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The Dangers of Non-Profits


Photo 11-9-13, 11 45 01 AM Sorry for the delay in this blogpost.  October was a busy month.  At the beginning of the month we finally heard back from the IRS on our 501c3 application after almost a year and a half of waiting.  We were approved!  While this doesn't mean much to the way we operate (we have been able to function as a non-profit up to the time our application was reviewed), it is still nice to have it completed and check that off the list of things to do.

What has been keeping us busy, though, is that in October we started teaching English at a small school here in the evenings.  Because we're small and just getting things off the ground, sometimes we have to do things that bigger organizations don't (i.e. teach English to obtain visas).  Although it keeps us busy, it has been a great experience.  We are able to meet lots of people, work on our language and help fill a need in our community.

The school where we teach is run by a great local guy who is trying his hardest to provide English and life skills to students who otherwise couldn't afford it.  The classrooms are basically a concrete shell with a chalkboard and big wooden tables.  There are a couple other language schools in town that are run by foreigners that look much nicer but about 3x the price.  Which is where I've started noticing a problem.

Over the years I've had the opportunity to read some good books on foreign impact on developing countries.  If you have the time I would highly recommend at least checking out When Helping Hurts and Toxic Charity.  Both are great reads.  The books point out that as foreigners in developing countries, particularly those trying to do ministry and operating as non-profits, we need to be careful of our practices.

While helping our local friend who runs the school with registration at the beginning of the month, I noticed his frustration with the other language schools in town.  Our friend is trying to run a legitimate school, pay his teachers a good local wage and offer something to students at an affordable price.  What my local friend doesn't know is that the other schools in town are operated as ministries and most of their foreign teachers work as volunteers.

I know the guys who run the other schools and they're not running their ministries to drive this guy out of business (I don't even think they know our school exists).  However, as ministries and non-profits we must be careful of our practices.  Our local friend, who has a vision and passion for helping his own people is hindered by people who are trying to do good.  Honestly, there is no way our local friend can compete with resources that come through donations and free labor.

Our goal at UCI is to empower local people both in economic development and coffee training (as well as being able to share the Gospel with them).  And seeing how other ministries in town affect local people trying to help others has definitely given us things to think about going forward.

The Village


IMG_1041 Rainy season is winding down, although thunderstorms still pop up a few times a week here.  With the weather becoming better, Luv-Luv and I have started to go out to villages more and spend time with coffee farmers.  Two days ago, we were able to go out on our first remote village trip since I've moved here.  It involved a couple hours of driving, some bush-league mechanic work on the car, and then hiking another half-mile to the village.  The walk should have only taken about ten minutes, however we were caught by a thunderstorm as soon as we got out of the car.  Thankfully I had my raincoat with me.  Luv wasn't so fortunate.

We found  a wooden hut in a coffee field to wait out the storm.  It only took about twenty-minutes and then we were able to visit our friends in the village.  Luv has known this family for years and they graciously invited us over to spend the afternoon with them.  Of course, like all good hosts here, as soon as we showed up they killed a chicken and prepared it for lunch.  I'll be honest, in general I'm not a huge fan of the food here, but our friend's wife was an amazing cook.  It was a simple meal of rice, chicken soup and this dipping sauce that would have been less spicy if it had been made of habaneros.

The thing that always sticks out to me in the village is how simple life is.  If people aren't starving, they're usually happy.  Even though they didn't have running water, electricity (although they said they do have it, it just never works) or pants for their grandson, they were incredibly gracious and thankful that we had come to visit them.

While there we were able to pray over the meal with them and spend some time looking at their coffee.  Luv was able to give them some agricultural advice on their vegetables and they sent us home with a few banana trees to plant in our yards back in town.

We're currently seeking a village that we can find favor in and set up some coffee projects.  This will allow us to be there and spend more time with people and improve their coffee quality.  Please pray with us that we would find this village and local people that we can work alongside.

The Unsexy Life Overseas


Photo 11-20-13, 5 47 07 PM  

**Edit: After proof-reading, my wife told me I can't use the word 'sexy' in a blog.  I'm going with it anyway.**

Because of technology, I get a chance to talk to friends back in the US on a fairly regular basis.  It is great.  Even with our third-world internet here, I have the ability to instantly see and talk to people on the other side of the world (unless it is in the evening, during which our internet goes out).  A few conversations over the past weeks have given me the feeling that people back home have a very romanticized view of what we do over here.

I mostly blame the misconception on short-term mission trips.  Don't get me wrong, I'm in favor of short-term trips.  They have a lot of great benefits; however, getting a grasp of living daily in another culture is not one of them.  Short-term trips often set up an image of living overseas that just isn't reality.  Sort of like how Reality TV sets up an image that isn't reality.

On most short-term trips, people's days are filled with traveling from place to place, working on projects, meeting people and after the one or two weeks overseas they come home exhausted from the busyness of it all.  There is generally very little down-time, no need to study language, or go through the continual cycle of culture shock.

I'm not bashing short-term trips.  I wish you'd come on a short-term trip here.  I want nothing more than for people to come out, fall in love with this place and the people and then find ways to participate in the work.  And when you come, I'll shuttle you around, give you projects and introduce you to people.  Because it is hard to fall in love with a place if you're sitting around bored and confused.

The reality of my life right now is that my days are filled with language learning.  Twenty out of the twenty-one weekdays this month I've been with my language tutor and studying.  And I truly am thankful to Underground Coffee International to be afforded the time and opportunity to pour into language during this season.  It is a necessary but very unsexy part of living overseas.

I think that is the big misconception of being over here.  A lot of people think that each day is filled with adventure and discovering something new.  And, if you consider finding someone that sells bell peppers at the market an adventure, then yes it is.

I'm being a little hard on life here, because I really do believe that adventure is all about perspective.  There is a way to find joy and adventure in things, even going to the market.  Life here is just different than what most people think of when they go on those one or two week trips.  Most days it is SLOW.  There is only so much you can do without being able to effectively communicate, and the only way to learn to learn language is time.  So August has been a slow month out here.  It has been productive though, in a very unsexy way.