Response to Greg Mortenson’s Allegations

Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea, is under a lot of scrutiny now facing several allegations of mismanagement with his self-founded Central Asia Institute foundation, including that he uses the organization’s funds for his personal use. This is quickly becoming a hot topic namely because it is such a disappointment for the Americans who promoted his book and contributed to the fundraiser Pennies for Peace. His story has been an inspiration to many people in the U.S. and encouraged people to give trustfully to international NGO’s. Now that Greg Mortenson is under the critical eye of journalists and international aid workers, his mission to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan for girls is under attack. I have read the book and two contrasting articles on this issue, and feel very bothered by the accusations. Ultimately, I believe that Greg Mortenson is not well equipped for managing this multi-million dollar NGO and does not have enough cultural comprehension to operate in the Middle East. Does this mean that I do not support his mission or that I think he should stop what he is doing? I think the better answer is to give grace where it’s needed, management training and accountability, and possibly reworking the means to his goal.

The two articles I read were “What Mortenson Got Wrong” by Peter Hesser (a negative criticism) and “‘Three Cups of Tea’ Spilled” by Nicholas D. Kristof (a supportive outlook). Here are some of my thoughts I jotted down as I read these articles (I tried to reorganize them as best I could):

My impression after reading the book was that the author took particular interest in highlighting Mortenson rather than his work. He is made to be the hero, as all Westerners are made to be when they serve in “developing” countries, of course. [I still prefer to use the outdated term “underdeveloped” per Walter Rodney’s definition.] Although the book is largely one-dimensional in this aspect, I recognize Mortenson’s effort to converse with the locals over cups and cups of tea–an aspect of community development that I believe is essential, especially in international work. Kristof also condones Mortenson’s method in doing this rather than just “issuing instructions”.

I don’t agree with Hesser that Mortenson shows no special knowledge of Pakistan or Afghanistan. I think for the time that Mortenson put into the region, he has learned a good deal and possibly spends more time in actual field work than do other international NGO leaders. Mortenson’s mission to build schools in Central Asia is crticized by Hesser, yet I don’t believe in one perfect method and would agree with Kristof again when he says “even if all the allegations turn out to be true, Greg has still built more schools and transformed more children’s lives than you or I ever will.” Yet on the other hand, misson workers need as much accountability as do everyone else. This gives me reason to believe that Mortenson needs professional guidance, accountability, and his work to be cultivated by those with greater knowledge and experience of this particular region. One man alone should not carry this burden, not for just himself, but for the sake of others.

The first article has a solid point about Western involvement in community development. The writer says that foreign assistance can have negative impacts–people might become dependent upon outsiders. It’s as simple as the old give a man a fish/teach a man to fish. Hesser includes excellent examples of this in his second paragraph. The negative aspect of Mortenson’s work–as well as any international NGO program–is that it creates a long-term foreign involvement, the antithesis of local empowerment that should be the goal.

I like Hesser’s practical perspective on international development, seeing that it’s not as glorious as we tend to make it. He sees that there is complex cultural, geographical, and deeply rooted historical hurdles of NGO work. Anyone who thinks otherwise is naive and has an inflated view of their involvment. This seems to be the case with Mortenson, who self-promotes himself and his organization. I believe that we all need praise from time to time, but I think it should come from others–not ourselves. It would be difficult, though, to not be a self-promoter if you’ve made great accomplishments, but if your passion is for the people you are serving, then it leaves self-promoting out of the equation.

Yet, going back to the second article, I wouldn’t want these unproven allegations to get out of hand for fear that it would discourage an already cynical America to support efforts like these. Like Kristof, I want to give some benefit of doubt to a man who has risked his life for the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan.


Movie Recommendation

I recently watched the 1967 Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? with Katherine Hepburn, which was unexpectedly fantastic. It’s an underestimated film, a little ahead of its time. I say this because although the story itself is a little far-fetched (the couple has less than 24 hours to get the blessings from their parents before they marry), the acting was advanced and brought me into the story. Usually, characters in classic films like this don’t captivate me or make me feel connected to them, but I thought the characters, particularly John Prentice, Matt Drayton, and Christina Drayton were very natural and thus likable characters. Sidney Poitier who played John Prentice was hopefully recognized for his authentic acting. I liked the story and the comical twists that kept arising, and the strong message undertone. It’s just a movie I highly recommend to those who enjoy classic films, social issues, and light comedy rolled in one perfect little film. (Well, OK, not perfect. The issue with the maid never resolved–kind of irritating when they do that!)

American Dream On

I suppose I have an issue with the financially successful because instead of being happy for the person younger than me for her wealth and brooding prestige, I narrow my eyes and experience feelings akin to jealousy. But it isn’t that I’m merely jealous, though. When I see the extraordinary success of a young person, I think about the social system of discrimination and inequality. The richest people in our nation make up about 1% yet they control about 40% of the nation’s wealth. However they got their wealth, it has very little to do with their hard work or skill, but who they know. That’s the way it usually is, even on smaller scale success in most cases. So when I hear of some young person, recently out of college, who just bought a house (and a nice house), and a solid career in an increasingly successful business, it just seems obvious to me they had some external help and that this was not just mere hard work and talent.I would be curious to know what the percentage of people in the top 1% who work hard and had gotten there with no hook-ups or birthright connections. Probably none or very, very few. Most people in the world are intelligent, they work hard, and are very skilled in something but few are given the chance to take their career to the next level or make beyond middle-class wages. Opportunity is usually paired with money: higher education=$$$, mortgage loans/business loans need good credit, interns/volunteer workers still need to eat and pay rent…the list goes on. There are ways around the system, but it usually goes back to knowing someone who can help, someone to make a recommendation, someone to see your potential skills that have not yet been developed.Think of the little girl, born into California suburbs, in a middle-class family who pushes for education, good grades, enrolls her in music lessons and soccer. She lives comfortably, her family’s health insurance protects them from going in debt when she breaks her leg at soccer, and even covers the expensive braces to give her that winning smile. What will her future most likely be? She will probably grow up to be very confident, optimistic about the world, believing that the capitalist economic structure works because it provided for her family. She will go to college fully prepared and not worried about the amount of loans she had to take out because she knows that her internships and college degree will get her a good job when she graduates. She will have letters of recommendations, family connections, and of course that winning smile. No one could doubt her competencies with her all-American appearance. Even if that job offer never came to her–no worries, because she has good credit and will invest in her own business, teaching piano.

Now think of the little girl, born in rural Colorado, in a lower-class household, with many mouths to feed and not enough money. The parents need her to stay home from school sometimes to help with the business, so her grades suffer. She doesn’t pay much attention to current events or has time to socialize as she spends her time between school, home, work, and studying. Access to basic things such as the Internet or a computer is limited and time-consuming. Poor hygiene and diet as a result of her poverty contribute to the fact that no one sees much potential in her and raises her insecurities. Although she graduates high school and does her best to get through junior college. She does not get into her desired college yet still worries about the numerous loans she must pay back for this education, since she was awarded very little scholarship. Now that she at last has a degree, she just doesn’t stand a chance at the job interview because the lady next to her has a better list of references, a lifetime of experiences, and well, that winning smile.

I think this second story is true for many Americans, and one couldn’t say that the girl in the second story just needs to work harder or be smarter, but unfortunately that is what our society tells us. What people overlook is the fact that this girl has worked hard all her life, and in many ways much harder yet has achieved less and has less privileges than the girl in the first story, who represents the minority in the U.S. Lack of easy access to infrastructure and technology does put us at odds in the competitive job market and social ladder. And yes, I don’t care how many times people say this isn’t true, the more “American” you look, the more chances people are willing to give you. I don’t believe our system is really based on equality and that if we really, really want it and work really, really hard for it, we’ll get it.

The Underground Chinese Church and its Religious Propaganda

Article Transcript:

Today, the Japanese ambassador visited Tencent Inc. He asked Tencent to prevent internet users in China from cursing Japan. What’s more, they scolded the Chinese people as begin cowards, not joining forced. Tencent flatly refused. Tencent and small Japan made a bet that if this is forwarded to 400,000 people in 2 month’s time, Japan will owe China an apology. Wish that family and friends will persevere for our country!
bayoneting of 3 year old baby. [Picture]
Carving out the leg muscles of a Chinese soldier. [Picture]
[Picture] Falling off of a beheaded head. Numerous such shots had to
be taken to obtain this picture.
[Picture] Chinese mother still clutching on her baby after her head was
chopped off by Japanese soldier.
[Picture] The notoriouspoisonous gas experiment
What crime had the children committed?! [Picture]
[Picture] What else could I say? They were all innocent children!
Only Japanese soldiers could wash down the heart of a martyr with sake. [Picture]
Scalding with acid. Torture? Experiment? [Picture]
This was only a baby of three! [Picture]
[Picture] Chinese woman mutilated after raped. (intestine pulled out)
[Picture] Young girl tied up & raped.
Another female martyr. [Picture]
[Picture] Even pregnant women were round off for army prostitutes
I am also a human being!! [Picture]
So proud of his work! [Picture]
I cannot understand why young Chinese girls still crazy for Japanese
actors nowadays! [Picture]
The proud accomplishment of the Japanese soldier! [Picture] They never realized they were to be used as life targets!
[Picture] Practicing on life Chinese civilians as targets!
[Picture] This was Japanese Bushido!
For movie scenes—use real Chinese corpses. [Picture]
[Picture] Real Chinese tragedy of the 20th century.
[Picture] Her last wish was not to be a Chinese in her next life.
[Picture] What are you thinking, soldier?
[Picture] Only the head of a Chinese officer could exchange for money.
Don’t cry. This is only bayonet practice! [Picture]
Head show 1. [Picture] Head show 2—how I hate to be Chinese! [Picture]
Bodies of Chinese civilians piled along the Yangtze River River. [Picture]
[Picture] Japanese soldiers enjoyed watching kill, burn, pillage & rape.
[Picture] Executing these war criminals 10,000 times would not atone
for their sins. In fact many Japanese nowadays still honour
them as their national heroes. Until they acknowledge the war
crimes of these criminals as the Germans did, the gulf
between Japan & China can never be bridged!
[Picture] Head show 3.

PDF Version: WWII Japanese in China

My Response:

These people are victims of a violent and torturous crime, not of their choice for any religious affiliation. They were innocent victims chosen for where they (and probably many past generations) lived, an uncontrollable circumstance. Yet, this “apostle” seeks to cheapen the reality of the slaughter as religious propaganda. It does a disservice to these victims and their families, the Chinese people and diminishes the severity of what happened.

I hesitate to accept the words of anyone who would attempt to misuse the abuses of history for their cause. I consider it equally distasteful to draw a correlation to Japanese pop idols of today. Christianity is a religion of peace and forgiveness that does not have any room for hate messages motivating this document. It feels akin to the acceptance of white supremacy in churches during the American Civil War.

This document is only a political message of hate masking itself as religious propaganda. This is an example of perverting Christ’s statement: “Give to God what is God’s and give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” Of course, I also believe in the combination of the Chinese Church rather than the continued (and American-assisted) segregation between the underground churches vs. the Three-Self Church. I, of course, say this as one who attended the Three-Self in the province with the highest population of Christians in China.

Black and White and Gray All Over!

I’ve been having a conversation with one of my brothers about paradoxes in Scripture. I really liked what he had to say although he didn’t have anything conclusive. He more so just pointed out examples and discussed the counters to the Seven Deadly Sins. This got me thinking for the umpteenth time this week about how I tend to think theologically in the gray. At the same time I admire others for having such strong “black and white” convictions about theology, I also appreciate the universality of Scripture to all people, time, and situations that gives me the more “gray” perspective. There are different shades of gray though, of course, and in general I tend to hold more to the darker hued end, similar to a political centrist with a right lean.

In a documentary I watched called Amish: People of Preservation I respected their discipline and consideration of everything. I mean, some Amish communities don’t even allow pockets to be sewn on the front of men’s vests because it would permit them to put their possessions in there which could be an act of showing off their nice things and lead to pride and cause jealousy. That sort of thought and discipline is impressive. Yet I couldn’t help but think that now matter how much you strive to put these restrictions on your community and preserve a certain lifestyle, there’s bound to be change. It’s completely inevitable. There is always going to be the desire and quest for more information, for more pleasures, and more liberties. Although the Amish may think those things are wrong, we in the “outside” world know that it can also be good. We also know that sin will still exist, even if you lived the most strict Amish life there ever could be, you would still sin. From the testimonies of the former Amish folks on the web, I found that contrary to popular belief, the Amish are really not “peace-loving gentle” people that we think they are and have actually major issues in their communities.

While I respect black-and-white thinking, I don’t think it’s always good. As a “gray” thinker, you can never get me to say that black-and-white thinking is all bad, either. Like I said, I have respect for those who can uphold their typically more rigid opinions. I think that shows strength in character.

So, back to paradoxes. My brother made the point with all his examples of paradoxes in Scripture that God’s law is much more flexible than we think they are. I think it’s wise to see that and to understand that there are exceptions, a little bending of the rules, and a bit more freedom in our religious practices. For some reason, whenever I think about “grayness” in the Bible, I think about that wedding scene from “Fiddler on the Roof” when Perchik asks who will dance with him. Everyone starts to argue: it’s a sin to dance! Not a sin! Then they ask the rabbi who says “well….it’s not exactly forbidden..” and then Perchik quickly exclaims “Well there you see! Not forbidden! And it’s no sin! Now, who will dance with me?”

I guess I often feel like both the rabbi and Perchik when it comes to justifying things in my life according to Biblical standards. I ask myself, “is this Biblically wrong?” and respond “well…not exactly..” then I jump to my feet and go “aha! You see–not wrong, so it’s OK!”

And what is my point with this posting, anyway? I guess to say that both black-and-white and gray opinions have their good and bad aspects. The problem with gray opinions is that it’s not always easy to discern when it’s good, bad, or just whatever. It can also make it really easy to justify something that is actually wrong. And the problem with black-and-white thinking is that you may be restricting yourself more than is good.

(Can I also make one tiny cultural note that black-and-white thinking [aka objective, linear] is typically a Western trait? My cross cultural studies in college will never leave me, for better or worse!)

I Hate Time-Limited Military Actions

As much as I still love and uphold the Obama Administration, I am losing my faith that he would make things different in the Oval Office. I still want—and do—put my support in him for the many ways he has and hopefully will bring about change in our country, but this time-limited, scope-limited military action on Libya frightens me a little. I’m not a fan of war (or war by any other name—not even “military action”). I’m just not a fan.

What? It’s about supporting democratic movements and human freedom, you say? It’s a human rights issue? I’m down with that. If our government is really that passionate about helping other nations then let’s go to North Korea, the Ivory Coast, and why not Albania? After all, these countries have been battling for their human rights for decades and have endured a whole lot more than Libya. President Obama even tried to support this action by bringing up Rwanda, as if that was going to prove his point that it’s not about the three letter word we all know it is. Nice try, really, almost had me if it weren’t for the fact that all these countries I just mentioned—including Rwanda—don’t have anything close to oil.

So, we all know it’s not just about human freedom. It’s a convenient token to use for public persuasion and I have to admit—pretty clever. But it it’s oddly too similar to Bush for me to buy it. Take a look at a side by side comparison of our two Presidents:

Disheartening, isn’t it? Unbelievable. I really thought we were headed for change, but Obama is giving into the pressures of power, greed,  and from the American corporations… just like those other guys.

Hormones Make Me Feel Bad

A friend used to say he could predict when I was getting my period based on my mood. If I suddenly became upset about something, perhaps even cried, he’d rub my back and say “aw, you’re just PMSing”. Like Clair Huxtable, I want to snap back, “a woman is entitled to have a mood, any mood at all, be it a happy one, sad, or angry, and they can have it at any time at all and for absolutely no reason, understand?”

Today I totally blew up. Frustrated from a day of work, bad transportation, poor relationship issues, while undergoing yet another battle with my faith, I lost my cool when I got home. Yes, I cried, too. I yelled! I punched things. A few hours later, I got my period. Suddenly, that makes me feel like all those feelings and struggles are invalidated.

Yet, perhaps it is that hormones allow me to express it the way I really feel it instead of being an exaggeration or excuse. My theory is that all the non-PMS times of the month I am emotionally controlled yet suppressed. It’s minimized emotions. But when the period comes, I express my emotions to their degree.

“And if it wasn’t for Aunt Flow, there would be no uncles!”