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July 9, 2011 7:37 PM   Subscribe

Four years ago, Katie Davis was homecoming queen at her high school in Brentwood, Tenn. She had a yellow convertible and planned to study nursing in college. But those plans changed just a little.Today, she's in Uganda, sharing her home with 13 orphaned or abandoned girls, ages 2 to 15.(second link has sound)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies (228 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Is there a name for Christians who actually act like Christ? 1%'ers or something?
posted by stavrogin at 7:43 PM on July 9, 2011 [74 favorites]


Darn. There's just too much nice here to start hating. Good post.
posted by hal_c_on at 7:43 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, a brave and good young woman!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 7:45 PM on July 9, 2011


How dare you St. Alia, now there's something in my eye. Good post, thanks.
posted by arcticseal at 7:58 PM on July 9, 2011


Let me expand: a young woman who didn't intend on settling down, who didn't intend on living in Uganda, has no legal right to live in Uganda, has no legal capability to adopt children in Uganda, and has no source of income except for charity donations from overseas is not a good person to foster 13 children. She wouldn't be allowed to do this in the USA, and no Mother Theresa syndrome or rich white skin gives her the right to do it in Uganda.
posted by Jehan at 8:00 PM on July 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


Jehan, perhaps you should click the second link and read the blog. She's not exactly a lone ranger.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:02 PM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Jehan: She has no right to help other people? What the fuck?

In the United States, she'd be allowed to drink, drive a car, and join the military and kill people, but you're right; she wouldn't be allowed to raise this many abandoned children. Perhaps this is indicative of problems with our culture, and not with Katie Davis.
posted by notion at 8:04 PM on July 9, 2011 [51 favorites]


Jehan, I would like to point out that at least some of the children she has taken in would have died if she had not taken them. It was never her intent to have that many to begin with, but if the alternative was to know beyond the shadow of a doubt that the child would die......

With her they get fed, they get medical care, they get schooling and they get love. I really don't think they care what color her skin is.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:07 PM on July 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


She has no right to help other people? What the fuck?

She has no right to make promises she can't keep. That's the crux of the issue, as she's not in the position to really help. She even says she plans to returns to the US and get married at some point, so I guess fostering a 2 year old child is what exactly? Katie Davis might look great in a church newsletter, but she is acting without proper care or responsibility to the people she professes to help. I guess naming Mother Theresa as her idol should be a warning.
posted by Jehan at 8:13 PM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes, she should have stayed the hell home and not bothered to exert the time and effort in helping the less fortunate. That would have been the right thing to do.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:16 PM on July 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Yes, she should have stayed the hell home and not bothered to exert the time and effort in helping the less fortunate.

Yeah there's no one like that here in the good ole U.S. of A. Adventurism at its finest.
posted by Max Power at 8:20 PM on July 9, 2011


I don't know the full ramifications of Mother Teresa Syndrome, but when the most notable symptom is a young woman putting her life on hold to - even temporarily - help to save the lives of over a dozen forsaken children, then I think we can take it off the priority list of things we need to cure.

Seriously, Jehan. How much can you look a gift horse in the mouth?

Anyway, thanks for the post, Alia.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:20 PM on July 9, 2011 [13 favorites]


The issue isn't the colour of her skin, but the colour of her skin does clearly symbolize that she's an outsider with no apparent previous ties to Uganda. (I'm not an expert on Uganda, but I'm going to hazard that the bulk of white people there are either there as some sort of consequence of colonialism, which isn't exactly the best thing that has ever happened in history.) I'm reassured that she seems to acknowledge placing the children with Ugandan families would be preferable, but I am kind of creeped out by the religious overtones of the whole thing. It's hard for me to believe that this is some sort of thing she got sucked into because it was a good thing to do, rather than thinking she's 'saving' the girls in some way. (And yes, there's a difference between providing for kids who would be in dire straits otherwise and thinking you're saving them.)
posted by hoyland at 8:22 PM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah there's no one like that here in the good ole U.S. of A.

Does it matter in what country you help the poor?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:22 PM on July 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


And Max Power - what the hell there? What? Yes, there are people in the U.S. who need help. There are a hell of a lot of kids in Uganda who need help as well.

Is there a knee-jerk reaction to seeing people doing something this obviously good and generous that demands we find ways to shut them down? I just don't get it.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:24 PM on July 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


Seems to me that while she may be skirting the rules, and she may be setting the kids up for disappointment later, sometimes rules and norms are put aside when you can actually help someone even if for only a little while. This isn't about religion, laws, skin colour, etc. It is about compassion.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:25 PM on July 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Is there a knee-jerk reaction...


The key here is the eliminate the word knee
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:27 PM on July 9, 2011 [10 favorites]


Wow, Jehan. What are you doing to help? Nothing? Yeah, I thought so.

My best friend - a nurse - lived in a country in Africa for a while. While she was there, she treated a woman with AIDS who had just given birth to an HIV+ boy. When Julia* died, Sarah* adopted Jacob*. At the time, Sarah was twenty-two. Imagine being twenty-two, in Africa, with a baby who isn't yours. Imagine all that, and add in a life-threatening disease and laughable medical care. Go ahead. Think about that for a bit, please.

Jacob died when he was four weeks old. Six years later, Sarah hasn't recovered. She can't forgive herself; she's called me in the middle of the night after having thought of things she could have done that would save him. She loved Jacob as much as she could; as a white, wealthy, American woman, she prolonged his life - to a whole four weeks. And he died. And Sarah? She's doing what she can to rescue children like this. She's there right now. She would adopt those kids and more, because she - and Katie Davis - are at least trying to improve a horrible situation.

This young woman is helping. You are not. Please don't criticize people who dare to do what you won't.

*not real names, of course
posted by punchtothehead at 8:27 PM on July 9, 2011 [37 favorites]


Is there a knee-jerk reaction to seeing people doing something this obviously good and generous that demands we find ways to shut them down?

I'm not shouting, but we all leave the bad neighborhoods eventually don't we.
posted by Max Power at 8:31 PM on July 9, 2011


Provided she can let go in the event of financial implosion, the worst-case scenario for these kids is that they go into the same orphanage system they would have in the first place, but with years of stable family care (and the associated education and nutrition) behind them. Yeah, that's a fate worse than death, right there.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:31 PM on July 9, 2011 [20 favorites]


I am tired of people living in their mom's basement criticizing people who are actually DOING SOMETHING, imperfectly or otherwise. Reminds me of the Kesey quote...


"All I know is this, no one is very big in the first place, and it looks to me like people spend their whole life trying to tear every one else down"
posted by jcworth at 8:33 PM on July 9, 2011 [15 favorites]


I'd rather go help Ugandans than drive a yellow convertible too.
posted by punkfloyd at 8:33 PM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I am tired of people living in their mom's basement

And I bet they are unemployed men too! Hnf!
posted by Foci for Analysis at 8:41 PM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


She has no right to make promises she can't keep.

A promise you know you can keep really isn't all that impressive. A rich man promising ten bucks, that's not noteworthy. She may not be able to keep these promises. There's a good chance she'll fall short. But sweet singing fuck, I'd much rather aim for perfection and fall short than settle for mediocrity.

People make promises all the time that they may not be able to keep. Wedding vows are famously far from guaranteed. Parents promise to give their children a better life. They fail. They fail often. But we sure as hell don't want them to stop promising and give up.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:42 PM on July 9, 2011 [22 favorites]


All is vanity.
posted by Max Power at 8:44 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think it's not unreasonable to critique or question this story being presented to us. For instance, this sentence:

Davis couldn't find any living relatives willing to take any of the girls, and she refused to send them to an overcrowded orphanage.

seems surprising to me. When I lived in Uganda, I was often struck by how extended an extended family can really be; any random Ugandan will probably consider people family that Americans would consider a distant relative or even a family friend. It's certainly by no means impossible that she really couldn't find any relatives willing to take them, but it's also possible that they have living relatives who may feel that giving the child to a white woman from America would give that child a better life. I don't know.

I also just want to voice my own opinion about this kind of do-gooding. While some people correctly aver that doing even a small good is better than not doing anything at all, I think that we should strenuously resist the temptation to conflate long-term, meaningful change with acts that make us feel good. They're not always the same, and people who claim to be doing good aren't always telling the truth about themselves and their intentions. I don't think a 22-year-old can take care of thirteen girls by herself; surely, the girls are taking care of each other, too, as is common in Uganda. She must have at least a few thousand dollars for that van mentioned in the article; where did that come from?

Also, there exists the very real and problematic issue of evangelical Americans getting involved socially and politically in places like Uganda, and in Uganda itself. Remember all those stories about grievous human rights abuses against gay Ugandans? Those events were strongly influenced by American evangelicals. And I don't know what this girl's plan is or who is supporting her, but she started a ministry.

Frankly, I find people who endeavor to "save" impoverished people in developing nations suspicious until I find out exactly what they're doing and why they're doing it. Sorry to seem negative, but there's a whoooole lot of morally neutral or morally suspect projects in operation all over the world that present themselves as noble. You simply can't take that at face value.
posted by clockzero at 8:46 PM on July 9, 2011 [100 favorites]


Additionally, she's set up, you know, a way to keep providing for her family through her charity, which additionally helps 400 other Ugandan children with education and health care. She's not relying on family money here. True, the charity might go under - it's possible - but her promises here aren't pipe dreams the way she's managed to handle them.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:46 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


As for her legal rights. If you had bothered to read you would have seen this "Davis said she has done everything by the book and is the court-appointed caregiver for all of the girls."

As for her financial situation and promises: "Davis has also started a nonprofit organization called Amazima Ministries. With support from U.S. donors, Amazima helps 400 children go to school, provides community health programs and feeds more than a thousand children five days a week." That doesn't sound like a fly-by-night operation does it? It takes a lot of planning and wherewithal to run a charity that large.

It seems to me that it takes a lot of gall and not a small amount of denial to characterize this woman as some king of hobbyist.
posted by oddman at 8:47 PM on July 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


She must have at least a few thousand dollars for that van mentioned in the article; where did that come from?

She has a job as a director of charity. It's mentioned in the first link.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:49 PM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Congratulations, Metafilter.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 8:51 PM on July 9, 2011 [23 favorites]


I think it's important to remember that the children are still in Uganda. They're still in their community - unlike others she hasn't swooped in and taken the children away to be raised apart from their traditions. If any relatives are looking for these children, they can find them. She's working there with children who don't seem to have any other options.

I'm as critical as the next person about people who are on a salvation bender, but this seems rather different.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 8:52 PM on July 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


Yes, a non-profit ministerial charity. Which is presumably separate from her private life, which is the context in which she's attempting to adopt these children.

If there isn't any separation between her private life, the adoption, and her non-profit, it seems rather more suspicious than less to me.
posted by clockzero at 8:52 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't get the criticisms that because the woman in this article isn't doing everything, what she's doing is worthless. That because she isn't necessarily going to do this for the rest of her life, she shouldn't have done it at all.

Maybe (probably) she is incredibly naive. She's not doing things the approved (by mefites, I guess) way by just sending money to an NGO. There are true, actual problems with Westerners who get rescue syndrome and create problems, as well meaning as their actions may be. Which may not be the case here anyway.

But I find it much harder to criticize someone who actually does something than I do to look askance at her doing-nothing-but-criticizing critics.
posted by rtha at 8:54 PM on July 9, 2011 [19 favorites]


Things fall apart. I wish they wouldn't.
posted by Conductor71 at 8:54 PM on July 9, 2011


If the only acceptable response to this post is "Awesome!", then what is the point?
posted by muddgirl at 8:58 PM on July 9, 2011 [28 favorites]


clockzero makes interesting points, and does show how there is often an unseen side to these feel-good pieces. Even so, we don't yet have evidence that this particular girl is a party to any of that.

Horselover Phattie: Congratulations, Metafilter.

What for the sarcasm? Are you judging the whole site, on one side or the other, by the words of one or two members? It's not called Monofilter.
posted by JHarris at 8:59 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


If the only acceptable response to this post is "Awesome!", then what is the point?

To see something awesome.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:02 PM on July 9, 2011 [41 favorites]


But I find it much harder to criticize someone who actually does something than I do to look askance at her doing-nothing-but-criticizing critics.

I think the crucial question here is, What is she actually doing?

Personally, I would not want to attack her or take her to task for wanting or trying to help people. That's admirable! The problem is that it isn't as easy to help people as one who's never done something like this might think; the most difficult thing, and this is something that NGOs and governments struggle with, is figuring out what actually helps, and that's still kind of an open question in development circles.

Just to sum up and reiterate, I don't mean to attack this young woman. But you simply can't take the story at face value.
posted by clockzero at 9:03 PM on July 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


If the only acceptable response to this post is "Awesome!", then what is the point?

Other acceptable responses might include:

Questions about what other resources there are already in place for kids in that situation

Knowledgeable comments or links to same about the economic/health situation in Uganda

Stories about friends who have done similar work

Stories from mefites themselves who have done similar work

Requests for recipes for a delicious thing someone once ate in Uganda

...And so on. One is not required to either worship the subject of the post or shit on them.
posted by rtha at 9:05 PM on July 9, 2011 [40 favorites]


"If there isn't any separation between her private life, the adoption, and her non-profit, it seems rather more suspicious than less to me."

I don't understand your position here. Surely you're not just generally suspicious of people who tightly integrate their work and home life. Why is it a special problem that she has figured out a way to do good at work and to then use her paycheck to do good at home? Even if the charity came after the initial adoptions and even if the charity is nothing more than a means to an end. Why is that in itself especially objectionable?
posted by oddman at 9:05 PM on July 9, 2011


To see something awesome.

So no critique allowed? Just unthinking acceptance at face value? Boring

One is not required to either worship the subject of the post or shit on them.

In any other context, I believe the critical comments (not already moderated) in this thread would not be considered threadshitting. The very same issues are raised in the NPR article.
By law, Davis is too young to adopt in Uganda, said child welfare officer Caroline Bankusha. The rules say an adoptive parent must be at least 25 years old, and at least 21 years older than the child being adopted.

Apart from the age issue, Bankusha also disapproved of Davis taking care of so many children.

"Unless the children are placed under a children's ministry or children's home, which she can start, otherwise it is really bad for someone to have more than five children," she said.
posted by muddgirl at 9:14 PM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Surely you're not just generally suspicious of people who tightly integrate their work and home life.

When those are people who move to developing nations and adopt a dozen children and start non-profit evangelical ministries, I absolutely am suspicious.

Non-profits are not meant to be used for personal purposes like this. I don't know what, if any, overlap exists between her work and her personal life here, but if she were using funds from her ministry (which may get donations from god-knows-what evangelical-oriented circles in the US) to buy a car for the children she's decided to personally adopt, I can tell you from personal experience that that would be very unusual and, yes, quite frankly a bit suspicious. That's very far outside the norm for development work.
posted by clockzero at 9:14 PM on July 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


I think that we should strenuously resist the temptation to conflate long-term, meaningful change with acts that make us feel good. They're not always the same, and people who claim to be doing good aren't always telling the truth about themselves and their intentions.

I agree with this.

By law, Davis is too young to adopt in Uganda, said child welfare officer Caroline Bankusha. The rules say an adoptive parent must be at least 25 years old, and at least 21 years older than the child being adopted. (emphasis mine)

The median age in Uganda is 15. This is a policy problem, and one that is not going to be solved by one American adopting - formally or not - a bunch of kids. But given that the law as it's written forbids a huge swath of the Ugandan population from adopting kids who need adopting, something needs changing.
posted by rtha at 9:22 PM on July 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Just a general observation about westerners, not necessarily anyone in this thread: we tend to have this attitude that if we really want to help, anything we do to with the intention to effect that is good and praiseworthy. I also observe that westerners tend to have an inflated sense of our capacity to help. We assume that we can because we want to, and we think we know what helping people entails. I could talk about this for hours, but suffice it to say that we don't, necessarily.

The median age in Uganda is 15. This is a policy problem, and one that is not going to be solved by one American adopting - formally or not - a bunch of kids. But given that the law as it's written forbids a huge swath of the Ugandan population from adopting kids who need adopting, something needs changing.

You have to remember that most familial affairs are handled through informal channels in Uganda. Most adoptions are assuredly not done through the government. Official adoptions, also, I suspect, can easily be paid for -- you can bribe officials pretty easily there. So I'm not sure what, if anything, that official policy means or entails.
posted by clockzero at 9:26 PM on July 9, 2011 [14 favorites]


Clockzero, what your describing is either out right embezzling (if she is just skimming money off the top) or fraud (if she isn't telling donors that her own family benefits from the charities services). So, sure if that's what's happening, that's bad. (Obviously, it's bad not just in developing nations and with non-profit evangelical ministries. So we can drop those qualifiers.)

Of course there is no evidence that this is going on. The article is, perhaps, a bit ambiguous. It states "Davis is the director, and the job supports her and her family."

I'm inclined to read this as "the [salary she earns at] the job supports her and her family." It's equivalent to saying something like "the engineers job support him and his hobby of lego collecting."

It's not impossible to parse the article's line as something like "Davis is the director [which means that she gets to allocate money as she sees fit, and so] the job['s resources] supports her . . . ", but I don't think that's the natural reading.

Absent concrete evidence that she is a criminal, however, I'd rather give here the benefit of the doubt.
posted by oddman at 9:30 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


like Mia Farrow
posted by knoyers at 9:33 PM on July 9, 2011


I didn't mean to suggest that she's a criminal, oddman...though, really, under what laws? US, or Ugandan?

I don't know if she's breaking any laws. That's not my primary concern, even, to be honest. I can tell you that directors of just-started non-profits would be VERY lucky to get enough money to purchase automobiles and support a 13-member family. I she sending all those kids to school? You need to pay school fees to do that in Uganda. The article raises many, many more questions than it answers.
posted by clockzero at 9:36 PM on July 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't get the criticisms that because the woman in this article isn't doing everything, what she's doing is worthless. That because she isn't necessarily going to do this for the rest of her life, she shouldn't have done it at all.

There's a school of thought that says, basically, if you can't fix everything all at once, it's not even worth trying so it's better not to do anything. A friend of mine wanted to do an "It Gets Better" video, but people immediately started hassling her. What about racism? What about sexism? What about discrimination against various diseases, handicaps, syndromes, the obese, etc.? Because by (say) reaching out to gays/teens/whatever, you're not remedying the problem of those other groups, then they'll all feel bad and you won't have really accomplished anything, so it's better you don't do anything then you at least won't be making things worse.

She did one anyway, fortunately.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:45 PM on July 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


The problem is that it isn't as easy to help people as one who's never done something like this might think; the most difficult thing, and this is something that NGOs and governments struggle with, is figuring out what actually helps, and that's still kind of an open question in development circles.

I can appreciate the greater point of what long-term good involves, but in this instance, we're talking about a temporary act. As limited in scope as this act is, I think it's commendable. A lack of experience is going to bring on some surprises for her, though, that I agree.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:49 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can appreciate the greater point of what long-term good involves, but in this instance, we're talking about a temporary act.

A temporary act? Are we still talking about the girl who's adopting 13 other girls?

As limited in scope as this act is, I think it's commendable.

Its scope is actually incredibly ambitious. She'd adopting people! Their lives are going to be affected! How can you say that this is a limited-scope, temporary thing? What are you talking about? I'm confused.
posted by clockzero at 10:04 PM on July 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


"I can tell you that directors of just-started non-profits would be VERY lucky to get enough money to purchase automobiles and support a 13-member family"

Do you mean they'd be lucky to have that good of a salary? (Because the charity apparently has enough money to put 400 kids through school and feeds way more.)

Assuming that the figures in the article regarding the number of children she puts through school and feeds per week are accurate, how much salary would a director of a charity of that size make? Would that be enough, in Uganda, to raise 13 kids?
posted by oddman at 10:06 PM on July 9, 2011


Also I'm going to sleep. I'll check back tomorrow.
posted by oddman at 10:07 PM on July 9, 2011


Wow. I have tried, and at least temporarily failed, to remember a thread that made me sadder about the people I share Metafilter with than this one.

It really is amazing how many of you have taken a couple seconds away from your life of endlessly selfless acts to post critical commentary here.
posted by rollbiz at 10:09 PM on July 9, 2011 [12 favorites]


There's a school of thought that says, basically, if you can't fix everything all at once, it's not even worth trying so it's better not to do anything.

There's also a school of thought that says, basically, just because you identify as "trying to fix something" or "doing good", you may not actually be fixing anything or accomplishing good.
posted by fuq at 10:11 PM on July 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


So far, the lives of the girls she's adopted seem to have improved over what they were before. Maybe if she hadn't adopted them, they would have been better yet - we can't know this. When you're 11, having a good, stable life where you can go to school and you get regular(ish, anyway) medical care can have lifelong effects. Very few things are all good or all bad; based on the little information the links give about the individual kids themselves, on balance, their lives are probably better. I don't know. I think better for some years is better than better for none.
posted by rtha at 10:13 PM on July 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm curious about whether people disbelieve her statements that she took these children in because she could see no other good options (no family, she thought they were better with one caregiver than with a rotating staff in an orphanage, and so on)? If you do, then I can see a case for a more critical take. But if you don't then it seems at the time this was the best option available. Even she admits it's not ideal - that she'd rather have them raised by Ugandans and looked after by family. Is she supposed to send them all off to an orphanage? Or abandon them? Or should she not have taken them in, given that there seemed so few other options at the time?

I guess I'm wondering what people think she should have done in the circumstances. I admit I don't know much about the situation for orphans in Uganda, but I suspect it isn't that wondeful unless there are family to step in.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:17 PM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


While I recognize the damage that evangelical institutions have done in the region, this doesn't smell like that, to me (based on what we know from the article) and I'm not very inclined to give much credence to the arguments of the Ugandan bureaucrat who says that Katie shouldn't be doing what she's doing because the government should be handling it, while acknowledging that the courts have used their authorized discretion to say that this is in the best interest of the children involved. I wouldn't trust the Ugandan government to handle a postcard, let alone those thirteen girls.

As a thought experiment, imagine this story without Katie's Christianity being a part of it at all. Because I'm suspecting two main hang-ups here:

1. That this is so much good to see from one person, especially one so young, that it becomes difficult to process and so we must find error with it or else feel like shit.
2. The because she is Christian, and her motivations are clearly driven and guided by that belief, that there must be another shoe dropping somewhere.

I'm an atheist, but I find both of these hang-ups offensive. The first is knee-jerk, as I said above, and the second is reductionist. I don't share Katie's beliefs, but I also haven't done anything to help like she has, and I find it difficult to complain.

Amazima, her Charity, sponsors children for Christian education. I don't love all of that description, myself, but given the situation in Uganda, I am more than willing to accept it. It also provides college scholarships for graduates. Ain't that a thing?

I've spent enough time around evangelical Christians to have an innate cynicism about the whole institution. The flipside of that is that I feel like I have an equally innate eye for the true believers who take Christ's teachings and seek to better the world with them. And I absolutely adore and revere those people. I believe that Katie is one of them.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:18 PM on July 9, 2011 [19 favorites]


Katie Davis said she hopes to get married and have biological children someday. But right now, she has no plans to move back to the United States.


posted by bq at 10:21 PM on July 9, 2011


Seems a fine, idealistic woman, young enough that her ideals maybe haven't yet been crushed by not being able to do some things she'd want to do.

I'd bet anyone $483 -- right here right now -- that those kids in her home will tell you that they're awfully glad to be there. I do not *know* what an orphanage in Uganda is like but I can't think it's like a nice day walking in the park. So the kids are getting help that they'd not be getting were she not on the scene, whether it's all perfectly legal or not.

And the reason that so many Westerners have this idea that they can do anything they set out to do is cultural, seems to me, the idea that hey, maybe I can't do *everything* but I can damn sure do this, that's a work ethic thing. I've lost a lot of that part of myself, too much so perhaps, over the years, but this woman is young and she is deeply rooted into her faith, which appears to be giving her strength and courage. (And we could get into some chat that her strength and courage are not coming from her religious beliefs, but she's pretty sure that they do and it doesn't matter what you or I think about that piece in this story; she does have strength and courage.)

My concern? The woman is in a fundamentalist religion, and it doesn't much matter to me what religion it is; the closer a religious person gets to that fundamentalist place, the more it seems that they insist that people 'do it their way' ie they insist that people whom they help take on their religious beliefs. I promise you, my mother will absolutely give you her love but you're absolutely going to receive it with a big dose of her religion, too, is she's got you in a place where you need her. Lots of street people won't go into the Salvation Army joint to sleep, because they have to listen to a sermon and pray and they might be hungry and tired but they still have pride, and don't like to get hogwash shoved down their throat.

Anyways, it's not been shown either way that she's been doing that to these kids, I just know that many people feel it's their duty to poison impressionable minds when they're young, and that concerns me.

As far as where is the money coming from, once word gets out in her religious community what she is up to, the money will pour in, so long as they think it's being done in accordance with their beliefs.

Any-old-ways, I like her, I love what she's doing, she's idealistic, strong, happy, and helpful, and giving this kids a shot at a better life.
posted by dancestoblue at 10:22 PM on July 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


It really is amazing how many of you have taken a couple seconds away from your life of endlessly selfless acts to post critical commentary here.

Who are you talking to? You have no idea who people are on the internet. I really resent the people here who dismiss criticism of this woman with "oh like you're doing so much" because I actually on going into this field and so I am devoting my life to doing social justice work. It isn't something I will be able to walk away from because I am completely invested in this particular work, it is my life. How about: your praises for this woman are completely empty because you aren't invested in social work or philanthropy. I don't know anything about this woman except for a puffy NPR piece and her histrionically shmoopy blog so I can't really judge it, but I will say I am skeptical of every single program UNLESS there is research and real critical assessment. Please note: skeptical =/= opposed to.

Also: auto-playing sound on a front page of a blog is terrible. She should be ashamed.
posted by fuq at 10:29 PM on July 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


My concern? The woman is in a fundamentalist religion, and it doesn't much matter to me what religion it is; the closer a religious person gets to that fundamentalist place, the more it seems that they insist that people 'do it their way' ie they insist that people whom they help take on their religious beliefs.

Where does the article state she is in a fundamentalist religion? All I see is that she idolizes a Catholic.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:29 PM on July 9, 2011


And the reason that so many Westerners have this idea that they can do anything they set out to do is cultural, seems to me, the idea that hey, maybe I can't do *everything* but I can damn sure do this, that's a work ethic thing.

I'm not sure what you're saying here. I'm not critiquing people who think they can do what they intend to do, I'm simply noting that being convinced that you can do something is no guarantee that it is true.
posted by clockzero at 10:32 PM on July 9, 2011


furiousxgeorge: "Where does the article state she is in a fundamentalist religion? All I see is that she idolizes a Catholic."
Look at the first article on the front page of her blog.
posted by dancestoblue at 10:33 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


This was on NPR this morning. I can easily see how a network of church connections back in the States are raising plenty of money to support this woman's foundation. And for that reason, I think she probably has plenty of resources backing her up.

The skepticism in this thread reminds me of a thread, maybe a year ago, about a guy who decided to help out in Africa by giving bicycles to kids who lived there. There was the inevitable, tiresome chorus of commenters with their, "but, actually, that is a Bad Thing."
posted by jayder at 10:34 PM on July 9, 2011


Well, her Charity is very overtly based in spreading Christianity in Jinja. I don't know if that counts as "fundamentalist" (by the American flavor, I'm guessing it doesn't. Amazima is all about the empowerment of Women and their current project is buying land to donate to a communal gardening/farming project, which doesn't really jibe with far-right-wing principles) but on the balancing test, I'm cool with it.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:34 PM on July 9, 2011


Who are you talking to?

Everyone who is offering criticism without any actual reason to be critical, including you.

It isn't something I will be able to walk away from because I am completely invested in this particular work, it is my life.

That's wonderful of you. Do you have any more basis for skepticism than that you're skeptical of everything? I've scanned the thread, and it doesn't seem that you do.
posted by rollbiz at 10:37 PM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I tend to suspect the same thing as Navelgazer - had this article not described Katie Davis as "a devout Christian" the percentage of negative comments here would be far lower.
posted by The Gooch at 10:44 PM on July 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


had this article not described Katie Davis as "a devout Christian" the percentage of negative comments here would be far lower.

As an atheist, I completely agree.
posted by rollbiz at 10:46 PM on July 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


I tend to suspect the same thing as Navelgazer - had this article not described Katie Davis as "a devout Christian" the percentage of negative comments here would be far lower.

It's not our fault that Christianity has such a complex and sometimes negative role in the history of colonial interactions. Being devout doesn't automatically make you a good person, and it certainly doesn't infuse you with the knowledge and perspective necessary to do development work. That fact about her, to put it another way, shouldn't necessarily be considered an asset.
posted by clockzero at 10:53 PM on July 9, 2011 [12 favorites]


Do you have any more basis for skepticism than that you're skeptical of everything?

Briefly, in no order:

1. Religiosity
2. Not affiliated with any major already established NGO
3. Lack of trained personnel
4. Lack of peer-reviewed research on her techniques and best practices
5. Lack of long-term data on the effects of her program
6. A single person taking on 12+ dependents

Please note that people have done really horrible things thinking that they are doing good. I think people don't like to be skeptical of these feel-good lone-wolf philanthropist stories (when they go well) because people love heroes but being uncritical of someone just because they are doing humanitarian work is a complete disservice to the field and contributes to some acute problems, especially in administration. People want to think that humanitarian work comes natural and is easy but it's not any more than any other professional field. Being a psychologist or EMT doesn't come naturally and we wouldn't applaud an amateur upstart ambulance company (well, some people would) and I don't understand why international humanitarian programming isn't seen the same way.

But on the positive side, the business of international humanitarian aid is driven by donations and I like your credulous attitude and would like to solicit you for money.
posted by fuq at 11:00 PM on July 9, 2011 [28 favorites]


I don't think a 22-year-old can take care of thirteen girls by herself

Just a couple of years ago, a 22 year-old friend (an atheist, BTW) and her one colleague were taking full care of 36 developmentally disabled adults.

This was a US state agency job which paid barely above minimum wage.
posted by grounded at 11:01 PM on July 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Again, Atheist here, but did you really just compare Christians - especially this one - to child-beating lunatics? Really? And not to play this card, but is there another religion where you'd feel so brave pulling that analogy out of your ass?

Flagged. Holy shit.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:01 PM on July 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Look at the first article on the front page of her blog.

What am I looking for? She is clearly devoutly religious but is there something I'm missing that suggests fundie?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 11:02 PM on July 9, 2011


fuq makes some fucking good points.
posted by clockzero at 11:06 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I intended to compare the situation to anyones experience with fundamentalists of whatever stripe. If anyone has had trouble with a certain sort of individual, or groups of people who are composed of people of that same sort, if they see that person in a position of power over others, they'll come in and say hi in here.

You're absolutely correct in saying that I compared to Christians, and for that I was absolutely wrong and stand corrected here; in my comment above I made certain to keep it pointed at the fundamentalists of any tradition. And wasn't thinking -- duh -- as I wrote and posted the comment you pointed out.

I'm glad you flagged it, and brought it to my attention, I'm also going to flag it and ask that it be removed.

Apologies here for skewing this thread.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:18 PM on July 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


dancestoblue: um... wow. Good graces, sir or ma'am. Good on you.

I love civility on the internet. Thank you for exemplifying it.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:22 PM on July 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Adopting the attitude and reacting to criticism in a way that suggests that humanitarian aid should be above critique because its all "better than nothing" is really a disservice to the trade. We should be just as diligent and protective of the qualifications of people that work with children and have dependents for humanitarian reasons as anyone else doing sensitive work of that nature.

fuq nailed the reasons why it flagged my critical radar upon reading as well.

1. Religiosity
2. Not affiliated with any major already established NGO
3. Lack of trained personnel
4. Lack of peer-reviewed research on her techniques and best practices
5. Lack of long-term data on the effects of her program
6. A single person taking on 12+ dependents


These are valid concerns. It doesn't mean the people sharing them want kids to die or Christians to shut up or whatever.
posted by lazaruslong at 11:24 PM on July 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


Fuq, I suspect that you are in for a lifetime of surprise if you think most charitable work starts off with a 10 point plan. Perhaps it should, but pretty much every smaller organization I've volunteered with in the US and Canada (none of which were Christian) started off with someone filling an immediate need and then later doing more research on needs (if the money was there - a hell of a lot of places just scrabble to keep their doors open). It's not ideal, but does seem to be the way a lot of programs get started. I commend your plans to work on social justice issues, but I think until you know what sort of emotional and physical toll that will take on you, you're not going to be able to say if you will end up walking away from it or not. Or maybe that's my own feelings talking; I just know that there's no way I could do what I've seen staff in some places do, day in and day out.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 11:26 PM on July 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm suprised by the vitriol directed at anyone questioning this. Small, individual-driven aid organisations - especially religious ones - have a terrible record in the developing world; they really exemplify some of the worst practice in the field, and skepticism is more than warranted. They fact that the focus is on "orphans" really triggers the alarms. Orphans in developing countries is a really fraught and complex issue, and the way this topic is being treated, by both article and many mefites, is anything but complex.

For example, what else could she do? Well, she could sponsor the girls getting fostered in Ugandan households instead of crammed into an a single household with a westerner who has no lingual or cultural connections to their backgrounds. Lots of charities do this.

That's just one example. Questioning activities like this is more than reasonable, I would say it's required. Aid is really complex, and simplistic solutions and discussions about it can quite easily do more harm than good. It doesn't mean intentions aren't good, but in Africa, of all places, intentions don't amount to a whole lot.
posted by smoke at 11:30 PM on July 9, 2011 [40 favorites]


And that 'perhaps it should' should be just 'it should'. Planning is ideal, but a lot of initiatives- both good and bad- seem to get started without them in my (admittedly limited) experience.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 11:31 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't see how her actions are even remotely likely to be worse than the options otherwise available to those girls. They're getting shelter, food, health care, education, and love.

If you're seriously worried about them also getting religion, remember that Uganda is 85 percent Christian and a lot of the orphanages there are Christian. Those girls probably would have been raised Christian anyway, perhaps in the more institutional manner than in the actual selfless loving manner, but they'd have been given the Jesus either way.
posted by pracowity at 11:42 PM on July 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


I kind of hate the tendency of many arguments to go like this:

"this thing is not 1!"
"why would you say this thing is 0?"
"why did YOU say that it was 1?"
"i didn't say it was 1, now why did you say it was 0?"
"stop insisting the thing is 1"

ad nauseum
posted by tehloki at 11:43 PM on July 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't see how her actions are even remotely likely to be worse than the options otherwise available to those girls. They're getting shelter, food, health care, education, and love.

We don't know what she's doing for these girls in the first place, so there's no starting point for comparison between the extant and any other possible courses of action.
posted by clockzero at 11:46 PM on July 9, 2011


For what it's worth, I don't disagree with questions about this. And I see fuq's points for sure. Again I'm only taking my facts on the situation at hand from the article, but what impresses me here is that Katie Lewis seems to get those issues. What she's doing is community-focused. It appears that she feels more of a homeship with Jinja than she does with Tennessee, and that her adoption of these girls is something of a side-effect of trying to help that particular community.

Yes, aid is complex, but getting involved at the level she has chosen seems to me to be the right way for an individual of her degree of devotion and compassion to start. And while I don't agree with 100% of Amizima's goals, its creation and success speaks to Katie's capability.

I don't know what the NGOs are up to. But that means I don't know how much time it would take them to get around to helping people in Jinja directly. And no one has convinced me that Ms, Lewis's actions are causing any harm there, especially in light of the good she is doing.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:46 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


"We don't know what she's doing for these girls in the first place, so there's no starting point for comparison between the extant and any other possible courses of action."

Then can we please close this thread? The buzzkill overload is giving me a raging headache.
posted by facetious at 11:51 PM on July 9, 2011


I read or at least skimmed thru about half of the entries on her blog. I don't know how her project will 'end up'. I don't think she claims to know either.

She seems to be trying in deeply challenging circumstances to make the most compassionate choices possible on a moment to moment basis. She's a very young woman often overwhelmed with no good options, only least bad ones. So, she relies on prayer, meditation and religious guidance to help her navigate her way thru some pretty choppy seas. I think her religious faith is helping her to continue doing her best to help some of the planet's neediest people.

If you can tolerate a lot of "god-talk", her blog is definitely worth checking out. Thanks for posting this Alia.

Small, individual-driven aid organisations - especially religious ones - have a terrible record in the developing world; they really exemplify some of the worst practice in the field, and skepticism is more than warranted.

Agree wholeheartedly. I just don't think this is the case here.

Well, she could sponsor the girls getting fostered in Ugandan households instead of crammed into an a single household with a westerner who has no lingual or cultural connections to their backgrounds. Lots of charities do this.

In some cases, the children who were in her home were eventually placed in other homes, sometimes re-united with their families of origin.
posted by marsha56 at 11:55 PM on July 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Hi Marsha, I've been reading more on the org's blog/website, too.

Agree wholeheartedly. I just don't think this is the case here.

Yeah, I'm not saying it is the case, but I do think questions around it based on the extremely fuzzy NPR article are more than warranted, and I think some of the angry and insulting responses attempting to shut down the dialogue and malign those who don't see the good as self-evident are, well, they're pretty ignorant I think really, and not at all helpful.

In some cases, the children who were in her home were eventually placed in other homes, sometimes re-united with their families of origin.

I saw that, too, and i think it's really good. :)

To be super-clear, I'm not at all arguing that this charity in particular is bad and what it's doing is bad, but I don't think asking some hard questions is out-of-line, particularly when this org operates in a nexus of very tricky aid areas and a history that is extremely problematic (orphans, white missionaries in Africa, small start-up chariest run by inexperienced volunteers).

I think heroes and villains make for great stories and terrible public policy. I recognise the human impulse to find heroes, and the temptation to immediately find some villains in opposition to them (like I feel clockzero and Fuq in this thread have been) - but I really refute the real-world applicability of this kind of thinking. These situations shouldn't be fodder for moral indignation or some kind of developing world fairy tale; they deserve more than that.

I think some measured questions and answers - and a dialogue about it - is a good thing, not a thing so bad that anyone attempting it should be shut down immediately (I don't think *you* were doing that at all).

Addendum - Passages like this on the org's website really make me cringe: Every outreach of Amazima Ministries, whether education sponsorship, feeding, vocational assistance, or community outreach, is accompanied with Biblical teaching and spiritual encouragement. We know that nourishing the physical needs of the people is not the ultimate goal. We long to see them fed spiritually and restored into right relationship with God.

Religiosity of Ugandans or no, that's some really problematic thinking for me.
posted by smoke at 12:09 AM on July 10, 2011 [7 favorites]


This is a great post, thank you for sharing it. I spent the evening reading her blog from the beginning, and I encourage a lot of the posters making negative comments here to do the same, so as to (you know) actually understand her circumstances a little better.

She sponsors hundreds of kids, runs a food kitchen for over a thousand more, and has 14-25 in her home at any given time, usually due to the need to medically monitor critical cases that are brought to her attention. Right now (I think, her last mention of it is a few months ago) she has two to three birthmothers living in her home with her, one of whom is the mother of a girl Katie had guardianship of for a year. The choice to model parenting for this birthmother in order to ensure her daughter gets good care is an extremely generous and difficult one.

She has a book deal, which is how she's paying for the adoptions. She mentions homeschooling starting last year, so I don't know if all of her foster kids are still receiving school sponsorship through her charity. It seems from a few posts that she has a pretty clear grasp on the difference between the income that supports her and her family and the income that supports the charity.

I'm grateful to learn of the work she's doing, it is inspiring. I have my own reservations about the link between religion and colonialism, but she's feeding people and getting them critical medical care, and I can't call that a bad thing.
posted by annathea at 12:16 AM on July 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


I've known a few people who've spent time in Uganda and other impoverished countries, taking care of kids, assisting with the building of infrastructure, and so on. Not all stayed, but a few did. Without exception (as far as I know) they are all Christian. Not right-wing or fundamentalist, just a boring village CofE church with many gay and a couple trans people as members. I've never felt any kind of ulterior motive from them and I'm humbled by their charity.

As a non-Christian (but raised in a Christian setting) my gut reaction is to be disturbed that these children are being raised in religion, given the problems some branches of Christianity have with whole swathes of the population for no particular reason. But just as gut reactions are often bullshit, Christians are often quietly charitable, giving people, and Christianity can be a force for good. Not every Christian is a gay-bashing sociopath.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 1:21 AM on July 10, 2011 [7 favorites]


Well. This was a thought-provoking read. Thanks, Metafilter. I actually thought we handled this discussion pretty well....not all of us see the world in black and white, and I certainly welcomed the many different perspectives mentioned here (and frankly, can't really point to any single comment that I'd label as "wrong," excepting the fighty callouts that weren't actually discussing the topic at hand.)

Currently, my gut instinct is:
"She's doing a good thing, but jeez, 12 is too many, and the fact that she's operating outside of the law makes me very concerned for all parties involved. The religious aspect should be considered, but is fairly insignificant to these two primary issues."
posted by schmod at 1:31 AM on July 10, 2011


1. Religiosity
2. Not affiliated with any major already established NGO
3. Lack of trained personnel
4. Lack of peer-reviewed research on her techniques and best practices
5. Lack of long-term data on the effects of her program
6. A single person taking on 12+ dependents


These are all great concerns back in the West. Unfortunately, at this moment, these really aren't concerns in Uganda. Do you really think there are funding for the above concerns? And if there was, would there be any left to do actual work? I have no experience there, but a few years now in W. Africa, and most of the concerns and comments here would be laughable if translated and relayed to really anyone living in country. My concerns with these concerns:

1. no idea of the scale of poverty.
2. lack of understanding of how NGOs function.
3. lack of understanding how society/family functions.

To give just a rough idea -- you're talking about places where kids are literally begging for food in the street. Where mortality is close and real, where money is fluid and passive, where assurance and tomorrow is in God and Fate. There are certainly concerns about exploitative practices in the poverty and powerless stricken corners of the world. And maybe those concerns are exaggerated when it's a foreigner working in the country (because there are locals doing the same). But it's a little unnecessary to try and transform Katie into Kurtz. I would expect no other from metafilter, and the typical critical nature of comments -- but let's agree that most of the trolling on here knows zero about life in Africa or the so-called third world.
posted by iamck at 1:51 AM on July 10, 2011 [8 favorites]


Addendum - Passages like this on the org's website really make me cringe: Every outreach of Amazima Ministries, whether education sponsorship, feeding, vocational assistance, or community outreach, is accompanied with Biblical teaching and spiritual encouragement. We know that nourishing the physical needs of the people is not the ultimate goal. We long to see them fed spiritually and restored into right relationship with God.

Religiosity of Ugandans or no, that's some really problematic thinking for me.


Sigh... Yeah, I agree. I also think that attitude is regrettable. Too often it leads to physical and emotional needs taking a back seat. But, again, reading her blog, it certainly seems that she is doing all she can to meet physical and emotional needs first.

I do think that at least in her case, while still problematic, it does help accomplish two goals. One, despite her best efforts, sometimes those in her care are too far gone and can't be healed. And sometimes she has to return children to parents that she is not entirely sure are fully capable of properly caring for their children. I think her belief that they are in Gods hands helps her cope with those situations and prevents burnout. It can't be repeated too often how very young she is. Secondly, while perhaps several Me-Fites and NPR listeners may be moved to make a contribution today or tomorrow, I doubt that many will be there for this woman and her ministry in the months and years to come. But churches will. And at least some of those churches will be more likely to contribute to a ministry that professes a mission of winning souls. And no, that doesn't make me happy either.
posted by marsha56 at 2:09 AM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Young rich woman from Uganda moves to a trailer park in Tennessee and starts adopting "orphans" while teaching them about her Islamic faith: what could go wrong?
posted by ennui.bz at 2:20 AM on July 10, 2011 [15 favorites]


But it's a little unnecessary to try and transform Katie into Kurtz.

I'm not really seeing a lot of that. I'm seeing questions, certainly, and skepticism. I think the contention that is a "typical" thing for mefites or metafilter, that asking these questions is nothing more than trolling, is uncharitable in the extreme. You don't know anything about the background of posters here; I would urge more circumspection and good faith.
posted by smoke at 2:28 AM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


but let's agree that most of the trolling on here knows zero about life in Africa or the so-called third world.


I don't think there is a lot of trolling here. Just differences of opinion, that's not the same thing.
posted by devon at 2:32 AM on July 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


> I think some of the angry and insulting responses attempting to shut down the dialogue and malign those who don't see the good as self-evident are, well, they're pretty ignorant I think really, and not at all helpful.

Unfortunately, I think Jehan's comments early in the thread set the tone for that, and that's what people have been responding to. I think most of the other criticism has been pretty thoughtful.

muddgirl: If the only acceptable response to this post is "Awesome!", then what is the point?

When people disagree with something, they are not automatically saying that it's not an "acceptable response" or that people have no right to express it, they're disagreeing. Critique is allowed, and I don't think anybody is trying to shut down the dialogue.

By the way, Katie Davis is Catholic, though Amazima doesn't seem to have a denominational affiliation. I don't know how that works out in practice.
posted by nangar at 2:39 AM on July 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


We know that nourishing the physical needs of the people is not the ultimate goal. We long to see them fed spiritually and restored into right relationship with God.

I am not writing from mom's basement. I am in rural Malaysia, teaching English and teaching teachers. I bet that my salary is less than Katie's, and it is most certainly a lot less than any of you working "normal" careers in the west. I've spent years doing this in Central Asia as well, also making shit money. Here in Kelantan it is always one of the first questions, and when I tell them I am atheist it's a surprise - often it leads to a rapid fire discussion around me in Kelantanese, as they try to sort through what exactly that is and what it means... They'd much prefer I was Christian, the serious Muslims, because then I am another flavour of that thing that is such a big part of their lives.

I see people like Katie as ideological enemies. I am trying to help spread the skills of critical thinking and reflective practice, and broaden people's world views through exposure to English. I want people to question authority, not take things on faith, and to know that they can think for themselves and do not need to do stuff just because people in authority tell them to. I want them to meet the first person who is not a follower of a religion and to learn that such a thing is an option, and that even without God you can be a good person. I'm much more discreet about my proseletyzing than she is, but I will admit I am in many ways a missionary too, only we are playing on opposite teams. Every person that gets Jesus from her is that much further out of my grasp.

So yeah, that's why she's no hero to me.
posted by Meatbomb at 2:56 AM on July 10, 2011 [41 favorites]


clockzero and fuq hit most of the points I wanted to make, but for one;

Are these kids going to make it? I'm a little weird on the value of human life (I'm sure you, dear reader, will disagree with me on this), and not always sure that preservation of said is _always_ a "Good Thing".

It sounds like this young woman is doing what she knows (has been taught, etc) is right. And one might say "Good on her for that."

But... I can't help but wonder how much good she might have done for a few orphaned/disadvantaged/poor kids in her neighborhood - kids she could stay in contact with, help become productive members of society, etc. It sounds like the children she is helping now won't be able to walk down the street where they grew up and find that neat lady who was there to guide them through life is still there to chat with.

Because she will have left to get on with her life, across a continent, across an ocean.

And how far will any of these kids make it? Not saying that it's hopeless and it shouldn't be attempted, but that might it not be better to fund _local_ folk to provide similar service? Who will be there for the duration? And for those kids who succeed, they might pop back in after time, and perhaps offer to assist those that follow?

And again, that's kinda doubtful, in my eyes.*



*not an expert on NGOs or NGO-like activity
posted by drfu at 3:38 AM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't want any part of an ideology which considers this chick an enemy, assuming NPR did a good reporting job and there aren't any terrible secrets.

/athiest, of course.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:48 AM on July 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


I was wondering what the prevailing religion in Uganda was, as I had an idea it was Christianity, and indeed, not only that, but seems Catholicism is very widespread too:
• Uganda is a predominantly Christian country with a significant (about 12%) Muslim minority. The Northern and West Nile regions are dominated by Roman Catholics and Iganga District in the east of the country has the highest percentage of Muslims.

• There are an estimated 13.6 million Catholics — about 42% of the total population, estimated at about 32.4 million in 2010.
I find that interesting, as it means there is much less of a clash of culture as some people may assume, since Christianity (and specifically Catholicism) is already a non insignificant part of the local culture.

(NB I do not mean that as a way of dismissing specific concerns about religious proselytising associated with social/charity work, not at all, but, just saying, I think that needs to be taken into account. )
posted by bitteschoen at 3:56 AM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


drfu: "But... I can't help but wonder how much good she might have done for a few orphaned/disadvantaged/poor kids in her neighborhood - kids she could stay in contact with, help become productive members of society, etc. It sounds like the children she is helping now won't be able to walk down the street where they grew up and find that neat lady who was there to guide them through life is still there to chat with."

She's from Brentwood, TN -- well ... the median income in Brentwood is over $100,000. But yeah, it's not like Nashville/Davidson County is lacking for want of basic resources; battered social services and public health infrastructure. I admit I have a fair amount of skepticism towards saving the "Other" (it reminds me too much of the medical voluntourism I encounter here), when I've encountered such intensely soul-crushing poverty even just here in Middle/Eastern TN, or West Virginia/Virginia when I've been up there.
posted by circle_b at 3:59 AM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


furiousxgeorge: "an ideology which considers this chick an enemy"

Which ideology would that be?
posted by brokkr at 4:00 AM on July 10, 2011


I dunno what it's called.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:07 AM on July 10, 2011


Surely citing the number of Christians in Uganda is a circular argument. There were none 150 years ago.
posted by devon at 4:09 AM on July 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


The 151 year olds are gonna be screwed.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:10 AM on July 10, 2011


At least they'll be old enough to adopt the kids?
posted by slater at 4:18 AM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you go read her blog at any length, you'll find that she's extremely damn committed to her girls. http://www.kissesfromkatie.blogspot.com/. She's not going to just ditch them for some guy to marry, in fact, she gave up "the love of her life" so she could stay and take care of her girls. As she adopted younger children, her plan went from staying in Uganda for 7 years to 14 to 20 years to STAYING.

Go do something good, then I'll listen to your hypocritical whining. She's totally infected by the Jesus/God mind virus, but it works for her and she is not only saving lives, she's making a really miserable place into a community.

P.S. I'm a strong atheist and recognize the vast damage religion has done over the centuries, but give her a freakin' break.
posted by Hello Dad, I'm in Jail at 4:22 AM on July 10, 2011 [10 favorites]


devon: it's not an argument and was never intended as such, like I said already... No opinion or argument was being implied on religion itself, religious preaching, history of Africa, history of colonialism, religious colonialism etc.

I looked up the statistics because I was curious about which religions were mostly practiced in Uganda. Also because someone mentioned what would happen if "Young rich woman from Uganda moves to a trailer park in Tennessee and starts adopting "orphans" while teaching them about her Islamic faith". I though it may be useful to take into account that this is not the case of a Christian missionary in an Islamic country.
posted by bitteschoen at 4:25 AM on July 10, 2011


Young rich woman from Uganda moves to a trailer park in Tennessee and starts adopting "orphans" while teaching them about her Islamic faith: what could go wrong?

Dunno, but if you let me know the details of her charity, I'd be happy to make a substantial donation.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:27 AM on July 10, 2011


Charity work is best left to highly trained professionals. That's why I only donate to the United Way and Givewell.
posted by klarck at 4:30 AM on July 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


She must have at least a few thousand dollars for that van mentioned in the article; where did that come from?

clockzero, are you really that informed about the used-van market pricing in Uganda? I'm pretty sure I can get one for under a thou here in the US.
posted by IAmBroom at 4:32 AM on July 10, 2011


Charity work is best left to highly trained professionals. That's why I only donate to the United Way and Givewell.

Don't forget the Red Cross, klarck. If you do, all those advertising dollars will have gone to waste!
posted by IAmBroom at 4:35 AM on July 10, 2011


Fair enough. I don't want to question the individual here. I've no particular reason to doubt her motives or sincerity.

Lots of religious groups and individuals do lots of good in third world countries.

I choose to support those without an agenda outside of helping the people themselves.

my point, in response to a comment that I may have misinterpreted, was that I can't accept that Christian evangelism isn't an issue just on the basis of the Christian proportion of the country, when that proportion is largely due to evangelism
posted by devon at 4:38 AM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can't we just be happy that these girls are getting some love? Must we question her motives? Must we sit back and fold our arms and say, "well, she's Christian, she must be trying to indoctrinate the kids while raking in cash"?

No matter what happens in the future, no matter what her motives are, these 13 kids are getting love and support, they're being fed, they're getting an education of sorts. They are told every night that their 'mommy' loves them. If only one of them goes on to do something similar - offer love and support to more Ugandan orphans, for example - how can that be a bad thing???
posted by malibustacey9999 at 4:49 AM on July 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


I read the blog of a woman in Haiti who runs a similar family home for orphaned children. If you're interested in reading about the daily struggles of such work, you might enjoy it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:53 AM on July 10, 2011


I wonder how much contraception education these girls are getting, Malibustacy, because US funded abstinence programs are contributing to a rise in the rate of AIDS in Uganda through misinformation and removal of safer sex guidelines.

An education of sorts, indeed. This is why fairy tales are better left in books; it's a lot more complex than getting some love.
posted by smoke at 5:56 AM on July 10, 2011 [12 favorites]


I wonder how much contraception education they would get without her first.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:59 AM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't accept that Christian evangelism isn't an issue just on the basis of the Christian proportion of the country, when that proportion is largely due to evangelism

Eh, yes, absolutely, of course you're right about that - but that's a much bigger topic. I really didn't mean to imply that evangelism is not an issue in itself. Just that at least this woman is not imposing on these girls a religious practice they would not have gotten out of their own community already. That makes a huge difference with someone attempting to convert people from one religion to another.

I was also thinking of a friend of mine who went to another part of Africa, in a small community, with a non-religious NGO working for women and young girls, and she's not religious at all herself, but for practical purposes she just had to work with the local church (Anglican) and religious organisations, and even attend church with the locals, because that is now part of the life of the community there. (She once texted me something like "I just came from a Sunday service where I was singing hallelujah and dancing with the girls, can you believe that! me! in a church!"). Along with local pre-christian religious practices mixed in with Christianity. As often happens in Africa.
posted by bitteschoen at 6:20 AM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't accept that Christian evangelism isn't an issue just on the basis of the Christian proportion of the country, when that proportion is largely due to evangelism

Christianity everywhere it exists is due to evangelism and colonialism, and it would be worth worrying about Christianity in Uganda if this were still 1875, but now it is far too late to uproot Christianity from Uganda or to even think of it as unnatural to Uganda. The population of Uganda now is 85 percent Christian mainly because that's the way their Christian parents and Christian grandparents raised them, not because some white foreign ladies are twisting their arms.
posted by pracowity at 7:02 AM on July 10, 2011 [9 favorites]


Small, individual-driven aid organisations - especially religious ones - have a terrible record in the developing world; they really exemplify some of the worst practice in the field

No, they don't. A friend has a development specialist staying over between going overseas gigs--masters in developmental finance from NYU, a second career after real estate development, continuous overseas gigs for many years.

Last night over drinks he got top complaining about the problems with development aid. He said that the ROI from christian aid groups was way better than all the rest and their overhead was mutiples lower than govermental work. As a hippie atheist, it pained him to no end.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:46 AM on July 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm skeptical that the percentage defining themselves as Christian would be as high as it is, were it not for the links between education, aid and religion. But I can't offer any evidence either way so I'll leave it at that.

Oddly enough I am going to Uganda in a few months time so I will at least get a first hand opportunity to revise my opinion.
posted by devon at 8:19 AM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Davis is well-known in Jinja, where she drives her family around town in a 13-passenger minivan."

A 13-passenger vehicle is not a MINIvan.

Snark aside, this woman is making the world a better place. She leads by example.
posted by rageagainsttherobots at 8:29 AM on July 10, 2011


2. Not affiliated with any major already established NGO
3. Lack of trained personnel
4. Lack of peer-reviewed research on her techniques and best practices
5. Lack of long-term data on the effects of her program...

People want to think that humanitarian work comes natural and is easy but it's not any more than any other professional field. Being a psychologist or EMT doesn't come naturally and we wouldn't applaud an amateur upstart ambulance company (well, some people would) and I don't understand why international humanitarian programming isn't seen the same way.


I am completely over this mentality that only someone with a degree knows how to feed people and give them medicine. It's a ridiculous idea based on no evidence whatsoever. It's a thinly veiled copout so Western apathy can be accepted as false humility. The people doing real work in the third world are not staying at the goddamn Hilton in the capital city behind ten foot walls and security guards, and that's where you will find almost every major NGO employee, talking about the good work they are doing over cheap screwdrivers a little bit more than they talk about their sky miles.

You don't need a study to tell you that children dying of diseases would much rather have someone -- anyone, even if they're white and Christian -- holding them and caring for them and telling them that they are important.

Worst case scenario, she disappears, and the kids are a little more jaded, but not dead, and maybe far enough along that they can take care of themselves. She's not a missionary telling them they can eat after they read the bible. She's not telling them they're going to go to hell unless they abandon their culture. She's acting on her moral beliefs -- which are mostly correct, even if I disagree with some of her reasoning -- and for that she needs an education?

I personally know of someone doing AIDS work in South Africa. She had no degree -- she was a hotel receptionist -- but when she came into some inheritance, she decided to spend 6 months in Africa and 6 months at home raising money. It's given her life meaning, and the girls she has been working with for ten years are now establishing homes throughout the rest of Africa, mostly run by Africans with money raised by her in the States.

Instead of the money being wasted on hotel accommodations, feasibility studies, catered conferences at some hotel in Rockville, hiring bonuses for good fundraisers who charge hundreds of thousands of dollars for their work schmoozing with the wealthy to raise more funds for more bonuses and flights and conferences and endless studies that mean fuck all to people dying in Africa, it went to Africans.

We don't need any more highly educated people doing NGO work in Africa. Most of them have been failing spectacularly for decades, and because of their size and revolving door with government employees, they're often compromised by politics, they're bloated, they're not focused on the problem, and they're not trusted by Africans.

There are exceptions, of course. I give my money to Oxfam, but tearing down individuals trying to do good because they aren't experts is shortsighted, and in my opinion, and institutional copout that's designed to comfort Western guilt instead of helping the people who truly need it.
posted by notion at 8:40 AM on July 10, 2011 [25 favorites]


A lot of you are missing a huge point: CHARITABLE ATHEISTS WHO WOULD WANT TO DO EXACTLY THE SAME THING DONT GET THE NON-TAXED, NON-PROFIT PERKS THAT CHRISTIANS DO. not only that, there is no scrutiny of Christian charities the way NGOs and other secular non-profits are scrutinized. if not, it wouldnt have taken decades for the pedophilia cases involving Catholic churches to come to light.

her charity is borne out of a whole matrix of privileges christians have in the US. an atheist 21 year-old who'd want to do exactly the same wouldnt be able to do it so easily. or imagine a US muslim charity trying to do the same --given there's a huge muslim community in Uganda, to begin with.

that people in Metafilter are missing how discriminatory practices in the US empower with privilege christian missionaries like this woman, goes to the heart of many "you dont get privilege, dont you" threads we've already have here in this community.

*sigh*
posted by liza at 8:46 AM on July 10, 2011 [15 favorites]


I am completely over this mentality that only someone with a degree knows how to feed people and give them medicine.

You must save a lot of money on healthcare but this sounds extremely dangerous.
posted by fuq at 8:50 AM on July 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


The title of this page says at least one thing that disturbs me. I'm not disturbed by the implications of love, trust, and tenderness that these orphaned girls express when they call Davis, "mommy". Those things in their proper place and measure are very good.

What disturbs me about the title of this page is the vision of the white, Western maternalism it conjurs. The linked NPR piece and the blog play to the emotions of their audiences and this play is not necessarily a good thing. I admit some dust got in my eye while I was reading the NPR piece but that's why I read through all of the discussion to help my SKEPTICAL and CRITICAL faculties get their breaths back.

When furiousxgeorge retorts what kind of contraception would be available to these children without this woman (as if that were an answer to the charge that some Western Christian missionaries are partially responsible for the growing population of HIV+ infants), I want to respond how many of these children would be orphans were it not for Western weapons having been supplied to the warring Ugandan and Tanzanian factions battling for power until the end of Amin's despotic rule. When you answer, please keep in mind that the power struggle was the direct consequence of postcolonial conditions produced by England.

So how many orphans, furiousxgeorge?

The emotional part of me wants Davis to continue her work and for these Ugandan orphans to grow into secure young adulthood. The rational part of me sees this as yet another instance of white westerners believing one of their beautiful own at least makes the plight of these hapless children better and that can't be all bad, but as clockzero, fuq, and others have pointed out, this may not be the case.

Anyone Westerner disheartened in 2011 by the skepticism and analysis which attend rational discourse ought to turn to the arts and read Things Fall Aparrt (1958!) by Chinua Achebe to understand the problems with Western missionary paternalism. Maybe then those so disheartened why it's important to avoid the pitfalls of Western missionary maternalism.
posted by mistersquid at 8:52 AM on July 10, 2011 [10 favorites]


Liza, thanks for pointing out the imbalance. It hadn't occurred to me.

I am glad she's helping those children. Especially since she's so obviously passionate about them and what she's clearly accomplishing. But yes, I find the fact that they're being given that help coupled with a no-choice-in-the-matter Christian religious education is disturbing. Christianity enforces doctrines (anti-abortion and anti-contraception, aggressive evangelical missionary tactics) that have been deeply harmful to the third World.
posted by zarq at 9:02 AM on July 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


or let me put it this way,

the matrix of privileges for christian organizations are there for the taking. nowadays only the most evangelical of christians are the ones exploiting the benefits of said privileges. yet if i as an atheist or any of our muslim brothers or sister were to try to do what this woman is doing, we wouldnt be as successful and we may even be cut at the bud from the start for the political type of suspicion that comes with being a muslim or atheist.

the fact of the matter is that even though she is doing incredibly remarkable work, the criticisms are really not about her but about a system that punishes non-christians.

i used to homeschool my kids and would have hope to do so all the way til college but couldnt. the kinds of real estate perks religious organizations have in places like NYC is fucking ridiculous. the "empowering" of religious-based organizations with tax money over secular charities has basically raised the barrier of entry for anybody trying to create children's spaces of any kind with no religious purpose almost imposible. you are not a church or a synagogue, your legal & tax liabilities are just exhorbitant. and i dont include just as rapidly mosques because they've been 9/11ized.

the (tax, legal, real estate, labor, etc) system is such that it discriminates purposefully against non-religious charities of any kind but if favors with immense wealth christian and in second place jewish charities. not so for secular charities. the scrutiny, the legal liabilities, the years of being turned down as a charity by the IRS, the hoops you have to jump are just fucking exhausting.

this is the system you support high-fiving yourselves over a feel-good story. you're empowering the further entrenchment of organizations that because of dogma are inherently discriminatory.

it doesnt take away from the fact this woman is doing a tremendous amount of good for those children. what this story highlights and all have seem to miss is the fact that other americans who would to do this without the evangelical angle just can't so easily.
posted by liza at 9:05 AM on July 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


You must save a lot of money on healthcare but this sounds extremely dangerous.
Preventable medical mistakes and infections are responsible for about 200,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, according to an investigation by the Hearst media corporation. The report comes 10 years after the Institute of Medicine's "To Err Is Human" analysis, which found that 44,000 to 98,000 people were dying annually due to these errors and called for the medical community and government to cut that number in half by 2004.

The precise number of these deaths is still unknown because many states lack a standard or mandatory reporting system for injuries due to medical mistakes. The investigative team gathered disparate medical records, legal documents, personnel files and reports and analyzed databases to arrive at its estimate. (source )
We're not talking about anesthesia or IVs or dangerous antibiotics. We're talking about daily oral doses of pills prescribed by a medical professional. Do you really think you have to have a medical degree to follow directions?
posted by notion at 9:09 AM on July 10, 2011


and one more thing because this really is one of my pet peeves:

it's illegal to create homeschooling co-ops under NY education law. and the NYC building codes are such that if you try to do so and get found out you're taken to family court, fined/sued if not thrown into jail for child endangerment and educational neglect.

not so if it happens inside of a church, synagogue or mosque.

all the "underground" homeschooling co-ops that i know of are happening in churches, synagogues and mosques. you're an atheist? too bad.

tell me that isnt privilege.
posted by liza at 9:11 AM on July 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


Liza - NYCHEA is secular/inclusive, and might be worth you checking out - they (or someone who is a member) may be able to help you with some of the issues you are facing.

As for Amazima..I agree that this woman is trying to help and likely doing a lot of good, but the homepage of the charity she helped found makes it absolutely clear that one of the main purposes of the charity is "discipleship" - a look at the decipleship page shows this:

(the first paragraph was quotes further up in the thread, and I don't think the second has been mentioned yet. )

Every outreach of Amazima Ministries, whether education sponsorship, feeding, vocational assistance, or community outreach, is accompanied with Biblical teaching and spiritual encouragement. We know that nourishing the physical needs of the people is not the ultimate goal. We long to see them fed spiritually and restored into right relationship with God.

Two Ugandan Amazima employees spend time in six villages where the sponsored children live. They hold Bible studies and spiritual growth activities. Additionally, sponsored children gather together after school for Bible study and prayer, and meet together on Saturdays for worship and Biblical truth, taught by our Youth Minister.


This comes very close to outright sating what I suspect is the case here: the aid given to the families this charity helps is contingent on their converting to a particular brand of fundamentalist Protestantism and regularly attending services and classes sponsored by the group. No conversion, no food or care...which, unfortunately, was what I suspected immediately upon reading the article. She is going to be very easily able to fund raise in US churches, because her cause is based around conversion to her own faith - the food and aid are the hooks.

A look at her 'partners' page reveals 2 Dutch organisations which don't jump right out as religious (though I can't be sure)...and this. Yes, it's another family, who have adopted kids and started a 'ministry' in Uganda.
Sent by an evangelical missionary organisation, and a large evangelical church in NC.

Again, I am sure this young woman is doing a lot of good for the girls she's adopted...but it does appear that she's part of an organised effort to convert Ugandans into Christian fundimentalist groups, and considering the recent history of such groups in Uganda, I am not convinced that her presence is a net positive.
posted by Wylla at 9:48 AM on July 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


Worst case scenario, she disappears, and the kids are a little more jaded, but not dead, and maybe far enough along that they can take care of themselves.

If that's the worst scenario you can think of, I envy your naivete. It must be pleasant.

When Davis leaves and the girls she's "saved" are now permanently divorced from the shared common experience of their community, how do they fit in? How do they get treated by the girls who didn't get the benefit of Davis' attention. Are they shunned or attacked?
How do the local men treat young women in those circumstances? Will you still think Davis leaving is the worst case scenario if some or one of these girls get systematically raped for her association with Davis? It's a cold world out there and it's so far removed from Western experience that our rules often just don't apply. Maybe Davis stays and it all ends happily ever after, and maybe her presence causes a thousand times more pain and suffering in the long-term than she eases in the short.

Aid organizations can become bloated and corrupt and inefficient. Certainly the great majority of Western aid dollars going to African governments are stolen. And I hate to see another generation of religious indoctrination. I believe 100% that this woman has the strongest conviction that what she's doing is right, and that everyone here who thinks she's doing a good thing really believes that doing something is better than doing nothing when children are starving.

It's really hard to see past the feel-good when children are being "saved" but its a terribly short-sighted view of the situation. Choose your charitable organizations well, because the best understand the implications of what they do and understand that you don't solve hunger by distributing food. Sometimes nothing really is better than something, no matter how difficult nothing looks.
posted by FeralHat at 9:55 AM on July 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Take a look at what happens when Anthony Bourdain drops into Haiti with some well-intentioned but poorly thought out aid because it seems like the right thing to do, so surely it must be.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VntdGDv4brU (go to approx. 8:40)
posted by FeralHat at 10:16 AM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


had this article not described Katie Davis as "a devout Christian" the percentage of negative comments here would be far lower.

As an atheist, I completely agree.
posted by rollbiz at 6:46 AM on July 10


As an atheist and anti-theist, I second this agreement.

It's unfortunate that this person idolises Mother Theresa, and it's unfortunate that she's full of religion, but as far as I can tell from this piece she's doing a damned decent thing. As long as she isn't pushing her religion on the kids, good luck and all the best to her.
posted by Decani at 10:18 AM on July 10, 2011


I see people like Katie as ideological enemies. I am trying to help spread the skills of critical thinking and reflective practice, and broaden people's world views through exposure to English. I want people to question authority, not take things on faith, and to know that they can think for themselves and do not need to do stuff just because people in authority tell them to. I want them to meet the first person who is not a follower of a religion and to learn that such a thing is an option, and that even without God you can be a good person. I'm much more discreet about my proseletyzing than she is, but I will admit I am in many ways a missionary too, only we are playing on opposite teams. Every person that gets Jesus from her is that much further out of my grasp.

Would you please go read some William Sloane Coffin, Martin Luther King, Jr., Desmond Tutu, Oscar Romero, James Cone, or Dorothy Day and stop painting all Christians with the same prejudiced, intellectually lazy brush? Don't you know that there have been Christians who have been at the forefront of movements for justice and equality, who question authority, and who don't just "do stuff because people in authority tell them to?"

Just because you are unaware or conveniently ignore a large swath of Christian theology and practice does not mean it does not exist.
posted by 4ster at 10:19 AM on July 10, 2011 [7 favorites]


Decani - She is pushing her religion on the kids, and not just the one's she's adopted (if you adopt kids, they're your kids. Of course you'd raise them with your religion...so that's not really the issue here.)

Her charity - which is the issue - appears to have conversion as a condition of aid - children sponsored by the charity have to go to several church services and 'lessons in bible truth' per week.
posted by Wylla at 10:40 AM on July 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


or imagine a US muslim charity trying to do the same --given there's a huge muslim community in Uganda, to begin with.

Is there evidence that U.S.-based (or those based elsewhere) Muslim charities aren't doing this kind of work in Uganda, or other countries where there are both Christian and Muslim populations? The implication that they *couldn't* do this kind of work is begging the question.

When Davis leaves and the girls she's "saved" are now permanently divorced from the shared common experience of their community,

This is a concern, or ought to be, if you (general "you") can articulate what specific shared experiences these girls are missing.

I want to be really clear that I don't think her work, or the work of Western missionary/non-missionary aid organizations in general, should be celebrated with uncritical "Yays!" God knows there's plenty of well-founded criticism to go around.

But I think that good criticism is based on knowledge, and not assumptions. I don't think it's useful to assume, for instance, that the girls she's taken in are so divorced from their local communities that they'll be shunned. I don't think it's useful to assume that her religious framework is automatically at odds with the religious structures or practices in Uganda, and to which the girls would have been or had been brought up in even without her involvement.
posted by rtha at 10:47 AM on July 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


> Every person that gets Jesus from her is that much further out of my grasp.

Speaking of god complexes.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 10:50 AM on July 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


considering the recent history of such groups in Uganda

This is worth highlighting; some fundamentalist Christian groups have, for example, been instrumental in promoting horrible anti-gay violence in Uganda. There's no evidence Katie Davis shares in that ideology, but there are definitely good reasons for general skepticism about current Christian missionary work in Uganda.

Just because you are unaware or conveniently ignore a large swath of Christian theology and practice does not mean it does not exist.

That kind of works both ways, doesn't it?
posted by mediareport at 10:52 AM on July 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Not every Christian is a gay-bashing sociopath.

what
posted by bq at 10:53 AM on July 10, 2011


Just because you are unaware or conveniently ignore a large swath of Christian theology and practice does not mean it does not exist.

That kind of works both ways, doesn't it?


Indeed, it does, but the side of things I am speaking of is seldom represented or considered here.
posted by 4ster at 10:54 AM on July 10, 2011


The hardbitten reflexive pessimism in reaction to this post and the automatic generation of the argumentative dialectical shitstorm of fury is one of the things I love about mefi as a community (because I have that kind of quality so deeply embedded in my own cerebral wiring) and also one of the things I hate about it. People whose opinions I ordinarily respect and admire end up making logically sound arguments against anything and everything -- including this situation, in which a woman looks outside herself (and I have to assume a very privileged self, knowing what I know about Brentwood, TN, one of the most affluent and also one of the most heavily Christian-fundie-infested counties in the US) and tries, in whatever way she sees possible, to do something uplifting and good and useful.

And I realize that I can (if I wish) start with the critical assumptions that she is doing things in Not the Appropriate Way, and that she's helping to solidify and perpetuate the historical record of paternalism and colonial degradation of the African continent, and that she's doing it while spreading the Word of God in a country that is already using the Word of God (as spread by people like her) to spread hatred and to ruin the lives of gay people there, and that she maybe should have thought about making things better closer to home instead of exporting more fundie religious bullshit to a country in Africa that's already stock-full of it, and that she's ignoring the complexities and intricacies of aid work in developing countries, and yet I still, in spite of all the above, cannot bring myself to launch the automatic grenade rocket of Metafilter Pissed-Off How-Dare-She!!!!! Outrage.

Because Katie's right -- now is all we have. That sentiment translates across religions and even bridges, I might hazard a guess, religion and non-religion.

Because, while questioning is good, and while reflecting on things is good, and while pausing before you do anything in your life is good, and while bringing critical thinking to bear on a situation is good, and while having the ability to show that you have an impressive intellectual arsenal of arguments against anything and everything under the sun is good, and while having fast-and-ready skepticism about "feel-good stories" is good, well, it's also sometimes bad, and it's sometimes just damn corrosive, and it deepens the unhappiness of the community and creates a feedback loop of bitterness and distrust. And I'm not just talking about this post.

And sometimes just being young in spirit and moving and doing and not caring or thinking of the consequences and all of the intellectual arsenal that I can bring to bear against something is good, as well. And sometimes just letting things be and not casting my own judgment is good too, especially when I know that there are mefites who will and do cast their judgment with far more deadly force and shock and awe than I could ever muster.

And that's why my heart sometimes falls and my stomach sometimes turns at the inherent and instant pessimism and cynicism I more often than not see when I come here. I usually ignore it and move on, or fall in heartily with the rage-fest because it's the easy thing to do, but in this instance, I couldn't do it. And you can tell me to fuck off, or FIAMO, or take it to metatalk, or whatever, but I paid my $5 just as everyone else has, and that's my opinion of this thread.
posted by blucevalo at 11:01 AM on July 10, 2011 [18 favorites]


When Davis leaves and the girls she's "saved" are now permanently divorced from the shared common experience of their community, how do they fit in? How do they get treated by the girls who didn't get the benefit of Davis' attention. Are they shunned or attacked?

How do the local men treat young women in those circumstances? Will you still think Davis leaving is the worst case scenario if some or one of these girls get systematically raped for her association with Davis? It's a cold world out there and it's so far removed from Western experience that our rules often just don't apply. Maybe Davis stays and it all ends happily ever after, and maybe her presence causes a thousand times more pain and suffering in the long-term than she eases in the short.


This is your imagination, which I'm not interested in. Women in Africa are also sexually assaulted because they think it cures AIDS to take a girl's virginity. If somehow, and this is entirely based in your twisted imagination, being cared for by a white woman makes them more susceptible to abuse than the other crazy reasons women in that continent are regularly abused, it will be just one of many reasons why there is misery and suffering there. That doesn't mean you give up on it.

This is similar to not helping inner city youth because they may get beat up for not joining gangs. Better to let the "shared experience of their community" control their destiny without the pesky intervention of outsiders.

Sometimes nothing really is better than something, no matter how difficult nothing looks.

I'd like to see your case for letting a sick child die because when they get older they might be disadvantaged in comparison to the kids that are already dead.
posted by notion at 11:03 AM on July 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


notion: I am completely over this mentality that only someone with a degree knows how to feed people and give them medicine. It's a ridiculous idea based on no evidence whatsoever.

To be fair, I don't think this is exactly what fuq is talking about. EMTs were used as an example, but the numbered point mentioned training. And I think even you would agree that in order to follow directions, some training is needed.

And also to add, fuq mentions administrative duties that go beyond just feeding people and giving them medicine. The mundane activities of paperwork, logistics, and accounting do require more training than usual, particularly when using someone else's money and resources. Remember that Greg Mortensen of "Three Cups of Tea" fame got into such trouble involving use of funds, and he's supposedly a registered Trauma Nurse, so that could be used as an example in your argument too.
posted by FJT at 11:05 AM on July 10, 2011


Mediareport: There's no evidence that Katie Davis herself is specifically anti-gay, but there's abundant evidence on her own website that at least some of the groups with which she's affiliated herself are. Unclear whether any are involved directly in anti-gay activism.
posted by Wylla at 11:07 AM on July 10, 2011


Don't you know that there have been Christians who have been at the forefront of movements for justice and equality, who question authority, and who don't just "do stuff because people in authority tell them to?"
Just because you are unaware or conveniently ignore a large swath of Christian theology and practice does not mean it does not exist.


Just because it exists does not mean people like Meatbomb have to see it the same way you do.

The insistence that anti-theists must be "unaware" of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. et al is just more of the same dynamic; talk about a "prejudiced, intellectually lazy brush".
posted by vorfeed at 12:03 PM on July 10, 2011


rtha: "Is there evidence that U.S.-based (or those based elsewhere) Muslim charities aren't doing this kind of work in Uganda, or other countries where there are both Christian and Muslim populations?"

Are you asking for evidence that something does not happen? Really?
posted by brokkr at 12:10 PM on July 10, 2011


I would so love this story if Katie had found a local woman (mother) to support, and then Katie became "sister" to all of those children ... and she never talked about her religion.

It is not that I think Katie is in any way evil, but I am deeply saddened by her approach. It reeks of ego and evangelism.

I intended to compare the situation to anyones experience with fundamentalists of whatever stripe. If anyone has had trouble with a certain sort of individual, or groups of people who are composed of people of that same sort, if they see that person in a position of power over others, they'll come in and say hi in here.

Having personally seen the bitterness of an Indian who was raised in the rigid evangelism of catholic missionaries ('You can eat when you pray') and having heard and studied so much about the missionaries in Hawai'i ** ("They came to do good - and ended up doing well -- [for themselves]") ... I have my own bias about anyone doing good work in the name of their religion.

Even having that skepticism, though, did not stop me from joining a group of christians on a medical trip to Honduras some years ago. I truly believed in the woman who headed the group - she really was intent on simply doing good work (and never evangelized). It only took one week on this trip for me to see that the 'supporter' in the background (the evangelist church) was actually in control of the mission. It took me a long time to wash off the dirt I felt.

Can religious people do good work. Yes. Is Katie? Probably. But ... she is also very likely opening a door for something noone would wish on these people.



** There is a some controversy about the missionaries in Hawai'i. Yes, they brought medicine and education, and, yes, many were purely giving and caring people. They also brought with them a cultural imperialism that nearly destroyed the native people. Subsequently, the second generation of missionaries imposed an oligarchy - a social/economic/political structure that left most of the Hawaiians impoverished, diseased, incarcerated and disenfranchised. And yes, some responsibility must go to the Hawaiians themselves. They were too unquestioning of strangers. Even today I see as them too tolerant of the slick-talking evangelists of the 'second wave missionaries' -- way too many Hawaiians who were previously socially-tolerant now only admire rabid evangelists and tea party puppets.
posted by Surfurrus at 12:20 PM on July 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


If life was as simple as, "how can you not help this dying baby?" then life would be simple.
posted by FeralHat at 12:25 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just because it exists does not mean people like Meatbomb have to see it the same way you do.

The insistence that anti-theists must be "unaware" of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. et al is just more of the same dynamic; talk about a "prejudiced, intellectually lazy brush".


I am in no way suggesting that anti-theists have to see these other strains of Christianity (the strains of King, Coffin, Day, et al) as I (and others) do. What I am asserting is that it is disingenuous to pretend that those strains do not exist, as Meatbomb's rather facile description of Christian practice does.
posted by 4ster at 12:27 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


@Wylla

i was board member of NYCHEA for 3 years. i was active on NYHEN and other national homeschooling networks for over 5 years. i speak from outright first-hand homeschooling activism, actual first-hand learning and lobbying of the laws and regulations not just anecdotal evidence.

the hoops secular/atheist/non-theist homeschoolers have to jump to have access to what comes embedded for theist homeschoolers is outright ridiculous.
posted by liza at 12:35 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Conversion is a condition for aid? Okay. Fuck that.
posted by lazaruslong at 12:37 PM on July 10, 2011


I see people like Katie as ideological enemies. I am trying to help spread the skills of critical thinking and reflective practice, and broaden people's world views through exposure to English. I want people to question authority, not take things on faith, and to know that they can think for themselves and do not need to do stuff just because people in authority tell them to.

Quoted for truth.

How can anyone see this as a 'facile description'? Religion is by definition about faith. And faith is a good thing -- just not a good thing when extended to all humans - and to human institutions. Unquestioning faith in a person (Katie) or in a church is just dangerous. In this story it seems the demand for such faith is part of the deal. The children are being held captive by their hunger and need. That is evil.

I was going to add some links to incidents of violence against christian missionaries around the world, but there are just way too many. The discussions on some of those links could be quite enlightening for anyone who believes 'the ends justify the means' (i.e., "so what if Katie is forcing her religion on the children, she is doing good now.")
posted by Surfurrus at 12:57 PM on July 10, 2011


So let me understand this clearly. Some think it would be better for some of these children to die rather than be raised in a loving Christian home? That would have been the literal choice for some of these children. One in particular at least would literally have died-the living relatives were the ones who begged this girl to take the child in as they could not care for it.

This wasn't a case of a young woman collecting kids like some people collect pets. This was a girl who could not say no when these children were brought to her.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:09 PM on July 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


Can religious people do good work. Yes. Is Katie? Probably. But ... she is also very likely opening a door for something noone would wish on these people.

Can someone explain, in very simple terms, how saving a child's life can be a moot point if it crosses your ideological boundaries? Exactly how much does a child have to suffer before we're willing to let someone we disagree with save their lives?
posted by notion at 1:09 PM on July 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Saving a child's life is a good thing. This girl chose to 'save the children' (especially their 'souls') in the way she knew how. I am not 'hating on' Katie, but I can't support her choice ... and there were very likely many other choices.

Could Katie have gone 'further' and turned the children over to people she 'disagreed' with? I would admire her if she could have swallowed her culturally defined limits and moved in with a very poor local family, and contributed to their lives under their conditions ... even if she found them morally repugnant.

I still say ... ego and evangelism ... they go hand in hand.
posted by Surfurrus at 1:17 PM on July 10, 2011


I would like it very much if people who comment here would take the time to read a good section of her blog. I know it's not a requirement but it might make things go.....more smoothly.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:19 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


St. Alia, what do you mean by "smoothly"?
posted by Surfurrus at 1:23 PM on July 10, 2011


So let me understand this clearly. Some think it would be better for some of these children to die rather than be raised in a loving Christian home?

No, you don't quite understand. The dichotomy is not critical thinking OR save the child's life. Her program may be able to be expanded and improved to save even more lives if we stop our automatic praising and shine a critical light on her program to see what works and what doesn't. A lot of people making comments don't seem interested in whether this program works or doesn't, and if it does work, what are the elements that cause it to succeed and how can the elements be replicated elsewhere or adapted to different cultures? Criticism can also tease out the very good things about a program too and if you refuse assessment then it handicaps the program's sustainability. Remember OLPC and the Roundabout play pump? Credulous approval and faith doesn't pump water and it won't keep a program going.

Also: If you say you support this woman but don't go to donate money to her project you are actually not supporting this woman at all.
posted by fuq at 1:24 PM on July 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


I am in no way suggesting that anti-theists have to see these other strains of Christianity (the strains of King, Coffin, Day, et al) as I (and others) do. What I am asserting is that it is disingenuous to pretend that those strains do not exist, as Meatbomb's rather facile description of Christian practice does.

Again, Meatbomb did not "pretend that those strains do not exist". He simply failed to view them as you do. What you quoted from him was "I want people to question authority, not take things on faith, and to know that they can think for themselves and do not need to do stuff just because people in authority tell them to."

It's pretty easy to see why not everyone believes that liberal, social-justice Christianity meets this standard. For one thing, liberal Christians tend to argue that God (a.k.a. The Authority) wants Y rather than X, which is decidedly not an argument against the authority of God, or even his earthly agents. For another, even the most liberal Christianity means taking things on faith: if not the literal existence of Jesus Christ, then the essential correctness of his teachings and/or the teachings of liberal Christianity itself. For someone interested in self-determined values ("think for yourself"), organized religion may not cut it, no matter how justice-y it is.

In short: yes, liberal Christianity exists, but that doesn't mean everyone has to like it. Other people may or may not buy the idea that it's a valid example of anti-authoritarian thought, and they are not "pretending it doesn't exist" simply because their perception of Christianity doesn't match yours.
posted by vorfeed at 1:25 PM on July 10, 2011


I agree, St. Alia. There's the story of the one child that had been locked on a porch without food and with stones being thrown at her, and this woman took the child in, fed her until she was 15 pounds heavier, and sent her to live with her (the child's) grandmother. That's saving a life, full stop.
posted by sweetkid at 1:26 PM on July 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


@surfurrus-by smoothly I mean by a shared foundation of information, whether agreed with or not. That's all.


To the rest of you....let me give you my perspective, probably pretty unique for Metafilter but probably pretty similar to her perspective.

In my faith, one is supposed to be following God's directives, not one's own. This is not a case where a person saw a need and intellectually tried to figure out the best way to meet it according to "human wisdom."

This is a case where this young woman received a calling from God to do what she is doing. I admire the heck out of her but I am the first to say I could not do what she is doing. I think of all she has given up and probably will be giving up in future....but here's the thing. When one is following one's calling it doesn't really feel like one is giving up. Well, maybe sometimes BUT the joy of following one's life purpose overweighs it.

You can't really compare what she does to an NGO. A secular charity can't do what she does. And probably shouldn't do what she does.

And if you removed God from the equation, you would be removing more than you't think-you'd be removing the very strength it takes to do what she does.

Now, it makes sense that secular people might find fault with this approach. That's just the way it is. But while pundits in the wider world argue and discuss and criticise and think about ways to fund....

She just keeps loving and feeding and caring for children.

It's no more complicated than that.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:33 PM on July 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


For another, even the most liberal Christianity means taking things on faith

Yeah, I think there's different ways of thinking going on here. I am 100% against faith. I think it is completely negative to believe something there is no evidence for the sole purpose of believing in something there is no evidence for. I can see no benefit what so ever in self-delusion, which is what I see faith to be. Faith even extends to believing things that are provably wrong. I can't understand why that's a good thing and so when I am presented with things I am necessarily skeptical because I do not value believing or knowing things which cannot be verified in reality. Some people strongly value accepting certain information as fact without any sort of evidence and view this as a positive thing. No one wants children to die and it's not very nice to accuse us of wanting children to die because we don't share your epistemology.
posted by fuq at 1:34 PM on July 10, 2011


St. Alia, what do you mean by "smoothly"?

As St. Alia says, by allowing us to work from a foundation of shared information, rather than working from assumptions that are not necessarily supported by the NPR article or the blog. For instance: I am not 'hating on' Katie, but I can't support her choice ... and there were very likely many other choices.

Like what, exactly? Reading her blog - I've been jumping around in it, so there's definitely stuff I've missed - it's clear that for some of these kids, there were no other choices, except dying.
posted by rtha at 1:52 PM on July 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thank you for that perspective, St. Alia, it helps me understand a bit.

And I appreciate that you can see others are viewing this through a completely different lens. My lens is quite strong - the word 'missionary' is almost a trigger for me. I will admit that. And perhaps it is because I have that (missionary) in my blood - some far cast relatives did their share of evangelizing to cowboys and Chinese in past generations. I have no record of that being a good thing.

I have always hoped I would find a pure-hearted, real person of faith doing good work without the taint of evangelism ... but I never have. And so, I am skeptical ... but I haven't stopped hoping.

This is a case where this young woman received a calling from God to do what she is doing. .... the joy of following one's life purpose ...

And there's the rub. It is hard for anyone not of such 'faith' to believe that the 'calling' is anything more than choosing what feels right (good). I re-read Katie's blog. I am sorry to say that it sounds very egotistical to me. Not surprising -- she is young (and what blog is not egotistical?!). She wants to be 'like Christ' ... and she extols the children calling out 'my Savior' (which one?). Everyone calls her Mommy. She is indeed ... full of herself.

She just keeps loving and feeding and caring for children.
It's no more complicated than that.


If that were only the truth.

There is nothing simple about religious zeal. "Calling out to God" is what deranged killers and terrorists claim as their message. That is not to deny the beauty of faith, but only to say I believe that, while it can serve private comfort, it rarely serves good actions. Humans have walked this earth long enough to know that they should act carefully, with considered thought and reason ... and with great respect for consequences, especially the unintended ones.
posted by Surfurrus at 1:57 PM on July 10, 2011


Reading her blog - I've been jumping around in it, so there's definitely stuff I've missed - it's clear that for some of these kids, there were no other choices, except dying.

Exactly, rtha, her blog shows what she sees and understands. My point is that she appears to be very limited. I think others above have mentioned their experiences in foreign cultures and have mentioned some gaps in this blog account. I would definitely point to my own experiences as coloring my skepticism. You do not have to believe me or read more about 'cultural imperialism' or missionaries' crimes. You can take her blog on faith.
posted by Surfurrus at 2:01 PM on July 10, 2011


I really wish there was a way to favorite parts of a comment without favoriting the whole thing.

I agree with 99% of Alia's last comment, up until the last sentence.

It's no more complicated than that.

But it is. That's what this discussion is about. The too often tragic history of Christian missions and cross-cultural evangelizing is what makes it so.

And yes, I do agree that the more of her blog commentters would read, the better they would understand what she is actually doing and not doing.
posted by marsha56 at 2:02 PM on July 10, 2011


There is nothing simple about religious zeal. "Calling out to God" is what deranged killers and terrorists claim as their message. That is not to deny the beauty of faith, but only to say I believe that, while it can serve private comfort, it rarely serves good actions. Humans have walked this earth long enough to know that they should act carefully, with considered thought and reason ... and with great respect for consequences, especially the unintended ones.

Holy fuck dude. If I murder the kids because I believe that life is meaningless because God doesn't exist, are you going to give me a high five?

Religious influence has its problems. Saving children from dying is not one of these problems.
posted by notion at 2:03 PM on July 10, 2011


Notion, I have no idea how you made that leap of logic, but I hope you didn't get slammed by the backwash.
posted by Surfurrus at 2:06 PM on July 10, 2011


Well, yes, she is full of the selfabsorption of youth.

But considering what she is doing, I can forgive that. She'll grow out of it.

I have always hoped I would find a pure-hearted, real person of faith doing good work without the taint of evangelism

I think that would be an oxymoron.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:06 PM on July 10, 2011


Are you asking for evidence that something does not happen? Really?

Then let me rephrase: Is there evidence that Muslim charities, whether based in the U.S. or in other countries, are forbidden by governments from offering aid? liza implied that it would be unimaginable for a Muslim charity to do this kind of work. I know that Muslim charities exist. I don't know much or anything about the specific kind of work they do. I do in fact find it hard to imagine that a Muslim aid organization or Muslim volunteers would automatically be prevented from working in health clinics or running food aid programs. Barring strong opposition from locals, I mean.

I know that there are Christian aid organizations that work in Muslim countries, and they do so with the understanding that no proselytizing will be happening: they're there to immunize kids or build schools or dig wells or teach irrigation techniques. So I don't understand why it's "unimaginable" for Muslim aid organizations to operate in similar ways.

Maybe they don't. I don't know. That's why I'm asking.
posted by rtha at 2:06 PM on July 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


"You can't really compare what she does to an NGO. A secular charity can't do what she does. And probably shouldn't do what she does. "


@St Alia

so you think that because am an atheist i cannot teach children ethics, nor morals, nor the value and dignity of human life? so you mean to imply that i as a mother am not teaching those things to my own children already and am completely unable to do it with children in need elsewhere.

here is where people like you and me will never see eye-to-eye. you believe am damned and that you should only be but part of a handful of people who get the legal, financial and social perks of being heroes because of your faith.

am saying that faith shouldnt have anything to do with aiding people in need and that my non-belief in a god shouldnt be punished with discriminatory laws and regulations that would hamper my ability to raise the financial, social and political capital needed to do the same kind of work this modern missionary does.

religious privilege and discrimination based on religious affiliation is what gives people like you and this woman the advantage not your faith. you arent better than me or other atheists because of your faith. you get better opportunities to help people in need because the US tax code and legal system discriminates against non-theists.
posted by liza at 2:07 PM on July 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


It would be great to breathe and remember this is just the internet before posting.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 2:08 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


and @rtha, seriously, wtf. since 9/11 dozens of US based muslim charities have been scrutinized and eve taken to court because of suspected ties to Al Qeda. just look into the damn MeFi archives if you dont know how to work "teh gugle".
posted by liza at 2:12 PM on July 10, 2011


I think that would be an oxymoron.

I have to grin. There ARE religions that don't evangelize, you know? I am thinking (strictly speaking) of Hindus, some Buddhists, Shinto, Tao ... animists ... there must be more. Westerners have a hard time wrapping their head around that. The biblical religions (Jewish, Christian, Islamic) seem to hold evangelism as a main tenet. Still, there are even sects within those religions who do not honor it so much (I am thinking Quakers, Sufis, Gnostics ...).

Evangelism is an ugly and insulting artifact of a patriarchal culture.
posted by Surfurrus at 2:13 PM on July 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


so you think that because am an atheist i cannot teach children ethics, nor morals, nor the value and dignity of human life? so you mean to imply that i as a mother am not teaching those things to my own children already and am completely unable to do it with children in need elsewhere.

Perhaps I'm misreading, but I don't think that is what St. Alia is saying at all.

I interpreted her remark to mean that it would require an incredible source of strength to do what this woman is doing and for Katie that comes from her religious faith.

I don't believe that St. Alia believes that this community is unable to raise their children with ethics or morals, even if those ethics and morals are different from her own.

St. Alia, correct me if I'm off base.
posted by marsha56 at 2:16 PM on July 10, 2011


Liza I am not saying that but I am saying that you wouldn't have the benefit of divine strength to do it. Mind you I hope you don't take that as an insult as you by definition do not believe in divine strength.


I personally believe the world would be a much better place if there wasn't so much red tape, period. I'm frankly surprised there aren't ways for atheist nonprofits to do things. I never really thought about it before now.

@surfurrus, let's just say from my faith perspective, not telling others about Jesus would be worse to at least the tenth power than bogarting a reefer. In other words, incredibly selfish. I know you don't see it that way, but from a Christian perspective it's pretty rotten not to. Mind you I think people shouldn't be badgered, either. If you've heard it once you've heard it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:18 PM on July 10, 2011


No, marsha56, you got it. Thanks.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:18 PM on July 10, 2011


Exactly, rtha, her blog shows what she sees and understands. My point is that she appears to be very limited. I think others above have mentioned their experiences in foreign cultures and have mentioned some gaps in this blog account. I would definitely point to my own experiences as coloring my skepticism. You do not have to believe me or read more about 'cultural imperialism' or missionaries' crimes. You can take her blog on faith.

The Hawaiian side of my family is mostly nominally Mormon; the bits that aren't are nominally Congregationalist. I was born there and lived there until I was 12. I'm familiar with the giant, enormous, gaping pitfalls created by even well-meaning people wreaking complete havoc because they don't know what they're doing, and/or they think they're doing the right thing, and/or they feel that because they think God told them to, going in and plonking around without knowing anything about the culture you're plonking around in is not just okay, but crucial, because that culture must be brought to Jesus at all cost.

I want to reiterate that I do not think that what she's doing is without huge problematic areas; that she has blind spots (like the rest of us do) that are enormous; that she is probably making some things worse; that she is, in spite of all the undeniably good things she has done, one link in a long and mostly awful chain of white, Western cultural, economic, and religious imperialism.

What I'm trying to get away from is the usual broad-brush "they are X, all X is bad, therefore they are bad and their work is bad" that often happens here (not that we're special in that regard). I've been guilty of it myself and probably will be again. I'm trying to get away from what seems to me to be unhelpful stuff like "Oh yeah well if she had been [other religion/background], she wouldn't have been able to do this at all!" because - well, does that mean that she can't legitimately do this *unless* she's [other religion/background]?

On preview: liza - thanks, that was very helpful. I appreciate your taking my questions and search for information seriously, and for giving my ignorance the benefit of the doubt rather than sneering at me.
posted by rtha at 2:19 PM on July 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


> not telling others about Jesus would be worse to at least the tenth power than bogarting a reefer.

Sounds like this thread is crying for some Rasta roots dub.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 2:20 PM on July 10, 2011


and again, you are saying that am not worthy of such work and incapable of doing so for not believing in something as a "divine strength" when in the absence of evidence of such a thing, i derive strength from the very people and work i do in helping others.

if you dont get how you frame your religious worldview to discriminate and perpetuate discrimination against those who dont share in your worldview, you dont get where a lot of the my criticism about having governments and society encourage your discrimination comes from.
posted by liza at 2:22 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


She said you wouldn't have the benefit of "divine strength" because you don't believe in it. That doesn't mean you wouldn't have other sources of strength as you yourself say, and I don't see St. Alia arguing with that. I don't ever see her as saying you would not be worthy of this work.
posted by marsha56 at 2:29 PM on July 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


I understand that this discussion is going to end up focussing on US charities, given that this charity is US based and given the damage US evangelicals have wrought in Africa. However, it is worth remembering that not every charity or NGO operating in Africa is US based and that not every country gives Christian or religious charities the advantages they have in the US. I get the frustration behind the breaks given to churches, even as they jam their theology down people's throats, but it's not a universal.

On this case I'm honestly split; I am not comfortable with the come to Jesus element at all (I am not a believer myself) but it does seem on the whole that this group has a message of empowering worm that I find very attractive and that is often missing in a lot of Christian charities. And there is the fact that despite that it is a product of colonialism and violence many Ugandans are devout Christians.

And I have to admit that I tend to prefer to donate to smaller, more focussed charities like this. I think it's a product of where my volunteering experience is. I guess I will probably try and look for a similar secular charity in Uganda and give to that, because the need is clearly overwhelming. (And before people get on my case about the need at home, I do also give to local, Canadian charities and ones in Irelnad too.)
posted by lesbiassparrow at 2:31 PM on July 10, 2011


One other thing: I am really grateful for the many differing views that have been presented here. I have a lot to think about, especially about my own personal reactions to such stories. I'm a recent member of Mefi (though I've been lurking for years) and I'm really appreciative of the multiple perspectives on these posts and of the chance to take part in the discussion

( I hope this is not an inappropriate comment.)
posted by lesbiassparrow at 2:38 PM on July 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


What I'm trying to get away from is the usual broad-brush "they are X, all X is bad, therefore they are bad and their work is bad" that often happens here (not that we're special in that regard).

Thank you for your perspective, rtha. I agree that there is no reason to keep beating this topic to death. I was obviously affected by the thread-gushing admiration of this evangelist. I feel the trust of Katie is based on what I see as a very tiny picture of the situation (with many missing pieces). Since her 'goodness' is taken on faith (and faith in her words), and there is no way to argue against faith, I won't pursue this anymore. Others have done an admirable job of presenting good alternative views above.

Good conversation, folks.



And, yes, to anyone who wonders, I have heard about your Christ. If you feel you need to tell me again to assuage your selfishness, please be ready to hear my rebuttals. Thank you.
posted by Surfurrus at 2:45 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


my last comment on this thread:

the conundrum of atheism is that since the belief is that there is no god and since there is no such thing as an ritual organization built around that belief, atheist charities (if they were to exist) wouldnt fall under the category of RELIGIOUS charities. and the conundrum is even more patent if you stop to consider that an atheist charity wouldnt necessarily mean it's synonymous to secular.

the legal and political power along with the wealth amassed in the last 30 or so years by religious charities, especially those ran by evangelical christian organizations is staggering. it is not a coincidence given how the GOP came to power through a lot of the loopholes they exploited concerning the marriage of evangelical churches and political organizing.

i would suggest anything MARCI HAMILTON has written on the subject. she is a constitutional law professor at Bejamin Cardozo law school and her book, "God and the Gavel" blew me away. she write regularly for Law.com and her work is really accessible. i highly recommend it. oh, and she is actually a political conservative and devout christian very critical of the whole system.
posted by liza at 2:46 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


CHARITABLE ATHEISTS WHO WOULD WANT TO DO EXACTLY THE SAME THING DONT GET THE NON-TAXED, NON-PROFIT PERKS THAT CHRISTIANS DO.

a 501(c)(3) is a 501(c)(3), regardless of whether it is Christian or not. This is an incorrect statement.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:53 PM on July 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


haters gonna hate
posted by Senator at 3:02 PM on July 10, 2011


and thinkers gonna think
posted by fuq at 3:06 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


famous last words "my last comment"

@ironmouth

Marci Hamilton makes the case that not all 501 c(3) are created equal. her book is exactly about how religious organizations are on a whole different playing field than secular and other 501c(3)s. and she uses court cases to prove her point.

i highly recommend her as a first place of reference for more on how religious organizations in the US are not on a par with non-profits and NGOs.
posted by liza at 3:08 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


One more thing: God's strength has been known to give out on people quite suddenly and can't compare to a well-organized agency with resources, connects and trust.
posted by fuq at 3:09 PM on July 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


CHARITABLE ATHEISTS WHO WOULD WANT TO DO EXACTLY THE SAME THING DONT GET THE NON-TAXED, NON-PROFIT PERKS THAT CHRISTIANS DO.

Talk about broad brush.

I don't know that Partners in Health is explicitly atheist; they are nonreligious. Doctors Without Borders is likewise nonreligious, and their U.S. arm is a 501(c)3. There are hundreds of other nonreligious charitable organizations based in the U.S. that have 501(c)3 status.

I understand that the point your making is that religious (that is, Christian) groups in the U.S. may get certain (positive) assumptions made about them that make getting or keeping their nonprofit status easier, and I'd agree with that. But you do your argument no favors by making statements like the one above.
posted by rtha at 3:29 PM on July 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


I love when white people talk about poor/brown/foreign people like they're turtles stuck on their back on a nature show: "It may SEEM cruel not to help them, but we can't interfere with the will of nature!"
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 3:55 PM on July 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Argh. Point you're making. You're. Dammit.
posted by rtha at 3:59 PM on July 10, 2011


aaarrrrgggghhh

UB, there is a difference between turning a turtle over so it can survive, and taking it home to keep on display for all to see what a Good Christian you are.
posted by Surfurrus at 4:00 PM on July 10, 2011


This thread is......fascinating.

Seriously.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:10 PM on July 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sorry, I couldn't let go of the thread.

I did some searches. This is basically a one link fpp. Everything said (and everything I could fine in a quick google) is just quotes of what Katie says about herself, or what other people of her congregation are echoin. Why should anyone take any of this seriously (and why did NPR?).
posted by Surfurrus at 4:13 PM on July 10, 2011


However, it is worth remembering that not every charity or NGO operating in Africa is US based and that not every country gives Christian or religious charities the advantages they have in the US.

Yep, thank you for pointing that out! I was just thinking, hang on a minute, there are so many secular charities and NGO's doing work in Africa today, whether they're the huge famous international ones, or smaller and more local, or something in between.

Here's the UN list of local registered NGO's in Uganda.

Incidentally, since someone wondered, there is at least one Muslim organisation in there, Uganda Muslim Women Vision.

So, is or isn't charity/NGO status a separate thing for tax and legal purposes, also in the US, regardless if it's a secular or religious organisation? I assumed so, because as far as I know it is like that pretty much everywhere?
posted by bitteschoen at 4:28 PM on July 10, 2011


Notion, I have no idea how you made that leap of logic, but I hope you didn't get slammed by the backwash.

You said: 'There is nothing simple about religious zeal. "Calling out to God" is what deranged killers and terrorists claim as their message.'

If you're comparing all Christian to terrorists, there's no reason I can't compare all atheists to violent nihilists. If she picks up a gun and starts shooting people that refuse her help maybe terrorism would be an apt comparison, but something tells me that's not very likely.

You're making the same arguments fundamentalists make: atheists can't be doing good because they don't have God, and you seem to believe that Christians can't be doing good because they do have God.

Let me put it another way: let's say Mormonism tomorrow turns into a universal religion, whose only goal is to get people out of poverty and to reduce violence. They renounce hierarchy, it's members freely accept any member of society for any reason, and abandons any statements of hate that it has made in the past, pushing for equality for all people, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or wealth. They sell all of their material assets except for their most basic needs to house supplies and hold meeting, which become locally run. They build schools, they educate kids (while not proselytizing), they feed the hungry, they build homes, and so on. Are you going to be there wagging your finger, talking about how the history of bigamy and racism? Or are you going to tell them good job and offer to help?

Re-reading some of my posts in the past, I've been more guilty of this than anyone. But now it seems ridiculous to me to judge any organization on their worst history. It's wrong when right-wing commentators compare Obama to Mao, it's wrong when left-wing commentators compare Bush to Hitler, except where the similarities are actually there.

This is not to say we shouldn't be somewhat skeptical of organizations based on that history, but to say that one of the problems in our society is that sometimes young idealistic evangelicals decide to move to Africa and save lives is a fucking tragedy in and of itself.
posted by notion at 5:34 PM on July 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


So, is or isn't charity/NGO status a separate thing for tax and legal purposes, also in the US, regardless if it's a secular or religious organisation? I assumed so, because as far as I know it is like that pretty much everywhere?

Yes. You can be a religious org and not tax-exempt; likewise non-religious and not tax-exempt. You can be a religious org and be tax-exempt, or be non-religious and tax-exempt. There are also organizations that are explicitly atheist/humanist that are tax-exempt charitable orgs. It's not a problem-free tent, but it is a pretty big one.
posted by rtha at 6:00 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love when white people talk about poor/brown/foreign people like they're turtles stuck on their back on a nature show: "It may SEEM cruel not to help them, but we can't interfere with the will of nature!"

You see, only professional turtle rescuers should even bother looking at a turtle, otherwise the turtle may be ostracized or have to hear about jesus or may suffer from a centuries-long history of human-focused ulterior motives ("Tonight I dine on turtle soup!" How come you never hear about that?). In fact, by helping a turtle, you're actually a bad person and making the situation worse and we see from the long history of human-turtle relations (cf. The Secret of the Ooze) that it's far better to leave them alone or at least work through the local turtle ecosystem than to impose your human values on them, but the real question is why you're bothering with turtles when the squirrel outside your door really needs your help you selfish ass.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 6:25 PM on July 10, 2011 [12 favorites]


If you're comparing all Christian to terrorists, ...

No, I wasn't, Notion. That is obvious from what I wrote.

FAITH - blind FAITH - is what I wrote about. Blind faith relies on unquestioning allegiance; it requires non-thought. Blind faith in anyone is dangerous - atheists, christians, muslims -- anyone. Radical religious terrorists (be it IRA or Al Qaeda) are examples of blind faith leading to violence. Christians can also be guilty of spreading pain when they act on blind faith; history shows this.

... and please don't split hairs, notion ... of course, not all pious, religious people spread pain!


Actually, this discussion has made me even more skeptical because I don't know if there is any proof that this story is even real. We have been asked to have blind faith about this story - based on a blog by Katie. There are no other articles, reviews, accounts of Katie's work other than her own (except for echoes of it from her congregation and from NPR, who offered Katie's quotes, but little else. ). I'm not saying it is any kind of elaborate scam, but this story sure doesn't deserve the kind of unquestioning fawning we've seen here. It is just her talking about herself!
posted by Surfurrus at 6:31 PM on July 10, 2011


Mind you I think people shouldn't be badgered, either. If you've heard it once you've heard it.

Absolutely reasonable, thank you!

Oh btw, would you tell your friends that we have all heard it already so they can stop now.
posted by sammyo at 6:32 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Actually, this discussion has made me even more skeptical because I don't know if there is any proof that this story is even real. We have been asked to have blind faith about this story - based on a blog by Katie. There are no other articles, reviews, accounts of Katie's work other than her own (except for echoes of it from her congregation and from NPR, who offered Katie's quotes, but little else. ).

There are tons of photos on her blog. And several of her blog entries are written by guests.
posted by marsha56 at 6:59 PM on July 10, 2011


Sammyo, I would be happy if we could pass out buttons to folks like you. Seriously. I don't want to badger anyone. But there are people out there-like me once-that wanted to hear.

I remember years ago in college sitting in the student union literally feet from a college church organization that was passing out literature or something-I forget just what, it was decades ago. I was way too shy back then to just walk up to them and ask them some questions and I sat there just hoping one would just come up and say hi.

They never did.

Following was a couple of years where my life totally went off the rails...finally, later on, at art school (I'd left the previous school) some crazy born again Jewish Christian chick went around bothering everyone about God to include my best friend, a regular Jewish girl who happened to have to share her school mailbox. She bothered to talk to me, and I took the opportunity to invite myself to her church.

The rest was history.

(PS-I find it amusing that I found that girl years later on FB. She is now a biker chick, which is about the last thing on earth I would have expected from her. But, all MY friends are always interesting....)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:00 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I find this whole discussion really interesting - sort of a there but for the lack of God go I experience?

I went to Kenya for an intensive Swahili class with 8 other students and my (Kenyan) Swahili professor a few summers ago. Students in the past had asked for a community service component of our trip, so we spent a week "volunteering" at different charities around the coastal city of Mombasa. One of them was a curios workshop for disabled Kenyans (they make lots of the Kenyan crafts you can buy in fair trade stores), one of them did interventions with women who had been trafficked into Mombasa and other sex workers, and the one I worked at was WEMA - an orphanage, school, and rehabilitation center for street children.

I was only there for an extremely short time - to the extent that I feel like my time was more damaging than it did any good. I had a great time while I was there and felt really good about it while I was doing things. I loved the girls I was helping to teach. They were all probably between 6 and 10 (I was helping in the primary school section), and all got really attached very quickly. When we showed up, it disrupted everything - they came and sang for us, they were distracted when we were there because we were exciting guests from America. The teachers spent time showing us what to do. People took time away from their activities and daily work to talk to us. And then, we left. Ugh - there are few things that have felt worse than just ... leaving all of those girls behind. I wanted to save them all - and as soon as I realized that what I wanted was to save them all, I realized that I was falling into some pretty patronizing and ridiculous patterns.

I know that Katie is the opposite of a short-term volunteer, and I think that what she's done is pretty amazing. But I also think that seeing her as an example for other young and idealistic Americans is really dangerous because, for every Katie who can drop everything and live in Uganda and raise 13 girls and start an independent NGO with the backing of her church and the evangelical network that's already got a vested interest in Uganda, there are evangelicals who are really only there to win souls for Christ, or idealistic young adults who really can't deal with living surrounded by extreme poverty and feeling powerless all the time, or a hundred other kinds of people who have the potential to do some sort of harm.

But there are also a hundred NGOs already established. And many of them are grassroots organizations that were begun by women who have gotten out of poverty and turned back to help others, or organizations that were begun by Westerners but staffed predominantly by members of a particular community, or established NGOs that need longterm volunteers to do things that fill a community's needs. The developing world doesn't need a bunch of volunteers from a church in Kansas to come dig a well for the Maasai - it needs people to coordinate donations and purchase locally-made supplies and hire local labor and local ingenuity to solve problems. It doesn't need more young women coming from the United States to raise Ugandan orphans - it needs young women studying pharmaceuticals and developing anti-retrovirals. It needs avenues for smart African students to have jobs waiting for them in development organizations that aren't taken by smart American students. There are so many ways one can have lasting positive impact on the world - we don't need to pretend that this way is the best.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:17 PM on July 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


Sometimes you think turning a turtle over is the right thing to do because it seems like the right thing to do, but actually you just don't know shit about turtles.
posted by FeralHat at 9:04 PM on July 10, 2011


The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over. But it can't. Not with out your help. But you're not helping. Why aren't you helping?
posted by fuq at 11:27 PM on July 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


The tortoise lies on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over. But it can't. Not without your help. So why are you giving it a pedicure?
posted by darksasami at 11:43 PM on July 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh, really, the turtle just needs some good advice.
posted by Surfurrus at 11:43 PM on July 10, 2011


Thanks for the clarification, rtha!
posted by bitteschoen at 11:49 PM on July 10, 2011


Apologies in advance to everyone and no intention to derail further but I have to make a very very small factual observation on something that I spotted upthread that is majorly historically incorrect - this: "Radical religious terrorists (be it IRA or Al Qaeda)". The IRA was entirely political, nationalistic, republicans vs unionists = Catholics vs Protestants as ethnic/political/national identity and community, not as religious war. It had practically zero to do with religious faith. Definitely nothing to do with radical religious fanaticism.
posted by bitteschoen at 12:08 AM on July 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


I walked onto a dock by the ocean once and someone had thrown live fish on the dock. Four or five, live fish, lying there without any water. Looking around gasping at air but not able to breath. I looked straight at the fishes eye. Why did I not help? How can you watch an animal clearly suffering and not help?

Couldn't I have walked up to the fisherman and said, hey, could either put the fish out of it's misery or get it a bucket of water?

I didn't. And I imagined what kind of depths of suffering we are willing to watch happen in front of us as humans and not do anything because of social norms. I am not immune.

I absolutely like that this woman is spending this time in Uganda. I think she should both be given praise for her actions while also viewed critically because ultimately knowing that you won't AUTOMATICALLY be given praise for talking up how much you help people and that people will really want to know whether you're ACTUALLY helping them or not--- can reduce the abuses of power that "helpers" can sometimes even innocently wind up acting out.

So yes to praise, yes to criticism.
posted by xarnop at 11:56 AM on July 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


But there are also a hundred NGOs already established...The developing world doesn't need a bunch of volunteers from a church in Kansas to come dig a well for the Maasai - it needs people to coordinate donations and purchase locally-made supplies and hire local labor and local ingenuity to solve problems.

This is very much to the point. If you've never been to the developing world and you don't know anything about it, you could easily not understand how true and important these remarks are. Charity is certainly valuable, but the way in which it's implemented is going to determine how effective it is. And some ways, despite feeling good and right to people who maybe don't know much about the situation, are simply not so.

You see, only professional turtle rescuers should even bother looking at a turtle...but the real question is why you're bothering with turtles when the squirrel outside your door really needs your help you selfish ass.

You're being sarcastic, but I think you're revealing how little you understand about the subject by comparing the course of peoples' lives -- which is a big, long-term kind of thing -- to a simple problem which has a very simple solution. By turning this complex problem into a simple fable, you're trying to highlight what you see as the flaw in the reasoning of people who suggest that maybe random people don't necessarily know how to care for a dozen children from a totally different culture and background, or know what's best for those kids. However, in mistaking a very complex situation for a very simple one, you seriously misunderstand and demonstrate that you don't know anything about the subject under discussion.
posted by clockzero at 2:27 PM on July 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, all I know is if one ignorant little white girl had not been in the right place at the right time, there were actual real children who would have died.

Not saying your main points are wrong, clockzero, but I believe God has no problem sending foolish little girls out to do His work if it's His good pleasure. Not to take away at all from the big relief groups. I'm friends with a guy who does incredible work in places other NGOs cannot go for safety reasons, and he has to have all his ducks in a row because if he doesn't people could die. For that matter, even if he does, it's real risky.

I guess I vote for (both/and).
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:53 PM on July 11, 2011


Well, all I know is ...

... everyone loves a superhero?
posted by Surfurrus at 3:54 PM on July 11, 2011


Everyone should do what they can and what they are called to do.

One of my favorite sayings in life is this.: "Any J*ck*ss can kick down a barn but it takes a carpenter to build one." If someone is doing something and others are benefitting, from the something that someone is doing, it is not necessarily my job to criticize them for not doing it the way I think they should be doing it.


I didn't share this story because I myself think it's a great idea for an army of teenage girls to go to Africa and raise babies. I shared this story because this unique individual went on what she thought was a shortterm trip but slowly but surely wound up fulfilling a very unique destiny in a very unique way.

We are all called to look around us and find what we were made to do. Some are made to head up NGOs. Some are made to raise their own children into responsible and giving adults. Some are called to build bridges and maybe on the side give to charities. Some are called to host weblogs. Some are called to become trained doctors and nurses, and some of them are called to work in their home countries, and some are called to work in the far reaches of the planet.

ALL are called to do something.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:15 PM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, all I know is if one ignorant little white girl had not been in the right place at the right time, there were actual real children who would have died.

I'm really confused about how you know that. Do any of us know how events would have played out, in any circumstance, if things had been different? Leaving that rather large question aside for a moment, I can't see any basis for that assertion. How do you know that they would have died, really?

Not saying your main points are wrong, clockzero, but I believe God has no problem sending foolish little girls out to do His work if it's His good pleasure.

Maybe He does, maybe He doesn't. How do you know He's the one who sent her?

I'm seeing in your responses a tendency to believe in unprovable things. I'm not sure that this is going to lead you to meaningful conclusions about matters of fact, which are what I thought we were talking about.

I'm friends with a guy who does incredible work in places other NGOs cannot go for safety reasons, and he has to have all his ducks in a row because if he doesn't people could die. For that matter, even if he does, it's real risky.

Where does he work? There are sometimes really good reasons that NGOs will not go into certain parts of the world. What's the point of trying to do good work if your staff gets killed and your partner organizations, the ones who frequently implement your programs, are all hopelessly corrupt? Is he with MSF?

The ethics involved in dealing with our peers and everyday situations -- how you'd treat someone on the street in the US, or even a friend -- are not necessarily appropriate, in my opinion, when we're talking about such a fundamentally dissimilar socio-cultural context. What moral intentions make someone a good neighbor, a good person, a good Christian, are not necessarily those which would make someone effective in helping impoverished Ugandans. Now, being effective in helping such people may not be what's interesting to you or someone else about this, but I think it's what's important to the Ugandans involved, and so that's what I care about; not what kind of person Katie is, or what god does or doesn't want, or anything like that. This isn't about us, or about her, or about God. It's about the Ugandan people involved.

The developing world has, for a long time, been a place where Westerners go to act out fantasies; about themselves, about the world. We cannot continue to treat those places and the people who live there as the canvasses for our vision of the world, as props and backgrounds to the story of us and our values.
posted by clockzero at 7:20 PM on July 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


My friend works only in places where other organizations have to pull out because it is so dangerous.

Because if he doesn't people starve and people die.

That's all.

And he does it because, that's what he was created to do.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:25 PM on July 11, 2011


Is your friend an Christian missionary? Because that type of evangelism can be extremely problematic in developing nations.
posted by lalex at 8:23 PM on July 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


And he does it because, that's what he was created to do.

This has apparently turning into the Blade Runner/replicant reference thread.

Eventually, a kid is going to say "My mother? I'll tell you about my mother..."
posted by fuq at 9:48 PM on July 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


My friend works only in places where other organizations have to pull out because it is so dangerous.

Is your friend a Christian missionary in China or North Korea? Cause that stuff is pretty messed up, imho. I'm no fan of CCP or Kim Il Jong, but there's a barrel full of issues with overseas missionary involvement in those countries that make doing it a really really really bad idea.
posted by smoke at 11:41 PM on July 11, 2011


Eh, I'm fairly certain that her "friend" is an evangelical missionary in Southeast Asia, specifically Pakistan, so I;m not going to shed any tears for him/her.
posted by lalex at 12:06 AM on July 12, 2011


Aside from the danger, what are the unique problematic issues with those countries?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:08 AM on July 12, 2011




Man, that's a tough call for me as far as assigning blame to the missionaries. These people there are living under a state which bans religious freedom and obviously isn't giving them free access to religious teaching on their own.

Under those circumstances in which the danger to everyone is known I find it hard to think of the missionaries as doing anything but promoting freedom if someone comes to them to learn of other philosophies.

At the same time, if someone is only coming to them for food or aid because they are desperate adding in the danger of the religion is wrong as well.

No easy answers is all I'm learning from this thread.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:31 AM on July 12, 2011


That's all I'm try to say man.

I find it hard to think of the missionaries as doing anything but promoting freedom if someone comes to them to learn of other philosophies.

That said, that's pretty darned naive.
posted by smoke at 4:05 AM on July 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Someone recently favorited one of my glib comments in this very good discussion, so I thought I should atone by dropping this in here: I am a member of Foundation Beyond Belief, which focuses on identifying, promoting, and financially supporting secular non-profit organizations in the US and abroad. They have very, very recently started a new initiative called Volunteers Beyond Belief.
posted by muddgirl at 4:10 PM on August 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


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