Voices

A tie that binds

Church-to-church aid makes relief more accountable

Issue: "Abortion: Delta force," Jan. 22, 2005

Generous as they are, 80 percent of all Americans say they have profound doubts that the hundreds of millions of dollars they're sending for relief efforts in Indian Ocean countries will ever reach the people who really need it. That's what Americans told CNN pollsters last week-even while digging deep to send staggering sums of emergency funding.

While the U.S. government upped the ante by pledging $350 million in public funds (plus untold sums through the assistance of military and other official personnel), private donors were said by some experts to be exceeding that figure through hundreds of nongovernmental channels.

Sadly, the very complexity of the effort is an open invitation to out-and-out scoundrels, a few of whom will take the money and run. Others, meaning well, will prove terribly inefficient-and this will obviously be true of governmental and military programs just as much as it is of private efforts. Both money and goods will fall short of the intended targets.

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None of which seems to have daunted the wonderful American spirit of giving. For that, we should all rejoice.

Yet now that the most volatile aspects of the crisis are probably past, thoughtful Christians may be well advised to consider what safeguards they might attach to future giving. To that end, I was struck last week with an angle that seems worth investigating.

John Sorensen, who heads Evangelism Explosion International, suggested over lunch that there might be a place for linking individual church congregations in this country with individual church congregations in some of the devastated areas of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and other affected nations. This wouldn't be so much for provision of medicine, bottled water, and other items needed for the short-term sustenance of life. It would be targeted instead for longer-term infrastructure as communities face the need for rebuilding from scratch that which was washed away the morning of Dec. 26.

What better way to respond to such needs than making it easy for one body of believers to communicate directly and thoughtfully with another body of believers halfway around the world? "We have contact with several hundred congregations," Mr. Sorensen told me, "all in close proximity to this area. We have been told by our EE leaders in Indonesia that some churches on the island of Nias, located just south of the epicenter of the earthquake, were directly affected by the tsunami, losing their properties and varying degrees of their membership. Others were farther inland, but close enough to know what is really needed now to be of help."

In either case, imagine how much better it would be for donors in a stateside church to hear from Sunday to Sunday exactly what the needs are among just one congregation (perhaps paired by size). And imagine the delight and reward of hearing also from week to week how assistance sent a few weeks earlier is now being applied to specific needs. And finally, imagine also the thrill of sending a small team of hands-on representatives sometime over the next year or two to be part of the restoration. Such teams, chosen with care to meet specific needs, would add authenticity and integrity to the relationship.

OK. So imagine the worst. Imagine also that some church in the United States sends a generous sum of $15,000, or $50,000, or even $100,000, to its paired church in south Asia-only to discover that virtually nothing has happened or that someone has embezzled all that money. Not likely, says Mr. Sorensen, given the kind of information they have about the churches they would recommend. But possible? In this fallen world, of course. If Americans expect that 80 percent of all relief funds are going to get lost anyway, isn't it worth the risk?

In pursuing this idea, WORLD magazine isn't setting up yet another relief effort to compete with all the others. We are an independent newsmagazine, and aren't in the business of endorsing specific programs.

Having known and worked with the folks at Evangelism Explosion for at least 25 years, we have no hesitation in asking them to take the lead in administering the link between perhaps 100 churches in the United States and 100 similar congregations in south Asia. Interested? Think your church might like to be one of the 100? You may contact John Sorensen at jsorensen@eeinternational.org, or you can call him at (954) 941-6100, ext. 304.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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