Considering Typhoon Haiyan

We may need to ban the news media from our house for the week. “City Flattened” is a headline you want to avoid when your 5-year-old son is struggling to overcome an obsessive fear of tornadoes (seriously, just today he was worrying that if we build a house in Tornado Alley, it will get sucked up into the sky). But while we go about our normal lives, catastrophe-free for the moment, the typhoon across the Atlantic has been on my mind.

A former co-worker lives in the Philippines with his wife and children. Numerous of my employer’s ministry partners live and work there. But if you think my first instinct was to worry about their safety when the Weather Channel initiated crisis mode, you’d be wrong. I’m ashamed to admit that my very first thought was: “this could be a big fundraising opportunity.”

Now news reports are claiming massive devastation and casualties from Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

The fundraising machine is in motion. In fact, it already started yesterday. Hopefully we’ll do some good. But we won’t do much good if we’re looking at this crisis as a fundraising opportunity. The people who lost their homes are not a fundraising opportunity. The people who drowned or were crushed to death are not fundraising opportunities. They’re real human beings.

If you’ve never worked in the nonprofit world, you may not be aware of the challenges, temptations and ambiguities that come with the territory. There’s a tendency, I think, to become proud – to believe you are someone special because you’re working to help others, not to make a profit. I think our donors are certainly commendable for their dedication to serving others, but it would be self-deception to consider myself personally philanthropic. The fact is that I don’t work for free. I earn a salary – a good salary – just like any other professional. And if I’m really honest with myself, I’d have to say that my strongest motivation is supporting my own family, not the families of the poor in some remote country.

My wife also supports our family, but in a different way. She’s a full-time mom feeding the hungry and clothing the naked in our Florida apartment. Since she depends on my salary, I guess you could say we are both nonprofit workers.

I hope our boys will learn from our work. I hope we’ll give them a reason to emulate us – not because of the roles we play, but because of the faithfulness and integrity with which we fulfill those roles. I want to be remembered as the father who did his duty, who went the extra mile, who kept his promises, who valued honesty over career advancement, who threw in his vote with the good and stood against the bad.

With all the talk nowadays about men needing to take fatherhood more seriously, I think it’s important to remember that a part of fatherhood is what we do when we aren’t at home.


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