Aid dependents

Charity | World Relief's almost-hire spotlights ministries need for government funds

World Relief is

the compassion and benevolence arm of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). "We're not the mouth of the NAE, but we are its arms and legs," said Don Golden, the group's senior vice president of church engagement.

In theory, World Relief gets its support-and marching orders-from the 45,000 evangelical, theologically conservative members of the NAE. But in reality, only about 1 percent of NAE churches provide financial support for World Relief. In 2008, $31 million of its $60 million budget came from government grants-from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and from other agencies that fund refugee resettlement work.

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"World Relief was highly embraced by the Bush administration," Golden said. Indeed, the $31 million World Relief received-mostly as a result of the Bush administration's emphasis on faith-based initiatives-was up from just $17 million in 2002.

So if World Relief doesn't continue to be "highly embraced" by the current administration, the organization could face serious financial consequences. That's where World Relief's appointment of Andrew Mwavua as National Campaign Director came in. Mwavua was a field organizer and rising star in Barack Obama's campaign organization. "Whatever one thinks of Obama's governing," Golden said in a letter announcing the appointment in late August, "who can deny the brilliance of his organizing by the current administration?"

He also has relationships with senior members of the Obama administration, and as Chad Hayward, executive director for the Association of Evangelical Relief and Development Organizations (AERDO), said: "To be able to navigate USAID, relationships are key."

Both Golden and Mwavua told WORLD that the appointment was not an attempt to "make nice" with the Obama administration in order to keep the money flowing. Indeed, they said Mwavua would focus the skills he learned in the Obama campaign to mobilize NAE member churches to "engage" the work of World Relief. Golden said, "This is part of a strategy, a vision, to see the American church unleashed." Mwavua, however, said he is a member of a Seventh-day Adventist church and when asked whether he was pro-life, he responded, "I am not pro-abortion."

Only days after an Aug. 28 interview with WORLD, and just weeks after Don Golden touted Mwavua's "brilliance," Mwavua abruptly resigned Sept. 1 from World Relief. Mwavua refused comment, saying he didn't want anything he said to contradict what World Relief might say. World Relief refused comment, citing privacy concerns.

Personnel decisions have been closely scrutinized in recent years at NAE, where former president Ted Haggard resigned in a drug and sex scandal in 2006. Richard Cizik, long NAE's vice president for governmental affairs, resigned in 2008 because his public behavior and statements, while not scandalous, were at odds with NAE member churches.

Few other major Christian relief organizations may have more to lose by changes at USAID or other agencies than World Relief (see chart). And at USAID there is personnel uncertainty. Obama has yet to name a new administrator for the agency. Stanley Carlson-Thies, who worked in the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives during the Bush administration, said the delay could be a good sign: "I think the new administration originally had skepticism about what faith-based groups were doing, but now that they've taken a close look, they've re-evaluated that skepticism. Not only is it not as bad as they thought, some of it is working pretty well."

But he and others note that for now programs are being funded according to "whatever the autopilot position is"-which may not be a good thing, given that foreign aid is a reflection of U.S. foreign policy and the numbers are too large to leave to chance: The 2010 Foreign Operations budget will top $35 billion. Given those numbers, Carlson-Thies said, "I can see every reason why faith groups who are thinking ahead might want to have people on board who can shape the direction of funding in what could potentially be a very different environment."

Warren Cole Smith
Warren Cole Smith

Warren is vice president of mission advancement for The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and the host of WORLD Radio’s Listening In. Follow Warren on Twitter @WarrenColeSmith.


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