As you know, there has been quite a bit of discussion about missionaries in the Congo on this blog. This is the central post pointing to everything else, and at Minnesota Atheists you'll find a link to today's radio show on the topic.
It turns out that a number of calls and emails did come in to the station today but we were unable to get to them. Among the emails, there is this two parter from from Jason Thibeault:
I have a two part question for Greg Laden. In conversations on your blog related to the topic prior to this show, you mentioned that there are secular missions to many of these areas, the purposes for which are to provide the services that the religious missions provide, only omitting the proselytizing. You said at the time that you didn't know much about them -- have you managed to find out more about any existing missions since then?
When I look up "secular mission" on Google, I find stuff about missions where the word "secular" is used for some reason or another, and I find myself. This is not good.
Perhaps the secular "mission" right now is the UN, and in some cases USAID (but if you want that to work, you've got to contact your representatives in congress and push for critical evaluation and positive reform) and various NGO's that are not religious. I think we need to do more research on this, and also, to make things happen.
Also, the thought of setting up such a mission without the backing of a church or religious institution seems particularly daunting. How do you figure one might go about putting together such a mission, if not supported by a religion or university; for instance what would it involve with regard to raising funds and establishing contacts in the countries in question? I'm not suggesting I'm going to do it personally, but hypothetically, if someone like me wanted to, is it possible?
I think the thing to do is to work directly with existing semi-autonomous developing communities. These things exist. I can't advise specifically regarding the Congo at this time, but in South Africa, I've worked with communities that have an internal structure, are fitted to the existing governmental system, and work with secular NGO's. An outside entity could hook up with some existing partnership such as that and provide grant money for specific, defined projects (this school or that goat farming operation or this water supply program or whatever).
Thanks for the questions, Jason.
Also, as long as water has come up, browse through this blog site for ideas as to how to get involved in that specific issue.
Would Paul Farmers "Partners in Health" (PIH.org) and
Greng Mortenson's "http://www.threecupsoftea.com/" qualify as sectarian organizations that do the same kind of helping work but way way better? I think using the word mission just confuses things.
What about Doctors without Borders as a secular 'mission'? Also those organisations that provide interest-free microloans to poor communities to enable them to control their own community improvements.
I actually have $50 being loaned through http://www.kiva.org that I've left there and have reloaned ($25 at a time) several times over now. It's been in there for almost as long as I've been seeing Jodi. I have no intention of taking the money out, and every time it's repaid back up to $25, I throw it into another pot. Once that person's pot reaches their goal for the loan, they get the money and, as it's repaid, my money trickles back into my account.
You can also keep adding to the amount of money you put into the system. I've been meaning to up this to $100 as soon as I can, but, well, you know how it is.
Non-religious might be a better choice than secular for the search.
Non-religious NGOs might be a good bet such as
Doctors without Borders though it deals mostly with acute crises.
I also suspect that groups through some religions (like liberal branches of the Quakers) are likely to emphasize aid not religion though as a volunteer you might get a certain amount of religion. The American Friends Service Committee is one place to look (try a google search for atheist on the site).
And what's the missionary position on this topic?
Thanks for the link to KIVA, it looks like a really good approach. I love that it is using social interaction (having your loan count towards a team loan) rather than just you contributing. And there is a large FSM group :)
How do you decide who to loan to?
My first loan was to someone in Togo, but unfortunately, the local loan company (HELP Africa) has apparently fallen under hard times and is having problems trying to recoup the existing loans, so one of my loans is 50% paid and in default now. I have faith that it'll eventually trickle back in at some point; if not, there's always adding a bit more money to the pot.
Otherwise, I just read through the loan requests and pick whomever you figure could need it the most. I'm easily swayed by the first good cause I come across.
Dear Greg Laden,I am 10 years old and when I grow up I want to become a missionary. Some people usually say that missionaries are bad people but then I tell them that is not true at all missionarie are good people they tell you about God's Word.