic one, the liberal one, those crazy charismatics, the one with the GREAT coffee, etc. Just like people tend to land in gray or shifting categories: the jock, the musician, the quiet guy, the goth girl. I’m sure you get the idea.

I’ve had the privilege to visit and/or help in a wide range of orphanages. The financially needy but well-run homes I love, the well funded but questionable homes are a big problem, the “family business” orphanages are hard to deal with, but the ones that are most frustrating are the “crazy cat lady orphanages.” The people with a big heart who can not say no to a child in need, they become overwhelmed, and everyone suffers. (In the future I might write more about the different styles of homes.)

I was talking with the leader of a national orphanage training organization, and I mentioned my observations. They smiled when I used the term “crazy cat lady,” they knew exactly what I was talking about. They responded, “Yup, and why is it always single females trying to save a hundred kids?” I had never noticed the single female part, but it was interesting that it wasn’t just me noticing this real problem in orphanage circles.

At first, most people would say, “Ahhh, sweet, what big hearts, they’ll help anyone.” But in reality, we all have limits; there is only so much any of us can do if we’re going to do it well. These homes are marked by the sheer number of kids they are trying to help, with little or no resources. One home in Tijuana had an odd reputation, the director had a huge heart, nice old lady, but she could not say “no” to anyone. She would take in any child brought to her. This sounds nice until you realize she didn’t have space, food, or staffing to care for the children she already had. She had resources for about 35 kids and usually housed 90. It was a nightmare. To make matters worse, if a women came to her from an abusive situation, she would “hire” the women to help care for the kids. Coming right out of abuse themselves, these women were not emotionally ready to care for 10,15, or 20 kids. These women could barely care for themselves. You see the problem.

Another time I was asked by a volunteer to consult with an orphanage about an hour away. She drove two other people and me into the hills of Tijuana, and we came up to a very sketchy area. We stopped and walked up to a three-story brick building that did not look too solid, with bars on the few windows it had. The building had one exit, one working toilet, the make-shift kitchen was on the first floor with the propane tank right next to the ancient stove (fire/death trap waiting to happen). I was given a tour and found about 50 children, filthy, lice-infested, no chance of an education. My first thought was, “These kids would be better off on the streets.” In speaking with the director, she said everything I feared: “I just can’t say no to a child in need.” “If only I had “X” I could do so much more.” She wasn’t asking for help with what she had; she wanted to build a huge building to care for 200 kids. The home had actually been shut down a few times by the government, but she kept moving to the next location and taking in new kids. Like a lady living with hundreds of cats, when the government removes the cats, a whole new crop shows up in the next few months. Crazy cat lady, but they hoard children instead of cats.

So what’s the point of discussing these challenging orphanages? Three points to consider:

1) Leadership matters. If someone has a big heart but does not have the skills to use it in the right way, it can lead to some complicated situations. Crazy cat lady orphanages are not run by bad people; they’re usually really great people, they just have some issues that get in the way of them being as effective as possible. Being truly self-aware is very rare, these people do not see the problems that are evident to all those around them. How we lead, and who we choose to follow, matters a great deal.

2) If you’re helping in an orphanage, or another ministry, like the ones described here, please be open to discussing the issue with the director in a loving, biblical way. First on your own, then with someone else. They may not listen, but you have an obligation to approach the issue in a healthy way.

3) If you are the “Crazy cat lady” in your area of ministry, learn that it’s OK to say no sometimes – give yourself a break. We need to know our limits. Most people probably don’t do enough to help those around them which isn’t good but trying to help everyone can be just as big a problem. No one can help everyone; we’re not called to. No one person can help every homeless person in their city. No one person can care for every foster child, this is OK, do what you can. Jesus did not help everyone; He helped those He could. He spent time alone, and He did the will of His Father, that is all we are asked to do.

Help, serve, give all you can. But it’s crucial to understand there is a balance and it’s so important to know your limits. A few less cats is not a bad thing.

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Peter Was a Jerk

Silhouette legs reflectionWhen we look at “our” ministry or walk with God, we frequently fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to the “great men of God” that we’ve seen or read about. Today, many people reflexively bow their heads when they speak of Frances Chan or Rick Warren and ask “Why can’t I be like that?” In orphan care, Jorge Muller is the legend that everyone refers back to. He was a Christian evangelist and the director of an orphanage in Bristol, England in the late 1800s. He cared for over 10,000 orphans during his lifetime. Everything written about him shows that he was impressive, Godly, and upright. I can’t relate. I identify with the apostle Peter; he was a slow learner and a profound jerk. My kind of guy.

You might be thinking, “Wait a minute, Peter was one of the big guns, he was one of the foundations of the church.” Don’t be so impressed. When you read about his actions and responses you have to ask yourself, “What was God thinking?”

Let’s take a real look at Peter:

Jesus called Peter as an uneducated man. He didn’t have a degree, no training, he never set foot in a seminary. He was a fisherman, a worker, not overly respected in the culture of the times, but God called him anyway. Matt: 4:18

He was the one who was told to walk on water and proceeds to screw it up by taking his eyes off Jesus and sinking in a panic. Matt 14:25-31

In Mattew 16:21-23 he reprimands Jesus and starts to argue with Him. (not a bright move, ever)

At one point speaking on behalf of the apostles, Peter shows an astounding lack of humility or servant’s heart by basically asking Jesus, “Hey, what’s in it for me?” Matt 19:27

You would think Peter would start to catch on but at the foot washing after the last supper, he was the one who fought with Jesus when Jesus tried to wash his feet. “Not my feet, no way.” Jn 13:6-9

We read that Peter was one of the ones Jesus asked to go and pray with Him in the garden before He was to be betrayed. And…Peter falls asleep…twice. Matt 26:36 & 40

When the High Priests’ slaves come for Jesus, Peter is the one who pulls out a sword and cuts the ear of the slave. At which point Jesus AGAIN has to clean up after Peter’s temper and poor judgment. Matt 26: 51 (named in John 18:10)

The high point (low point?) of Peter’s story might be when he denied Jesus three times after swearing he would never deny Him. Matt 26: 33-35 / 69-75

Peter was a temperamental, argumentative, prideful person. He would never be asked to work in an established ministry today. He would never pass a background check. He was immature, emotional, divisive, and a little slow. When you look at the breadth of what we know about Peter at this point, he was the WORST apostle ever. So what was Jesus’s reaction to Peter? Peter was one of Jesus’s favorites. Like a puppy that poops all over the house but is still loved, Jesus knew that Peter would learn eventually, and the Peter could be shaped and trained. Jesus was very fond of Peter.

Jesus asked only three apostles to go with Him up the mountain were Jesus appeared with Moses and Elijah. He wanted Peter to see and experience this interaction. Mt 17 1-3

Although he screwed it up, Peter was the one Jesus asked to walk on water. This was a huge privilege. Jesus wanted him to experience stepping out onto the waves, to learn to trust Him in all circumstances.

In Luke 22:7 Jesus asked him to go and prepare the last supper. Although Jesus could have had anyone do this, He knew it was essential and that Peter learned how to serve in this way. Peter was trusted in spite of his history of screwing up.

Jesus didn’t ask everyone to go and pray with Him in the garden; He called the ones closest to Him. Praying at that level is no casual event, Jesus wanted Peter with Him in His darkest hour. Matt 26: 36 “Pray with me.”

Jesus says about Peter in Matt 16:15-19 “On this rock, I will build My church.” I’m sure more than a few people questioned Jesus’ selection, but He knew what He was doing. Jesus needed a flawed, broken individual to lead flawed and broken people. Anyone else would have seen the broken part, Jesus saw a rock in the making.

When you think you don’t have what it takes to make an impact for God, you’re right. That is the perfect place to start. Realize we’re ALL broken, but this is what God uses. A farmer will talk about needing to break the soil for it to be used. Seeds need to crack and be broken before they will grow. When a new building is going up, it can be a messy endeavor and can be very hard to see what the architect has planned. But the architect does have a plan; he can see the building in his mind. If we allow Him, God wants to be the architect of our lives.

Walk humbly, trust in God. As Moses reacted to God’s calling in Exodus 3: “Who am I that I would speak to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” Rejoice in the fact that God uses the Peters of this world. We’re all a little, or a lot, like Peter. Rejoice in your brokenness.

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Disaster Response in Missions: Do No Harm

firemanThe last few months have been rough around the world, maybe it’s always like this, but it seems as though there are different natural disasters every week. Hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanos, tsunamis, etc. It can be overwhelming. What are we called to do? How can we be as effective as possible? How can we avoid unintentionally adding to the disaster?

We all have (or should have) a natural response to help when we see people in need. Today, more than at any time in history, we can see people in need in real time. We can watch the water rising during a flood on CNN, can watch trees and houses being blown apart during a hurricane on network news, before the dust settles after an earthquake we can watch people huddled in the streets waiting for aftershocks. It’s natural to want to help; it’s part of our collective humanity to reach out in times of crisis. Please do it in the best way possible.

The people and items showing up about two weeks after any major disaster are referred to by the RedCross as the “second wave” of the disaster. People underprepared or undertrained adding to the confusion and not helping anyone. The truckloads of well-intentioned items that are sent that are not really needed, and actually take a tremendous amount of staff-hours and resources to manage. I remember hearing how, after seeing the dogs searching the rubble on 9/11, people sent semi-loads of dog food: a) dogs don’t need that much food. b) the dogs have a special diet. All of that dog food needed to be sorted, stored, managed, and redistributed. After Katrina, there were several large warehouses and thousands of staff-hours required to sort the truckloads of items sent to New Orleans. The sheer volume of used wedding dresses, old TVs, and other items of questionable urgency was overwhelming.

Right after the earthquake in Haiti several years ago, there were hundreds of people landing at the airport to “help” without the infrastructure to manage them. Many people jumped on a plane thinking they could get a hotel and then travel out to help during the day. The hotels were rubble. The transportation they were expecting didn’t exist, many of these well-meaning people just added to the crowds, confusion, and lack of food and drinking water. What was needed was first response teams with their own support, supplies, and the know-how to make a difference. I have two close friends that each hit the road to help with disasters in the last year, one to help with the volcano relief in Guatemala, one to help with the flooding in Texas and then the hurricane in Puerta Rico. They were both only effective because they went with a plan, with the needed supplies, and most importantly they partnered with on-the-ground leaders who knew how to direct them. They were a help, not a burden; they were not people that got in the way, or stretched supplies even thinner.

So what should we do in the face of natural disaster?

1) Almost all relief organizations will tell you, the best thing you can do is send funds. People often feel better offering items but if the items are not exactly what is needed it can add to the problem. Also, I know at our orphanage, we get offered items we can use all the time – if we can pick them up. Often the needed items can cost more to pick up than it would cost to purchase them locally. We appreciate the help, but funding for transportation is a huge need also. I met with one major food relief organization who told me that getting enough food donated is never a problem, the cost of the transportation and distribution is always the biggest challenge.

When you do send funds, send wisely. Do your due diligence and give to established organizations who have a solid track record of good management and effective programs. One thing that isn’t talked about with funding in disasters is: give beyond what you normally give, don’t just shift funding. It surprises most people when I tell them 9/11 almost put our orphanage out of business. We still had children to feed, medicines to purchase, etc. but almost ALL donations for about 90 days went to NewYork.

Along with the crippling drop in donations, most mission groups who make our work possible canceled their trips. We were cut off. Give generously, but continue to donate to your church, your cause, or wherever you give on a regular basis: they need you more than you might realize.

2) If you want to physically go and serve right away, go with a plan. Partnerships matter, in short-term missions, and in disaster relief. Without an on-the-ground host or hosting organization, your effort will not help, you will add to the problems. Find a church, a food bank, or some other established organization who knows the area, knows the people, and most importantly knows what the real needs are. Communicate your willingness to help, what resources you can bring to the area, and any special skills you or your team might have.

3) Plan a trip to serve a few months after the disaster. All the same rules apply about finding an on-the-ground host, but you can now address re-building needs long after the national attention has faded.

We are called to serve, we are called to be the good Samaritan in world affairs, but please do so wisely, with a plan, and partnering with people who know how to lead you to be as effective as possible.

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Phil Steiner, my co-author, has a great blog also. This week, Phil also writes on the correct response to disasters and short-term missions. Check it out: philsteiner.net