The Blind Leading the Seeing

Three sentences. That’s all it took to know Reyna was extraordinary. I met her just a few days ago. Reyna’s spirit reverberated in her Dominican home and into the heart of this American visitor. And she unsettled me in profound ways with her unassuming heroism.

Reyna’s modest home fronts a dirt alleyway in the town of El Seibo, a busy city in the heart of the Dominican Republic. Life isn’t easy in her neighborhood. Deficient infrastructure, education, and sanitation shackle her community. But Reyna’s smile wasn’t lacking. She approaches life like an eager Coloradan advances on a challenging hike—with vigor, optimism and confidence. Her enthusiasm is surprising because of poverty’s grip on her city. But it is remarkable because of her impairment. Reyna was blinded at the start of her adult life. At the age of 20, Reyna lost her sight.

“God has given me so much. My job is to give back to others.”

An embarrassing lump grew in my throat when she voiced those words. Reyna was a charity case poster child. She could have starred in a Sally Struthers infomercial. Dirty water. Substandard hospitals. Single woman. Blind. But Reyna didn’t see it that way. Her impairment didn’t cloud her identity. Reyna knew she was a strong, purposeful and capable woman. She could see she was designed in the very image of her Creator.

Reyna has unhampered ambition. She launched a business and it grew dramatically. The corner Target, her store provides it all: Rice, flour, cooking oil, toiletries and more. She trusts her faithful clients to pay in full. When new customers stop in, however, she keeps their payments separate till a faithful client stops in to verify. She treats her customers with class and only sells the best products. And her business has grown enormously profitable.

Dominican-Republic-Reyna

And that’s a good story: The rags-to-riches blind entrepreneur. But Reyna’s story was just beginning. She’s since taken in her sister’s two children and raised them. Her nephew now studies at the Dominican Air Force academy. Her teenage niece aspires to medical school. She is a leader at her church. While she answered my many questions, she interrupted our conversation with a phone call. That might have been rude, but in a very “that’s Reyna” sort of way, the caller was a young woman in her church who was preparing for a surgery and looking for her counsel. Reyna refuses to succumb to, or even acknowledge, low societal expectations.

“God says that, ‘Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord,’ she recounted. “We’re called to be openhanded in our success and that’s what I try to do.”

It’s as if she doesn’t get it. Reyna, I see you as the poor in this proverbYou’re the blind woman in the developing country. She deflects what I might assume about her because she knows what her Father thinks about her. And she’s chosen to share in her success. She extolls everyone to embrace the gifts God’s given them.

“There a many blind people in my city that are not working. Why? They are more than capable. This is a big problem for us.”

Reyna captivated my imagination for the hour I stood in her home. She, of course, had prepared a patented dulce de leche dessert for us. And, of course, she cried several times in gratefulness for all God had given her. It’s what heroes do. Nothing fabricated and no veneers. Reyna was created to create and gifted to gift. No barrier was going to keep her from seeing that.

Originally posted at Smorgasblurb.

Change in the Age of Shallow

My attention span isn’t what it used to be. While reading a terrific book last night, I noticed my itchiness for the end of the chapter. It felt forever away. The chapter ran thirteen pages. Apparently, thirteen pages is my new eternity.

Maybe you can relate: The moment you wish a 90-second YouTube video would get to the point. The moment you yearn for a red light so you can catch up on email. The moment you need to check a new text message during dinner with friends. This growing impatience dangerously impedes our ability to stick with things that matter.

I’m sure some teenage whippersnapper will suggest I’m simply recreating the tendency of our grandparents to overstate the distance they walked to school. They didn’t walk uphill both ways, always in blizzard conditions.

But our attention spans are slipping. According to a new book, our physical brains have adapted to our shared shiny rock syndrome. In The Shallows, author Nicholas Carr argues we have lost the ability to last. We skim and scan, but rarely sustain. While debate remains whether our brains have physiologically changed in the digital age, my experience certainly affirms Carr’s thesis. Maybe it’s my world-in-my-hand smartphone. Or, maybe I subconsciously yearn for the days when my dad’s car phone was a connectedness marvel. No matter the reason, I’m itchier than I was five years ago.

I wonder how our multitasking influences how we view change within people. Even Desmond, my two year old, rapidly switches between apps on my iPhone (…and no, parental purists, I’m not too proud to admit he borrows it at restaurants). I mean, goodness, he gets unruly halfway through Goodnight Moon.

Does the age of shallows stunt our patience? On a recent trip to India, I walked through a “slum among slums.” Conditions were abysmal, and I craved a “fix and flip” solution to the wrenching problems. I questioned whether I had the endurance to invest in the sort of change that demands time. I questioned whether my millennial sensibilities would allow for the sort of steady and faithful life-on-life investment needed for true growth.

We need to recalibrate to a longer view. Bangladesh cut infant mortality by two thirds and more than doubled female literacy over the past twenty years. The “rise of globalization and the spread of capitalism” halved extreme poverty worldwide over the same time. The Church spreads at unprecedented rates south of the equator. It’s not instant, but it is remarkable.

We need a personal recalibration too. Good change is rarely immediate. Friendships demand TLC. Marital harmony is more like a slow cooker than a microwave. A virtuous life is not “acquired spontaneously” but rather a “product of long-term training, developed through practice.” Desmond didn’t master the barnyard animal puzzle overnight. These good things demand the long view, but the Information Age clouds us from seeing it.

Change takes time. In a broadband world, Indian slums prompt frustration with the measured pace of change. But in the case of a wayward sibling or a forlorn slum, slow can be good. The knight on his white horse creates a scene, but he doesn’t change anything. Hitting the jackpot makes waves, not change. Healthy change is incremental and it emerges through faithfulness. In our sound byte society, we need the discipline to wait for it.

Originally posted at Smorgasblurb.

Freely Given, Apathetically Received

Timothy Kayera spoke with been-there-done-that confidence. He grew stronger with each word, pulling me closer with the fire of his conviction. And then he summarized everything I believe about charity. In four words.

I used to work with one of those organizations that gave stuff away to everyone. We’d give away animals, clothing and clean water. All for free. I remember when we’d give goats to people, I would get phone calls and they’d say, “Timothy, your goat is dead.”

Your goat is dead. I’ve tried to articulate this idea dozens of times over the years, but never this potently. In four words, the caller said:

  • It was never his goat in the first place,
  • It was inconsequential it died, and
  • It was Timothy’s job to replace it.

Kayera is a star in Rwanda’s promising cast of young leaders. He directs HOPE’s efforts in a region of Rwanda and he emphasized the difference of his new job. His work now creates dignity, not dependency. Partnership, not pity. Timothy joins a chorus of Rwandans in this song, from the president of the country to “Rwanda’s Desmond Tutu.”

[The poor] are as capable, as competent, as gifted, and as talented as anyone else…In society, you must create opportunities to help people develop their capacity and talents. – Paul Kagame

We need to move from aid to production, from existing to living. It’s high time we stop telling our people they can’t do it. They can, yes. And we shall do it. – Bishop John Ruchyahana

Timothy, President Kagame and Bishop Ruchyahana share this opinion: Traditional charity erodes the nature of people and the fabric of society. When giveaways permeate, they communicate a clear message: What you lack, I provide. Where you are weak, I am strong. When you can’t, I can. It’s a bad message, preventing people from hearing the better message from their Creator:I made you to make. I designed you to design. You are blessed to bless others. When charity runs its course—as it has in many places in Rwanda, Haiti and elsewhere—it lures the poor with handouts and traps them on unneeded life support. But that’s why Timothy got out of that business. He saw its destructive path and cut the cord before it strangled.

Today he anchors his work on who people are created to be and what we are designed to do. He doesn’t lure with goodies. Instead, he demands hard work from those he serves. People like Rachel. I saw the future of Rwanda in her. Rachel showed me the house she built and the 16 pigs she purchased over the past two years. She showed me the litters of piglets she’s bred and the piles of fertilizer she sells. But Rachel isn’t filling her barns for herself. I asked her what her dreams are and she said, “The greatest joy of these pigs is that I am now able to share with my church and with others.”


Rachel


Rachel didn’t beg for cash or stoop in compliance. She stood tall as a confident merchant, wife and mother. She did not avert her gaze. Her eyes were strong and generous. Rachel wasn’t the product of charity. She simply knew who she was created to be.

Originally posted at Smorgasblurb.

Christian Shoddy is Still Shoddy

A tense cloud hovered above the desk that separated us. Meeting in an aging office building in a small Romanian town,  Dorian articulated a troubling reality about his organization: Nobody liked it.

I was in Romania to find a good microfinance organization. Friends of HOPE funded an exploratory trip to determine whether Romania would be a good place for us to expand. With a presence nearby in Ukraine, Russia and Moldova; Romania was a natural next step for our expansion. Traveling the country by train for three months, I met with dozens of leaders to learn more about the needs of entrepreneurs  and about the current resources that were available to them in their country. It was largely encouraging, but my meeting with Dorian gave me pause.

Dorian aired many grievances about his clients. His organization planned business training sessions and no clients show up. They offered business loans, but very few paid them back. They offered consulting services, but nobody was buying. Their clients didn't like or value their products. That reality would normally prompt sympathy from me, not frustration. But I felt much more of the latter because of his closing remarks:

We're sad that nobody is showing up for our training sessions or paying back their loans, but you know, we're telling them about Jesus. And that's all that truly matters.

Dorian's comments contained a semblance of truth. I believe wholeheartedly that we need to share Jesus with those we serve. And in that light, Dorian's enthusiasm about the gospel is admirable. But that's where my agreement with him stops.

Slapping an ichthus on a jug of spoiled milk does not honor God. Searing a cross on a hamburger doesn't make it taste like filet mignon. I don't care how "Christian" your school is; if all your students fail, I'm not sending my kid there. We serve a God who created an earth that holds its axis and planets that hold their orbit. God articulated a breathtaking and precise blueprint for his tabernacle. And our God instructs us to do likewise, commanding we do our work with excellence.

 

 

Dorian spoke as if creating a substandard product was honoring to God simply because of the words he spoke. But Christian shoddy is still shoddy. Our creator demonstrated superb taste and strong attention to detail in his craftsmanship. When we ignore the needs of our customers, treat them with disdain and "ichthus-wash" it with spirituality, we do not reflect the full nature of our creator.

 

Originally posted at Smorgasblurb.
Photo: 
Johan Koolwaaij

Rags to Riches and Back to Rags Again

I love a good rags-to-riches story.

Sam “Walmart” Walton sold magazines and milked cows in small-town Oklahoma before building the world’s biggest company. Howard Schultz forged his place in American folklore by brewing the coffee shop movement after a hand-to-mouth childhood in Brooklyn’s worst neighborhood. They each made the leap from obscurity to prominence. Mired in adversity, they clawed their way to triumph. But it is a grand charade to suggest that riches alone are better than rags.

Success is a fickle concept.

We treat it like a GPS destination. Kick the car in gear, turn right at the T, and pull into the driveway after the rusty garage. Follow this route and you will surely arrive. But success looks nothing like a script. And it can be deceiving. He had everything a man could want or imagine, I muse. But with success, you can’t know it when you see it.

 

“I’ve gone from village to palace,” exclaimed Ashok Khade.

Born in a mud hut without much food, Ashok’s childhood was like a very long walk up a very steep hill. As part of the “untouchables” caste, the lowest of Indian classes, his future was destined to look like his father’s—a grueling life spent cleaning sewers or sweeping streets. But Ashok’s story unfolds just like Sam Walton’s. He studied hard, worked tirelessly and bootstrapped his oil business into a $100M Indian powerhouse.

Ashok arrived. He traded in his rickshaw for a beamer. The oil tycoon now stays at 5-star hotels, adorns his mother with opulent gold jewelry and makes deals with sheiks from Abu Dhabi. The journalist pronounced Ashok’s concluding verdict: “The untouchable boy had become golden, thanks to the newest god in the Indian pantheon: money.”

From a mud shack to the presidential suite, Ashok followed the roadmap to success. And he arrived. He now revels in his wealth, indulging in the finest of luxuries, hoarding his wealth and “living the dream.” But, Ashok has simply gold-plated the chains of poverty.

Ashok should listen to the sage advice of his forbearer. John Rockefeller, also a peasant-turned-oilman, bemoaned, “I have made many millions, but they have brought me no happiness.” At the peak of his success, Rockefeller topped the charts as the wealthiest person in the world. He had no equal. If success were a map, he would be the mapmaker. But, Rockefeller mourned what we are afraid to admit: Success has nothing to do with prosperity. You can indulge in every luxury and still hate waking up in the morning.

Yet we keep peddling the empty promise that a life of prosperity will soothe the wounds of the heart. It won’t. Rockefeller knew it and it shouldn’t surprise Ashok that his newfound riches are like whitewashed tombs.

There is a rags-to-riches story I love more than the rest, however. It is a story of a poor shepherd boy abandoned by his brothers and sold into the hands of a royal Egyptian family. Thrown in jail for years, the poor farmhand persevered and wrote his rags-to-riches story, advancing from the fields to the royal suite.

Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command. – Genesis 41:41-43

From sheering sheep to gracing the throne of the modern world, it was in ancient Egypt where we see rags-to-riches in its purest form. Joseph knew he was not blessed simply to surround himself with frond-waving servants and Egyptian delicacies. He was blessed to bless. “And all the world came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe everywhere.” (vs. 57) It was from this position of power and wealth that Joseph rescued the whole world on the brink of collapse.

From poverty to generosity: A true rags-to-riches story.
Originally posted at Smorgasblurb

The Best Broken System

There is a subtle, but at times blatant, message which has flowed from the pulpits and lecterns in our churches and universities. The message is this: Our world is increasingly poor, accelerated primarily by the rise of global capitalism and its chief culprit, “big business.”

An anthology of leading Christian thinkers described capitalist economies as a tyranny. The authors went further to indict capitalist economies as wholly “antithetical to the gospel.” One of the contributors, Marcelo Vargas, did not guise his critique:

In the beginning, [it] appeared to be a blessing, but it is a blessing that has been transformed into a curse.

It is really easy to throw stones at capitalism. Vargas and others cite stories of ruthless sweat shops, unbridled consumerism, Ponzi schemes, extreme income inequality, and gluttonous Wall Street executives. There are undeniable flaws, abuses and inequalities within our current economic system. However, if you are at all concerned about the poor; then this system is absolutely the best one we’ve got.

In spite of its flaws, many of which are heinous, the increasingly connected global marketplace is undeniably the best broken system–and its positive impact on the lives of the poor far exceed any system we have seen in our world’s history. The problem with many of the sweeping condemnations of capitalism is that they castigate capitalism based on its villains rather than by its record.

The most critical measure of success, a literal “life or death” statistic, is one that examines whether the world’s most vulnerable have escaped extreme poverty. To that point, and contrary to what many of the its loudest critics proclaim, extreme global poverty has been cut in half over the past 25 years and opportunities for the poor to progress have grown exponentially.

Source: 2009 World Development Indicators, World Bank

In a recent theology conference at Wheaton College, theologians Dr. Brian Walsh & Dr. Sylvia Keesmat described capitalism as “crucifixion economics” and went on to say that “Greater prosperity for [the United States] or its rich neighbors…will not and cannot result in a more peaceful planet.” They slammed global markets and encouraged Christians to withdraw, suggesting that when the rich get the richer, the poor will surely get poorer. I guess my question is this: Just who is being crucified in our current global system? Over 1.4 billion people have escaped extreme poverty over the past 25 years.

Global capitalism has provided unprecedented opportunities for innovative economic development and transformative missions.  Tens of millions of families have escaped extreme poverty on its back. Professor, Hans Rosling, statistician extraordinaire, articulates this progress beautifully in this four minute clip–illuminating that by every measure (child mortality, life expectancy, etc.), enormous progress has been made.

On the flip side, Rosling’s data highlights that the poor in the countries which have chosen to practice an anti-capitalist economic models (e.g., North Korea, Cuba) have not fared as well as they have in capitalist and pseudo-capitalist (e.g., China) economies. Even Fidel Castro admitted the failure of his system just two months ago, when he said, “The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore.” The poor in emerging capitalist economies like Rwanda and India have a different story to tell, as millions have bootstrapped their way out of extreme poverty.

Collectively, we have two options: We can vilify capitalism till the end of days, or, we can be citizens of redemption–salt and light–bringing healing to the brokenness which exists in our current broken system while also being honest about its incredible successes. We can start and run “best of class” global businesses, provide entrepreneurial opportunities to the poor, invest in businesses which do things right, and give generously to the vulnerable. This is the message which should resound from our pulpits and lecterns.
Originally posted at Smorgasblurb.

Air India Sticks it to the Poor

Over the past eight days, I boarded thirteen separate flights as I hopped across the Asian continent. I spent the most time in India. Actually, I spent time in “both Indias,” a phrase my Indian colleagues used. I visited the skyscraper-heavy financial district in Mumbai and met families in slums nearby. I drove past the most expensive house in the world and walked through one of the world’s poorest shantytowns. Both Indias.

As a connoisseur  of fine airlines (e.g., Southwest, my favorite), India’s airlines impressed me. I flew Jet Airways several times and they did everything right: Prompt departures, quick boarding, no fees, and friendly service. It was hard to believe this upstart airline didn’t exist just seven years ago. Actually, seven years ago, there was only one airline in the country: Air India.

Air India – Source: iFreshNews

Until 2005, the Indian government held a monopolistic stranglehold on the aviation industry. Air India was the only show in town. And it was a really bad show. Prices were sky-high, service was terribly low and Air India consistently lagged in innovation. It is a classic story of government-intervention-gone-wrong.

The real victim of Air India’s failure, however, was the poor. Not only could they not afford to fly, but they also were continually forced to bail out the floundering “business.” As taxpayers, they were on the hook for Air India’s failure. Created under the auspices of “protecting the Indian people,” Air India did exactly the opposite. The vitriol for the company by the people of India is apparent. On my final flight home, I thumbed through the pages of The Telegraph, an Indian newspaper. The editorial title about the airline summarized the country’s sentiment: “A long, sordid and pathetic tale of failure.”

Riddled with inefficiencies and waste, Air India was actually crippled while I was in the country. The entire staff has gone two months without salaries and they were on strike last week. The editorial reviled in the failures of the airline, noting for example, that they recently purchased new planes without doing any price negotiation whatsoever with the manufacturers.

Jet Airways and a handful of other upstart airlines like IndiGo and Spicejet are charting a different and refreshing course, however. Led by aggressive Indian entrepreneurs, these budget airlines deliver on their promise to customers. And, they bring abounding opportunity to the poor. The data doesn’t lie: Since 2005, air traffic in India has tripled, fare prices have dropped dramatically and the quality of service has increased.

 

I’m an admitted believer in the power of entrepreneurship and the free markets.

While not without its warts, I’ve argued that capitalism is the “best broken system” for the most vulnerable in our world. There is a role for government in helping the poor, but Air India illuminates that sometimes the best social service they can do for the poor is unleash the Indian entrepreneur to be the solution. Jet Airways, IndiGo and SpiceJet are up for the challenge; and the world is opening up to low-income Indians as a result. SpiceJet’s motto says it all, “Flying for Everyone.”

 Originally posted at Smorgasblurb.

The Tragedy of Soviet Apartment Buildings

Perhaps the most enduring symbol of the Soviet experiment is their architecture. During the spring of 2007, I lived in an oft-forgotten corner of Romania, working to expand HOPE’s work into the country. As with all former Soviet republics, Romania’s cities are filled with massive apartment blocks, exemplified in this picture which was taken from the window of the apartment where I lived.

Galati 040
Romanian Apartment Block

 

They aren’t pretty. These concrete, gray monstrosities line every street, each one in a different state of disrepair. Not only do they blight these communities, but it also made navigating Romanian cities a nightmare (try finding your apartment when all the buildings are carbon-copies of one another).

The shared common space of the buildings was disastrous. The façade, lobbies, and stairwells –the commons–were always in terrible condition. The interesting thing about these buildings was that once you reached the door of the apartments, the “home” began. Inside, many of the apartments were actually quite nice, though you’d never know it from the outside.

The Communist regime built these concrete palaces but did a poor job (read: terrible) of maintaining them. Individuals buy the apartments within the building, but not the building itself. As a result, nobody maintains the lobbies, the landscaping or the exterior walls. Individual apartment owners simply fend for themselves, meaning the majority of urban Romanians live in ugly housing. The Romanian government proved time-and-again that it was a terrible landlord.

Under Communist systems, the government serves owns the real estate. The tragedy of the commons is just one of a litany of Communism’s fatal flaws.  We see glimpses of this economics reality every day in simple things like the way we drive rental cars (versus our own cars) and in the condition of dormitory bathrooms. Successful economic systems take the tragedy of the commons seriously, acknowledging that when “everyone owns it, nobody does.”

[colored_box color=”grey”]Bonus Conversation: Join the conversation over at Reddit, where this article has generated nearly 50 comments so far.[/colored_box]

[colored_box color=”green”]Sound Off: Do you care for things that aren’t yours… like a rental car or a dormitory bathroom? How do you solve the “when everyone owns it, nobody does” problem? Let us know in the comments.[/colored_box]

Photo: fourstory.org

Cocaine Charity

My friend, Brian, recently returned from a missions trip to Kenya. He led a group of youth as they supported their Kenyan partner church ministry for two weeks. The Kenyan ministry’s focus was HIV positive mothers in its very poor slum community. They provided food, money, prayer and helped their children—demonstrating the love of Christ in word and deed. Brian and the youth group dove in. They spread the news of the church’s ministry into the neighboring communities.

A week into the trip, Brian had a stirring, even haunting, realization. This Kenyan ministry had become “the cocaine of its community.” He shared candidly with me that these mothers were completely dependent upon the charity, and indirectly on Brian’s church which funded it. Instead of working, these capable women would sit every day at the door of the charity, waiting for the free distributions. As a result, their children saw their moms time-and-again not as providers, but as placid receivers.

The more I study, the more I discover how different the biblical prescription of charity is from my own. Consider gleaning. God’s people were not commanded to harvest the fields fully and give a tithe of their grain away, but rather to leave portions of the fields unharvested. Doing so provided the poor, the widows and the foreigners with meaningful work, sustenance and on-the-spot vocational training. And gleaning was a command for all business owners, not just the wheat farmers.

When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. (Deut 24:20-21)

I believe we have misinterpreted God’s commands to help the poor. Jewish scholars state that woven through the Torah is an understanding that “not all charity is created equal.” They cite that “the greatest level [of charity], above which there is no greater, is to support a fellow Jew by endowing him with a gift or loan, or entering into a partnership with him, or finding employment for him, in order to strengthen his hand until he need no longer be dependent upon others.”

Does this prescription align with the majority of our charitable endeavors? Brian had deep respect that this Kenyan ministry served the “least of these.” But, was this charity in alignment with the biblical model of charity? Were they helping these women…

  1. To no longer need to receive charity?
  2. Experience the dignity of honest work?
  3. Enjoy the blessing of providing for their children?
  4. Know the joy of giving charitably to others?

In fairness, there are times when the only appropriate response is to freely give things away. The Haiti earthquake and support to the disabled are examples of such. But, barring such exceptions, our long-term aim should always be to help in a way which frees recipients of the need for our charity, “so that they might help others in need” (Eph. 4:28). Well-intentioned charity devoid of this goal can lead to unhealthy dependency, it can strip parents of their God-given role as providers, and, as Brian saw in Kenya, it can lead to addiction.

Unlocking Cuban Creativity

Cuban

At first glance, the article reads like a first-hand account of a post-disaster country: “Streets once devoid of commerce in towns like this and in Havana are gradually coming to life…” The scene Victoria Burnett described in her New York Times article was not of a country recovering from a natural disaster or civil war. Instead, it depicted her journey through Cuba, a country whose people have been reawakened. She experienced the buzz of vibrant entrepreneurship: Unshuttered storefront windows, machinery re-tuned and whirring along till late in the night, rich smells of freshly-ground coffee beans, and the hum and excitement of restaurateurs promoting their newly-minted menus.

Cuba gives us a real-time snapshot into the spirit of innovation. For decades, unrealized dreams and untapped abilities were locked within the failed Cuban socialist system. The government-imposed chains have now been cut loose. In a move of genuine humility (at best) or desperate self-preservation (at worst), Cuban leaders have admitted that the Cuban people are better positioned than their government to innovate and to address their country’s problems.

The Cuban rebirth unearths the soul of HOPE International’s work. At the core, we believe that God—the innovator of the solar systems, mountain ranges, and human emotion—has planted a glimmer of his creativity in us. When given the opportunity to do so, people will put that gift to work. Architects, chefs, artists, entrepreneurs, electricians, florists, educators and scientists each apply their God-given creativity in uniquely profound ways. Now, for the first time in decades, Cubans have the chance to do the same.

Photo source: Jose Goitia, The New York Times

Our role as those with abundance is to do more than solely provide for those in need. Our calling is far greater than providing food for hungry bellies and medicine for sick bodies. We are surely called to do these things, but also called to unleash the God-given creativity of those in need. To fuel the imaginings of those without the privilege of exercising their creative muscles.

As I watch Cubans taking small steps toward these ends, my spirit is energized. Tomorrow, I will fly to another Caribbean nation – the Dominican Republic. While there, I will observe the fruits of Dominican innovation. I will feast on slow-cooked and fantastically-marinated rice and beans, enjoy the sweetness of freshly-harvested fruit smoothies, and perhaps purchase a bottle of home-brewed shampoo. I will meet entrepreneurs who are using the abilities and engaging the dreams which God has sowed within them. The Dominican economy and its people are flourishing. Let’s hope Cuba is right behind them.