Monthly Archives: September 2011

Marriage, miracles, and Micro

The following blog post was written by Timothy Hall, Africa's regional field specialist for VisionFund International, the microfinance subsidiary of World Vision.

On my final day in Rwanda, I attended a wedding. Weddings in this part of the world are a blend of the traditional and the modern. The celebrations begin in the morning with negotiations between the two families’ representatives. There are dancers, drums, and traditional costumes throughout. This is followed by lunch, and then progresses to a church where the ceremony is much closer to a typical Western wedding -- complete with a white gown, attendants, candles, and a priest.

The bride was a young woman who worked for one of VisionFund’s microfinance banks, translating and posting information for World Vision Micro. I assumed the man representing her in the negotiations was her father, and I asked a friend if this was the case. “No,” he told me, “I don’t think she has any parents left.”

Tempering the joy at this occasion was the memory, etched in the mind of every Rwandan, of the ferocious killing of the 1994 genocide, during which as many as a million lives were ended. The bride and groom were pre-teens at the time, and it is statistically impossible that there was anyone (aside from myself) at the wedding who did not personally witness a murder or other act of extreme violence.

Confessions of a sponsorship skeptic

I confess that, until recently, the first thing that came to my mind when someone mentioned child sponsorship was Sally Struthers kneeling next to an emaciated African child, mascara running down her face, telling the TV that “if you can just save one life, won’t it be worth it?”

As passionate as I was about social justice and alleviating poverty, child sponsorship struck me as an old-fashioned model for giving, in which a few select children essentially walked through a breadline to receive meals, school supplies, and medical attention from faraway white “saviors” whose first-world guilt was eased by letters ensuring that their contributions made a difference. I worried that child sponsorship created dependency and that families were forced to attend church in order to receive assistance for their little ones. While I could certainly see the value in saving “just one life,” I longed to invest in efforts devoted to solving the underlying problems that perpetuate poverty in certain communities, rather than simply easing the effects of that poverty among a few.

These concerns didn’t stop me from sponsoring children (especially after visiting India a few years ago), but they kept me from advocating on behalf of the sponsorship model. I think that a lot of Christians in my generation are wary of the suggestion that our responsibility to the world is limited to caring for “just one child.” We long for justice to roll down like streams of living water, not for charity to drip out like a leaky faucet. 

The mystery of suffering: A before-and-after photo story

I’m often asked how I’ve been able to photograph human suffering for so much of my career and still maintain my sanity and belief in the goodness of God.

Suffering is a mystery. I’ve met many good, righteous, faithful people who have lives full of misery. My dear sister-in-law, Karen, passed away last week after years of battling cancer. She volunteered with orphans in Haiti and gave to people in need in India. She made sure her home was always open to visitors, both family and strangers, even during her illness. She was generous to a fault, wonderfully kind, encouraging, and selfless. Her life of service was lived to the glory of God. Yet she died painfully and young. Suffering is a mystery.

One thing I do know: In the midst of the worst of the worst situations, God is still there.

Your chance to fight human trafficking [Livestream]

It’s easy to get disillusioned with political debate. Frequently, it degenerates into petty point-scoring and partisan bickering. Constructive dialogue, it seems, often disappears out the window.

So it’s nice when an issue comes along on which nearly everybody can agree. One such issue is the problem of human trafficking -- the use of fraud, force, or coercion to exploit a child or adult for profit. It’s estimated that there are more than 12 million trafficked people in the world today -- a $32 billion industry. Every day, children are forced to perform sexual acts or work long hours in filthy, dangerous conditions for the financial benefit of someone else.

Sometimes, I imagine my own children forced into this position, and my mind almost blanks out at the horror of it.

In 2000, Congress unanimously passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act -- widely regarded as the most comprehensive piece of human-rights legislation in U.S. history. The act has done much to protect the vulnerable and support trafficking survivors. At the same time, it has given law-enforcement agencies the tools to prosecute traffickers -- both for crimes committed in the United States and abroad.

My 5 favorite things about Tanzania (a post for your kids)

On this blog, we've had a variety of guest bloggers in the past -- Mark Hall from Casting Crowns; Josh Loveless from Relevant Magazine; Reneé Stearns, wife of World Vision president Rich Stearns; and Adam Jeske from InterVarsity.

But we've never had a guest blogger quite like this one.

He's a newcomer to the blogging world, a well-respected teacher to many, and a lover of God's children and kingdom. He's known to be a bit of a health addict, a vegetarian, really big on going green. A believer in diversity of friendships, the company he enjoys comes in all shapes and sizes -- a bit beyond the garden-variety, if we can say so. Although he's become quite the movie star, he's managed stay humble and down-to-earth.

The success of the world’s greatest to-do list

Every morning, I begin my day by writing a to-do list in my diary. I can’t remember when I started this habit, but I’m certain my productivity has increased exponentially as a result.

I write down irksome duties that nevertheless must get done; I break down complex tasks into several simpler ones -- and, whoa, what looked like an impossible mountain to climb suddenly appears as a series of manageable mole hills. Every time I complete a task, I put a check next to that item on the list.

I’d be lying if I said I manage to get everything done every day. If I did, I’d probably be running for president by now. All the same, at the end of the day, I have a record of achievements, plus an itemized account of what needs more work -- something that will inform the to-do list for the following day.

Perhaps the greatest to-do list of all time is the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that all United Nations member states agreed to work toward in September 2000. The object of this to-do list is nothing less than the radical reduction of the most extreme forms of poverty by 2015.

A network of prayer [infographic]

About six months ago, as my team was putting together the autumn 2011 issue of World Vision Magazine, I asked our social media team if we could pose a question to World Vision Facebook fans -- and potentially use the responses in the magazine.

At that stage, we had an article from Rich Stearns, president of World Vision U.S., about how World Vision’s faith plays a role in every community where we work. I think it’s a great article that shows the big picture of how our faith motivates our staff around the world.

But something was missing. Of course, it is important to see how faith motivates World Vision staff, but I also wanted to show that faith motivates many of you, our supporters.

So we posed the question to our fans on Facebook: How do you pray for your sponsored child?

A tale of two droughts

Two regions in the world are experiencing severe drought, and yet the outcomes in terms of human suffering are dramatically different. Do you know where these droughts are taking place? And can you tell what distinguishes one from the other?

Drought 1: It began in the fall of 2010, yet it persists one year later. Forecasters say there is a 50-percent chance that weather patterns will not change for the next 12 months. In the last century, this region of the world has experienced its driest 12 months ever recorded. Extreme and exceptional drought covers more than 90 percent of the land. Combined with record-high temperatures, the drought is having an unprecedented impact on the region’s economy and the livelihood of its residents. Economists estimate that $5 billion has been lost as crops and cattle are lost to the hot and arid conditions. To top it off, wildfires have destroyed another 3 million acres of land.

Drought 2: Another drought elsewhere in the world looks similar. For roughly two years, rainfall has been minimal. The rains that typically provide water for crops were just 30 percent of the average rainfall in recent years. Cattle and crop losses are roughly $300 million and have been devastating for the region’s families. Recognizing the conditions, farmers shifted away from their traditional cash crops and toward less profitable but quick-maturing food. But many are still unable to provide an income or even food for themselves or their families.

Both droughts are linked to variations in ocean temperature caused by La Niña. Both regions are agricultural, raising cattle and a variety of crops. Both groups of people have made rational choices in response to weather conditions completely out of their control.

The moral imperative of humanitarian aid

The following commentary is based on remarks Mr. Hill presented on September 5 at a forum entitled “Reforming Aid, Transforming the World,” hosted by Global Washington at the University of Washington. For more information on Global Washington, visit: www.globalwa.org.


“I think back to what Camus wrote about the fact that perhaps this world is a world in which children suffer, but we can lessen the number of suffering children, and if you do not do this, then who will do this? I'd like to feel that I'd done something to lessen that suffering.” —Robert F. Kennedy, in response to a question, a few weeks before his assassination, about how his obituary should read

From books to blogs, it has become fashionable to focus on the failures of foreign assistance. To be sure, there have been failures, and there is plenty of room for improvement.

That said, it would be a travesty to ignore what has been accomplished. In the early 1960s, preventable child deaths exceeded 20 million per year. In 2011, that number is around 8.1 million. While humanitarian aid may not have been the sole cause, I contend that it was a major factor in reducing these preventable deaths.

I've met the face of AIDS

My name is Ange, and this is my story.

The first time I stepped into Africa was in 2004. It was in Kitale, Kenya, on a mission trip. I met a young boy named Andrew. He captured my heart and my soul, and I still think about him often.

The first time I “Stepped into Africa” was in 2007. It was at my church in Southern California. I met a boy named Kombo. He captured my heart and my soul, and I think about him often.

I know both of these kids’ stories. I've seen where they live. I've seen their families. I've learned their stories. And I feel a strong connection and compassion for both of them.

But what's the difference between these two children? Andrew has seen my face. Kombo has not.

When vision is fueled by grace

When I met Grace Kapila Shilimbwa in rural Zambia, I had no idea about the story behind the owner of the premier guesthouse in the area. Standing by the recently added feature, a swimming pool, I was deeply curious to find out a little more about Grace’s background and journey.

Grace lost her husband in 1996. “My husband was providing for the family, and I was merely supplementing his efforts, but now, things were different; I had to provide all that was needed.”

After making several attempts to start a business, Grace sought help from a World Vision microfinance institution called HARMOS. With their counsel, she decided to reposition herself and pursue her dream of starting her own restaurant and lodge. This was despite her disability resulting from a stroke she suffered soon after her husband of 20 years had died.

The pain of her loss and the financial stress had taken their toll on her body -- but not her vision.

With a loan from HARMOS, she was able to roof her first structure. With the help of her children, Grace had literally molded bricks and provided the bulk of the labor. But that was just the beginning.

Report: U.S. poverty rate at highest level since 1993

For some time now, the struggling U.S. economy has dominated headlines and shaped conversation among Americans. New data released Tuesday in a report from the U.S. Census Bureau, "Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States (pdf)," paints an even starker picture of the challenges our nation faces:

  • The U.S. poverty rate rose to 15.1 percent in 2010 -- up from 14.3 percent in 2009, and to its highest level since 1993.
  • About 46.2 million people are now considered in poverty -- 2.6 million more than last year. That's nearly 1 in 6 people.
  • More Americans were living in poverty in 2010 than at any time since at least the 1950s.
  • The situation has hit black populations the hardest, with their poverty rate rising from 25.8 percent to 27.4 percent.
  • Meanwhile, child poverty rose from 20.7 percent to 22 percent.

5 tips for encouraging your friends to sponsor a child

From now through September 30, you can enter for a chance to win a trip to Peru with World Vision to see our work firsthand. It's as simple as finding new sponsors for just five children.

But we know very well that asking friends, family, or colleagues to sponsor a child isn't easy. In fact, it can be difficult -- even intimidating. That's why we asked Elizabeth Esther, World Vision Bolivia blogger, for her tips as an experienced writer and child sponsorship advocate. Our Facebook fans had lots of tips to offer, too.

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From Elizabeth Esther:

When I first started asking my readers to sponsor a child, I was apprehensive. I wasn't sure how people would respond.

Is Jesus more than a "sprinkle" blessing?

I'm excited to welcome Mark Hall -- the lead singer and songwriter for Casting Crowns, a long-time World Vision artist -- to the World Vision Blog. When I received this post from Mark, the source of the passion in his songwriting became immediately obvious. They're words of experience and depth from his heart. Thanks, Mark, for guest-blogging today and for giving us a peek into Casting Crowns' newest album. Don't forget to order the pre-sale of the album online at FamilyChristian.com.
Lindsey Talerico-Hedren, managing editor, World Vision Blog


When we went to adopt Hope and bring her home with us from China, she didn’t want me to hold her. I was told that usually when the orphaned children there see white men, they sometimes think they are doctors coming to do surgery on them.

It wasn't until seven days after we were back home that I told my wife Melanie, "I’m just going to go pick her up, and sooner or later, she’ll be too exhausted to cry anymore." We were at the zoo at the time. I picked her up, but she wasn’t going to have it. She screamed for the next 30 minutes.

Later that night, I was lying awake in bed, staring at the fan, having a conversation with God about this. It took us three years to be able to adopt Hope. Our family began the adoption process before she was born, with all its red tape and expense, the testing and interviews and waiting -- lots of waiting.

Rethinking America's place in the world: How 9/11 changed me

Christianity Today asked me, as an evangelical leader, to reflect on how I've changed since 9/11. It was an appropriate question and one worth considering, as we approach the 10-year anniversary of that fateful day in which many lives were lost and many more were changed forever.

* * *

The September 11 attacks jolted Americans into realizing that our nation was no longer, and never again would be, an "island" protected from the senseless brutality of terrorism. The world became smaller that day, and the person who could not find Afghanistan and Pakistan on a map suddenly wanted to learn more about those and other Muslim countries.

From the standpoint of international development, the attacks were a catalyst for renewed interest in and commitment to helping address the underlying problems that prompted 19 men to hijack and crash four jetliners, killing themselves and nearly 3,000 others.

Operation Seasweep: A 32-year story of God's provision

Thirty-two years ago, World Vision reported the rescue story of Operation Seasweep, the boat Mr. Vinh Chung was on, in the August 1979 issue of World Vision Magazine. Mr. Chung recently retold his story at our headquarters office. I spoke with him afterward for a fuller picture of his life after Seasweep and the miracle of God's provision for his family.


Two very different parts of Vinh Chung’s life meet when he walks on a beach.

In an instant, the smell of sea salt takes the 36-year-old skin cancer surgeon back to his 1979 exodus from Vietnam.

Just four years old at the time, Vinh recalls fleeing the southern city of Ca Mau by boat from the Mekong River Delta toward the South China Sea with his parents and seven siblings.

The Chung family -- ethnically Chinese -- escaped the communist government’s persecution of ethnic minorities.

Once they reached the open ocean, Thai pirates stole their valuables. Their boat eventually made it to a Malaysian beach, but instead of offering asylum, soldiers held them at gunpoint and brutally beat Vinh’s father and uncle. Then they were towed back out to sea on a smaller boat with no working motor or fuel. They were left to die.

Trafficking victims protection: Keeping a law that works

Debating the effectiveness of laws is a tradition as old as our nation itself. But I want to share a story that illustrates how one law is accomplishing exactly what it was passed to do.

From 2003 to 2007, the owners of the U.S. company Global Horizons trafficked more than 600 Thai workers to U.S. soil. The company lured the men with promises of high-paying agricultural jobs.

When the men arrived after having paid exorbitant recruitment fees, their passports and immigration papers were taken from them. Instead of receiving high-paying jobs, the men were forced to work on farms in Washington state and Hawaii to pay off the “debt” they were told they incurred.

In 2007, the owners of the company were arrested. The victims were referred to service providers, who handled everything from medical care and legal services to making arrangements for those who wanted to return home. In June 2011, the eight defendants in the Global Horizons case were convicted of their crimes.

Sponsorship -- and a chance to visit Peru

Dear World Vision friends, family, and supporters,

“Sponsorship takes love. Passion. Dedication. And partnership. By working together, we -- World Vision, our sponsors, and the families we serve -- can build healthy, self-reliant communities where children grow and thrive. Our child sponsors are an integral part of this partnership, and we’re so excited to share our work with them firsthand.”
—Lana Reda, vice president of sponsorship & donor management

You know how we're always talking about sponsorship? And how it truly does help change a community from the inside out and the bottom up? And how we're always showing you photos and telling you stories of how sponsorship is changing lives? Those stories are about the thousands of beautiful children your support is helping each and every day, from countries and places around the world you may never have a chance to visit.

Or will you?

What does famine teach us?

The thing that has moved me the most about the current famine in the Horn of Africa is learning of the women and children who have been robbed and assaulted as they have fled Somalia.

Their plight reminds me of a boy called Maror Bol. He was about 13 years old when I met him in Sudan. Maror was in similar dire straits and was also robbed. He also taught me one of the most important lessons of my life.

In 1998, bad weather and factional fighting had provoked a famine in Southern Sudan. Maror had walked about 50 miles to reach a World Vision feeding center for malnourished children -- located at a rough camp in the middle of nowhere. I spoke to Maror as he joined a line to register for assistance. He explained that his brother had kicked him out, saying there was not enough food to go around. So he took a long walk across Sudan’s parched landscape to see if he could get assistance.

When I saw him, he had not eaten for days and was naked. He is the only person I have ever met who had absolutely nothing.

An aid worker's answers about the Horn of Africa

On Tuesday, we asked you what questions you have about disaster aid and assistance, in an effort to help you better understand the current humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa and its implications for aid recipients and aid donors. Betsy Baldwin, whom we introduced you to, answered some of your most pressing questions. Read the post that started this: Ask an aid worker about the Horn of Africa.

[caption id="attachment_8112" align="alignright" width="196" caption="Betsy Baldwin, World Vision Humanitarian and Emergency Affairs"]An aid worker's answers about the Horn of Africa | World Vision blog[/caption]

Betsy is a program officer for World Vision Humanitarian and Emergency Affairs, currently focusing on relief efforts in the Horn of Africa, where 12.4 million people are affected by drought and famine. She has degrees in civil engineering from Iowa State University and Virginia Tech, and has worked in relief development in Darfur, Sudan, Northern Afghanistan, Haiti (following the January 2010 earthquake), conflict regions of the Congo, and South Sudan. She is currently in Nairobi, Kenya, on her second visit to the Horn of Africa to assess needs and determine programmatic response.

From T: How do you ensure that what is written on paper is what happens on the ground?

Great question, and possibly the subject of future posts here on the World Vision Blog -- how do we actually do emergency relief? A short, sweet answer for now is simply that we make sure we have experienced, professional disaster-responders on the ground, running the relief response. This means that with almost every disaster response in which we are involved, we have a mix of both local and also international staff -- all experienced and capable.