January 3, 2018




It isn’t a thing.


It is a great idea and so necessary.  And seems so impossible.  But the reality is that the majority of the funding for international missions and development comes from the United States and is built upon a capitalistic, consumer model.


What do I mean by that?  My mother’s favorite line from her days at Harvard Business School is to, “Follow the money.”  Did you know that the two easiest things to raise money for are 'Buildings and Babies'?  As I read and study statistics, and as I talk with missionaries, development workers, and expats, I noticed I was seeing and hearing the reality of these numbers.  Just this week I talked with two different people from two organizations who have the same dilemma:   they have plenty of funding for new buildings but no money for maintenance of buildings that exist or for the future of the old ones.  Adding to the challenge is that some of these are orphanages and children’s homes that have to be retrofitted to comply with (legitimate and good) changes in Zambian law concerning orphan care.  


I am not saying that buildings are bad.  Or that caring for children is bad.  (Did you know that, without exception, $30 a month will not care for a child?  I did a survey of 6 different orphanages/children’s homes in Zambia, and the average necessary support for comprehensive care for one child over the age of three is about $300 a month.  Four other homes in the majority world, including Uganda, India, and Congo gave me similar numbers.  Could you raise your child on less than that?  Would you expect never to do home maintenance where your children live?  Do you think that you can hire competent and caring people on pennies a day?  If you want to support organizations caring for children, do it, and do it well.  Ask where the need is and meet it.). However, I could take you on a tour of dilapidated and abandoned buildings around town built by donor dollars and now sitting empty as new ones go up.  There are children’s homes here constantly expanding while the statistics indicate that there are fewer orphans here in Zambia and in the world than anytime in the previous decade.  Donors like growth.  But this is an area of our work that should be declining if we are doing our job correctly!  


What does all this mean?  I don’t know.  I do know that I am frustrated that the people I know who are caring for children with integrity have to balance the needs of donors for concrete projects against the actual ministry needs.  The patron-beneficiary model of missions and aid has not made the impact that it desired for the past 50 years.  The project you are funding will not be the magic pill either.


When you get to the bottom of all this, you are left with a heap of rubble and inactivity.  Everything we strive to do will have potential for corruption and marginalization.  


“When we model methods of change that can't be imitated - we are left as the only drivers of change - once again marginalizing the poor.”  Craig Greenfield


Sometimes money is the only solution.  The only option.


We have been working with a young lady who had a baby at the age of 16.  Her family (she is an “orphan” since only her father is alive, but he has remarried) of 10 adults lives in a small house with no electricity or plumbing.  Her baby was born with cerebral palsy.  Somehow, miraculously, she has kept him alive for the past two years with no support from her family.  Her ‘auntie’ told the pastor we work with that they ‘pray for the baby to die’.  I don’t think it is an entirely malicious prayer since their future seems so bleak.




This girl has not been able to complete school.  She cannot work since her son needs full-time care.  Even the care she is able to provide is not adequate since she has had no training or help with his complex needs.  He cannot sit, has no head control, cannot swallow well, and has multiple seizures daily.  Recently, she came to us after taking him to the hospital.  The hospital released them with only a prescription for phenobarbitol which is hard to find and relatively expensive (impossible for her to afford).  Her son had pneumonia and a high fever as they walked out of the hospital.  No help offered.  No therapy, no medication for the pneumonia, no help for his feeding, nothing.


A sustainable solution would be great.  But we haven’t found one.  Despite pleas to the contrary, we will not take her child from her (first, she is his mother and loves him; second, it is illegal; third, the children’s homes here have very limited capacity for children with delays and disabilities).  Right now, the solution is for us to support her.  We moved her close to a faith-based program for parents of children with disabilities.  They provide 3 half-day sessions where she can go with her son and learn how to care for him, interact with other parents of children with delays, and benefit from professionals and others who can help her son thrive.  She cannot work.  When she lived at home, her step-mother would send her out to find ‘piece work’ for the day, leaving her son on the floor with no care or interaction, resulting in her earning $2 for the day but also a sick son.  This will be her life.  Her son will likely never walk, never feed himself, never attend school.  In theory, we want to encourage people to find employment and be active and productive members of society.  And we are striving for that for her.  But those goals elude us for now.  We have to provide her with food, clothing, diapers, special food for her son, household goods, money for her phone (so she can get in touch with us), and more.  Why?  Because she deserves decency.  Her son deserves love and care.  And there is no other way right now.  It is not sustainable because it is entirely dependent on us.  But it is the only solution we can find.


"The truth is, most any work of justice and mercy will be harder and longer than we imagined at the start.  One little thing after another..."  Jedd Medefind


It isn’t a building.  It is a baby.  And a mother.  The organization that provides the program for her to attend allows her to go free of charge, but they always need financial help.  Keeping kids in families is what they do.  And I can vouch for them: they do it very well.


If you would like to help this mother and her son, or help the program they are attending (we have to support her to live within walking distance of the program because one of the brilliant aspects of the center is the community of parents that forms, helping one another), please let me know.




(PLEASE, please, my friends, do not read this as a criticism of all organizations that care for orphans.  It is a command of God to do so.  But we must so it with integrity and wisdom.  I cannot think of a single full-time missionary who works in or with a children’s home who has not expressed these frustrations to me.  If you desire further conversation on this topic, please let me know!  I also highly recommend reading “In Defense of the Fatherless” and spending time on,, and



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