The Politics of Poverty–Throwing Money is Not Enough

There is a rather large non-governmental organization in the United Kingdom called “OxFam.”   I’m not sure why it has that name, but it does.

They publish a blog with a series of articles on it that wrestle with some very big and very deep issues relating to poverty, to the governmental impact on poverty and how to hopefully do it better.    While I read it consistently, some of it is way too obtuse and hypothetical for me to see its relevance.

This one is not.   They wrote a post yesterday that you can read here if you want to  read the entire thing.   Let me attempt to hit some high points or low points for you:

  • The article is talking specifically about situations in Tanzania and Uganda where the government is displacing poor and poverty stricken people to clear room for industrial development and other things.   Sound like a good thing, right?   The governments are basically saying, “We need where you live so that we can build an oil refinery and make money.   Here’s $_________ go move.”   What’s wrong with that?
  • The article lays out a convincing case that it is not a situation where there is anything wrong with that.   No, instead it is a situation where that is not ENOUGH.    If you give someone who is struggling with poverty some money and tell them to move, they might have a little more money but if they move and then something happens, they have nothing to fall back on and that essentially puts them in a worse position than they were.

So if that’s not enough, what is enough?   Their point is that if someone (a government etc.) is going to relocate people because they need that land, they need to do three things:

1. Compensate them for their troubles – anyone who has ever moved knows how disruptive it can be.   It’s disruptive when you plan on it, it’s even more so when it is forced on you.

2. Help them – help them make the move to their new place.   Don’t just say, “move, here’s money.”   Instead, help them get through all of the logistics and the struggles of actually getting there.

3. Provide or help them obtain a place to move to.   Don’t let them get stuck strictly in a refugee camp, but help them get reestablished with either a place of their own or a place they can rent.

In the article that OxFam wrote, they are focusing on one particular situation.   A situation where a government or corporation needs to relocate people so that business can develop and expand.

Let me give you a couple of examples of where and how else it could happen:

  • Houston
  • The island of Barbuda
  • The Florida Keys
  • Puerto Rico
  • Mexico

What do all of those have in common?   In the last month, they have all been hit by natural disasters of epic proportions.  

There are millions of people who don’t know what to do, who don’t know how to do what needs to be done, who don’t have any way to help themselves.   They lost everything in that natural disaster.   If the governmental agencies or non-profits that are helping only do step 1, they aren’t really helping.

So, when you want to “do something” to help, make sure that the organization you are working with or want to support has all of those steps in mind.   They might not do all of them, but they see them and understand them and work with others who can help with those parts.

Helping is more complex than it appears, but it can be done and done well, if it’s done carefully.

Tom V

Hurricane Maria

I’m sure there are people all over the social media “arena” who are thinking of Sound of Music songs about “a problem like Maria.’   I’m not going to do that.   Smile

All joking aside, Hurricane Maria is a big thing.   It’s the real deal.   It’s a real problem.   It hit Puerto Rico with 155 mile per hour winds. 

What do we do with a problem like Maria?

What do we do when Maria walks the same or a similar path that Irma did?

How do we help?   How do we avoid thinking,  “Another hurricane…..”  (change the channel).

This illustrates the struggle that not only relief organizations but also people on the ground in the path of the storm face.  How do they stay relevant to those who don’t face the issues that the hurricane survivors do?

How do those who have been ravaged by one hurricane and have another one on the way, how do they make it?  If they have resources to use to help survive, that increases the chances they will make it.    But what about the single mom with two kids living in a relatively shaky old 2 family apartment building?   The building was severely damaged by Hurricane Irma and the landlord hasn’t gotten the help to fix the place up yet.   It is questionable whether the house is safe but all of emergency shelters within walking distance are full.   She lost a lot of her possessions in the first storm and what Irma didn’t take, well, it looks like Maria is going to take a good bit more.  How does she get over it?  Will she ever get over it?   Or will any hope of a better life be blown and washed away with the wind and the waves?

It all depends on us.   Our we willing to be content to let the problem be “over there?”  Or are we willing to say,  “Our neighbors are “over there” so we should help?

Assuming that you are not willing to turn your back on those harmed by some major natural events lately, here’s some suggestions on how to figure out best how to help:

  • Work with or support organizations who have a history of working “there” or maybe one island over.   Don’t donate money to an organization that works in Ohio because they are going to send down supplies.   Odds are pretty good that they don’t know what is really needed.
  • Work with experienced people and experienced organizations.  People who know people and people who know how things work there are most likely the ones who will make a bigger difference.

I will have some more thoughts as life moves on, but please pray for the people in Hurricane Maria’s path and pray that it moves out to sea and causes minimal land damage.

Thanks for reading,


A Girl–But More Than That–WAY More Than “Just” a Girl

There’s this girl who goes to the same church we do.

Her name is Naomi.  

A few weeks back, she read a poem she wrote in church.

It moved me.   Moved me to tears.

I asked her if I could run it here and share it with you.

She graciously agreed.   Naomi is in high school and she’s the type of girl that we need to change this world.

I’m going to run her poem in 5 parts – tomorrow, her introduction.   Thursday, a Bible verse that fits with it.   And then the poem broken into sections.

I hope you’re moved by it.   I hope you move after reading it.


The Day After The Life Before……

It’s Monday.    But not just any Monday.

It’s the Monday after.   After Easter.

So what? 

That’s the question.    Yesterday we celebrated that we have new life.   We are no longer in debt to our life of sin and struggle.   We are free.

But today, we wake up to another day.

It feels like the same old ordinary day, but it’s different.

It’s the day after the life before.

The day after everything changed.

So what?

So, what we thought mattered doesn’t matter any more.

So, what matters is what Jesus said and what He did.

And that changes everything.

Our views on who we are must change.

Our views on what really matters must change.

Our views on those who are “different” from us must change.

Our views on how to show God’s love to the “least of these” must change.

Yesterday was Easter.

Today is the day after the Life “Before.”

Before God rescued us.

Before we truly experienced grace.

Let’s make sure that we live the day after the life before and the life after the life “before” differently.

Care more deeply.

Love more freely.

Speak more kindly.

Help more openly.

Pray more often.

God changed the world when He gave us Easter.

As a token of our gratitude, let’s go change the world for Him.



As some of you might know, my wife spent last week in Haiti.   She’s an RN and went down on a medical team to provide much lacking healthcare to the women and children involved with Haiti Foundation Against Poverty and the organizations they support.

Due to other “challenges” it’s been a couple of years since either one of us has been down to Haiti.    A lot has changed in that time, with us and with Haiti.    But a lot hasn’t.

Haiti is still part of our family.   40% of our children came from Haiti.   We have many friends and our kids have birth family who live there.

Our hearts still break over the poverty, the sickness, the corruption, the trauma, the lack of proper health care, the lack of education.   It’s hard seeing people you care about and a country you care about suffer and struggle.

But it’s not like all of the world’s problems are limited to a place like Haiti.   They aren’t.

There are struggles right here in the first world too.   My neighbor is at her father’s bedside as he battles what appears to be the final stages of lung disease.

My daughter’s classmate went to her 45 year old uncle’s funeral yesterday.

A friend is trying to find mental health services for her child and herself as they struggle – and before someone gets seriously hurt.

I could go on and on and on.

This weekend, and even yesterday, I spent a good bit of time wrestling with a one word question:’


Probably not “why?” in the way you’re thinking.    Not “why does God allow these bad things to happen.”

No, I was wrestling with the question of “Why?” as in “Why me?”   “Why my wife?”

Why did God push me out of banking (a relatively comfortable job) into working for an orphanage – and then out of that and into helping struggling adoptive families through AFSN?

Why did God give my wife the skills that are so desperately needed at medical clinics in Haiti?

Why do I care so much about kids I’ve never met?

Why do I want to help others – even when facing my and my family’s own struggles?  (If you think we’ve got it all together, then you don’t know us very well.)

Why didn’t God push me into a place where I could do a nice “ordinary” job and could not face these types of pains, heartaches and struggles?

But then two things happened in the last 48 hours that have “sort of” answered that question:

We attended the Tenebrae service at Calvin College Sunday night.   In it, we were able to experience, movingly, emotionally and physically the pain and brokenness that is part of this week and is part of what God has taken care through Good Friday and through Easter.   We learned again that God accepts us and chases us when we are broken with his love and his mercy.

And I listened to “Broken” by Casting Crowns again.   And again.   The part that kept hitting me over and over was:

Maybe you and I were never meant to be complete
Could we just be broken together
If you can bring your shattered dreams and Ill bring mine
Could healing still be spoken and save us
The only way we’ll last forever is broken together

God hasn’t called us to be “perfect.”   He hasn’t called us to be “all together.”    God is totally fine with us coming to him broken.

Broken by pain.

Broken by illness.

Broken by an ache in our hearts for those who hurt.

Broken by a sense of injustice.

Broken by a desire to make His world a better place.

Broken by our own sins and struggles and heartache.

We don’t have to fix it all, we can’t fix it all, only God can.

But we can be broken together.

And if we’re broken together, healing can begin.

And that’s what makes Jesus smile.