For faith-based charity work, an unexpected ally

ONE Faith Manager Marisa Vertrees discusses the importance of the combined effort of foreign assistance and faith-based missions.

My first trip to the Dominican Republic was an eye-opening experience. I traveled there to visit my church’s mission in Banica, directly on the Haitian border. While many people think of the Dominican Republic as a land of beaches and vacation resorts, it is also a country that has a great deal of poverty, especially in the mountains and the central plateau of the island.

USAIDFor 20 years now, my church and diocese have had a mission in this region, providing everything from Bibles and priest visits to library books and latrines. On this trip, we were planning future projects and traveled with a group of nuns on a trip up to the campesinos, the smaller villages in the mountains. We went to meet with community leaders and see some of the homes that we might be replacing on a future work trip. But one of the things I saw when we got to a chapel built by a mission trip years earlier was surprising—boxes and boxes of dehydrated soup from USAID.

The community in which this chapel was located struggled with food insecurity. Many of the children were malnourished, and indeed, the nuns with whom we traveled would occasionally deliver food donations on their trip. But they had also qualified for USAID’s provisions of high-protein and high-nutrition dehydrated soup, soup that was delivered out of our chapel, by our church’s community leaders. Because of the supplemental food provided by USAID, which was distributed to the families with the most need, the community became healthier over the years, with fewer incidents of malnutrition among the children.

Over the next few days, I learned of other government-funded programs that were helping the communities in which we served. Ludotecas, or early childhood education centers, had been built by the United Nations, World Bank and other multinational organizations, and were used extensively by the community. In addition to the nutrition assistance, there was also agricultural training programs available to the community sponsored by the US and other governments. These programs were helping to provide for the future of the community, as well as meeting current needs.

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Two girls playing outside of a church built by Catholic missionaries in the Dominican Republic. Photo credit: http://www.ciee.org/

As people of faith, we know that we need to help our brothers and sisters around the world. We serve in missions, or with service trips, that make a huge difference in the lives of others. We know that we need to end extreme poverty and we work to make that a reality by supporting missionaries, traveling ourselves and supporting our denomination’s efforts. But we need to know that we cannot do it on our own. There is a place for private, faith-based charity work as well as governmental programs, such as USAID nutrition assistance and agricultural training.

This is why I support international assistance. With less than 1 percent of the federal budget, we are supporting life-saving and life-changing programs around the world. Much of this goes to support the work of people of faith, with more than 115 faith-based groups receiving USAID grants last year. We need to protect these programs and continue the work we have done to end extreme poverty.

I hope that you will join me and other people of faith in our Call to Prayer—Call to Action, drawing attention to the importance of international assistance and calling upon our legislators to support these programs. Join us today and help to end extreme poverty. Click here to get started now.