9.25.2013

It's Complicated. (I still have feelings for World Vision)


(Pssst. **if you can make it to the bottom of this post, you will not be disappointed**)

To sponsor or not to sponsor... that is the question.

No, for real. After the post where I totally friend zoned World Vision, a bunch of you asked if I would recommend sponsoring a child.

It's a fair question with a complicated answer, but that complicated answer begins with yes.

It's true that when I visited Guatemala I was hoping to see more of the "basic needs" humanitarian work that World Vision is known for, and I was sad to have not had that opportunity. My personal bent is for humanitarianism that leans toward holistic community care, created to be locally sustainable, and then left to the people, and that's what I thought I was going to see because that's what World Vision does, y'all.

My. Personal. Opinion. is that no child should go without sufficient food, clean water, or medical care. That said, I honestly believe that World Vision is working hard and doing good things to meet those basic human needs in many places around the world, and I think, for the most part, they're doing it really well.

Do I think World Vision is perfect? Nope. (Did you? Because if you did, you're kinda dumb.)

Real talk: World Vision has 44,000 employees. Yes. Forty-four THOUSAND people working in I-have-no-idea-how-many areas, worldwide. No organization is perfect, no person is perfect, no imperfect organization made of 44,000 imperfect people is going to do things perfectly. Hell, I'm pretty sure there is no perfect way to fight poverty!

Do you know why? Because fighting poverty is some complicated shit.

Sorry, but there is no white board equation that says $35 per kid per month times 250,000 donors plus 44,000 workers equals No Poverty.

It's not cut and dry. It's crazy and messy and nuanced and detailed and chaotic and hard and expensive.

It's complicated!

But, even though it's complicated, and even though there are...*ahem*... criticsWorld Vision continues to step into the fray. They show up every day, 44,000 strong, to say, “We can do something to end poverty.”

The question for us is should we support their efforts?

Ok. So, here's where it get's suuuuper complicated...

I don't think *I* should be supporting a Music Arts program in Guatemala. I have Big Feelings about when and where to draw the line of support in underdeveloped and emerging nations. BIG FAT FEELINGS. It's not that I don't love the idea of a fine arts program – because I do. And it's not that I don't value music or understand how a child can benefit from learning an instrument - because I totally get that. It's that *I* (me. personally. from my perspective. with my narrow definition of “need”. and because of my own concerns about creating dependency and patriarchy and culture shift.), *I* can't get behind it. But that's just ME.

I believe that YOU - every single one of YOU who commented, emailed, facebooked, or tweeted me last week to proclaim the importance and validity of a music program for underprivileged kids – YOU should have already followed this link and sponsored a child. Because YOU see something there that I cannot see or appreciate. And your opinion matters. Your desire to change lives through music matters. Your $35 a month matters ...especially to this little orchestra at the bottom of a hill in Guatemala. (Yes, I am being kind of a douche and challenging you to put your money where your mouth is. Seriously. If you believe this music program can and will change the lives of these children, then it deserves your support!) I just can't get on board with that.

But, guess what?

I still support World Vision. We are still friends, after all. I just choose to support in other ways, ways that are more in sync with my heart for the basics.

Together, with my church, we are running a race for clean water. Our hope is to raise funds that bring clean water access to the people of the Abaya Region of Ethiopia. We've gathered our runners (El Chupacabra is among them) and now we are gathering our resources in support of them. (Feel free to kick down a little cash for The Big Bearded Runner, right here.) This is where World Vision's work meets my spirit. This is where I'm investing.

I guess my point is that World Vision is doing a lot of different stuff in Guatemala and around the world, and some of the stuff they're doing is ~ in my completely unimportant o.p.i.n.i.o.n. ~ amazing, and I will sing that stuff's praises. But I will not pretend to love the stuff that I think is crap. I also won't pretend that everyone should agree with me about what is and what is not crap ministry. Instead, each of us should feel responsible to make educated decisions about how and where we partner with any one of the gazillion non-profits on Earth. World Vision is no different. But I know (because they told me!) that they would love to answer your questions, if you've got em. 

Overall, I'm pleased to endorse World Vision. And I'm happy to let you decide if and how and where you see fit to partner. 

One thing I can say with confidence is that your $35 a month is way better off in World Vision's hands than in a Starbucks' bank vault. (Yikes That's two douchey guilt trips in one post. I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHO I AM!!!)

So...


Click here! DO IT!!! 

Or. 



I dunno. But. Do something. 

Listen... I didn't go to Guatemala just to sweat my boobs off twerking with Roo Ciambriello at a pre-Independence Day rave. And I certainly didn't show up just to watch Caleb Wilde dance his way into a conga line that wasn't actually a conga line, just three innocent people making their way through a crowd. Although, those things were awesome.

This really happened.

I went to Guatemala because I was fond of World Vision and I believed in their work.

And honestly? I still do.

….          ….            …..

Do you have BIG FEELINGS about humanitarian work? Do share...



9.18.2013

My DTR (define the relationship) with World Vision.


I liked World Vision right away, but it wasn't love at first sight. I mean, initially, I thought WV was kinda fat and a little self-absorbed, but I was intrigued by the obvious love for humanity and drive for community development (And c'mon, there's nothing sexier than a dude who loves kids!). So, when WV asked me out, I didn't really hesitate to say yes.

Our first date turned out to be a whole week together in Guatemala!

Normally, I wouldn't rush into this kind of relationship, but I felt like our connection online had developed as far as it could – it was time for us to meet in real life. So I packed my bags, kissed my husband goodbye, and hopped a plane to rendezvous with World Vision.

It was intense.

We spent the week traversing the gorgeous winding hills outside of Antigua in a bouncy white van that could turn even the most steely guts into a vomit fiesta. I got to meet World Vision's Guatemalan family, friends, employees, and beneficiaries. I was treated to a party with a piƱata, a traditional luncheon, and a concert. And, the whole time, I was carefully weighing all the things I saw and heard, trying to decide if we could have a future together.

As the end of the week loomed in front of us, I began to dread the inevitable; It would soon be time to DTR. And now that I'm back home and have had a couple of days to process everything I took in, I think today is the day. It's time to have the talk. Time to put it all out there. *sigh* It's time to Define The Relationship.

Ugh! This is so uncomfortable.

Because, here's the thing; I like you, World Vision. Just not all of you.   ...  :|

There are things that I really loved about our time together, and things that, well? I didn't love. I want to be gentle here, but I also want to be honest, so please know that writing this is giving me pit stains because I care.

First of all, you have a great heart.
I love what you're about. I love deep and wide community development. I love healthy, holistic neighborhood enrichment. And I think the music program you showed off this week is very sweet, but not very... necessary. I would have been far more interested in seeing some of the life-saving WV work I've heard about (clean water/ irrigation/ education/medical care), rather than a bunch of really cute kids playing instruments in tall grass. Or dirt. And don't get me wrong -- I love music, I really do. But I dunno... maybe not as much as you?


I think your accent is hot.
I was really impressed that, as we walked through the national and local offices, I didn't see one single gringo working for you. Not one. Every word of English that came from a World Vision employee was wrapped up in a rich Spanish accent. I absolutely believe that humanitarian work should be local led and local driven in local language, so to hear the sweet sound of Spanish (and only spanish!) ringing through your halls and doorways was downright sexy to me. 

But.

You're too controlling.
You brought me to Guatemala because you wanted me to see what you do, and then it seemed like you worked very hard to control the narrative. The picture I had by the end of our trip felt one dimensional and contrived. I would have loved a more diverse picture of World Vision in Guatemala. I would have loved a bigger scope, even if it meant a harder trip or longer days. Even if it meant drawing my own conclusions, instead of being given what often felt like a story that had already been written. Y'know?

And. 

I don't like your friends.
Ok, that's not true. I don't like some of your friends. Or, one of them. Ok? I don't like one of your friends. And, actually, it's not that I don't like him (he was really a very nice, funny, pleasant guy), it's that I don't like being lied to by him. It made me a little bit ragey when our World Vision translator manipulated and changed stories to suit his agenda. I seriously have no tolerance for messing with the truth in missions. That is gross behavior. My Spanish isn't always awesome - but I did live in Costa Rica for 5 years - and I know that some details of stories, as told to us by WV beneficiaries, were skipped or falsified by our translator to change the flavor of the story, and to reflect better on World Vision. It's a huge conflict of interest for a translator to be an employee of the organization they're translating for. If I could change anything about you, WV, it would be that. ...Sooo not ok.

That said, I love your kids!
I only got to meet a handful of World Vision Guatemala's 80,000 registered kids. But those I hung out with were delightful! It's endearing to know that some of the children we met are healthy and happy today because of 35 bucks a month from a far away friend. The kids seemed stoked to tell us about their “sponsors” and bragged about receiving letters and Christmas cards. It was really sweet. Concern for kids who aren't yet sponsored was alleviated by WV's explanation of how the financial aspect of sponsorship works: Sponsorship dollars are pooled to provide for the overall needs of a community – not necessarily an individual child – so every child in the area (even those who haven't been sponsored directly) benefits from that $35. I'm cool with that.

Also? Your Mom is super cool.
I've said it before, but of all the things you showed me this week, the Guide Mothers program was my absolute favorite. Empowering Moms to empower other Moms is, hands down, the best way to eradicate malnutrition, eliminate food-borne illness, and increase sanitary conditions to create homes where kids can flourish. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE IT!!!

Overall, I just...

I don't feel like you showed me the real you, World Vision.
When I got on a plane, I thought I was going to see three different communities in three stages of development. I thought you would show me how your work saves lives and creates sustainable agriculture, and how you equip underprivileged Guatemalans, ultimately, to live apart from you.
I thought I was going to fall in love.

But, the truth is, I'm still kind of wondering who you are, exactly. I can't and won't condemn your work, because I only saw one community. And I'm not sold on the idea of funding a music school, but some of my companions found a lot of value in it.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is...

I still like you, World Vision. But I don't think I'm in love with you...

...I hope we can still be friends.

Seriously. For real. I know everybody says that, but I really mean it. 

....       ....        ....

Can I just say? I have so much respect for Matthew Brennan who kept us organized, on track, and logistically on schedule for (the months leading up to and) the week of the trip! And mad (brotherly Christian) love for Matthew Paul Turner who was gracious enough to include me in this trip in the first place. I trust these men and their good opinion of World Vision and I would encourage anyone with questions about World Vision to seek one of them out. They're both great guys!

....         ....        ....

Ugh. My armpits feel like the rain forest. What can I say? Honesty is sweaty business. 

Thoughts???

9.13.2013

A Picture is Worth as Many Words as the Blogger it Links to Has Written; The Very Worst Photo Essay

I told you how I'm in Guatemala with a group of bloggers to share about the work World Vision is doing, right? Well, there are three talented photographers among us. They have huge cameras which they wield with a fierce attention to detail and an eye for color and composition. 

The other day, Matthew Paul Turner posted a compelling photo essay documenting our time here. According to the old saying, his blog post is worth 17,000 words. 

When I read his essay/post and I thought, "Wow. That is really powerful!",  and also, "Wow. That is really easy!" So I decided to create my own photo essay using the pictures on my phone, but, for some reason, I don't think my photo essay has the same effect as Matthew's. Probably because I don't have a fancy camera. Everyone knows the camera is responsible for taking great, meaningful pictures. 

Anyway. 

Here's my photo essay. I hope you enjoy it...


A Picture is Worth as Many Words as the Blogger it Links to Has Written


The Guatemalan country side is lush and tropical, dotted with rustic farms and small houses. I loved these dairy cows, corralled by rough hewn logs. I know you think this is a picture of a blurry tree, but it's not. It's cows. I promise.


The city is bright and colorful, bustling with people and activity. The cockeyed contrast of this mysterious figure, sandwiched between my creepy finger webbing, leaning against that sky-blue wall is charming. Don't you think?



When you are a man, sometimes you wear stretchy pants in your room. Is for fun. And when you are Zach Hunt, sometimes you wear a robe and slippers in the hallway of your hotel. Also for fun.



 Shelby Zacharias and I were walking through town noting how we could appreciate why Guatemala is known for it's fine coffee and impressive colonial architecture, seen here, upside down. 



I honestly don't know what this is... Could be MPT doing the robot. Or it could be Batman. The world will never know. 



Pretty sure Antigua is famous for it's cobble stone roads and red trousers



I fell in love with this palm sized puppy, so I took a pic of it... looking like a zombie. It's possible that Micha Boyett held this dog in her bare hands and will now become ground zero for the zombie apocalypse. If Purell doesn't kill zombie juice, we are in trouble. 



In case you didn't know, #legstagrams are all the rage. This one is extra special because it features two super hot, funny, talented chicks. I give you Jessica Shyba and Roo Ciambriello's legs on Guatemala's rich volcanic soil. 
(rich volcanic soil > mud and dog poop)



Guatemalan #chickinstagram. And a foot.



When Caleb Wilde lays across the front a the van like Jesus and looks off into the distance like an underwear model? You know things just got serious. I think Guatemala got to this guy. But in a good way, not in like a mortician way. Not that that would be bad, I mean, morticians are people too. Kinda.



Nothing says "Sponsor a Child" like a headless 8 year old cellist and his headless family. 



Last, I captured this rare shot of the back of a Guatemalan dog's head. You're welcome



The End.

.....        .....       .....

Nailed it. 


9.12.2013

Seedlings.


When I was in grade school, we had a science fair every year and I did the same science project, like, 3 years in a row.

I sprouted beans.

Talk about exciting! I put the seeds in 2 styrofoam cups with dirt and water and then I put one cup on a window sill and the other in a cupboard. My hypothesis was always the same: the seedlings in the dark cupboard wouldn't grow as well as those in the window. And I was always right, year after year. Because duh.

I thought about my little bean sprouts when we met Maria*.

We walked around to the back of Maria's little house and climbed down some overly tall (think treacherous, deadly, cliff-like) steps, to a small plot of land with a good sized hen-house and a small shed. Maria wanted us to see her seedlings.

World Vision has provided Maria and her family with a small hydroponic garden where she and her 2 young daughters are growing their own fresh vegetables. Her seedlings have sprouted into the beginnings of broccoli, radishes, tomatoes, and other healthy goodies that lots of kids hate. Buckets collect the nutrient rich drain off, and Maria has expertly culled and spaced the new plants for optimum growth. She held a little disposable cup out for me to look in, then she smiled, and said, “Maracuya!” and I knew from my kickass spanish that the itty bitty leaves twirling out of the soil would be passion fruit someday.

Of all the things I've learned about World Vision over the last few days, I am most impressed with their Guide Mothers program.

When World Vision begins work in a community, one of the first things they do is look for the women who are doing it right. Crazy, huh! They actually begin by identifying the mothers of healthy, well-nourished children and asking them how they do it. What do they feed their kids? What do they give them to drink? How do they keep their clothes and homes and bodies reasonably clean? World Vision then empowers these hard-working, sensible Moms (through training and regular home visits) to impart all that wisdom and experience to other women in their vicinity. They become Guide Mothers; Mothers teaching Mothers how to Mother.

So Maria's pretty little garden is actually a product of Marta's guidance. BOOM.

It was sweet Guide Mother Marta who encouraged Maria to incorporate more fruits and veggies into her daughter's diet. We met them both, along with a few other mamas under Marta's care, as they prepared and served a balanced meal of rice, vegetables, and soy protein, together. It was an awesome thing to see.

Essentially, World Vision is cultivating health and well-being by giving the right women the tools they need to lead. Seedlings don't flourish in the dark... and, it turns out, neither do children.

Malnutrition and lack of hygiene are a deadly combination. A child simply cannot grow to their full potential under such conditions. But World Vision's Guide Mothers are a ray of sunshine, bringing life to the families in their communities.

Honestly, if I could sponsor a Guide Mother, I would. I think their part in the development of healthy communities is that important. 

My hypothesis is that women who are given the guidance and tools they need to raise flourishing children will do just that, while the kids of those left in the dark will wither. 

Because duh

It's totally scientific. 

*Her real name. But maybe not. I can't remember. We've heard so many names this week. ...But I'm pretty sure hers was Maria. Or not. Monica? Melani?... Crap.

......         .....         ......

Can I just say? THANK YOU, to those of you who are following along. You have no idea how encouraging it is. 


9.10.2013

Fighting Poverty is like so 2012.


I'm sitting in Antigua, Guatemala and it's raining. Like it does.

It's totally weird for me to be here. It's weird to be in Central America, but not in my Central American home. Weird to speak Spanish (though I have managed to mostly avoid it, thankyaJesus!) Weird to be in a place like this again, so lush and green, where the sidewalks are filled with people, the streets are overflowing with vehicles, and the air smells of diesel and moss and sometimes farts. This place is so familiar to me, so similar to my beloved Costa Rica, I can't help but be reminded of how I fell in love with Latin America in the first place.

It makes me homesick. And sad.

The sadness makes me want to eat all the carbs. Give me all the rice and the crusty white bread and diced chayote with garlic and onions in the country. I will stifle my big feelings with empty calories and starchy goodness, and the crazed eating will make me bloated and my face will break out which will give me something else to think about, instead of feeling sad because, A.) Guatemala is not Costa Rica, and B.) much of this beautiful country is entrenched in disabling poverty.

I know this because I spent the day with it. I looked poverty right in the face. And you know what it did?
It played me a terrible song on a tiny violin. Then it took a bow.

photo by Matthew Paul Turner

...And it was so freakin' cute, I wanted to die.

Ok. So maybe this isn't the “face of poverty” we're used to seeing. We are better accustomed to dirty faces with drawn eyes and ill-fitting clothes, because that's what moves us. Those are the images we give to. Pretty sure it was Sally Struthers who taught us to fight poverty with pictures of gaunt babies with goopy eyes and empty bellies. But today I saw a different face. Today I saw what happens when poverty collides with Hope. Today I saw what happens when opportunity invades the space that poverty holds.

Ugh! I know, I know!! I totally know what you're thinking...

You're like, “Wait. Are we still talking about poverty? Fighting poverty is like so 2012.”

We have moved on. We're on to the next big thing in hipster activism and churchy heroism. All of our Toms® are worn out, and now we're wearing $120 lace up boots that don't help anybody, but we go to benefit concerts where all the proceeds go to, like, kids with terribly stiff bowel movements in Madagascar, or something. And we're crowd-sourcing documentaries and stuff. Because we need more childhood hemorrhoid awareness, people!

But, you guys. Poverty is still a thing.

And it's pretty much THE THING that drives all the other terrible things; trafficking, slavery, abuse, disease, malnutrition, hemorrhoids... Ok. Not that that last one... But, the point is, you can't talk about any of those things (minus the hemorrhoids) without talking about poverty. You just can't.

I'm not gonna lie. I'm sick of talking/hearing/reading about poverty, too. It's getting old and it feels like nothing is changing, almost like no good is coming of it. So this week, while I'm in Guatemala with World Vision, I'm not gonna talk about poverty. I'm gonna talk about Hope like the Hope I saw today.

This morning I listened to proud Mamas brag about how their kids are learning to play the violin. I sat alongside them and applauded happily with them after each awful, screechy, spine-tingling song. And when the kids tucked their little instruments under a bent arm and bowed, grinning from the thrill of playing to a crowd, we all clapped like crazy. These Mamas stood before us and talked of opportunity. Thank you, they said, to the World Vision staff and the patient instructors and the invisible donors who all made it possible. As they talked you could practically see their dreams for their children play out on their faces, dreams of a bright future, like a house filled with music. Dreams of something more than just subsistence. Dreams of abundance. And, today, Joy was abundant.

Photo by Matthew Paul Turner
This is Hope come alive.

Admittedly, World Vision is doing a whole bunch of cool things here in Guatemala that are way more practical than a music program. But this? These proud kids and their proud Moms, this was the thing that moved me. I know it's not gritty or gross. It's not appalling. It's certainly not the face of poverty we're used to.

But maybe it's time to give poverty a new face. And maybe it's time to change her name.

I think Hope has a nice ring to it, don't you?  

.....        .....        .....

You guys know I was kidding about the hemorrhoid thing, right? But, for real. Why do we move so easily from one cause to the next? 

9.07.2013

So Mama Monk, American Jesus, and the Very Worst Missionary walk into a bar...


...in Guatemala! And then they spend a week together discovering the work of World Vision and enjoying the beautiful broad faces and warm smiles of the Guatemalan people.

Ok. It's not very funny as a joke, but as my life, it's pretty much amazing.

I should probably be packing or something. I actually don't know what non-procrastinators do before trips. I know no other way than to take a nap, watch a movie, go out with friends, sleep in... and then, at the laaaaast minute, go completely batshit crazy. Clean the house, wash the clothes, find a passport, throw some crap in a bag and hope something matches, and say all the nice things to my kids so that if some tragedy befalls me while I'm away, they will surely remember me as a wonderful, kind, encouraging, non-screamy Mom who showered them with love and affection and made them grilled cheese.

I'm not in that stage yet. I'm still feeling pretty sane. I'm also still in my pajamas.

I will pack. Eventually. 
Tomorrow. Tomorrow is when I will lose my mind.

How do other people do it? I can't help but wonder how my World Vision compadres are gearing up for our departure on Monday. I know that at least one of them already started packing. When I saw that on instagram, it made me squint my eyes and shake my head, trying to absorb the information. Like, “What is this 'preparation' you speak of?”

My inner procrasturbator wants to shout YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG. But I am nothing if not a grace-filled follower of Jesus and I must speak the truth in love, so you know what? I'm just gonna “live it out” in front of them and let them learn from my righteous example. Heh.

Anyway.

All that to say that I am SO EXCITED about hanging out with my bloggety blog friends in real life. I'm betting on a little hilarity, a lot of genuinuity (that's not a real word), and some straight up slapstick comedy from these people. They can be counted on. Oh, and don't worry – I will tell you everything. I've never wanted a hidden camera in my glasses before now... 

So, if you want to know what actually happens when Mama Monk, The American Jesus and the Very Worst Missionary walk into a bar in Guatemala, be sure to follow everyone's adventures and get different their different perspectives, here. There is some serious talent coming together for this!

Check 'em all out:









If I weren't me, I'd be so jealous of me. I cannot even believe the company I get to keep on this trip! Funny, smart, compassionate, kind, thoughtful, and provocative - this group is super well rounded and I think it's going to make for a great story to follow. 

This is gonna be awesome. 

.....          .....          .....

If you could go on a short trip with any 8 people, who would you choose? Why?

9.02.2013

Christian Missions Don't Have to Suck


It's no secret that I believe the North American Church has really screwed the pooch when it comes to missions as a whole. Honestly? The more I study and read and learn from more experienced missionaries, the more strongly I feel that the majority of the “work” we're doing around the world in the name of Jesus has little to no value, or worse, is actually causing harm to the people we've set out to help/reach/bless/save/whatever.

In our efforts to do good and share the good news, we seem to have lost our way. Somewhere along the line, we began to exploit poverty and suffering as a means to evangelize, and the result is a short-sighted, self-focused, arrogant, and wasteful intersection where the Christian faith meets the planet Earth. Humanitarianism took a wrong turn in the hands of sincerely well-meaning Christians. Poor people became “a ripe harvest field”. Meeting basic human needs became “bestowing God's blessing”. Tragedy became “opportunity”. And the world groaned under the weight of our good intentions.

But we can do better. Christian missions don't have to suck.

I resolved at the beginning of this year to find people who were doing it well; loving man and loving Jesus in conjunction with each other – but – seamlessly, respectfully, honestly, and uncontrived. I took every opportunity that came my way, and now my calendar is full. And so is my passport. On Friday, I had to zip over to San Francisco to have pages added to my passport, because next week I'm headed to Guatemala and I had no more room for visas.

I've been invited, along with a few of my favorite bloggers, to come see the work that WorldVision is doing on the ground through their child sponsorship program. I'm particularly interested in this because I was already a fan of World Vision's bent toward long-term community development with a clear exit strategy. I think that's smart. And I think that's humble. And I hope to see those truths for myself next week.

But what I love the most about World Vision is that while, yes, it is a Christian humanitarian organization, it does not lord Christianity over the people it serves. World Vision loves because we are commanded to love. They let the rest happen organically, gently, the way it happens for you and me – through relationship.

I love that.

I hope you'll follow along next week. I'll be posting something new every day (Which I never do! So I'm kinda freaked out about that). And I hope that you'll consider partnering with World Vision by sponsoring a Guatemalan child today. 

  
Click here to sponsor a child today.



I'm increasingly convinced that Christian missions don't have to suck. When we approach the world thoughtfully, strategically, with expertise and humility, we can fulfill our mission to love God and love others, we can tend to the great commission to go into all the nations. We can do good. And we can love well. Right now, a lot of us are way off course, but missions doesn't have to be a joke. Also? It doesn't have to be called "missions"... aaaand I'm pretty sure World Vision figured all this out a long time ago.

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Ever thought that Christian missions kind of suck? Think we can do better?