Last night I enjoyed the pleasure of hearing the founder of MANNA Worldwide speak. Bruce is a longtime friend; we go way back! In fact, it was our pleasure to start two MANNA Feeding Centers in South Africa. MANNA Worldwide has grown considerably since its humble beginnings just 15 years ago. It's nothing short of phenomenal.
Currently, 102 Feeding Centers, 23 orphanages, 15 schools, 20 medical facilities, and sports centers help missionaries and churches serve close to 15,000 children worldwide. MANNA Worldwide Partners and Supporters serve over 3 million meals to hungry children every year!
As I listened to Bruce speak, I asked myself, "Why has MANNA Worldwide grown at such an explosive rate?" Five words came instantly to mind:
MANNA Worldwide works almost exclusively through local churches on location. In the 40 countries MANNA serves, almost every ministry is conducted through a church in a particular locale. The Church has long suffered the criticism of turning its back on those suffering just outside the door's reach of the congregation. MANNA Worldwide helps the Church become the hands and feet of Jesus.
MANNA Partners living in location of feeding centers, hospitals, schools, and sports centers provide accountability for the program. Missionaries and Intercultural workers implement and oversee most projects. These Partners make sure funds actually reach the projects and children for which they were given; a huge problem in charitable giving.
During our many years in South Africa, a large Christian humanitarian group claimed to feed 4,000 children in an area where we ministered near our home. They set up a small office in this particular area. The office only appeared to open when Americans came out from the United States. Likewise, children received care only when American visitors were present. After the inspectors returned to the States, the feedings stopped.
MANNA Partners live full time at the locations of feeding centers and schools ensuring integrity of the program and ministry. More importantly; children really do receive love and care!
MANNA does exactly what it claims to do. Providing funding for the Church to cloth, feed, educate, and care for children around the world. 92 cents of every $1.00 gets to the children it claims to serve. Whether food in the bowl of a hungry child, books for learning, clothing, sports, or medical care -- MANNA dollars hit the target 92% of the time. That ranks in the top of charitable giving! This is accomplished in part because all MANNA associates and directors raise their own support.
Here's the thing. Children actually receive nutritious meals, schooling, and medical care! Programs provide better lives for children' gripped in the cruel harsh cycle of poverty.
Working through churches and its MANNA Partners, MANNA offers hope to suffering people. This hope impacts those outside the church's door. One MANNA Partner shared, "The Muslim parents in our area allow their children to attend our church because we provide their children with meals and education."
Once in our church in Ladysmith, South Africa I introduced myself to a new face in the congregation on a Sunday morning. After inquiring to the nature of the person's visit, he replied, "I wanted to see the church that cares for my hungry grandchildren. We are suffering."
For me, the great impact of MANNA Worldwide is seeing hungry malnourished kids transform into happy healthy children! One Zulu mother in her Zulu language shared, "Thanks for making my child's eyes sing again!"
MANNA Worldwide Directors, Associates, Partners, and Volunteers passionately rescue children in the grip of poverty. In doing so, MANNA brings them to a Jesus who said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them!"
Just My Thoughts,
Not long ago sitting in a local Restaurant in Springfield, Missouri, a patron frantically erupted while reading the newspaper, "I don't know what we are going to do? I hear they are letting those Syrian Refugees into St. Louis and then Springfield! Our governor won't stop them from coming in!" Clearly fearful she added, "They get free housing, medical, and food. All I have to say is, 'What about ME?' "
A gentleman sitting two stools down at the counter interjected, "How many refugees have you ever met?" Obviously agitated, he pressed another question aggressively, "What are the chances that a refugee will move in next door to you?" As she looked away, he chided, "Why worry about it then?" The woman admitted to never meeting or seeing a refugee personally in her entire life. Yet, she insisted refugees posed a personal threat. She interjected her strange question again, "Well, what about ME!"
That woman's question probes a universal consideration on our ever shrinking planet of human experience, "Yes, well, what about ME?"
As a Christ-Follower, Christ gave ME rather clear instructions on this refugee matter:
1st - My ME needs to show love towards God.
Focusing ME away from self towards God is my highest priority. Acknowledging my Creator who created me for a higher purpose than myself reminds me that even poor people, refugees, also possess purpose and value. Regardless of valueless attitudes towards these unwanted nomads, they are of my lineage, and we share a common existence.
2nd - My ME needs to show love and mercy to my "neighbors."
Who is my neighbor? Jesus talked about a traveler travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho many years ago. After attacked by bandits along the way, he lay wounded, broken, bleeding, and dying. Many traveled by refusing to help this refugee, I mean traveler, until finally someone stopped to help. Jesus called the helper a "stranger." After giving first-aid, clothing, food, and providing him a safe place, he paid for all the traveler's expenses promising to return to check in on him. Jesus called that wounded, hungry, dying traveler -My NEIGHBOR.
It's very interesting that Jesus calls this the 2nd Greatest Commandment in the whole Bible after loving God. Somehow helping refugees to Jesus was very important.
3rd - My ME needs to show love and mercy to my own.
Jesus often referred to "my own" as "One-Another." Showing love and mercy to people who reciprocate love and mercy to ME offers lesser challenges. It's where many draw boundaries enveloping themselves in safer surroundings. Yet, working with traumatized children over the years, children injured by their very own parents, love and mercy in our own families is sadly absent and desperately needed in too many families in this callous world.
4th - My ME needs to show love and mercy to my enemies.
Jesus said it, I didn't. Don't get me wrong. If a terrorist shows up, if there is a warning, if I know about it, I will defend myself, my family, and my community. Yet, Jesus commands even love towards enemies.
I once witnessed an elderly Zulu man face to face offer forgiveness to a neighbor in South Africa who beat his son's brains out with a rock. The old Zulu man held his son in his arms covered in his son's brain matter as his son died. I know this to be true. My Me was there. His actions prevented a clan war saving many lives. It's still a vivid troubling image in my mind thirty years later.
The Macro & Micro of it all - The macro issue of the refugee crisis is a global issue. It's on the macro stage most want to voice an opinion; an opinion that matters little, changes little, or helps little. Very little of the macro involves ME directly. I live in a micro world of this problem. Micro Me, however, can offer positive contributions to this crisis:
ME can control ME's rhetoric.
Words, opinions, solutions, biases, and verbal atrocities exploded on social media platforms around the world.
There is an ancient saying,
"Talking about a matter before one understands the matter is shameful and foolish."
ME can contribute positively! In our congregation, several members actually serve in some of those horrible refugee camps helping suffering refugee-travelers. They paint the picture of hopeless fearful desperate people leaving murdered loved ones behind looking for hope in a strange new terrifying world. ME contributes money to actual people on the ground in refugee camps helping Christians share the love of Christ with desperate Muslim women and children by serving them.
In giving a cup of cold water in Jesus' name, perhaps Christ's love can emerge from the seed beds of hate and religious extremism.
ME can pray for governments and authorities to make wise decisions. This problem is intricately complicated, requiring wise level headed people to act in the best interests of everyone. Protection of citizens is the highest priority. So too, is this vast swelling of refugee-humanity needing rescue, relief, and restoration.
Bad people will always take advantage of desperate situations. Yes, ME is concern these bad people are dealt with effectively for all our sake.
Yet, my ME concern is for a desperate suffering people of another world-faith looking to people of my faith for help. Now is an opportunity for Christians to respond.
Our greatest opportunity, perhaps avails itself to present Christ before a people who've never met a Christian. It's a defining historical moment in church and human history.
"ME" is the only control I really possess in this unfolding misery. And, the "YOU" is perhaps your only contribution to make as well. But, perhaps, just perhaps, if your "YOU" and my "ME" offered our very best, this world, might become a better "US" . . .
Just My Thoughts,
Don was born in North Minneapolis, Minnesota. Having served twenty-two years in South Africa as missionaries with his wife Kathy, and eight years pastoring in the United States, he shares unique perspectives about life, family, relationships, and ministry.