The Case of the Vanishing Orphanage

“You are the first American group to ever visit our community.” Simon’s words sent chills through the missions team that had ventured to his remote Kenyan village. It was a risk to come to such an isolated place, but its undiscovered magnetism was also its allure. Their arrival was a momentous step in a long journey.

Several years earlier, Simon* met these Colorado church leaders at a John Piper conference. They had an immediate kinship. It was hard not to love Simon: He was eminently likeable, oozing charisma with each handshake and smile. Now in Kenya, after months of careful planning, they had finally arrived. As their bus labored up the dusty driveway, the orphanage they knew only by pictures came to life.

The orphanage looked like many like it in Africa: A fenced-in compound with simply-constructed dormitories and classrooms. The zenith of the complex wasn’t its buildings, however. It was the 200 smiling children which greeted the visitors with hoots of delight when their bus arrived. The trip unfolded in typical fashion. The Coloradans spent their days playing with orphans, seizing photo opps, and dreaming with Simon about ways their church could help the orphanage flourish.

“The Vanishing Orphanage”

 The trip rattled stereotypes and collided cultures. Simon orchestrated the trip with clockwork precision, his robust leadership skills firing on all cylinders throughout the week.  As the trip came to a close, the bus drove the team away.  The children chased their bus, wrenching the emotions of even the group’s most stoic members. Hearts full, the team flew home, now well-equipped to share their stories of helping orphaned children and exploring uncharted places.

Despite the many positive moments throughout the week, there were unnerving whisperings among the group. It was strange the teachers didn’t know many of the orphans’ names. It seemed overly-controlling when Simon prohibited them from visiting the neighboring village unaccompanied. Also odd, the orphanage lacked a garden, which is like an Alaskan lacking a snow shovel: The fertile soil can give anyone a green thumb. These quiet whisperings slowly unfolded into loud gasps, and then into protests, and then into many tears, when the group returned to visit Simon’s orphanage just one year later.

On their return trip—one which almost mirrored their previous trip—a team member, Dan, stayed around after the team departed for the States. On his own, Dan journeyed from the Nairobi airport back to the orphanage on a scout mission to investigate the team’s concerns. As he arrived in the village and walked toward the orphanage, a woman approached him, grabbed his arm, and amplified the whisperings.

“Just so you know,” she shared solemnly, “the orphanage is not real.”

Dan, panged with a haunting feeling of betrayal, trekked from the village to the orphanage, hoping to disprove her. He arrived at the place where he played with smiling children just one day earlier. His eyes confirmed the woman’s words: The place was deserted. The yard where the children used to run and play? Nothing remained apart from the lonely debris which bounced with the wind across the red clay earth. The sleeping quarters? Empty. The cafeteria? Vacant. No workers, no orphans, no supplies, no anything. The orphanage had vanished. It was all a mirage.

In truth, the Colorado church was not the first American group to visit Simon’s community. In fact, many churches from across the US and Canada were privy to Simon’s deceitful wooing over the years. His highly-sophisticated web of lies featured faux staff, rented children (he pitched it to their parents as a day camp), and staged arrests (always resulting in generous bail outs by the visitors). All told, this Madoffesque charity scheme collectively defrauded these churches of tens of thousands of dollars. More disappointing, it tainted many wonderful memories and fertilized the unhealthy seeds of cynicism and close-heartedness.

 

My first response to Simon’s elaborate scam was eye-rolling distrust.

This type of story can cultivate skepticism, prompting us to pull back. But it doesn’t have to. It does not mandate that we retreat. In the face of even unbearable trials, Jesus prods us to advance, but to do so with eyes wide open:

Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.
–Matthew 10: 16

Jesus’ instructions to his disciples preceded their harrowing journey to bring the good news to the world. He knew their path would be lined with hardship. Still, he sent them out, charging them to be as shrewd as they were innocent. Abounding in compassion, but not the undiscerning kind. Go to Kenya, but send back a scout if you sense something is amiss. Pour out generosity, but do so discriminately, taking Jesus’ instructions as your marching orders. Love abundantly, but always ask hard questions.

Jesus sends us out. No retreat. No close fists. No bitterness. Go boldly, shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.

*Names changed to protect confidentiality.

Originally posted at Smorgasblurb.

Real Change in America: Our Time is Now

[alert style=”info”]Ed. note: Today we have an amazing guest post from Andrew Dymski. Check out his company, GuavaBox, or follow him on Twitter. Enjoy the article and let us know your thoughts in the comments. [/alert]

 

A variety of emotions, stringing from anger to apathy, blaze through my heart, while my head struggles to make everything add up. This morning I sit and contemplate the results of the election with an element of clarity slowly emerging in my puzzled mind. I realize that I’m not afraid of four more years with the same leader as the last four. We are Americans and we fight on toward another day.

No, my fear was for our beloved American experiment in freedom and liberty for man. Could she survive four more years with the citizenry that would elect that platform to power? The curtain is about to be lifted on this act of our great American story. My fears are settled by the hope that we as American men of faith play a role in the plot.

 

The torch of freedom rests in our hands.

To preserve her, we must take her message to our heart, families, and communities. We cannot rely on our elected officials to provide for our every need and security for us and for our families.

For real change to dawn on America, Americans must change. This change will not be the result of force and submission, but that of Christ-like love. Americans must be marked by a love that lifts up one’s neighbor and strengthens the bonds of family. We, as Christian men, through Christ, are the instruments of this change, and there is a lot of work to be done.

 

Now is our time to work.

I believe there are three areas where we must begin to work like never before. Our work will not be glamorous, but it will be real.

It begins in our hearts. God has called us to quiet our hearts and seek His face. With humble hearts, we must commit to knowing Him more deeply, asking God to show us where we can grow as men.

Next we must get to work in our homes, to take care of our families or prepare for the future. Owe no man a dime. Take an inventory of your life and your spending. Prune where necessary; this will be painful, but it will also spawn fruitful growth. Tithe if you haven’t. Start working toward paying off your credit card debt. With debts paid off, we have room to start saving for a day of trial.

Stock up on the essentials, enough for a few days, weeks, and eventually months. We can look no further than the storms of Katrina and Sandy to know that the faith that we placed in our federal, state, and local government is unearned and unworthy.  We must prepare to care for our family and offer assistance to our neighbors in these hard times.

If married, bring your family together around the table. We must know each other better. Young lives are shaped around that table, in laughter and in tears. I cherish the many nights with my father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, and siblings where we heard stories of family history and gained a deep perspective on faith in Christ.

Third, we must begin to invest into our community. Dig deeper into your church family and find ways to give back. Join a civic group that gives back to your community like our dads and granddads did before us.  Seek out older mentors when available and don’t be afraid of leadership positions for we learn by doing. God calls us to love, and therefore to know, our neighbors. In times of trial, we rely on each other for support and safety.

 

Real change will not be brought to America by campaign slogans, politicians, or yet another government program. Republican or democrat leadership; it doesn’t matter. You bring real change and I bring real change. Change is brought to one life, one loving act of grace at a time. It won’t always make us feel warm and fuzzy on the inside, but it is the right thing to do.

The world isn’t looking toward us, men. We have been passed by as an old-fashioned and inferior by the media, by the feminist movement, and by our post-modern culture. Yet, as men, our role is the same: to lead and to serve. It is our duty to stand our post and defend the dignity of the individual- the dignity that rests in the reality that we are fearfully and wonderfully made and known by God. As men, we hold fast to this call, not out of fear, but out of love. I challenge you to ask yourself this simple question: if not me, then who?

Our time is now.

[alert style=”success”] Sound Off: What are you doing as a man to create real change? Let us know in the comments below. [/alert]

American Apparel vs. Western Union

This isn’t your typical ill-fitting tee shirt. It’s American Apparel. 

As an owner of two American Apparel tees, I can affirm these shirts fit well. We know they fashion comfortable garb, but we also know their clothes are “crafted with pride in the USA.”

Out of the limelight, a financial services company lurks in mystery. We see Western Union signs everywhere, but I’m guessing like me, you’ve never been a customer. Earlier this year, I pitched TOMS Shoes vs. Whole Foods in a corporate do-gooder analysis. Today’s matchup? American Apparel vs. Western Union.

American Apparel

Activists flock to American Apparel (AA) products, drawn to their fashion-forward designs and ethical business practices. AA lauds how they “pioneer industry standards of social and environmental responsibility in the workplace.” They pay their factory workers well and give back to Los Angeles, their home city. They construct quality products.

If that was the whole story, I would hail their greatness. But it’s not. They do some things well, but their problems plunge deeper than even the deepest of their v-neck man tees.

Frankly, the more I learn about American Apparel, the less I like. As a person of faith, I find AA’s blatant disregard for decency appalling. The New York Times described their marketing as “sexually charged.” AA categorizes it as “provocative.” It’s sadly ironic they are a clothing company because their ads feature very little of it. This edginess appeals to their  customers, but it isn’t winsome. It’s willfully vulgar. “Controversial as [our marketing] may be, we’ll continue to give our core audience what they crave,” their website flaunts.

Their (lack of) corporate values start at the top. Founder and CEO, Dov Charney is a real class-act. He’s called the “Hugh Hefner of retailing, decorating his stores with covers of Penthouse magazine” and he shamelessly and unapologetically exploits his female employees. Call me a prude, but I think AA cheapens women. From their leadership to their marketing, AA distills the value of women down to their dimensions. And that, to me, flies in the face of good American business and true social responsibility.

Speaking of being American, their worshiped manufacturing process drips with arrogance. I believe in free markets and believe healthy market economies are the “best broken system” to continue to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty globally. AA positions their advertising as if the only way to run an ethical company is to hire American laborers. It’s not. That’s bad economics and it flies in the face of great global companies like Gap and Apple that use global manufacturing facilities to create great jobs in developing countries.

It’s fine for companies to tout their Americanism–and for consumers to buy local–but don’t suggest companies which do otherwise are villains. This protectionist tone incites Americans (both progressives and conservatives, which baffles me on both counts, but that’s another topic) against our global neighbors. Since when is helping provide jobs for poor people in other countries unAmerican (or unChristian, for that matter)?

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Western Union

Western Union pops up in the worst places. Their outlets populate seamy strip malls and dimly lit corner stores. I associate these Western Union outlets with pawn shops, money lenders and liquor stores, retailers that victimize on the chronic poverty found in these neighborhoods. While it may have been fair to accuse Western Union of this twenty years ago, it isn’t any longer.

On an evening drive recently, I did a quick stop at Western Union with my friend Clarisse, a Congolese refugee. We pulled up to a gas station and she jumped out. A minute later, she slid back in the car. Transaction complete: She had just sent $50 to her aging mother in Brazzaville, Congo. That $50 was her mother’s only income that week.

Later in the evening, her mom called. The money had arrived. Today, over $200 million will change hands though over one million transactions, just like the $50 Clarisse sent to her mom. Western Union sustains families through these transactions. In Haiti, over half of the national income comes through these transactions–––remittances–––and has been a lifeblood for millions of struggling families. They’re safely transmitting billions of dollars to and from remote places like Congo, Somalia and Laos. And, they’re doing so with transparency in their pricing.

They have outlets in every country in the entire world. They treat and pay their 7,000 employees well. And, they give generously, granting over $70M to innovative nonprofits that “connect families with economic opportunity,” aligning closely with the heartbeat of Western Union’s core business. These agencies include many top microfinance organizations (before you think I’m biased, they haven’t given to HOPE yet, but hopefully someday!). Western Union understands their unique contribution to the world–––safely transmitting money globally between loved ones–and they promote human flourishing through the opportunities they create.

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The Verdict

It is a charade to claim American Apparel is a socially conscious company. They quietly erode the worth of women and loudly abhor real American values. Still, Christians line up  to print their graphics on these “ethically manufactured” tees. In contrast, Western Union makes the world a dramatically better place for poor families with very little fanfare. This match-up isn’t even a contest: Western Union scores a first-round knockout.

[box_info]Sound Off: Do you agree or disagree? What is your stance on American Apparel’s advertising. Let us know in the comments. Want another corporate showdown? Check out TOMS Shoes vs. Whole Foods. [/box_info]

Monday Rundown: Wants an iPhone 5

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It’s Monday, and if you’re new to Quarterlife Man (welcome), you’re new to the Monday Rundown. The Monday Rundown is a compendium of  randomness compiled over the course of each week. Enjoy…

[As always, if you’ve seen something crazy or have a suggestion, email us or tell us on Twitter (@QuarterlifeMan).]

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––Today Begins Apple’s WWDC

Don’t worry if you’re unfamiliar; today is the beginning of Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference. This is the week when Apple makes boys out of men and announces product updates and the like. Per the Apple website: ‘It’s the week we’ve all been waiting for.’

Here are some things to expect and things we’re hoping for:

[fancylist]

  • iOS 6: As usual, an update of the Apple mobile operating system is to be expected. You will probably (and I hope) see enhancements to Siri, the voice-activated “personal assistant” that arrived with the iPhone 4S last fall. There’s also desperate hope for iPad integration.
  • OS X Mountain Lion: What we know it offers… iOS-like Messages, Reminders, Notifications and Game Center, AirPlay Mirroring, and a new security effort called Gatekeeper.
  • New Macbooks: Featuring the slim profile of the Macbook Air. I should’ve waited another year…
  • A NEW IPHONEEEEEE: Come on, baby. For the love of Tim Cook, please give us a new iPhone this fall. There was a fairly convincing video of some supposedly leaked parts that lends credence to the fact that a new iPhone is coming. Here’s a (smart) prediction from ComputerWorld:

[/fancylist]

[box_light]Will Cook really unveil a new iPhone now? If recent history is any indicator, the next iPhone will be unveiled at an event this fall, along with a new iPod and iPod touch. A new iPhone hasn’t been announced at WWDC since theiPhone 4 arrived two years ago, but there’s no better place to give your developers a head start on updating their apps to support a new resolution then to announce it at WWDC.

The catch? Announcing a new iPhone would extinguish current iPhone 4S demand overnight. Unless Apple plans to ship the iPhone within the next few weeks I’m dubious of any announcement. Anything different would kill iPhone sales as everyone waits for the new one, hitting Apple’s bottom line for the quarter.[/box_light]

I don’t care about Apple’s profits. Just give me that darn iPhone 5. #FirstWorldProbz

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––From the pages of ‘things we kinda need’

…I give you the Milkmaid. Check it:

If you’re too lazy to watch the video, you need to realign your priorities. Totally kidding. Maybe? Anyway. This thing tells you how much milk you’ve got left… heck, it even texts you when the milk’s gone bad. How cool is that?

I’m not sure how much I would pay for this… but considering my notorious and laborious milk-drinking habits, this might be needed.

(Courtesy of Future of Technology, via TechCrunch and Gizmodo.)

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––Getting Serious For A Second

[box_light]Don’t believe me that this is coming? The photos that the drones will take may be retained and used or even distributed to others in the government so long as the “recipient is reasonably perceived to have a specific, lawful governmental function” in requiring them. And for the first time since the Civil War, the federal government will deploy military personnel inside the United States and publicly acknowledge that it is deploying them “to collect information about U.S. persons.”

It gets worse. If the military personnel see something of interest from a drone, they may apply to a military judge or “military commander” for permission to conduct a physical search of the private property that intrigues them. Any “incidentally acquired information” can be retained or turned over to local law enforcement. What’s next? Prosecutions before military tribunals in the United States?[/box_light]

That’s an excerpt from an article by Andrew P. Napolitano, a former judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey and the senior judicial analyst at Fox News Channel, regarding the U.S. government’s use of drones to spy on private citizens. Although I don’t know the whole story: how plausible drones are, how soon we could see them, and just who’s privacy would be infringed, I think we can all agree on one thing: spying on Americans is un-American.

Also: After using those Street View snoopers, Google and Apple use planes that can film you sunbathing in your back garden.

#MURRRICA

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––Mister Rogers, Autotuned

This is Mister Rogers remixed by Symphony of Science’s John D. Boswell for PBS Digital Studios. It’s called “Garden of Your Mind” and it’s brilliant:

(**If you like this video, please support your local PBS station.** http://www.pbs.org/donate)

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––Adbusted.

A Hamburg street artist creatively added the Photoshop toolbar to some H&M swim ads in Europe. Genius.

Adbusted

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[box_success]Thanks for reading. Check back next Monday for more of the Rundown and, as always, tweet us (@QuarterlifeMan) if you have any suggestions![/box_success]

Monday Rundown: Is Proud To Be An American

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It’s Monday, and if you’re new to Quarterlife Man (welcome), you’re new to the Monday Rundown. The Monday Rundown is a compendium of  randomness compiled over the course of each week. Enjoy…

[As always, if you’ve seen something crazy or have a suggestion, email us or tell us on Twitter (@QuarterlifeMan).]

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––The future is here.

Check out Leap:

#SoCool. In two days, that video garnered nearly two million views, and one week later, the video sits at over four million views. If you were too lazy to watch the video, Leap essentially uses your natural hand movements to interact with your computer through a small, USB-sized peripheral. Goodbye mouse/trackpad. Goodbye keyboard. It’s all unnecessary.

It’s only $70, too. Order one here and own the future.

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––Learnist: Pinterest for Learning

Learnist

Take a proven success (Pinterest) and add a proven market (81.5 million students in the United States alone). Adapt the concept. Create Learnist.

Learnist is organizing all of the wisdom of mankind in text, images, video and audio, curated by fellow humans for your learning convenience.

The website is currently invite only, but you can request an invite on the Learnist homepage. Read more about Learnist here, too.

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––The Great Gatsby

One of the greatest books of all-time will be in theaters this Christmas:

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––Smartphone Battle:

This is like a cold war for smartphones. According to Mashable, LG’s 5-Inch 1080p display could send Apple’s retina display home crying. This is all, of course, while rumors for the new iPhone have it’s resolution increasing to 640 x 1136 pixels.

Can’t make any sense of it? Neither can we. Then again, you can add to the nonsense with the news that Facebook may launch a smartphone by next year [REPORT].

Maybe it’s time for the Quarterlife Man smartphone?

At least an app?

We’ll see.

(But there’s big news coming.)

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––Proud to be an AMUURRICAN. 

Lee Greenwood, live in 1985. Happy Memorial Day, folks:

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[box_success]Thanks for reading. Check back next Monday for more of the Rundown and, as always, tweet us (@QuarterlifeMan) if you have any suggestions![/box_success]

C. Fred Bergsten is the MAN.

C. Fred Bergsten

My boy C. Fred Bergsten wrote a snippy little op-ed for the New York Times on Wednesday, entitled, “An Overlooked Way to Create Jobs.”

I’ve never met good ‘ole C-Fred before, but part of me thinks we’d be BFFs. All of the clamor these days is surrounding jobs…

“I want a job.”
“Where’s my job?”
“I need work.”
“Screw unions.”

Ok, I added the last one, but you get the idea. What’s more, everyone’s clamoring for jobs and Obama doesn’t have the sorriest clue how to create them.

Enter: C-Fred. Like his rap-worthy name, C-Fred started dropping bombs in the name of job creation. Let’s take a gander… Continue reading “C. Fred Bergsten is the MAN.”