The Starfish Story: An Update

In Dr. Scott Todd’s Hope Rising, the author shares not only the starfish story you may have heard growing up, but two new versions of the tale. Some friends from Fenton, MI, who lead a non-profit called, Till Kingdom Come, recorded me as I told the story and created this video from our recent trip to Haiti. It describes a glimpse of the goals we have on the field:

To financially support the work we do, please visit this site through our sending organization:

The Starfish from Till Kingdom Come on Vimeo.

Hungry Farmers? Absurd! A Talk from Roger Thurow

My favorite book from 2012 is Roger Thurow’s account of his year with a group of Kenyan small holder farmers, “The Last Hunger Season.” The drama proves better than any TV show. Should they save the corn so the family can eat, sell it for school fees, or cover the cost of necessary malaria medicine so their child could recover? Difficult decisions. Great story that illustrates the larger fight against hunger, while also sharing important facts.

Hungry farmers? An oxymoron that’s both absurd and offensive.

I heard Roger share at a ONE Campaign summit last year and instantly became a fan.

Working with the Haitian peopleConnecting Point

Last week in Haiti, I loved the opportunity to work with with a short-term missions teams and small holder farmers as we joined the larger Convoy of Hope plan to help their work. Through Convoy of Hope, we’re experimenting with various seeds, working with them on best practices, and helping them budget for what is next. We empower Haitians who help lead the way. And for a few days, we stood beside farmers and helped them till their garden.

We tilled, moved large rocks and helped with a small but large step in the process. We also circled up with the farmers and others in the community, sang, laughed, ate mangoes and prayed together. Special day.

Here’s an inspiring TEDx Talk from Roger Thurow about The Last Hunger Season and the year he spent with small holder farmers in Kenya.

Haiti’s Starfish Story: Versions 1-3

Dr. Scott Todd shares a classic story with some new twists in, “58 Fast Living: How the Church Will End Extreme Poverty.” Here’s my take on the stories he inspired, with a Haitian twist.

The Starfish story

v. 1

A man walked along the beach and saw a boy throwing starfish into the water. When he learned the boy was “rescuing” the starfish, he said, “The beach is starfishfull of these starfish, there’s no way you could ever rescue them all!” The boy replied, “I know, but I can save this one.”




Organizations around the world seek to help rescue that “one.” Admirable. Jesus went out of His way for the one, so we can too. There’s even an organization, the Starfish Foundation, inspired by this idea.


Prior to the earthquake, Haiti was the most impoverished country in the western hemisphere. Additionally, it housed the highest per capita number of non-profits as people with good intentions served people across the country. Interesting.



v. 2


The man saw the boy take a picture of a starfish with his smart phone then push a few buttons, before throwing the starfish in the water. When the man expressed doubts, the boy replied, “I know, but I just took a photo and Facebooked it, Tweeted it and even Instagrammed it. I’m hoping the need will go viral and people will come and help.” Soon, the beach was full of people who came together and rescued all of the starfish.




The people went back to work and felt good about the deed.


After the Haitian earthquake, the world came together to pray, give and help. Lives were saved, assistance from governments, non-profits and churches arrived, and many received necessary help.


The world went back to work, feeling good about the deeds.


Poverty remained.



v. 3


During version 2’s celebration, a young man stands on the shore weeping as the crowd celebrates. When asked about the tears, he said, “I’m thankful we rescued those starfish, but if we don’t learn why they washed on shore in the first place, they’ll return!”


Sobering. Smart.


We met local people who were working to purify the water coming from this old well in Haiti. They're working hard, and we'll join them.

We met local people who were working to purify the water coming from this old well in Haiti. They’re working hard, and we’ll join them.


In Haiti, people are coming together like never before (imperfectly, to be sure) to begin attacking the roots of her situation. Through Convoy of Hope, farmers are learning techniques to grow stronger crops. Missionary friends are raising up a generation to lead. The non-profits that remain are beginning to move from “relief” mode to “development” mode. The head is starting to catch up with the heart.


More awaits, but Haiti’s on a great path.



In Short-Term Missions:


     1. It’s hard to “rescue” in a week or a month. However, we can come alongside of those attacking the root and walk with them towards progress.
     2. Helping “the one” is great…especially when the help leads them to a more sustainable path.
     3. Heads and hearts working together is a fabulous thing.



What are some ways you’ve seen people work to get to the root of problems?




Why Poverty Exists–in < 400 words

Genesis 3:6-7 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (NIV)


The Bite That Changed History

Sin continues around the world with a tragic ferociousness. The relationships broken that day lead to poverty now.
FruitAs Adam and Eve ate the fruit in the garden, four relationships were simultaneously broken:

-People with God-Sin
-People with each other-Conflict
-People with themselves-Regret & Shame
-People with the earth-Misuse

As Bryant Myers says with great insights in his book, “Walking With the Poor”, all poverty can be traced to one of more of these relationships needing reconciliation. Volumes exist with much more thorough diagnoses, but the root of poverty lies at the spot where sin first occurred.

People with God-As they ate the fruit, they sinned for the first time in human history. Sin often leads to poverty: corruption affects access and opportunity, wrong priorities affect how money is spent and selfishness keep answers in the hands of the greedy.

People with each other-When families live in harmony, they’re much more likely to avert poverty. When conflicts lead to divorce, rebellion, domestic violence and abuse, poverty often emerges.

People with themselves-Addictions, poor choices made with simultaneous guilt and more affect poverty.

People with the earth-I’ve flown over Haiti (brown and dry) and the Dominican Republic (green and lush), two countries that share the island of Hispaniola. Haiti exists with deforestation while the Dominican Republic is lush with growth. This island exists as one of many examples where misuse of God’s resources can lead to poverty. (I must note, Haiti is making great progress in this area…)


What does this mean for Short-Term Missions (STM)? The problems we see won’t be solved overnight, and providing things may bring smiles for a moment, but getting to the root of things takes time and tears…and some kind of reconciliation. Teams can be a part of this process.

So what can STM do in the midst of these broken relationships? Many things which we’ll continue to explore on this site. One important truth for all serving through STMs…reconciliation dwells at the root of poverty alleviation; we’re honored with the opportunity to join in the process.

How have you seen reconciliation lead to people flourishing?


The poor often suffer the most

Earlier this week, Typhoon Bopha, struck the island of Mindanao in the southern part of the Philippines. It went to sea and is now turning back towards the north. This brings back memories of my time on the southern island after a typhoon nearly a year ago. I made this video then (January 2012):

The foundation of a church building that was swept away by the typhoon.

I noticed something tragic, that I had read in 58: Fast Living, How the Church Will End Extreme Poverty, but was seeing up close: the poor suffered the most. Of the nearly 2000 people who died in last year’s typhoon, virtually all of them lived in weak homes along a river bank. In fact, I couldn’t get a good photo, but a view from a bridge helped me see that not only did they build in cheap land along a river, but along a curve in the river. When the typhoon came, and the river rose, it didn’t turn at the curve and wiped out thousands.

There were strong houses built on the ridge above the river, where the middle and upper class people could only watch in horror, with no ability to help.I don’t know all of the solutions…but I know that poverty is the top indicator of injury or death in the midst of a natural tragedy.

Praying today for those affected by Bopha, for our Convoy of Hope staff in the Philippines as they respond, and that God will give all insight as to key strategies in the fight on behalf of the world’s poorest people


Beyond pity to offense

I grew up watching Sally Struthers standing in the midst of tragic poverty, talking about how we can make a difference. Remember commercials like this?

I felt pity.

I’m thankful Sally helped make the USA aware of needs around the world, but my perspective has grown.

Page one of the Bible says, “So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:27, NIV).
I’ve heard the “Image of God” truth my entire life, but have paid more attention to it recently:

1. We can have relationship with Him.
2. When in relationship with Him, we can speak up on His behalf. Not that we always do so accurately…but we have that opportunity.
3. We’re created with creativity and uniqueness.
4. We are precious to Him.


The children Sally holds are precious to Him as well…and because I’m in relationship with Him (1) and can speak up on His behalf (2), I want to use whatever creativity He’s given me (3) to share this…

I’m offended.


Each starving child is His creation, and we as humans are neglecting that creation. Offensive.
He created those being trafficked with a desire to show them abundant life, but they’re being treated as less than human. Offensive.
Today, 21,000 will die of preventable diseases often related to unclean water or malnutrition, but Christians around the world aren’t yet doing enough about it. How can humans treat His creation with such neglect and carelessness? I’m offended.
If you painted something beautiful for me (as God has created those children) and I tore it up (as humans neglect and hurt those children), some would be sad that I’m missing out on that gift you’ve given, but all would be offended at my treatment of something precious and thoughtful from you. I’m offended at the way His creation is forced to live.
On their behalf I still feel some sense of pity*, but on His behalf I feel offense.

(This site is filled with thoughts on what to do about it.)



*The feeling of pity towards them has morphed as well, but I’ll share thoughts on that another day.

10 things for which I’m thankful…a not so traditional list

Over the last decade, I’ve seen more of the world than I dreamed possible. It’s opened my eyes to things for which I’m thankful…things I never considered until the “around the world with Jesus” life began…here are some real examples:

arsenic in water can cause sores

arsenic in water can cause sores

1. I’m thankful I don’t have sores on my legs because of arsenic in my water supply.

2. I’m thankful we have enough food on our table so we don’t have to consider whether or not to sell a family member to those who might hurt them in order to pay for food for others in the family.

3. I’m thankful that when I go home I don’t worry about anyone in my family threatening me because of my belief system.

4. I’m thankful that every single night of my 38-year-old life I’ve had adequate shelter…in the midst of snow/ice/intense heat/wind/crazy storms and more. Every night.

5. I’m thankful I’ve never had to look in trash piles for food.

6. I’m thankful the Bible is translated into the language in which I think, dream and speak.

7. I’m thankful for the Church and amazing people around the world who care about those in need so much it’s moved them to help those in their own communities…people like Pastor Jose, Sascha, Raul, Pastor Paul, Pastor Boris and my pastor,Rick.

8. I’m thankful for people who care about others so much they’ve left home to live in the midst of those in need to offer help and hope. This year alone I’ve worked with Jason & Kristi, Duane & Lori, Karl & Ann, Dustin & Natalie, Larry, Bryan & Kim and others.

9. I’m thankful for people who partner with us so we can do what we believe we’re supposed to be doing.

10. I’m thankful that in a few hours, I’ll sit with a family I love and enjoy a fabulous meal (and good coffee…)

Fear & no fear in Kathmandu

templeIn addition to the Buddhist temples referenced yesterday, we visited one of the world’s most famous Hindu temples, Pashupatinath Temple, the most famous temple to lord Shiva.  Thousands of people from around the world pass through these 1500+ years old temple grounds on their pilgrimage to find enlightenment, peace, and answers to prayer. Holy men live in caves up river and seek peace and inner depth.                                        

bagmatiriverOf the many Hindu beliefs, people believe that if they die with their feet in a holy river (a river that empties into the Ganges, such as Katmandu’s Bagmati), they’ll go straight to Nirvana. Because of this, there’s a home for the dying a few yards from the river—a hospice of sorts. 


Here’s the Bagmati River.  We sat in silence while watching family members carry deceased loved ones to the banks of the river. We found it hard to process watching the cremation of three precious people. The still burning remains from one such cremation is shown here.                   

Because Hindus fear the afterlife, there are many sacrifices made to appease the 300,000,000 various Hindu gods. We watched priests and followers perform “puja” as people sought things like a good afterlife for deceased loved ones, fertility, finances, etc. We watched men slaughter a goat and offer it as a sacrifice to the god Shiva. I’ll spare a photo of the goat, but here’s where it died moments before this was taken.sadus


 There was a lot of silence the day we visited these temple. It helped us understand Nepal and the people. It helped us understand the history and holidays. It helped us understand the Nepali’s sincere quest for truth and hope, and the fear that accompanies that quest.


I’m so glad that Jesus isn’t the author of fear, but instead of love, power and a sound mind.


We also went to church. We loved church. We sang and worshipped and prayed and felt hope and peace and joy. We really liked church.goatblood



So what were we doing there? That comes tomorrow…shannonsfriend



More than just spinning wheels in Nepal

_faceI’m in Nepal.

Fascinating. Old worldish. Beautiful. Religious. Smiling. Like nowhere on Earth.

This country is between the world’s two largest: India and China. Still, it’s never been conquered. Nepal is tough, powerful, proud, kind, and when necessary, fierce. I love it here.

Over the next week or so, I’ll share some thoughts, experiences, and insights I’ve gained during my time in this place.

I’ll also share about our Convoy of Hope interns who are in the midst of some incredible and important work.

First I wanted to share a bit about the country’s religious history. It’s an intersection of two of the world’s largest religions—Buddhism and Hinduism (with many Muslims as well). _monkeyThe founder of Buddhism was a Nepali man. The country is next to Tibet and contains numerous Buddhist Stupas (temples). Approximately 10% of the people are Buddhist and about 80% Hindu (about 1% are Christian). I’m learning that the Buddhist faith makes room for other beliefs and so often Buddhism/Hinduism are combined in various ways across Nepal.

With hopes of better understanding the Nepali people, we visited two of their largest Buddhist temples, the Boudhanath Stupa and the Swayambhunath Temple, also known as the Monkey Temple. At the Bouodhanath Stupa we saw thousands of people walking around the large statue of Buddha (and many smaller statues), spinning prayer wheels, burning incense, and offering sacrifices.

While the religion would take much more than a blog entry to explain, one element is their belief that the more prayers they pray the better off they’ll be in this life and their next. Hence, spinning these prayer wheels means (among other things) they’re praying many prayers and will have a better chance at a good life/afterlife._dalai

I can’t help thinking about how many Christians think that “spinning wheels” somehow gets us closer to God. _wheelWhile faith without works is indeed dead, I’m thankful that salvation isn’t something I must earn…because I never could. I’m thankful for His grace and for redemption though Jesus.

We also visited one of the most “holy” Hindu temples in the world. I’ll share about it & one other place of worship tomorrow…it was a day we won’t forget.


(update, wrote this in Nepal, but just made it home)

It’s not just what you do…

“It’s not just what you do, it’s what you set in motion.” I don’t remember when I first heard that phrase, but it sure is true.

Teachers teach grammar and spelling, which became key foundations to people like Mark Twain, Mark Batterson and Mark Driscoll.

Tiger’s dad gave him those golf clubs when he was just a toddler. (We’ll keep praying for you, Tiger.)

I worked with a team from the US in the country of Ghana. We worked with Ghanaian friends to distribute Books of Hope. During our two weeks in one city, together we shared about 40,000 copies of His word to students around the capital. We passed through town two months later to see that our friends had shared about 200,000 copies. Since then, they’ve shared with every student in numerous provinces of the country.

I won’t forget being 17-years-old, standing in our church parking lot and hearing a friend share an idea, “gardenWhy don’t you go on this missions trip with me to Spain?”

I don’t know what will happen from this, but last week our interns in Bangladsh worked at an orphanage to plant a rooftop garden. They didn’t work alone; many of the 250 orphans helped the process. The orphans learned about gardening and saw (most of them) their first rooftop garden.

Someday, they won’t live at an orphanage and they’ll need to provide for their families. They now have a new interest and skill.

I’d rather teach gardening than give a bag of vegetables. I’m not sure what it’ll set in motion, but maybe someday we’ll see…