Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Exciting News! - Roz, Volvo and Live8

Saturday night is when the big Live8 concerts will go on around the world to promote attention to African poverty and the seriousness of this issue. I just found out that Volvo is one of the sponsors and they will be airing three 30 second spots on Roz and the Imbabazi Orphanage. One of the spots is to air between 8 and 10 p.m. Saturday night on ABC. Be sure to watch for it!

Volvo is doing this as they gave their Volvo for Life Award to Roz last year for living a great life of service. Usually they give the recipients a Volvo for life! Since that is not real feasible for Roz in Rwanda, they have given a very large sum to the orphanage on her behalf.

So, don't miss Live8 Saturday night. Gather your friends and family and talk about Africa and then watch for Roz on tv!

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


I wanted to update on a few past posts......

Claudine is doing well in Boston. She is the 12 year old orphan from Imbabazi Orphanage in Gisenyi, Rwanda who was diagnosed with bone cancer so late that she lost her leg to amputation. Partners in Health and the Clinton Foundation made a way for her to be in Boston, have surgery to remove more cancer and begin chemo. She is now in her second week of chemo that will last until January. Very generous people have taken her in but we are still looking for a volunteer that can stay with her full time and be her full time guardian.

Rebecca, Cari, Heath and another friend, Josiah, have been at the Imbabazi Orphanage with Roz for one week now and have four to go. They are being amazed at the love over 100 Rwandan children are giving them. I spoke with Roz Saturday who was on her way, reluctantly, to a gorilla fundraising dinner that President Kagame would also be attending. She has kept Rebecca and Cari in her home for a few nights and is delighted at the work they are all doing. My cousin, Terri Taylor and a few others were also there last week singing with the children, repairing needed items around the orphanage and just loving on them. They're doing well and having a great experience.

I have some exciting news from the Source in Jinja, Uganda I'll share next time too, once I figure out how to post pictures on this thing.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Good and Bad of Capitalism

There are so many great things about freedom and capitalism. It empowers and releases great creativity. It provides for great development. People can dream big and tap into their God-given potential. Generally, it greatly improves the welfare of the majority of people.

It does have a dark side though. It often creates greed and injustices among people. Someone comes in first (financially) and someone has to be the last (financially). Those who succeed begin to want more, and more, and more and often forget about those who fail as they struggle in poverty.

Recently I asked a small group to give their thoughts on the communal nature of the early church in Acts 4:32-37. One friend honestly said, "it sure sounds an awful lot like communism."

That statement and the following article keeps me pondering the dark side of capitalism. More on that later. For now, here's the thought-provoking article from the Sojourners e-mail update that I read earlier tonight. David Batstone talks about the contradicting values of capitalism breaking into Communist run Vietnam.

The money trail cuts across values in Vietnam
by David Batstone

I just returned from a two-week jaunt to Vietnam. As most of you know, Vietnam operates under one of the world's few remaining communist political systems. For the past 30 years, both North and South have been united under one government. Remarkably, about five years ago, the Vietnamese government made a public commitment to capital free markets. Once disdained, foreign investment suddenly became a welcome friend - that is, as long as the investment was made in venture with a Vietnamese-based company.

My trip started in Hanoi in the North, and continued to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in the South. I have many Polaroids to share, but one in particular - the story of Thuy - is worth telling.

Thuy was one of our Vietnamese guides. The 30-year-old woman was born right around the time of the fall of Saigon. She never experienced the American war in Vietnam. The only enemy she knew was poverty.

Both her parents were grammar school teachers. The government paid teachers a small salary, but it was barely enough to live on. Thuy cannot recall more than a few meals in her childhood that involved more than rice and a vegetable. Some days there was not even enough rice.

Thuy's parents could feed her mind adequately. They put a priority on education for all their children. By the time they reached 18, Thuy and her siblings were prepared for university. Thuy wanted to be involved in international relations, so she applied and was accepted to study in Russia, all expenses paid by the government. She focused her studies on languages, becoming proficient in Russian and English.

Today Thuy works in a government agency for women's development. Most of the time, she manages a project that offers small loans to women entrepreneurs, as well as social service clinics that address women's health needs. Thuy occasionally acts as a tour guide for visiting foreign groups like ours.

Thuy told me her family is far from wealthy today, but they now enjoy an abundance of food. The free markets are booming and are making a major social impact. The entrepreneurial energy in Vietnam is palpable; every corner is a hub of commercial activity. The government now can afford to pay livable wages to teachers.

Undoubtedly that is why Thuy is so grateful for the Vietnamese experiment. She directly benefited from free education and health care. Her family members also have had their lives transformed by the changing economics of free markets. Her work today promotes both: micro-capital for one-person businesses and delivery of free health care. Thuy is the embodiment of all that is right with Vietnam.

A curious thing: Many of my students and I noticed that this sacrificial, yet adventurous spirit was not atypical in Thuy's generation. It was quite inspiring, to be honest. Among a younger generation, on the other hand, we detected more aggression and downright animosity in our interactions, be they social or commercial exchanges. I asked Thuy about this impression, cautious of making a generalization based on limited experience.

Thuy confirmed what we were sensing, confessing to the same concerns. She was quick to point out that we would find that attitude only among young people in major cities, not in the rural areas. Her explanation was fascinating: the current generation of urban young people, the first fruits of a free-market economy, have much higher expectations for material gain. To put in shorthand, they want their own iPod, and they want it now. The inability of most to find the financial means to match their desires caused great frustration.

A Hindu master once remarked, "Quenching our desires with material gain is like seeking to extinguish a burning fire with butter." It seems no matter how much better off we are today than we were yesterday, we cannot answer the question: how much is enough?

I will watch with great interest how the Vietnamese government manages to stoke a flame essential for warmth in a cold, cruel world, which is at the same time a force that threatens to spill over the fire trails it so meticulously grooms.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

A Good Week

Last week was a very good week as some of the richest people and richest nations focused on the poorest people and poorest nations like never before. I hope it's just the beginning.

On Wednesday I read about the upcoming Live8 concerts that will be held on July 2 in Philadelphia, London, Paris, Berlin and Rome. U2, Bon Jovi, Dave Matthews Band, Madonna, Mariah Carey, Paul McCartney, The Cure, Sting are just a few of the groups playing at these concerts. All of these and many more stars are gathering to focus the world's attention on the fact that 30,000 people die every day just because of poverty. Bono has been leading the way now for years and has a great organization where you can learn more about these issues.

Brad Pitt was featured Thursday night on prime time as he talked about how his recent trip to Ethiopia affected his life. He talked of being annoyed at getting so much attention himself and having half a million dollar photos taken of him when there are so many helpless people dying of starvation and preventable diseases. He also talked of downsizing his home, his belongings, his life as all of his possessions mean much less to him now.

Earlier in the week I read a great article in the NY Times about how a once unthinkable alliance is coming together with evangelical leaders like Rick Warren joining the likes of some of the most liberal politicians and Hollywood stars mentioned above. Rather than constantly fighting with each other about differences why not put aside differences and fight the common war against poverty? Fortunately, it's happening.

On Saturday, Tony Blair and President Bush announced a debt relief plan that should take effect immediately for 18 countries. Uganda and Rwanda are included in these countries and will have all debt relieved that is owed to the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the African Development Bank. This will free up much needed money for providing more free education and better healthcare. (Just imagine what you could do if your mortgage, car loans, credit cards, etc were all wiped out.)

On July 6th, the G8 nations will meet in Scotland and discuss even more initiatives to share their wealth with the world's poor. Hopefully they will make more bold decisions that will truly help the poor of the world.

This is a time to be active and praying for these things. It would be a shame if the Christian community did not stand up and participate in this movement. In fact, we should be leading this movement! I read throughout my Bible how God desires for His people to look for ways to serve the underprivileged - physically and spiritually. My prayer is that American Christians will truly show compassion to the world's poor through their budgets, actions, and prayers.

Are you part of a church community that is truly compassionate to the poor and needy as we read about in Acts? What more can be done in your church?