Since coming to Africa, we’ve had many family and friends at home ask how they can help these wonderful people. Let us share some counsel first, then invite you to consider your best approach to sharing the blessings you enjoy.
Being full time missionaries, we are asked not to assist any group or person financially or materially. This is one of the most difficult parts of our mission since we see so much need. We are also counseled not to facilitate contributions from home unless:
- It is a one-time need that leads the recipient to self-reliance.
- It is a worthy cause that can continue unaided once we have moved on.
Helping or Hurting?
Over the past 20 years, over 1 trillion U.S. dollars have been poured into Africa from government and non-government organizations such as charities and churches. One would think this would result in an empowered nation, but just the opposite is true. Many Africans have become dependent on outside support and Africa has become a welfare state. Some have gained an attitude of entitlement for yet more and more support. We advise using caution, therefore, when you choose to help any individual or institution in Africa. Before you do, ask yourself if the action is a true need and that by its offering you are helping the person or group become more self-reliant.
Does Your Dollar Reach the Cause?
You are doubtless aware that much of the aid pumped into Africa has been syphoned off by corrupt government officials or individuals whose hands were in the cookie jar before the kids ever got home from school. Corruption is still a very big problem here, so try to find causes where the organization is trustworthy and the money will reach its intended use. The distance between you and the recipient is where money is derailed to an unintended use. Beware of clever marketing that tugs at your heartstrings but does not actually have a discernible heartbeat.
What Are the Needs?
If you could see what we see here daily, you would be inclined to help those in need if you have the means. Just a few examples:
- Helping kids get in or stay in school is a very big deal. Education is not free here, so school fees are a constant challenge to a poverty-stricken nation.
- Orphans abound, especially here in Northern Uganda. There are approximately 500 street kids in Gulu alone, whose parents were killed by the LRA or died of AIDS.
- HIV/AIDS continues at a rapid pace here even though it has fallen from the attention of current news media. People continue to die from AIDS every day.
- The number of cases of Malaria is up 300% this year over last year. It has become almost as frequent as the common cold and takes many lives.
Individual spirituality is directly influenced by our wealth and how we view it.
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Matthew 6:21
Wealth in itself is certainly not evil. But being insulated by layer upon layer of our collected stuff has a dulling affect on the spirit. Some of the world’s most humble people are those in environments where worldly wealth is rare. It may not be wise to give away all our worldly wealth, but we can choose to share a reasonable portion of it to appropriately lift others, while lightening the burden of its weight in our life.
The principles at the foundation of the Church welfare program are not for only one time or one place. They are for all times and all places…The way it is to be done is clear. Those who have accumulated more are to humble themselves to help those in need. Those in abundance are to voluntarily sacrifice some of their comfort, time, skills, and resources to relieve the suffering of those in need. And the help is to be given in a way that increases the power of the recipients to care for themselves [and then care for others]. Done in this, the Lord’s way, something remarkable can happen. Both the giver and the reciever are blessed. (Henry B. Eyring, address given at dedication of the Sugarhouse Utah Welfare Services Center, June 2011)
Brothers and sisters, we each have a covenant responsibility to be sensitive to the needs of others and serve as the Savior did – to reach out, bless, and uplift those around us. Often, the answer to our prayer does not come while we’re on our knees but while we’re on our feet serving the Lord and serving those around us. Selfless acts of service and consecration refine our spirits, remove the scales from our spiritual eyes, and open the windows of heaven. By becoming the answer to someone’s prayer, we often find the answer to our own. (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Waiting on the Road to Damascus”, Liahona May 2011)
The Gospel of Jesus Christ brings prosperity. What we do with that prosperity is an indicator of our gratitude for God’s blessings.
And now, because of the steadiness of the church they began to be exceedingly rich, having abundance of all things whatsoever they stood in need – an abundance of flocks and herds, and fatlings of every kind, and also abundance of grain, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious things, and abundance of silk and fine-twined linen, and all manner of good homely cloth. And thus, in their prosperous circumstances, they did not send away any who were naked, or that were hungry, or that were athirst, or that were sick, or that had not been nourished; and they did not set their hearts upon riches; therefore they were liberal to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, whether out of the church or in the church, having no respect to persons as to those who stood in need. Alma 1:29-30
How to Choose a Charity
Donating through the Church or another trusted, non-profit, international institution is generally the simplest and safest way to help others. However, if you want to help a specific individual or group, and see the affect of your contribution, you may carefully choose other options.
- Choose a charity which matches your desire to help, or an individual who needs one-time assistance. We will keep a few select opportunities here which you may consider. In every case, we have met the operators of the charity, or the individual in need, and are confident your donation will be put to good, valuable use. You are welcome to contact us if you have questions or concerns regarding any cause. We do not receive any compensation for our recommendations.
- Look for a cause which has an obvious heartbeat:
- There are real people you can speak with by phone or email.
- The plan has an end objective that leads to self-reliance.
- There is a reporting system so you can see how your contribution was used.
We’ve been burned on our mission because it is assumed that Mzungus (whites) are rich and will fund almost anything. We have helped very few individuals since doing so is not recommended for missionaries. It seems that no matter how many times we tell them otherwise, there will always be someone who is convinced to the contrary. The biggest problem was caused by past senior couples who were very generous, creating the reputation we are trying desperately to change. Another way to get burned is because so many here are very expert at lying. They can tell the most convincing story that we really cant discern the true stories from the lies. It is sickening to think that many real needs will go unheeded because of the myriad that are lies. This is where we wax cynical and say Welcome to Africa.
Whatever You Choose
Thank you for becoming involved in sharing with those in need. We are convinced it will bless your life as well as the lives of those you serve, providing you carefully choose a worthy cause.