What's Wrong With Western Missionaries

Article by Nik Ripken posted on desiringgod.org on September 12, 2016

Their words almost knocked me over. They hit me like a horse hoof to the gut.

When I was a young boy, I helped my father train quarter horses. And we always felt the danger of being the recipient of a wayward hoof. One day, not paying close attention, I was kicked, leaving a well-defined hoof print in the center of my stomach. Every ounce of breath left my body.

Decades later, challenging words delivered by believers from an Islamic background left me just as breathless.

Listening to Persecuted Believers

This event took place after we had visited over 45 countries, interviewing believers in persecution from backgrounds including communism, atheism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. We were learning from believers in persecution how to make Christ known and how to give birth to house churches that then would reproduce on their own.

After experiencing the devastation of Somalia, broken over the martyrdom of over 90% of Somali believers, our learning curve was acute. Believers in persecution were generous with their wisdom; they instinctively understood that investing in us gave deeper meaning to their own suffering.

Now we were returning to the world of Islam. It was in the world of Islam where most of the believers we knew and loved were killed. It was in the world of Islam where our middle son died on Easter Sunday morning of an asthma attack. Islamic environments at that time felt like the graveyard of faith.

Islamic Persecution Is Unique

We had already learned how important it was to listen. So we set aside time to listen to the believing culture inside a Muslim country, in rural and urban locations, among both young and old, both men and women, and those literate as well as oral communicators. They told us how they had heard of Jesus and his Bible for the first time. We were startled to discover that their experience was quite different from the experiences of most of the rest of the believing world.

In our earlier travels, we had learned that much persecution originates within governments and institutions of power. In the U.S.S.R. and China persecution was institutionalized. Persecutors were typically somewhere “out there,” and they employed means to find, punish, incarcerate, and kill believers.

In the world of Islam, we discovered that persecutors are typically not “out there,” but “in here.” In Islam, the persecutor often eats at your breakfast table, watches movies with you, and sleeps in your bedroom.

In earlier interviews, we had been told of parents and grandparents who would hide a believing son or daughter from the government. Within Islamic settings, however, it was the parents and grandparents who would often have incarcerated, banished, or even killed their own believing children and grandchildren.

What Makes a Good Missionary?

As we talked with persecuted believers, we discovered that they often wanted to talk not just about their own persecution, but also about us, workers from the West. As darkness settled in, after a full day of stories and interviews, I asked these believers about Western missionaries.

“What do we do well? What things do we not do well? What should we start doing? What should we stop doing? What should we pick up? What should we lay down? What makes a good missionary?”

These believers looked at each other in horror. For hours, they had related their most personal stories.

They had shared accounts of rejection by parents and siblings. They had unpacked events where they had been shamed and beaten. They had told of other believers who were forced to marry nonbelievers. They had even recalled brothers and sisters who had been brutalized before being killed for their faith. They had not held back the most intimate stories surrounding their families, faith, and persecution.

But when I ask this final question about Western missionaries, they froze.

I pushed harder. I sincerely needed to hear what they would say.

Finally, with great hesitation, one of the believers looked at me and said, “I don’t know what makes a good missionary, but I can tell you the name of the man we love.”

When he told me that man’s name, I asked him the next obvious question, “Why do you love him?”

They said, “We don’t know. We just love him.”

The Man They All Loved

I journeyed to five different places in that country. For ten long days, I interviewed believers. Each time, as I reached the end of the interview, I asked the same question: “What makes a good missionary?”

The response was identical each time: “We don’t know what makes a good missionary, but we can tell you the name of the man we love.”

Amazingly, I heard the same name in every place!

When I asked why they loved him, the answer was always the same: “We don’t know. We just love him.”

At this point, I began to feel jealous. I wondered why people hadn’t loved me this much. I found myself developing a grudge against a man I didn’t even know!

The final interview in that country ended in the same way. After another long day of interviews I asked again, “What makes a good worker from the West? What makes a good missionary?”

While I silently prayed not to hear the same answer, they said to me, “We don’t know what makes a good missionary, but we can tell you the man we love.” By now, the next sentence was predictable and expected; they mentioned that same name that I had heard over and over again.

The Missing Ingredient in Missions

By this point, I was so frustrated that I told them firmly that I was not going to leave until they told me why this worker from the West was such a wonderful man. I insisted on an answer.

Finally, one of the men leaned across the table toward me and said forcefully, “You want to know why we love him? We love him because he borrows money from us!”

I was stunned. I thought to myself, Well, I can do that, if that’s what it takes to be loved by believers in persecution.

His statement, however, hinted at something much deeper, and I pleaded with him to explain. What I heard felt like that horse-kick to the stomach. The words knocked the breath out of my body.

The man said, “When this missionary’s father died, he came to us and asked for our help. We didn’t have much, but we gathered an offering of love. We bought him a plane ticket so that he could go home to America and bury his father. This man and his family give everything they have to the poor. They struggle to pay rent and school fees, and put meat on the table. And when he has a great need, what does he do? He doesn’t go to the other Westerners for money. He comes to us. He comes to the scattered and the poor, he comes to local believers, and he asks for, and gets, our help.”

“Do you want to know why we love him? He needs us. The rest of you have never needed us.”

We Need to Need the People We Serve

I was tearfully overwhelmed. And I confessed the arrogance of Western missionaries — and my own arrogance. So much of what we do is about us and about what we can provide. We travel around the world to meet needs, not to be honest about our own, nor to become part of their body of Christ. We are the “haves,” and they are the “have-nots.”

Though our motives are not always suspect, we generally come and tell other people to “sit down and listen” while we stand and speak. We are aggressive, and we expect local people to remain passive. We bring the gospel, Bibles, and hymnbooks. We provide baptisms, discipleship, and places to meet. We choose the leaders. We care for orphans, build orphanages, rescue the broken, and care for the crippled.

And those are all wonderful things.

But here’s the challenge: What’s left for local people to do? What’s left for the Holy Spirit to provide? Where do we model how to trust God and his provision through the local body of believers? Where do local believers find their worth, their sanctified sense of signficance? What gifts and sacrifice can they bring to this enterprise of taking the gospel to the ends of the earth?

Rarely did the apostle Paul create dependency upon himself. Often in his letters, Paul expressed how desperately he needed his brothers and sisters in Christ. He called those friends by name years later. He never forgot them. When possible, he returned to be with them. When he could not go, he sent them someone else. And he faithfully wrote to them, expressing his love, encouragement, and correction. In a word, he needed them.

If I Were to Start Over

If I were to start my missionary life over, I would bury my pride and unpack some humility. I would become a brother, a friend, and a peer. I would care more about the names of my brothers and sisters on the “mission field” and less about the numbers of baptisms, people discipled, churches planted, and orphanages built.

I would take to heart the lesson of John the Baptist, saying about a local believer what John said about Jesus: I must decrease so that he can increase (John 3:30). I would invite local believers to lead in the light while I served in the shadows. I would have pressed into what it meant to really need them.

$37 Million NFL Center Gives It Up for Farming

There are more than a few stories of someone growing up on the farm, and eventually moving on to become an NFL star.

There aren't too many stories of a player going the other way on that path.

Jason Brown has one of the best, more unusual stories you'll find.

Brown played for the Baltimore Ravens and St. Louis Rams from 2005-11. In 2009, his five-year deal with the Rams for $37.5 million made him, at that time, the highest-paid center ever. He made more than $25 million from that contract and despite not even being 30 and having interest from other NFL teams after the Rams cut him, he gave up football.

He wanted to get into farming.

He had never done it before. He learned by watching YouTube videos and asking other farmers for tips. Really.

CBS News shared Brown's unique story.

"My agent told me, 'You're making the biggest mistake of your life," Brown, who lives in Louisburg, N.C., told CBS. "I looked right back at him and said, 'No i am not. No I am not.'"

CBS said Brown just harvested his five-acre plot of sweet potatoes.

"When you see them pop up out of the ground, man, it's the most beautiful thing you could ever see," Brown said to CBS.

He talked in the interview about serving God, and how he was doing that through farming. He said he plans to donate the first fruits of every harvest to good pantries. This year it was 100,000 pounds of sweet potatoes, the CBS story said.

It's a pretty remarkable story, one that probably won't be recreated by many NFL multi-millionaires down the road. He certainly seems very happy with his new career.

Read the full story and watch video here.

New Orleans Saint Ben Watson on Ferguson

At some point while I was playing or preparing to play Monday Night Football, the news broke about the Ferguson Decision. After trying to figure out how I felt, I decided to write it down. Here are my thoughts:

I'M ANGRY because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes.

I'M FRUSTRATED, because pop culture, music and movies glorify these types of police citizen altercations and promote an invincible attitude that continues to get young men killed in real life, away from safety movie sets and music studios.

I'M FEARFUL because in the back of my mind I know that although I'm a law abiding citizen I could still be looked upon as a "threat" to those who don't know me. So I will continue to have to go the extra mile to earn the benefit of the doubt.

I'M EMBARRASSED because the looting, violent protests, and law breaking only confirm, and in the minds of many, validate, the stereotypes and thus the inferior treatment.

I'M SAD, because another young life was lost from his family, the racial divide has widened, a community is in shambles, accusations, insensitivity hurt and hatred are boiling over, and we may never know the truth about what happened that day.

I'M SYMPATHETIC, because I wasn't there so I don't know exactly what happened. Maybe Darren Wilson acted within his rights and duty as an officer of the law and killed Michael Brown in self defense like any of us would in the circumstance. Now he has to fear the backlash against himself and his loved ones when he was only doing his job. What a horrible thing to endure. OR maybe he provoked Michael and ignited the series of events that led to him eventually murdering the young man to prove a point.

I'M OFFENDED, because of the insulting comments I've seen that are not only insensitive but dismissive to the painful experiences of others.

I'M CONFUSED, because I don't know why it's so hard to obey a policeman. You will not win!!! And I don't know why some policeman abuse their power. Power is a responsibility, not a weapon to brandish and lord over the populace.

I'M INTROSPECTIVE, because sometimes I want to take "our" side without looking at the facts in situations like these. Sometimes I feel like it's us against them. Sometimes I'm just as prejudiced as people I point fingers at. And that's not right. How can I look at white skin and make assumptions but not want assumptions made about me? That's not right.

I'M HOPELESS, because I've lived long enough to expect things like this to continue to happen. I'm not surprised and at some point my little children are going to inherit the weight of being a minority and all that it entails.

I'M HOPEFUL, because I know that while we still have race issues in America, we enjoy a much different normal than those of our parents and grandparents. I see it in my personal relationships with teammates, friends and mentors. And it's a beautiful thing.

I'M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I'M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through the his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that's capable of looking past the outward and seeing what's truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It's the Gospel. So, finally, I'M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope.

Michigan Wolverines in LA

During Spring Break 2012, Athletes in Action at the University of Michigan took roughly 40 staff and students to Los Angeles for a one-week Urban Project-esque experience.
Natasha (below right), one of the UM students, had this to say about her experience: 
“Michigan’s Athletes in Action Urban Immersion Spring Break - Los Angeles was a great educational, spiritual and cultural eye opening experience. This being my second time participating in an LA urban immersion, I did not expect to leave with any new appreciation or awareness for the inequality, racial and cultural issues in the city. 

I was pleasantly surprised that this trip, even though two and a half weeks shorter than my first trip to LA, offered a comparable amount of exposure and lessons that are positively influencing my life today. From being back at Skid Row, a neighborhood defined by homelessness, staying in the cold basement of First Evangelical Church in a gang ridden area, to learning about effective ways to love a community at Solidarity non-profit organization, I truly got experience the movement in the city towards a brighter future. 

Returning to Ann Arbor after a week of freezing nights, cold showers and  sugar cereal, I had a new appreciation for all the ways I have been blessed in my life. This growth in understanding  of inequality and prejudice has manifested in my daily life here in Ann Arbor. I make sure to give more of my time to volunteering and also to not be shy about sharing my resources when possible. In addition to learning about the city and growing in my awareness, it was great to build community with fellow student- athletes from my school, Michigan, Concordia and Eastern Michigan. 

Engaging and processing this trip together, growing in our faith and spending time spreading love  and serving, all under the name of God, really helped form a community and relationships that little by little will shine as lights in the athletic departments at the different schools and some day produce change in the hearts of all who are willing to recognize that there is something different and that there is a better way of life, through God. Overall, this was an amazing trip, and I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend my spring break!”

Amazima Ministries

If we ever think God is absent...God doesn't care...God isn't there...click this link and read their blog. Simply amazing. As one manifestation of the Lord’s work abroad, the 3R's are alive and well through Amazima Ministries in Uganda. God is good and amazing. 

May we encourage you: Today, choose to trust God for what you cannot see (Hebrews 11:6) and steward/master what we can see. 

Peace in the Struggle...


Winston - Salem Karaoke Night

The work continues...

Another example of the vision and work of the UP-LA moving outside the bounds of LA County comes from the other side of the country in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Paul Loeser, (above) a junior Track and Field student-athlete at Wake Forest University participated in the 2010 Urban Project-Los Angeles. God began shaping in him a vision for continuing the work back home in Winston-Salem. Below Paul shares what God has been doing this year in Winston-Salem:

“Last summer during Urban Project LA I went to karaoke night on Skid Row. Almost a hundred of people pack into the church every Wednesday night to sing and dance together. Some of the singers couldn’t carry a tune; others were incredibly talented. But it didn’t seem to matter to anyone. The people supported and cheered for each other in a really moving display of community that was unified by Christ. Everyone sang ‘Our God is an Awesome God’ together at the end of the night, which was really powerful. 

I was so impacted by Karaoke night in LA that I decided to bring it to my hometown in Winston-Salem. With the help of some good friends, karaoke night is now going strong at the Bethesda Center for the Homeless in Winston. Every other week, a group of Wake students gets together with the people living at the shelter to sing and have fun together. Karaoke night is different from a lot of other homeless ministries because it gives a chance for those living at the shelter to have their voice heard. 

And the community at Bethesda is just as powerful and moving as it was in LA, especially when we all sing a gospel song at the end of the night together. It's a true representation of the body of Christ. Despite our different circumstances, we're all unified by Christ, which is why we sing with so much joy together at the end of the night.”

Urban Project - Columbus


The dream of the UP-LA has always been to see the work extend beyond the bounds of LA County. Athletes in Action at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, recently held the first Urban Project-Columbus during their spring break. Students from OSU, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Marshall, Ohio, Kentucky, Wittenburg, Ohio Wesleyan, and Wright State came together for a week of learning and serving in Inner-City Columbus. 

The Project even had a special guest from Los Angeles. Ramiro Caldera, serves at the Compton Salvation Army in Compton, CA, one of the UP-LA’s long-term ministry sites. He made the cross-country trip to continue to learn about God’s heart for the city and to share of his experiences growing up and working in Compton. During the Project, the students and staff stayed at Thompson Park Recreation Center located in the Short North of Inner-city Columbus.
Jamie Borchik, AIA Campus Staff at OSU and the Project Director, had this to say post-Project:

“Often when we talk about issues of evil, suffering, and justice, we do so from a distance.  We talk about those things out there, somewhere in the hypothetical, theoretical realm, that might someday come close but for now are safely at bay.  Last week, on the first annual Urban Project Columbus, we had no such luxury.  As our group of around 30 students lived and served in the heart of urban Columbus, issues of evil, suffering, and justice drew very near. 

Over the course of the week, our group twice had some of our stuff stolen, twice had young children of people closely connected to the Project die suddenly, twice had some of our stuff stolen, and had one student get stalked by a man from the community.  All this in the midst of serving in some of the most needy neighborhoods in the city of Columbus and witnessing poverty and injustice all around us.  And coinciding with an earthquake and tsunami in Japan and political unrest in the Middle East.  The first (hopefully) annual Urban Project Columbus was marked by difficult circumstances.  

And while I never would have (nor could have) scripted such events to happen during the Project, I do believe that God is sovereign and that he used the hard things that happened to teach our group very real lessons about the brokenness of this world.  One of the core components of the Gospel is that sin is real and that the world and people are deeply broken as a result.  On the Project we witnessed firsthand the realities of sin and brokenness.  As a result, the beauty of the Gospel and the healing that Jesus alone can bring became all the more precious.  

The vision of the Urban Project Columbus is to equip students to address issues of spiritual and physical poverty in the world.  In large part because of the very real encounters the students had with evil and suffering, they saw up close the desperate need the world around us has for the hope of the Gospel, and they saw the need for men and women like them to invest their lives in bringing that hope to communities of need.  

A story to close:  On Wednesday night of the Project we did a prayer tour of the city of Columbus.  We visited the neighborhoods where the students lived and worked all week and met with community leaders to hear about how we can best pray for each community.  To finish the tour we took Broad Street out of Columbus to Bexley.  Bexley is the first suburb east of Columbus and has an average income of $300,000 per year.  In Bexley we stopped at the Governor's Mansion, a huge house on a beautiful street with lots of other huge houses.  We then turned onto Main Street and drove back toward downtown.  When we crossed an an railroad bridge, the scenery changed dramatically.  

Literally on the other side of the tracks the income drops to $15-18,000 per year.  You leave suburbia and enter what looks almost like a war zone.  Some streets have more abandoned homes than inhabited ones.  We drove down Main Street observing the dramatic change all the way to downtown Columbus.  In downtown, along the very same street, you come to million dollar high-rises and the center of influence and power in the state of Ohio.  We got out of our cars and walked to the front of the State Capital.  

And at the capital we asked, "What will you do?"  Most of the students will one day work in places like downtown Columbus, in positions of influence, with more resources available to them than most of the rest of the world.  And just two miles away will be desperate physical poverty.  So what will you do about the physical poverty?  How will you live differently in light of the realities you encountered this week?  

And we asked what will you do about the spiritual poverty?  Because much of the physical poverty along Main Street continues to exist because of the spiritual poverty in downtown.  We live in a world in need of the Gospel, in need of the truth of Jesus as the only source of reconciliation between us and God and us and each other.  

This is the vision of the Urban Project Columbus: that students will use whatever platform God gives them to address the spiritual poverty in downtown so as to transform hearts with the Gospel and ultimately see God create leaders who will then also address the physical poverty on Main Street.  Will you pray with me that the 30-some students who participated in the inaugural Urban Project Columbus will be instruments of Gospel spreading wherever they go for the rest of their lives?”

The Widow's Offering

There will always be powerful and not so powerful enemies of compassionate aid/assistance to those precious ones who reside on the margins of every society in the world. Any type of significant, "real" assistance is going to be fought because compassion is extremely, personally "expensive" and personally costly for the giver. It is emotionally expensive and materially expensive...

Mark 12:41-44: The Widow’s Offering
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. 
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” 

People, if we are to do compassion to be recognized on a divine scale…it’s going to hurt…it’s going to cost us something. Remember this maxim: Anything truly worthwhile will cost.
Enjoy Ms. Rosenberg’s observations in the New York Times article below…

The following article is from the New York Times Opinionator; January 3, 2011, 8:15 pm 

To Beat Back Poverty, Pay the Poor


Fixes looks at solutions to social problems and why they work. Bruno Domingos/Reuters. An apartment building in front of the Rocinha shantytown in Rio de Janeiro. The city of Rio de Janeiro is infamous for the fact that one can look out from a precarious shack on a hill in a miserable favela and see practically into the window of a luxury high-rise condominium.  Parts of Brazil look like southern California.  Parts of it look like Haiti.  Many countries display great wealth side by side with great poverty.  But until recently, Brazil was the most unequal country in the world.

Today, however, Brazil’s level of economic inequality is dropping at a faster rate than that of almost any other country.  Between 2003 and 2009, the income of poor Brazilians has grown seven times as much as the income of rich Brazilians.  Poverty has fallen during that time from 22 percent of the population to 7 percent.

Contrast this with the United States, where from 1980 to 2005, more than four-fifths of the increase in Americans’ income went to the top 1 percent of earners. (See this great series in Slate by Timothy Noah on American inequality).  Productivity among low and middle-income American workers increased, but their incomes did not.  If current trends continue, the United States may soon be more unequal than Brazil. A single social program is transforming how countries all over the world help their poor. 

Several factors contribute to Brazil’s astounding feat.  But a major part of Brazil’s achievement is due to a single social program that is now transforming how countries all over the world help their poor. 

The program, called Bolsa Familia (Family Grant) in Brazil, goes by different names in different places. In Mexico, where it first began on a national scale and has been equally successful at reducing poverty, it is Oportunidades. The generic term for the program is conditional cash transfers.  The idea is to give regular payments to poor families, in the form of cash or electronic transfers into their bank accounts, if they meet certain requirements.  The requirements vary, but many countries employ those used by Mexico: families must keep their children in school and go for regular medical checkups, and mom must attend workshops on subjects like nutrition or disease prevention.  The payments almost always go to women, as they are the most likely to spend the money on their families.  The elegant idea behind conditional cash transfers is to combat poverty today while breaking the cycle of poverty for tomorrow.

Most of our Fixes columns so far have been about successful-but-small ideas.  They face a common challenge:  how to make them work on a bigger scale.  This one is different.  Brazil is employing a version of an idea now in use in some 40 countries around the globe, one already successful on a staggeringly enormous scale. This is likely the most important government antipoverty program the world has ever seen.  It is worth looking at how it works, and why it has been able to help so many people.

In Mexico, Oportunidades today covers 5.8 million families, about 30 percent of the population. An Oportunidades family with a child in primary school and a child in middle school that meets all its responsibilities can get a total of about $123 a month in grants.  Students can also get money for school supplies, and children who finish high school in a timely fashion get a one-time payment of $330.

A family living in extreme poverty in Brazil doubles its income when it gets the basic benefit. 
Bolsa Familia, which has similar requirements, is even bigger.  Brazil’s conditional cash transfer programs were begun before the government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, but he consolidated various programs and expanded it. It now covers about 50 million Brazilians, about a quarter of the country.   It pays a monthly stipend of about $13 to poor families for each child 15 or younger who is attending school, up to three children.  Families can get additional payments of $19 a month for each child of 16 or 17 still in school, up to two children.  Families that live in extreme poverty get a basic benefit of about $40, with no conditions. Do these sums seem heartbreakingly small?  They are.  But a family living in extreme poverty in Brazil doubles its income when it gets the basic benefit.  It has long been clear that Bolsa Familia has reduced poverty in Brazil.  But research has only recently revealed its role in enabling Brazil to reduce economic inequality.

The World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank are working with individual governments to spread these programs around the globe, providing technical help and loans.  Conditional cash transfer programs are now found in 14 countries in Latin America and some 26 other countries, according to the World Bank. (One of the programs was in New York City — a small, privately-financed pilot program called Opportunity NYC.  A preliminary evaluation showed mixed success, but it is too soon to draw conclusions.  Each program is tailored to local conditions.  Some in Latin America, for example, emphasize nutrition.  One in Tanzania is experimenting with conditioning payments on an entire community’s behavior.

The program fights poverty in two ways.  One is straightforward:  it gives money to the poor. This works.  And no, the money tends not to be stolen or diverted to the better-off.  Brazil and Mexico have been very successful at including only the poor.  In both countries it has reduced poverty, especially extreme poverty, and has begun to close the inequality gap.

The idea’s other purpose — to give children more education and better health — is longer term and harder to measure.  But measured it is — Oportunidades is probably the most-studied social program on the planet.  The program has an evaluation unit and publishes all data. There have also been hundreds of studies by independent academics. The research indicates that conditional cash transfer programs in Mexico and Brazil do keep people healthier, and keep kids in school.

In Mexico today, malnutrition, anemia and stunting have dropped, as have incidences of childhood and adult illnesses.  Maternal and infant deaths have been reduced.  Contraceptive use in rural areas has risen and teen pregnancy has declined.  But the most dramatic effects are visible in education.  Children in Oportunidades repeat fewer grades and stay in school longer. Child labor has dropped. In rural areas, the percentage of children entering middle school has risen 42 percent.  High school inscription in rural areas has risen by a whopping 85 percent. The strongest effects on education are found in families where the mothers have the lowest schooling levels.  Indigenous Mexicans have particularly benefited, staying in school longer.
Bolsa Familia is having a similar impact in Brazil.  One recent study found that it increases school attendance and advancement — particularly in the northeast, the region of Brazil where school attendance is lowest, and particularly for older girls, who are at greatest risk of dropping out. The study also found that Bolsa has improved child weight, vaccination rates and use of pre-natal care.

When I traveled in Mexico in 2008 to report on Oportunidades, I met family after family with a distinct before and after story.  Parents whose work consisted of using a machete to cut grass had children who, thanks to Oportunidades, had finished high school and were now studying accounting or nursing.  Some families had older children who were malnourished as youngsters, but younger children who had always been healthy because Oportunidades had arrived in time to help them eat better.  In the city of Venustiano Carranza, in Mexico’s Puebla state, I met Hortensia Alvarez Montes, a 54-year-old widow whose only income came from taking in laundry.  Her education stopped in sixth grade, as did that of her first three children.  But then came Oportunidades, which kept her two youngest children in school.  They were both finishing high school when I visited her.  One of them told me she planned to attend college.

Outside of Brazil and Mexico, conditional cash transfer programs are newer and smaller. Nevertheless, there is ample research showing that they, too, increase consumption, lower poverty, and increase school enrollment and use of health services.
If conditional cash transfer programs are to work properly, many more schools and health clinics are needed.  But governments can’t always keep up with the demand — and sometimes they can only keep up by drastically reducing quality.  If this is a problem for medium-income countries like Brazil and Mexico, imagine the challenge in Honduras or Tanzania.
For skeptics who believe that social programs never work in poor countries and that most of what’s spent on them gets stolen, conditional cash transfer programs offer a convincing rebuttal.  Here are programs that help the people who most need help, and do so with very little waste, corruption or political interference. Even tiny, one-village programs that succeed this well are cause for celebration.  To do this on the scale that Mexico and Brazil have achieved is astounding.

Tina Rosenberg won a Pulitzer Prize for her book “The Haunted Land: Facing Europe’s Ghosts After Communism.” She is a former editorial writer for The Times and now a contributing writer for the paper’s Sunday magazine. Her new book, “Join the Club: How Peer Pressure Can Transform the World,” is forthcoming from W.W. Norton.

Governor Schwarzeneggar & Compton Salvation Army

The Work of the Urban Project continues year-round. This story is about one of our long-time ministry partners, Compton Salvation Army & the Governor of California...To God be the glory!
The corridors of power are called to serve at the pleasure of the Lord (Romans 13). When those in power do good work God's Way it is a beautiful and powerful thing to behold. Let this article from the LA Times (link below) encourage, inspire, and challenge you as you contend for the Call of Christ in dark and desperate times and places...

Peace in the Struggle,



Homicide Victim Reality

From NPR.org on May 15, 2010

Title: Homicide Blog Shows Who Victims Really Are

County officials recorded 740 homicides in the Los Angeles area last year. That's an average of 14 violent deaths every week. With few exceptions, most victims simply become statistics — just numbers.

But in 2007, the Los Angeles Times set out to dig beneath those numbers and tell the story of each and every person on a blog called The Homicide Report.
Each week, a blogger checks in with several city and county agencies — the LAPD, the county coroner, whoever can tell the stories of who died and why.

"Brandon Garrido, a 16-year-old Latino, died Monday, May 10, on the 3200 block of East 1st Street in Boyle Heights," one entry begins. Another starts with "Marques McNeil, a 28-year-old black man, was shot and killed Sunday, May 9, on the corner of 78th Street and Avalon Boulevard in Florence."

The names go on and on and on. A photograph is attached to almost all of the entries.

"If you're in a smaller place, you know, there's a local paper and a homicide is big news. In L.A., it isn't always big news," says Megan Garvey, who's been running The Homicide Report for a more than a year.

"There are people who, if it wasn't for The Homicide Report, probably would never be acknowledged in print, whether that's online or in a newspaper," she says. "When Jill [Leovy] created this blog, I think that's part of what people really responded to."

'The Truth About Homicide'

Now a senior reporter at the L.A. Times, Jill Leovy started The Homicide Report in 2007 after noticing the huge disparity in the way murders were covered by the news media. The sensational stories, mostly the outliers and anomalies, got the most attention. But the majority of homicides were largely ignored.

"The first year I was in the Watts homicide unit, that unit had 60 murders that year," she tells NPR's Guy Raz. "I was shadowing the detectives, and we were running on murders every other day. Every morning they had CNN on, or something on, and it would have the latest installment of the Laci Peterson murder." The sensational case of a pregnant wife murdered by her husband enthralled the nation for months.

"The detectives in that unit were fascinated with it. Every day, we would have a moment of discussing the newest development in that case, and then they'd go on to do the 60 other murders that year — and that is homicide in America.

"The truth about homicide," she says, "is that it is black men in their 20s, in their 30s, in their 40s. The way we guide money and policy in this country, we do not care about those people. It's not described as what's central to our homicide problem, and I wanted people to see that. I wanted people to see those lives and to see that that's our real homicide problem in America.

"The money needs to go to black male argument violence," she continues. "Anything else … you're dealing with the margins of the problem, statistically, and it's not right."

Nobody Deserves To Be Murdered

Leovy wants to give a name, an identity and a story to every person who was murdered in L.A. County. She wants society to get away from "medieval notions" of deserving or not deserving to be killed.

"I don't care if they're the worst thug in the world," she says, adding, "some of these guys are really, really deeply, criminally involved characters. Many of them have killed people."

"You don't have it coming in a gang shooting," she says, "you need to be arrested and prosecuted.

"A lot of the money we spend is based on the presumption that the victims are guilty in some ways," Leovy explains. She hears all the time how terrible it is that young men are killing each other, how they need to shape up. She argues the discussion needs to be reframed.

"When we talked about domestic violence, we never talked about how these women were so delinquent and terrible and they needed to get their heads together and be taught right. We talked about protecting them from people who are trying to hurt them. We don't talk about men that way."

Black Men Living In A 'War Zone'

Leovy acknowledges that murder rates are way down in recent years, but says it's never been about that.

"Homicide is not a mass syndrome in America," she says. "It's a concentrated group of people and that group of people is still horribly affected by homicide."

In 2007, L.A. County's murder rates were especially low. Even so, Leovy says, black men in their 20s were dying at rates of around 140 per 100,000 per year.

"As a middle-aged white lady, my death rate is probably 1 or 2 per 100,000 — maximum," Leovy says. "These young men are dying at 140. They're in a war zone, and the rest of us are living in a different country."

"The real homicide problem is not the numbers that everybody focuses on, it's the disproportion."

The Victim Almost Nobody Cared About

It seems easy for all the names on The Homicide Report to blur into a crowd of faceless victims for a reporter. Leovy says that's not so.

"You remember all of them," she says. "You remember every single name."

While on the beat at The Homicide Report, Leovy says, she was always waiting to find the one guy who was so bad, so despised, that nobody cared about him. One day she thought she'd finally found him: schizophrenic, in his 40s, a black man living in a very bad part of town.

"I think he was homeless, and he was nothing but trouble for everybody in his life," she recalls. Even his mother's grief was unconvincing.

"She kind of worked me over for favors, and I thought, 'This is it, I finally found the guy who nobody cared about."

But a week later, Leovy got a call from one of his sisters, despondent over the death of her troubled, homeless, violent brother.

"She couldn't sleep, she was having visions, she was having physical problems," Leovy says. "Her hair was falling out." No one, as Leovy found, is "a throwaway person."

"Not one single one of them leaves you clean. When you get close to it, not one single one of them can you pass over easily."