A couple of decades ago, I had a conversation with my best friend at the time, a woman twenty years my senior, about how Christian ministries had been sucked into the world’s way of marketing. She’d recently received a letter from a ministry she’d sent money to in the past, and the letter might as well have been trying to sell snake oil. The letters from that ministry – a very well known one at the time – had up to that point been informative and encouraging, with only a gentle request for financial help at the end of each letter.
But now, the letters the ministry was sending out were obviously being written by copywriting professionals, writers who are skilled at manipulating people emotionally with their words so that they will buy something – or, in this case, donate money.
A couple of years ago, I noticed this happen with the letters from the ministry in Haiti that I began supporting as a single person, and that my husband agreed to continue supporting after we got married. This put a bad taste in my mouth, and I almost sent an e-mail chastising the ministry for this change.
But the Lord whispered to me to leave it be. So I did. After all, I believed in the things they were doing: running an orphanage, feeding many area children, providing free schooling for area children, and building a free hospital for the children and adults in the surrounding neighborhoods.
We had actually begun donating an extra $100 per month to the ministry, beyond the money that we’d been donating every month to sponsor a child in the orphanage, in order to help the ministry out with all those life-changing endeavors.
Then we get a letter from this ministry the other day, supposedly from the woman who started it (I’m sure the letter has some of her words, but I’m just as sure the letter has been seriously edited by a professional copywriter), gushing about all the wonderful things she’s been able to do during the past twenty years, thanks to our donations.
And then, the bomb drops.
About the middle of the letter, the woman reveals that she wants to build a “Life Skills And Sports Complex.” So, would we please consider donating to the cause?
Because it’s absolutely critical to the success of the children in the orphanage and school. Children need sports if they’re going to learn how to be a team player, if they’re going to develop a healthy self-esteem, time management skills, and responsibility.
Never mind that a bunch of young people have already graduated from high school with the help of this ministry, and are already successful young adults – even though there was no sports complex while they were attending school. We’ll just sweep that little unimportant fact under the rug, because our donors need to believe that Haiti absolutely, positively, needs a sports complex for children.
Anybody else want to throw up about now?
My husband never played sports. I never played sports. Yet we both went on to college, and got well-paying jobs afterward.
Um, yeah, and we were financially independent by our early forties.
The idea that kids “need” to participate in sports in order to have the utmost success in life is purely an invention of American culture.
And don’t effen tell me about studies associating “success” (whatever the BLANK that means) with team sports participation, and that my husband and I are in the minority. Take a course in statistics, and within a few months you’ll have learned that statistics can be manipulated in whatever way the researcher wants.
Not to mention that the vast majority of studies, especially ones trying to show a connection between culturally accepted practices and future results, are highly flawed.
Yes, I’m teed off. But let me go on, because I’m not done yet.
Real life skills
You want to teach kids time management? Give them a job where they have to show up by a certain time every day or get fired. You can simulate this in a school setting by providing jobs that adult staff would normally do, and “pay” them with rewards such as school-sponsored parties, homework-free nights, and so on.
This is actually being done in some innovative high schools in the United States.
In Haiti, many people starve to death every day. How about this for teaching teamwork? Get a group of kids to work together to prepare dinner for a large group of needy people. Hmm, fixing food. Sounds like an essential life skill to me. No expensive “complex” required to teach or learn it, either.
I think time management and responsibility will be side benefits of such a project. And self-esteem? Comes along for the ride from the satisfaction of a job well done.
How else can kids learn to be team players? How about building or renovating houses, or small shelters? How about going door to door and finding out what the neighborhood needs, and brainstorming how to meet those needs – and then doing the work to do so?
You want to talk about essential life skills and learning to be a team player? Learning to be responsible? How about designing, building, planting, and maintaining a large vegetable garden?
Trust me – I’ve got a 1600 square-foot vegetable/fruit garden, and I could get a lot more out of it if I wasn’t running it all by myself.
You might be thinking, “Well, that’s all fine and good for the big kids. The teenagers. What about the younger ones?”
What about the younger ones? First of all, the younger ones should be allowed to play. For most of their waking hours. Play is how they learn. And I ain’t talkin’ for the period of life that we consider “early childhood.” I’m talking, as old as twelve and thirteen.
Second of all, my son – who is immature and small compared to the average boy – could use a drill, hammer, and level by age eight. Children that young, even younger, can even learn how to handle a chef’s knife.
Just because we’ve become hyper-protective of our children to the extent they can’t even enter into a marriage with a responsible attitude until they’re at least thirty because we treat them like stupid little kids until they’re eighteen, doesn’t mean they’re not capable.
Yeah, I’m teed.
This is NOT Kingdom work!
American culture has nothing to do with the Kingdom of God. No human culture does.
The work of God’s Kingdom is to preach good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor [Luke 4:18-19].
Yeshua came to heal in every way that humanity needs healing and to save hearts from darkness.
Can a believer minister through coaching team sports? Sure!
But is helping to build a sports complex the best use of our money in a nation like Haiti, where, despite all of the Christian ministries working there, children and adults continue to starve every day and continue in their bondage to the voodoo religion? Where surely human trafficking is a serious problem, as it is in most Third-World countries?
My husband and I don’t think so.
And we also agree that Christian organizations have let themselves be deceived and manipulated by the enemy so that they focus more on showing their success via the next fancy building or incorporating the majority culture into their belief system than the do on the true work of the Kingdom.