Five Things…

I recently finished reading the YouVersion Bible plan, “Praying For Vulnerable Children – Human Trafficking.” It was a fascinating devotional by Compassion International that discussed five things that, when present, better protect children from people trying to hurt them. I was moved by the publication of this plan as it addresses many of the activities that make up the bulk of the work we do at UnFinished. I wanted to share some of what is covered by Compassion in this plan as it applies directly to working with children with disabilities.

With Giving Tuesday just around the corner, giving you a better idea of what UnFinished does seemed appropriate. Since most of what is written below was lifted directly from the devotional by Compassion International, I am obligated to give them writing credit. Very little of what comes was written by me. The italicized portions are from the Compassion International devotional. Below is the link to the plan. I encourage you to read it. There is much more to the devotional than I include here, and I believe you will be blessed by participating in the actual plan. Compassion International is a fantastic organization doing an incredible work of God.

https://www.bible.com/en/reading-plans/15664

A Tight-Knit Community

“A tight-knit community can keep watch over those who are most vulnerable and speak up when they see injustice. God calls us to rescue the weak and the needy and deliver them from the hand of the wicked. He challenges us to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves and defend the rights of the poor and needy. God has put each of us in a community, and we are called to speak up and defend those who are being treated unfairly.”

The children in UnFinished programs are often hidden away, either in homes or institutions. They live lives of abandonment and abuse. UnFinished enrolls them into schools where they begin to make friends and find out they are not alone. Also, we work to bring the caregivers together into a supportive community. This helps the mostly grandmothers also feel they are part of a community and not alone.

A Loving Family

“There are always those who are pros at deceiving families. They tell caregivers they can offer their children with a special need a better life. Instead, the children are used or often sold into child labor. Children work for little to no pay, far from their home, completely hopeless.”

We’ve met many families who’ve been swindled of what little money they have with promises of help. “Organizations” that tell grandmothers if they pay a fee, the organization will evaluate the child and determine eligibility. These people take the only money the family may have and offer false hope. We include the family in every aspect of our process, never charge a fee, and do what we can, within organizational protocols, to help the entire family along with the child. Supporting a family environment, providing a home, only enhances the life of the child and helps to restore real hope.

Education for the Community

“Be devoted to one another in love. That’s the challenge Paul gives us in Romans 12:9-13. These verses are paired with a list of commands that, when taken together, paint a picture of a Christian life fully sacrificed to God. The unifying theme shares that we’re to set ourselves aside in order to effectively love and serve the Lord”

Our mission involves more than just educated children with special needs. We seek to change social stigmas related to the abuse and oppression of these kids. We involve the schools, teachers, administrators, churches, pastors, and government officials to change values and laws to prepare a better future for individuals with disabilities.

Holistic Child Development

“(UnFinished) also chose to care for the neediest using a holistic model. Our method develops minds, bodies, and spirits to help children with special needs. All of our programs provide opportunities that encourage healthy development in four areas—spiritual, physical, social and economic. That means we don’t focus entirely on physical needs. Instead, all aspects of poverty are addressed in an effort to break the cycle of poverty and stigma for that child. Children are lifted out of the stigma that entraps them and makes them vulnerable to exploitation.

Prayer

“God is aware of stigma and oppression and He cares about the suffering of His children. He has not turned a blind eye. Instead, He stirs compassion in our hearts when we hear stories like the ones of children with disabilities in Kenya. As a result, our compassion moves us into action, which creates change.”

This year, Giving Tuesday is December 3rd. You have the unique opportunity to provide these five things into the lives of children with disabilities in Kenya. Again, I encourage you to read the Compassion devotional, be in prayer and support for that organization, and follow the link below to learn more about UnFinished International and the work we do.

http://www.unfinishedinternational.org

Your Nonprofit Should Mean Business

In my time walking with one foot in the business world and the other in the nonprofit environment, I’ve seen a few things. My experience and education in business and nonprofit leadership has shown me some repeated problems in many nonprofits I’ve studied. While nothing is ever as simple as a black and white list of principles (I’m looking at you, business world) I’ve noticed some trends over the years that cause nonprofits, in particular, small ones, to struggle. This is hardly an exhaustive list, but I’ve put together what I’ve seen as the primary offenders if you will.

Lack of Understanding

A common thread through many nonprofit organizations is lack of comprehension regarding the fact that while their mission and methods may differ from the business world, they are indeed a business. Too many times, those who lead, operate, and volunteer for a nonprofit organization get so caught up in either the idea of “nonprofitness,” or so mission-focused, they either lack the ability or refuse to understand the fact they are also a business. This mindset sets up many of the other problems on this list – not realizing that operating not for profit does not mean working outside of core business principles. Without a grasp on this concept, nonprofit boards and executive leadership teams look for and hire the wrong people for the job.

This is especially true for Christian nonprofit organizations. These types of organizations many times not only lack the understanding to see the business side of the industry, but they also latch onto this idea that they are a “church.” Many Christian nonprofit organizations are founded either from within a church or by well-meaning, mission-minded Christians. They then set out to run the organization as if it is a church. While churches also need a business focus (that is another discussion) running a church is not the same as running a business. To be successful, nonprofit organizations have to run themselves in much the same manner as any other for-profit business.

Lack of a Strong Leader

The lack of business understanding often, but not always, leads to this problem. Too often, when nonprofit organizations on are the search for a leader, they are looking in the wrong places. Most of the time, the primary concern centers around fundraising. Organization boards and leadership are looking for the person who can bring in the most money. There are many problems with this, but we will only look at a few.

First, let’s address the rebuttal. Yes, a nonprofit organization needs to hire a leader that can get in front of individuals and groups and convince them to give money. That is a vital component of the job. However, the problem I’ve seen in my time within the nonprofit environment is not money, its leadership. Too many nonprofit organizations are worried about hiring someone who can fundraise when fundraising is not their problem. I’ve seen nonprofit organizations that have full-time, professional fundraisers on staff bringing in more than enough money. However, the inner workings of the organization are all over the place. The organization is not growing, there is too much drama between the staff/volunteers, the programs are outdated or ineffective, or the mission just needs to be more focused.

In these cases, fundraising is not the problem. I personally know of nonprofit organizations bringing in plenty of money, but their use of that money is anything but efficient. The problem is not cash flow. The problem is the person at the top. Too often, nonprofit boards and leadership look over people who have not worked in the nonprofit field or lacks “adequate” fundraising experience because they’ve spent their careers in for-profit businesses. Often, this is the exact person those organizations need. They need someone who can come in and straighten out messes, put out fires, balance budgets, better allocate funding, and exercise strong leadership.

This situation is many times exponentially worse, again, in a Christian nonprofit organization. These organizations often take and even further step. I’ve seen too many times Christian nonprofit organizations looking for an Executive Director and INSIST this person must be a pastor. Required qualifications often look like, “a seminary degree and fifteen years in the pulpit.” I am not here to speak ill of pastors. However, pastors are called to do one thing, pastor. I try not to stereotype anyone, but few full-time pastors make excellent businessmen. That is not to say there are none, but they are rare. If you look at any thriving large church, you will almost always find an executive of some type running the operations side of the church.

Pastors are called to shepherd. I can give you real-life examples of nonprofit organizations that have gone under almost solely on the fact that they refused to hire someone who was not a pastor. There are more than enough Christian business people in the world who can lead businesses. In my retail days, I knew a lot of managers who would only hire people with retail experience. They did not want to add the extra work of training people on cash registers and such. This was a mistake. When I hired, I looked for someone who was a good fit on our team, could fill the role I had vacant and could move the mission of the organization. I could train a monkey to run the cash register (from the systems I often had it would seem as they were designed by monkeys so getting them to run them didn’t seem too much of a stretch) Secular and religious organizations alike need to get out of this cookie-cutter leadership mindset.

Lack of a Strong Foundation

Most nonprofit organizations start off small – it’s the nature, and the beauty, of the beast. An individual or small group of people see a wrong in the world, and they set out to right it. Many times, none of them have any experience in the nonprofit, or even business, environments. Sometimes, none of them even  possess any business experience. However, they get together and decide, “You’re going to be the Executive Director, you can be the Business Manager, you can handle communications,” so forth and so on. You have a group of friends on fire to change the world and its awesome.

However, this strange thing happens – the organization takes off. Before you know it, this ragtag group of friends has a significantly sized and thriving organization on their hands. However, that same group of friends who were having fun and figuring things out, now find themselves working for an up and coming business in roles they are not qualified to hold. They don’t know anything about finance, or budgeting, or planning, or implementation of strategic goals. This is a big problem. But the more significant issue is they don’t know that they don’t know. So, instead of hiring people with experience in these areas, they trudge along. When they do need to hire someone, they look for individuals who will meet friendship goals instead of those that can help develop and push the mission to the next level. There is not a clear understanding as to what is required in the roles, and qualified business-minded people are passed over. This becomes particularly problematic when new leadership is needed due to people moving on.

Lack of Accountability

All of the above issues lead into this one and, again, Christian nonprofits are the main offenders. Let me start off by saying holding people accountable is tough, especially firing people, and that’s what I am talking about here. While they are so many levels of accountability or should be, before firing, for brevity’s sake, I am cutting to the chase. That being said, most people I know, including myself, who have spent time in the business world hate doing it. Sure, people like to act all tough and tell horror stories about making people cry and kicking people out, but inside, they hate it (or they should). I get more worked up inside waiting for that person coming to the office to be fired than they do, I promise you. However, it has to be, must be, done.

Do any sort of Google search on the topic, and you will find article after article on the necessity of firing people. I don’t need to rehash that here. However, too many nonprofit organizations, and for-profits ones also if we are going to be completely honest, fail in this area. It flows from what we’ve looked at above – weak leadership, the “friendship factor,” and just a general lack of business principles within the organization, particularly the leadership.

Now, I’ve always said that I have never fired anyone. Individuals have decided to terminate their tenure with the organization due to their actions or inactions. However, when push comes to shove, someone has to have the gumption to pull the trigger. That is not to say one needs to be cold, or mean, or rude. I’ve always tried to send someone out the door as gracefully and respectfully as I would want to be sent walking. But the fact is, too many nonprofit organizations, by their nature of heart and help, don’t believe in letting people go.

Again, when you get into the Christian nonprofit world, it’s worse. Not only do you have that caring and loving nature of the nonprofit environment in general, but you also have the issues of grace and forgiveness. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for grace, mercy, and forgiveness. No one on earth needs both more than me. However, Jesus was also all about accountability, tough love, and flipping tables when they needed to be flipped. When looking for leadership, nonprofits need someone who can fundraise, but also internally handle the best interest of the organization and the team when that time comes.

It is necessary for the leadership, the Executive Director in particular, of a nonprofit to understand that while it is crucial to have a passion for the heart and mission of the organization, it is just as vital to operate under the leadership and principals that drive successful for-profit businesses. Missing this will cost you at the least growth and at the most your organization as a whole. These two are not opposed to each other, but like a good marriage, bring the best of each to a successful and organic unit.

A True Story of Change

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I know you’ve seen posts all over social media about this #GivingTuesday thing. It’s overwhelming at times; I get it. However, it’s so important. I don’t usually share the darker sides of what we do in a public forum. However, I wanted to give you just one of the stories of why this is so meaningful to us and show you a real kid whose life was changed powerfully through donations that were given to UnFinished International on a #GivingTuesday.

I’ve left her name out and any details that could narrow her down from pictures we post. But this is the story of a child in our program. A real little girl your giving has pulled out of the darkness and into the light of Jesus.

We have a girl in our program who was identified as a special child when she was three years old. Her nursery teacher recognized she was not able to read and write and found she was a very slow learner. Therefore, the teacher referred her to a special school in their area

However, the child’s parents were illiterate and steeped in poverty. As such, they were unable to transfer her to the special school. Financially, they could not pay the school fees, and they didn’t understand the reasoning in moving her from public school. They decided instead to keep her at home to help them with housework and chores. The little girl’s days went from school work to collecting firewood, digging, getting water from the general spring, and cleaning.

One day she had gone to fetch water from the spring. On her way back home, she was raped by an old man in the neighborhood. She became ashamed and lost hope since no action was taken by the parents. She was not taken to the hospital, nor was the incident reported to the police. The man started threatening her, and she began a life living in fear. She withdrew inside herself and did not speak or associate with other children.

However, one day, God brought you into her life. Through your giving to UnFinished, she was placed into a boarding school for special children, which moved her more permanently from the area, her attacker, and the constant reminders. Her new teachers report she is now a happy and smart girl in school. She is receiving treatment for both her physical disabilities and psychological trauma, and she is doing exceptionally well with her education. She also now communicates well with other students and teacher not like before. She is hardworking and promising and learning to be happy again.

This story is just one of many. For instance, we have two children who were born with HIV on top of disabilities. Because of your giving, they are not only in school; they get regular treatments for their HIV because they now have medical insurance. Your giving has literally saved their lives. What you do on Tuesday actually saves the lives of real kids. There are so many more stories I would love to tell you should you ever want to sit down and hear them.

Thank you for all you have done in the past. I look forward to seeing what God does through you on Tuesday.

May God bless all you do.

Nairobi – The Green City in the Sun

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Nairobi from atop KICC

I’ve spent a little more than the last three weeks in Kenya. While we spend the majority of our time in the Western side of the country, our time here begins and ends in Nairobi. Nairobi is the capital city of Kenya and, like most international cities, is a microcosm of the world. The city is home to nationalities and races from all corners of the earth. Kenya is now on the more developed end of the developing countries spectrum, and Nairobi is leading the nation in that shift.

Our arrival brings us into Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Named after the first president of Kenya, the airport has been both the victim of turmoil and the recipient modernization over recent years. The airport has seen renovations related to former president Mwai Kibaki’s Kenya Vision 2030, which dreamed of seeing the airport upgraded to World Class standards. A massive fire in 2013 severely damaged the airport and has shifted some of the upgrades and renovations to accommodate air traffic and passengers.

I’ve read several blogs over the past few weeks from travelers to and from Nairobi. Many of these posts have been negative in nature. People seem to find the worst in their excursions to the city. One blogger even wrote about being robbed within the town. A common thread I seem to notice in these posts involve travelers going it alone. Trekking out into the unknown to adventure and explore. While there is nothing wrong with that, it helps me to understand their frustration with their time here.

My first trip to Paris was much the same. my wife and I decided to go, and we went. We really didn’t have a plan, and we didn’t know anyone there. While I would not trade the adventure for much of anything, it was not quite the time I’ve had elsewhere. What I have learned over my years of international travel is that the trips are as much about the people as they are the places. Our arrivals into Nairobi are received by terrific friends who, honestly, spoil us while we are there. We have several groups of friends and family in Nairobi who go out of their way to make sure our time arriving or leaving is memorable. The few occasions we have arrived and had to fend for ourselves were much less eventful and memorable than those in which we spent time with friends and family. Travel is just as much, if not more, about people than it is places.

This trip our hosts made sure we returned to one of our kid’s favorite places. The Giraffe Centre in Nairobi is one of our favorite places to visit, especially since we have a three-year-old. It was founded as a rehabilitation endeavor to preserve the Rothschild Giraffe, which had dwindled to 120 in number in Western Kenya. Here you can watch Giraffe graze or ascend to an enclosed platform and look the giraffe eye-to-eye, feed them pellets, and pet them. The house of the center’s founders has been transformed into a boutique called the Giraffe Manor where one can pick up very overpriced giraffe, and Kenyan souvenirs, i.e., a Maasai blanket will cost you more than twice as much there as it will in the marketplace. A sucker mzungu is born every day, I suppose.

The Hub Karen touts itself as, “More Than a Mall.” The Hub Karen is shopping/entertainment center catering to shopping, dining, entertainment, office space, and outdoor park. The facility also contains a medical center and hotel with a conference center. Earlier in the day, the grown ups spent time zip-lining in the Ngong Hills. It was an incredible time zipping through the hills with a majestic view of downtown Nairobi. This trip to The Hub Karen was an opportunity to make it up to the three-year-old that he was not allowed to join the zip lining excursion.

The day was filled with toddler bungee jumping, toddler motorcycle riding, and toddler snacks. The Hub is as much a representation of Nairobi’s international flair as any world-class center. A day there will bring a visitor in contact with people from all over Africa, Europe, America, and other reaches of the world.

The evening was again spent the only way Nairobi should be spent, with friends. Dinner was served at Ole Sereni. Ole Sereni is a world-class resort, spa, restaurant, and business and conference center on the edge of Nairobi national park between Nairobi’s international and regional airports. One can sit on the five-star restaurant balcony and watch lions, giraffe, zebra, and other wildlife graze. Whether one is looking over the park from the infinity pool, or while enjoying seafood flown in from the coast, disappointment is not what one finds here.

We spent the evening dining on local fare while discussing “health and human services” in the form of our organization, UnFinished International. Our host for dinner were European trained medical doctors and lawyers from Kenya. The Ole Sereni staff were a cut above the rest and the darkened fourth-floor dining room overlooking the park was the perfect cap to an adventure-filled day in Nairobi.

We return to Nairobi Monday for a final day of adventure before flying out to another of my favorite cities, Dubai. It will be another great time enjoying international travel as one should, dining and laughing with the best of friends.

“Change the World?”

we-gather-in-small-groupsNowadays, we see the term, “Change the World,” often. While most using it probably have good intentions, the frequency of its use has perhaps weakened its practical application on the broader population’s mindset at this point. I believe most people wearing it on their hoodies, t-shirts, or ball caps genuinely want to be a world-changing force in some way, I also think the general public no longer sees the term as meaningful.

Are Christine and I trying to change the world? I suppose we are. Both of us are visionaries, entrepreneurs, Type-A, nose-to-the-grindstone, types of people with a heart for others. We dream of UnFinished reaching all 192 countries of the world. We aspire to change international legislation and make the world a better place for those with special needs and disabilities. I tell Christine all the time I see the day she is standing before the United Nations, delivering a speech on the need for change in the world of disability.

So “Change the World” is indeed a thing for us. However, it’s not the main thing. At least not right now. Right now, we are more, “Change the Life.” We have children in our program who live with special needs, disabilities, orphan status, stigma, HIV, and poverty. All of our kids experience at least one, if not all of those things. Yes, we have a six-year-old child who is being raised by a grandmother because the parent’s left, is special needs, has a disability, lives in poverty, and has HIV. He is six-years-old.

We are blessed to have people around us who care very little if the world is changed. Yes, I said blessed for that. It is a blessing because they are not worried about what the society as a whole thinks, as Christine and I do most of the time. They are concerned about that little boy. They are worried about the two little girls in our program with mental impairments who go home to sexual abuse during school break that we can do nothing for at this time due to legal entanglements. Our business manager, who is required to worry about nothing except money and numbers, cries and prays daily over these kids. Changing their lives is much more important to her than changing the world right now.

I believe you change the world one life at a time. We started out with two kids. As God has seen our dedication, our hearts, and our stewardship of all He brings our way, He has grown us to fourteen enrolled and several on waiting lists. If the right resources were available, those numbers could be in the hundreds just here in Kenya tomorrow. Through working with kids individually, we are also educating their guardians, their school teachers, their extended family. This is how you change the world – one life at a time.

Christine and I also heavily involve our three-year-old in our work. I struggle with trying to figure out how to raise him without letting him develop an entitled mindset as is rampant in my American culture. I need him to grow up around poverty, lack, need, disadvantage, and all the things that are prevalent in the world outside our upper-middle-class bubble. He is another one person that is part of the change the life mentality.

My point in all of this is that “changing the world” is not as complicated as people try to make it. Even Jesus did not work on a large scale. He used twelve people, and they are still changing the world to this day. If each one of us would get out and try to change a life, that is billions of people improving the lives of billions of people. That IS world changing. Get to know your neighbor. Do something nice for them. The world continues to become more divided and decisive each and every day. You don’t have to cross the ocean to be a world changer. Just change the world for someone across the street. Have your friend over for dinner. Say something beautiful to the person checking you out in your local retail store (God knows that would be life-changing for them).

Let’s resolve to change the world together.

Go West, Young Man

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11 of the 14 kids of UnFinished International

Kakamega is a town in Western Kenya that resides in Kakamega County. Before changes in the national government in 2012, Kakamega was part of the Western Province. Since the shift to a county-based administration, Kakamega has become a part of a network of larger towns within the western counties of Kenya.

We arrived in Kakamega Saturday afternoon after a flight with 540 Airlines from Nairobi to Kisumu. From Kisumu, a drive of about half an hour led us to our final destination. Kenya is currently undergoing a massive infrastructure improvement that has been underway for the past six years making travel over the road much quicker and safer.

Our first order of business was a visit to the Kakamega Teaching and Referral Hospital, known locally as Kakamega General Hospital. One of the children in the UnFinished International program had been admitted a week earlier. Tausi, the child, contracted malaria. Under normal circumstances, the school Tausi attends provides for the children when they contract malaria, which is often. However, Tausi’s case became so bad, she had to be admitted, consigned to oxygen, and placed under a doctor’s care.

In many countries, medical care must be paid for upon receipt. This is the case in Kenya. In fact, it is often worse. In some cases, fees must be paid before receiving care. While we were waiting to secure Tausi’s discharge, a child was screaming in the ward. In this hospital, there is no triage. All patients are lumped together in one room no matter why they are there. Whether a broken bone or a contagious disease, they are all treated in one room together.

As this child screamed, we heard the hospital staff explaining the situation to the parents. The parents were told the child had fallen and hit its head causing an open, bleeding wound and bleeding on the brain. However, the hospital would do nothing until the parents paid the bill. They advised the medical procedure would cost, 100,000 Kenya shillings – approximately $986.

The parents were beside themselves. The news would have been no different if the hospital told them to leave with their child and refused care. Their child was bleeding both on its brain and on the floor, and the hospital would do nothing until payment was made. Payment was not coming.

As we presented our documentation proving the payment made to cover Tausi’s medical expenses, we were told the doctor was out. The staff advised us they would not release her until the doctor signed off and he was gone until later in the day. We left the paperwork with the front desk with the understanding Tausi would be released as soon as the doctor returned.

The situation was explained to Tausi’s mother. She was overjoyed hearing the expense were covered. Even though she lives in poverty, Tausi’s mother had begged and borrowed 1,000 Kenyan shillings in an attempt to pay the bill. Through the dedication of UnFinished International supporters, Tausi was able to return to school.

We left the hospital to venture far out into the village. The grandmother of another one of our children, Anne, had been in the hospital for three weeks due to high blood pressure and high blood sugar. Upon our arrival, we found the grandmother at home with the four children she raises along with Anne. While she was in the hospital, for three weeks, Anne’s oldest sister of nine years old was left to care for her younger siblings and cousins.

Anne’s grandmother told us of her appreciation, gratitude, and joy at Anne’s improvement in the last two years in our programs. She relayed stories of amazement from friends and family at Anne’s growth physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We spent time talking with her and encouraging her to carry on with the lives she provides for herself and her grandchildren. We left her with food supplies and the few shillings we had in our pockets.

We ended our day at Daisy Special School. This is an integrated school founded by missionaries from Finland. They visited Kakamega decades earlier and started the school in honor of their daughter with special needs. Over time, the school became a county school administrated by the government.

UnFinished International has 12 children at Daisy. Our visit was most eventful, spending time with our kids, sharing snack time, and experiencing our girls sing in their group. The majority of our children are orphans. Not only have they spent life being shunned by society, but they also lack the necessary attention and love that comes from being part of a family. Anytime we can take a few minutes from our always packed schedule to love on them is a blessing.