Why do we pick on the elephant?

Elephants are the largest of all land mammals and are known for their intelligence, compassion, and love for their family and friends. So why do we have so many English idioms that pick on elephants?

An item that no one wants or is too expensive to keep is called a white elephant; we even have white elephant gift exchanges. When a person has too much to drink, they see pink elephants and an overwhelming task is like eating an elephant. And of course, there is always the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about.

Sometimes, however, it’s best to talk about the elephant in the room. Then we can figure out what to do with him, how we can take care of him, and we will have a right understanding of his role and importance.

elephant1In the non-profit world, the general fund is often the elephant in the room. We all know that money is needed to operate any business or charity, but few people like to talk about it. It is much more exciting to talk about successful programs and capital campaigns. We can pour another cup of coffee and chat about what a difference the organization is making through special projects, and the elephant remains quietly in the corner.

The problem is that elephants can only wait quietly when they are content and well cared for. If the elephant is scared, angry or hungry, he will demand attention. He might even cause a lot of damage or injury in the process of getting his needs met. There is just no way to ignore an aggravated elephant.

The same thing is true for the non-profit general fund. If we are able to make our core expenses, we continue on with programs and pay little attention to the health and security of the funding stream. By the time we notice a problem, we have to deal with the shortfall and at the same time manage future needs. It’s like trying to spoon feed a starving elephant – you’re likely to get trampled in the process.

Like it or not, we need to take care of our elephant. When we do, we may find he has some amazing qualities. We’ll find people who express their love and care for the mission of our organization by faithful, longtime support. We’ll find others who make extraordinary gifts, and we’ll find others who would like to help if they just knew about the needs of the elephant.

I encourage you to talk about the elephant in the room; don’t ignore him. Is he healthy and happy or does he need a little attention? If you take good care of your elephant, he will live a long and productive life and will be your loyal friend. Just remember, an elephant never forgets.

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God and I in Africa

Supernatural grace oozes through my life when I travel to East Africa. It is so invasive I often wonder if God has provided this grace for my benefit, or, in His infinite mercy, for the benefit of those I meet and serve in South Sudan. In spite of, or perhaps because of, my many faults and struggles, God meets me where I need him most and covers me with His grace.

I am an imperfect person; it amazes me that anyone would allow me to be an ambassador for the church, for Christ or for the American people. If you were to interview people to represent your mission to the nations, my spiritual resume would certainly not get me the job. The list of my character flaws that should disqualify me from this type of work is lengthy, yet somehow God has chosen me.

Patience is a virtue, and I sometimes think I only have a small portion of it. I talk fast, tap my foot while waiting, doodle while on the phone, and watch the clock count down on the microwave. But something happens to me when I step foot on African soil. It’s a transformation that is unmistakable, yet can also be easily missed unless someone knows me well.

The first time I went to South Sudan in 2012, I traveled in with a team of people who were there for a five day experience trip. When the plane arrived to fly them out, I sat with the pilot while they got their bags together. After some time of conversation he asked me how long I’d been in South Sudan. I told him that I had come in with the team he was flying out, so about five days. “Really?” he replied. “You seem like you belong here.” He commented on how I just seemed at home, like I’d lived there for years. Frankly, that’s how I feel when I’m there—at least most of the time.

I had a similar experience this year when I traveled again to East Africa. I had landed in Nairobi and was going through customs. “Do you have anything to declare?” the officer asked. I replied that I did not. He looked at my paperwork, and then he looked at me, “You don’t look like an American.” He said to me. I was surprised, so he explained what he meant. “You dress and act like we do,” he said. I don’t know how he made this assessment in such a short period of time, but I smiled and said that I must be African at heart.

What is it that overcomes me when I travel to East Africa? It’s more than just relaxing and feeling at home. It’s God’s supernatural grace covering me and smoothing over my rough spots.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  John 14:27

Yes, I feel at peace when I’m in South Sudan, though I doubt it’s the place that causes it. It’s more than likely the fact that I am smack dab in the middle of God’s will—that’s where peace lives. It still takes some getting used to the slower pace of speech and the leisurely stroll of foot travel, but I soon adapt and relax.

In addition to peace, God bathes me with grace. When a westerner travels to a place like South Sudan, under the name of Christian, they are looked at with an expectation that they will look, act and speak like Jesus (or the people’s idea of Jesus). My prayer is always that my behavior will not set the mission movement within the people group back too far. God seems to honor this by removing some of my deepest character defects—at least for a time. And as I learn to live in His grace, those defects seem to slough off and are replaced with new character traits.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

I am so grateful that the Lord straightens my path. I’m not sure if He is protecting me from myself, or simply making sure I don’t mess up His plan for those I serve.

As I prepare to move to South Sudan full-time, I pray that God will keep smearing on His grace and peace. I know He is equipping me, and I know He is caring for me. How could I doubt His love and provision after all I’ve experienced? If He can wrap me in His grace for a month overseas, He will certainly continue to guide and direct my path when I move there. It may not look the same. It may not feel the same. But there is no doubt in my mind that He will be there with me, every step of the way.

You can learn more about the Janzen Journey in South Sudan by visiting: http://www.JanzensinSouthSudan.org

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It’s a Great Day to Learn Something

It’s a winter wonderland in West Michigan and a great day to watch some educational Webinars.

Today is the last day of the FREE Fundraising Summit and your last chance to get the access to today’s sessions for free. You can register here. Once you register you have 24 hour free access to today’s sessions.

If you are like me and didn’t get to see all you wanted or you want to watching a session again, you can buy all 38 webinars, including PowerPoints, transcripts and audio recording for around $170 ($200 CAD). That is less than $5 per 45 minute session. That price is only good through today. Tomorrow the price goes up.  Topics of the sessions include Events, Planned Giving, Major Gifts, Capital Campaigns, Annual Campaigns, Donor Retention, Mail, Social Media and lots more!  If you want to buy the sessions, go here.

Time to brew another cup of coffee and learn something new about fundraising.

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