Are you really feeding that starving child?

Why I channel my global missions dollars through my local church

Giving to Nazarene Compassionate Ministries

The emaciated little girl looks longingly at you from the magazine page. Disheveled and barefooted, she reaches toward you with an empty bowl. She's hungry. Just below that heart-rending photo is an organization's contact information. You want to help. So, you reach for your phone or checkbook.

But, wait a minute. When you send that check or call in and authorize a credit card payment, will you really be feeding her? Or is this just another religious scam and rip-off? Will your money really be going to pay the exorbitant salaries of unscrupulous people? (Note: As an example, the head of a well-known non-profit organization in the USA is paid $2 million a year while his organization continually pleads for donations to help desperately poor people.)

Every year, pictures of starving kids in magazines attract millions of dollars, some of them from Nazarene families. Tragically, the slick promotion often conceals ineptness, blundering, and even outright fraud. "Too many Christians," says Arthur Borden, director of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, "are too trusting of non-profit organizations."

Thousands of dollars given to feed starving children often put nothing in those empty bowls. In some cases, the money simply disappears into the bulging pockets of American fund-raisers.

Sometimes, the publicity can be blatantly deceiving. Not long ago, a Nazarene missionary was glancing through a promotional brochure of an organization that purportedly was supporting "national workers" all over the world. The missionary found himself looking at photos of Nazarene churches and schools from his area, none of whom were receiving funds from this independent group. Careful cropping of the pictures had, of course, eliminated church and school signs on which the word "Nazarene." appeared.

In some other cases, the money does actually get overseas, but because of fraud there, it doesn't feed malnourished children. For instance, I know of an American organization that raises money to feed and clothe "refugees." We had some contact with this group a few years ago in Italy. Around the time we arrived there, three of our Nazarene pastors were forced to resign, one for adultery, another for theft, and the third for embezzlement. Unrepentant, and unwilling to submit to church discipline, all three of those men managed to convince this "refugee" mission to pay them a monthly salary as "national evangelists." Are they refugees? Not by my definition.

So how can you know you are really feeding that starving child? Can you have any assurance that the money you're giving is actually going to fight the spreading plague of world hunger?

Fortunately, a few key questions can help clear away any deceptive smoke screens. As a family, we've made a decision to channel all our charitable giving for world hunger through the Church of the Nazarene. Let me explain.

1. I give through the Church of the Nazarene because it's doing more than just giving away free food.

To fight world hunger effectively, an organization must do more than run a soup kitchen. The American government has discovered that dumping surplus food on a poor country doesn't always eliminate hunger. It can even worsen the situation.

For example, we can ship food to feed the little girl in the magazine picture. Well and good. But wait, her father or older brothers may be farmers, trying to make a living selling produce off their little plots. Then, one day, a ship arrives in the harbor bulging with free food. What happens when that food is distributed? The farmer's produce goes unpurchased in the market. As a result, that farming family becomes an unemployment statistic.

The end result? Well, we did feed the little girl. But in the process, we threw her family out of what work they had, making her forever dependent on our handouts.

Free food may sometimes be needed. Just a dollar's worth of vitamin-rich vegetables may save a child's eyesight. In selected countries around the world, the Church of the Nazarene is involved in free food programs. But free food is only part of the answer for tens of millions of people who exist at the very brink of starvation.

We can make a lasting dent in world hunger only if our dollars are working to accelerate food production in famine-stricken areas themselves. Subsistence farmers need to learn about soil conservation, composting, crop rotation, efficient harvesting and storage of crops, proper irrigation, and even how to set up marketing cooperatives. As you look through the list of Nazarene missionaries, you'll find some competent agribusiness people there. That's one of the reasons I give through the Church of the Nazarene.

It is also important to remember that malnutrition is more than a problem of the quantity of food. It's more than an issue of the number of calories. Many times, chronic malnutrition results from an improperly balanced diet. Some of your world hunger dollars should be going to help malnourished people find ways to balance their diet. That sort of thing has been done, incidentally, by trained Nazarene nutritionists in Haiti. That's one of the reasons I give through the Church of the Nazarene.

2. I give through the Church of the Nazarene because it is working to change those conditions that perpetuate the poverty cycle.

Even producing more and better food and making sure people eat balanced diets will not by itself eliminate the hunger problem. Contaminated water supplies and intestinal parasites compound the effects of malnutrition. High levels of illiteracy cripple educational efforts aimed at rural farmers. Unjust laws and corrupt government officials can also callously trap people at poverty levels.

Social malignancies also send a lot of children to bed hungry every night. In Haiti, where I was a missionary, men abandoning their common-law wives and children is what leaves hosts of people hungry. Only the clear preaching of a life-changing gospel by churches like ours can make a permanent difference in this and other situations. [ The Kingdom of God strikes back in Haiti ]

Many societies around the world are in desperate need of radical changes. Many of these needed changes will come only when individuals are changed spiritually by the power of the Holy Spirit. That's why I give through the Church of the Nazarene. My world hunger dollars link up with my World Evangelism Fund giving to impact the whole person: body, mind, and soul.

3. I give through the Church of the Nazarene because I know the organization first-hand.

Often, even good independent organizations get hoodwinked by unscrupulous operators overseas. Haiti, for instance, has a flock of "post office pastors." These dishonest Haitians have learned how to fleece gullible American Christians. The main ministry of these past office pastors is stopping by the post office to pick up relief checks arriving from their American "friends," checks they will spend on themselves. Meanwhile, the hungry people go on dying.

When I give through the Church of the Nazarene, my gifts go through people I know I can trust. We meet Global Church leaders in district assemblies and other gatherings. We meet national leaders from around the world at General Assemblies. We regularly mingle with missionaries on furlough. The Church of the Nazarene is truly a large international "family." I feel good about entrusting my money to its leaders worldwide.

4. I give through the Church of the Nazarene because I know that 100% of my special gifts goes overseas.

Not even the best of organizations can boast that every penny of every dollar given to it goes overseas. Running a home office costs money. Getting the word to you to motivate you to give costs money. Writing letters and sending receipts to you costs money. In the Church of the Nazarene, my World Evangelism Fund giving takes care of these costs so that every penny of my special gifts to world hunger can go overseas. if, for some reason, I chose to give through another organization, I'd wind up paying those same costs again.

Unfortunately, some organizations spend the largest percentage of their monies on fundraising. Recently, for example, the mailman brought me an appeal from a religious organization asking for help in feeding hungry children. Its publicity featured a lottery drawing in which all its donors would participate.

The drawing winner was to receive a brand-new Chevrolet automobile. What did the hungry kids get? A bowl of beans.

Why do I give through the Church of the Nazarene? To avoid helping pay for a new car for a greedy American while the kid I'm hoping to help only gets a bowl of beans.

Today, hunger stalks this globe like an unchained monster. Each month, a million children under five years of age die from hunger and illnesses aggravated by malnutrition. As Christians, we cannot sit idly by. On the other hand, we must not be gullible.

Be the best possible steward of your resources. Make certain you really are feeding that hungry child. To be sure that you are, I urge you to consider channeling all your giving through the Church of the Nazarene.

Reflection questions

  1. What are some potential problems with giving money to charities that claim to help starving children? How can you ensure that your donation is actually making a difference?
  2. How does giving to organizations that provide free food to people living in poverty sometimes perpetuate rather than solve the poverty cycle?
  3. What are some social issues that perpetuate the cycle of poverty and hunger? What are some ways that organizations can work to address the root causes of poverty and hunger?
  4. How can donating to Nazarene Compassionate Ministries help fight world hunger more effectively than donating to other organizations?

A prayer for the world's children

"He took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them." -- Mark 10:16

We pray for the children
Who sneak Popsicles before supper,
Who erase holes in math workbooks,
Who can never find their shoes.
And we pray for those
Who stare at photographers from behind barbed wire,
Who can't bound down the street in a new pair of sneakers,
Who never "counted potatoes,"
Who are born in places where we wouldn't be caught dead,
Who never go to the state fair,
Who live in an X-rated world.
We pray for children
Who bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions,
Who hug us in a hurry and forget their lunch money.
And we pray for those
Who never get dessert,
Who have no safe blanket to drag behind them,
Who watch their parents watch them die,
Who can't find any bread to steal,
Who don't have any rooms to clean up,
Whose pictures aren't on anybody's dresser,
Whose monsters are real.
We pray for children
Who spend all their allowance before Tuesday,
Who throw tantrums in the grocery store and pick at their food
Who like ghost stories
Who shove dirty clothes under the bed and never rinse out the tub
Who get visits from the tooth fairy,
Who don't like to be kissed in front of the carpool,
Who squirm in church and scream into the phone,
Whose tears we sometimes laugh at and whose smiles can make us cry.
And we pray for those
Whose nightmares come in the daytime,
Who will eat anything,
Who have never seen a dentist,
Who aren't spoiled by anyone,
Who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep,
We pray for children
Who want to be carried and for those who must,
For those who never give up and for those who don't get a second chance
For those we smother and for those who will grab the hand of anyone kind enough to offer it.

adapted from a prayer by Ina Hughes

"Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." -- Matthew 18:3

"We're big in the compassion business"

NextShepherd Community in Indianapolis is "big on compassion." At least, that's how one of the members of this inner-city work describes it. [ more ]

TED Talk: Admitting failure in international aid programs

As Nazarene missionaries in Haiti, we partnered with two wonderful organizations: Compassion International (Colorado Springs) and World Vision (California).

What was so great about those two charity groups?
  1. High ethical standards
  2. Clear goals
  3. Accountability structures with open, transparent reporting
  4. Organizational efficiency
  5. Willingness to partner with denominations.
In Haiti, we also saw a lot of donor money being wasted by other organizations that fell short of those five things.


Giving to charities that claim to help starving children demands cautious consideration. Mismanagement, lack of transparency, and fraud can undermine the impact of our donations. To ensure effectiveness, choose reputable organizations like the Church of the Nazarene, which provides sustainable solutions beyond free food, including agricultural education and balanced nutrition. The Church of the Nazarene's commitment to changing conditions that perpetuate poverty, firsthand knowledge, and accountability inspires confidence in making a positive impact. By supporting trusted institutions like one's own denomination, we can address the root causes of hunger, be diligent stewards of resources, and provide the hope of a better future for hungry children and their families.

    -- Howard Culbertson.

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