On October 16, 2021, 17 missionaries, including children, were kidnapped in Haiti. As of December 20, all 17 are free and safe in the United States
As this story continues to unfold, the need for prayer and attention to the perilous situation in Haiti are undoubtedly powerful lessons widely shared in Christian circles. While these are real takeaways from the tragic situation in Haiti; equally tragic, however, is if we in the western church don’t try to use this situation to learn more about how to help better. I could explain why this situation and many others prove this need, but instead I want to focus on the ways we can do better by giving our time and money.
Over the past 20 to 40 years, nonprofit accountability has definitely become a focal point when it comes to financial accountability and biblical stewardship. Now, before you donate to an organization, a quick check for a third-party management certification, such as the Evangelical Financial Accountability Council (ECFA), or a search on Charity Navigator can be easily done. The websites of many organizations even include recent financial documents and organizational doctrine statements.
Too often, however, questions of stewardship and accountability end there when it should only be the beginning. Why? Because the responsibility of an organization does not begin and end with its monetary decisions or even its doctrinal positions. These organizations are created for the spiritual and physical improvement of people and their communities; therefore, missionary organizations must also be held accountable for how they affect those they serve.
Here are some of the questions I ask myself when assessing the community responsibility of an organization:
- How does the organization represent its appeal to different parts of the world, even at the highest levels of its structures?
- Who represents the organization in the field? What is their relationship with those they serve?
- Who has a say and oversees the programs? Do the local / national Christians and communities that the organization serves play a role in the design and implementation of the programs?
- Do the programs create a path forward for community empowerment and eventual financial and personal independence?
Protect vulnerable people
Likewise, I think there is a lesson to be learned in supporting organizations that have structures that create accountability and security at all levels for all people, especially those from vulnerable populations. When considering which organizations to support, a simple way to assess this is to ask them if they have a policy to protect vulnerable people.
A vulnerable person is anyone who does not have the same power / autonomy as others around them due to factors beyond their control, such as age, resources, etc. Given the context of aid work, all people served by organizations are vulnerable. sort of. Thus, a policy of protection of vulnerable people is necessary. This document provides a working philosophy for the people served as well as the procedures that will be used to ensure their safety and empowerment.
Of course, it is not enough to have a policy. There must be evidence that the policy is known and adhered to at all times by those at all levels of the organization. Along with this, there must be external accountability in monitoring the organization’s adherence to the policy. We have come to expect this financially from organizations; it must also be demanded of the people they serve, who are far more precious than any resource!
Likewise, the organization should also have a plan of action in place when it realizes that it has done harm. Once again, this plan must provide for the intervention of a third party to assess the damage and supervise the necessary steps of confession and restoration.
Put it all together
Of course, all of the research involved in decryption where an organization lands on the spectrum of addressing these items can be time consuming. For me, here are two quick shortcuts that I use to determine if I want to explore an organization more as a beneficiary of my time and / or my money:
- I review the information the organization shares regarding these issues and their solutions. Organizations that care about these elements will prioritize how they approach them through their website and other posts.
- I review the organization’s website and social media. Is ethical storytelling used, especially in fundraising efforts? It relates to how the stories and images of those served are used in relation to acknowledged consent and portraying the relationship between the organization and the individual, such as who is centered and who benefits. These are key elements in conveying the organization’s perspective on the vulnerable people it serves.
I do not offer these methods lightly nor as ultimate solutions. Yet, as followers of Jesus, part of the tension resides in a world that is shattered, forcing us to serve between the Kingdom of God “as here” and the “not yet” of His coming. May we embrace this tension and do better!
Recommended additional reading and listening:
Podcast Walk Talk Listen with Maurice A. Bloem “Virtual Walk Talk Listen with Prospery Raymond (episode 65)”; Tell ethical stories www.ethicalstorytelling.com/ and www.idealist.org/en/careers/ethical-storytelling;
After teaching high school in the United States for 10 years, Naomi Kosek served as a full-time volunteer primary and secondary teacher at international schools in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, while working with children and adults as English. a second language teacher. Currently she works with the European Freedom Network, where she recently helped organize and present at their online conference aimed at engaging churches in protecting their vulnerable populations and combating human exploitation in their communities and globally.