October 23, 2008

“Give me oil in my Ford, keep my trucking for the Lord…”

I’ve mentioned before that one thing I find myself doing quite often is driving people to a nearby government clinic or the hospital for more care than we are able to provide. It is not much of a challenge for a healthy person to get themselves to these places but for someone with a very low CD4 count and general weakness brought about by AIDS, it can be an insurmountable challenge. But since the care they need to survive can only be obtained at these places, it is absolutely necessary they get there. Pakama, a woman who was once quite sick but is now much stronger, is one example of a person who got better because we were able to drive her so many places. Obviously, we don’t want to overdue it with the rides - and sometimes perfectly healthy people start wanting rides and we clearly say no - but it is clear that our ability to transport people is a crucial service we provide.

There are two cars we use. The first is the little red volunteer car.
And there’s Jenny’s truck (or bakkie, which is the preferred word around here).
The reason I mention all this is that when I was in the U.S. last month raising money, many people heard about, say, the new micro-credit project and wanted to give money that could be spent only on that. I’m grateful for this expression of support but if I took all the money people offered me for that, there’s no way I would be able to responsibly spend it all on micro-loans, particularly because, as I’ve said, I think a key part of that project is that we are starting very small.

What I ended up saying to a lot of people is that targeted donations are fine but there are other important expenses that no one ever wants to target their donation for, like gas for instance. And yet it is gas for our vehicles that allows us to do some of the very concrete, tangible, and life-changing work that we do. (The other major area of expense for us that is often over-looked is salaries for our dozen local employees. All of them are the major bread-winners in their families and I am always surprised at how many people those salaries end up supporting.) I’ve looked at various foundations and grant agencies to explore other avenues of funding but they all seem to want us either to build a new building or start a new project - none ever want to support day-to-day operations, no matter how successful those may be already.

(And, by the way, have I mentioned how expensive gas is? It’s no different here than anywhere else in the world, of course, though I find it strange that when oil prices spiral, so does the gas price but when they plunge, the gas price takes a lot longer to fall.)

This is by no means a plea for money but it is, I hope, a chance for everyone to think about how we give money. The question I asked in the sermon I preached last month is, when we write a check, “in what way does that check proceed from a relationship and in what way does it further a relationship?” When you build a relationship with an organization (it could be African Medical Mission that funds our work here or it could be any domestic or foreign organization of your choice), then hopefully you have built up a level of trust with that organization as well so that you can confidently believe that they’ll spend the money you give them in the best way possible. That, I believe, is the best kind of giving.