I can’t say I envisioned sticking around to work at Food for the Hungry (FH) for more than two decades when I started work in August 1995. I boarded a plane with two 50-pound suitcases, bound for Bolivia. I could only see a few steps ahead and never dreamed what the future of working with FH would bring.
That first contract was for three years. I’ve had an 18-year extension thus far. People often ask, why are you still with FH? How did you get through it all?
#1. FH work doesn’t rely on people like me.
I’m white, well-educated and affluent compared to most of the world. Ninety-five percent of our staff members are people who had none of my advantages, working in their home countries. They’re making serious decisions and they’re on fire about helping their own people. They’ve made sacrifices in income and family relationships to serve in places that don’t show up on a map.
Each time I talk with one of those amazing people, it makes my day.
And it’s my role to support them, that gets me up every morning. Sometimes my white savior complex rears its head, but not for long. I shortly realize I have incredibly competent colleagues who can get the job done (and that Jesus took care of the whole savior thing).
#2. The learning never ceases.
And it can be humbling. I’ve been researching the Middle East crisis so I can support FH’s efforts to help Syrian and Iraqi refugees, and am astounded how asleep I’ve been on the dynamics, history and players in the region. Sometimes learning about the horrors of poverty angers and depresses me; other times I learn how God has been working in ways that the media failed to capture. Each day is a new adventure, that’s for sure, and it keeps the work fresh and meaningful.
#3. I love that FH leaves communities.
Yes, that’s right, I love how we have an exit plan. That means we’re constantly questioning God’s role for us in ending physical and spiritual poverty. Is this community ready to graduate and grow in self-sufficiency? Can we then take our resources elsewhere to another community that wants to walk with us and transform? We don’t stay in the comfortable spot.
For me personally, the idea that sometimes you need to “graduate” yourself and move into something else has been seriously rewarding. I’ve had eight to 10 job titles in the last 20 years and have benefited greatly as an individual when people said, “I think this would be a better way to steward your talents,” or, “I think your work is done here, how about this new venture that needs some support?” Sometimes the leaving has been painful. In looking back, the joy of moving into where God really wanted me made it all worth it.
#4. It’s not about stuff, it’s about relationships.
Sure FH has built roads and schools and irrigation systems. But if you don’t build relationships in the community, the stuff your bring will fall apart quickly. When I first heard about FH’s community-transforming methods, some of the presentation was photocopied from hand-drawn sheets. The diagrams showed that FH recognized the relationships between churches, leaders and families were key to helping people transform themselves and their communities. My first reaction was, “Where can I sign up?” Today that still excites me.
Parents care for children emotionally, physically, intellectually and spiritually.
Churches reach out beyond their walls, to help people who aren’t Christian.
Leaders realize everyone is sick of corruption and look for ways to truly make change.
And when I see that happening – when I read about it every day in the stories that pop into my Dropbox – I too am changed. The voices of people I will never meet remind me of Christ’s power to overcome all obstacles. It’s by their power, in relationship with them, and by the grace of God, that I’ve come this far.
Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by thy help I’m come; and I hope, by thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.