Frequently Asked Questions

Big Questions

Justice

Q I read that more wealth leaves Africa than aid goes to Africa. Is it true? Is it just?

A Yes and no. Most people in the U.S., Canada, and Europe think we give a lot of money to help poor people in Africa. It is shocking, then, to read the growing number of well-documented reports that show we are net takers from Africa rather than the generous donors we think we are.

Economists continue to argue about the specific numbers. But there is general agreement that the majority of Africa’s natural resources are being mined and exported for profits that are rarely used for the people of Africa. If resource-rich African countries were to get as much return from their resources as is the norm in developed countries and use the proceeds for health and education, they would not need to borrow money and ask for aid.

Your question about whether this is fair is one Christians should probe more deeply. We hear a lot about corruption in Africa but far less about how companies, banks, and public policies in our countries are complicit in robbing Africa of its resources. In the end we are all complicit because we benefit and don’t use our voices to stand up for justice even when the facts are known.

Concern for justice raises difficult questions that even many aid agencies don’t talk about because it might affect their donations. If we were to spend the same amount of talent and energy working for justice in trade and investment policies as we do providing aid and charity, the people in Africa would be better off and have more control over their own development.

—Kathy Vandergrift

Faith Formation

Q Our head GEMS (girls’ club) counselor asked if we could brainstorm ways my preaching might connect better with 10- to14-year-olds. Every time I prepare a sermon now I find myself imagining how those early teens are listening. I wish I had more tools in my toolkit. Any ideas?

A The tone of your letter suggests that you already possess one of the most important tools the sermon toolkit needs: a teachable spirit that invites listeners to approach you lovingly with suggestions for change.

Here are some other tools:

  1. Get to know children and teens by name and chat with them briefly whenever you can. When they know that you know them, they listen differently.
  2. Incorporate judicious use of projected graphics. (You could invite a visually gifted teen to prepare these for you.)
  3. Use one or two stories or analogies from their world as sermon illustrations.
  4. Be mindful of opportunities to use appropriate humor. Humor is almost always disarming and draws people in.
  5. Invite someone to prepare a children’s worksheet for your sermons.
  6. Lead an interactive discussion with your youth or middle school group on how you prepare sermons.
  7. Ask your classis to host a workshop focused on strengthening this toolkit.

Not all of these tools may suit you, and adjusting your toolkit is hard work. But once the adjustments are made and preparation routines established (and support people are in place), the blessings are immense.

—Syd Hielema

Outreach

Q Lately I don’t feel as if my beliefs are strong enough for me to pray. Is it OK if I don’t pray for a while?

A It is normal to go through periods where one feels that God isn’t listening or perhaps isn’t even there to be listening. During such times, it is one’s own choice whether or not to pray. The short story “Saint Manuel Bueno, Martyr,” by Spanish writer Miguel Unamuno, tells of a young man who returns from the city to his native village in Spain because his mother is dying. In the presence of the local priest, his mother clutches his hand and asks him to pray for her. The son does not answer, but as they leave the room he tells the priest that, much as he would like to, he cannot pray for his mother because he does not believe in God. “That’s nonsense,” the priest replies. “You don’t have to believe in God to pray.” The story, notes theologian Harvey Cox, highlights the difference between faith and beliefs. While our beliefs may shift or change, faith is more primal, allowing us to pray even if we don’t “believe.” You must make your own decisions about when or how often to pray during this time. But trust that God’s grace extends to us even—or perhaps especially—in such times.

—Bryan Berghoef

About the Authors

Kathy Vandergrift teaches public ethics to university students and advocates for the rights of children.

Syd Hielema serves as the director of the CRC's Connections II project. He worships at the Meadowlands Fellowship CRC in Ancaster, Ont. 

Bryan Berghoef is an ordained CRC pastor and church planter. He lives in Holland, Mich., and works remotely supporting online contemplative learning and curating social media content for the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation in Washington, D.C.

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