Katrina relief wrings contributors dry

by Doug Bandow

WASHINGTON — Americans are proving yet again that they are a generous people. They have contributed more than $1.2 billion to aid the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

This kind of aid is far more likely to meet real human needs than will pork-barrel government grants. But in their rush to help their fellow citizens, Americans shouldn’t forget others who are need.

Although many of us in the United States and elsewhere live in a world filled with exploding opportunities and dazzling futures, not everyone is so lucky. Indeed, the poor overseas remain the most at risk, especially when forgotten by the rest of us.

Unfortunately, many Americans have provided aid for Katrina by cutting back elsewhere. The burden of that switch falls most heavily on small groups with specialized overseas missions. Such as Christian Freedom International (www.christianfreedom.org).

“We are being killed by Katrina,” lamented Jim Jacobson, CFI’s head, as he was about to fly off to Indonesia to help move a container filled with 9,200 kg of donated goods from the city of Medan to distant Nias Island, hit hard by last December’s tsunami.

“People saw Katrina and sent their checks for those in New Orleans,” he observes. As a result, donations to CFI have dropped significantly. “We are hoping for a fast rebound,” he adds. So are those who rely on CFI.

CFI is a small, lean organization based in Front Royal, Virginia. Jacobson, a former White House and Capitol Hill aide, is comfortable operating in Washington, where he raises the issue of religious discrimination, promotes asylum for endangered individuals, and advocates adoption of foreign orphans.

But much more of his time is spent in the field, which can be almost anywhere in Southeast Asia. I’ve traveled with him to Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, Laos, Pakistan, Cambodia and Bangladesh. CFI’s primary mission is to succor oppressed Christians and highlight instances of religious oppression. It is important and fascinating work, mixed with tragedy and frustration.

CFI’s most extensive operations are in Thailand and Myanmar where it aids the ethnic Karen and Karenni, who have long been oppressed by the brutal military junta in Yangon. CFI supports churches, schools and orphanages; it recently built a training center in the Thai border village of Mae-sot.

Equally important is the group’s work over the border, where most aid agencies fear to tread. In the midst of a guerrilla war CFI creates small medical clinics, trains medics, supplies pharmaceuticals, and provides mine detectors.

Many Karen and Karenni have known nothing but war: Their families have been killed, their villages have been destroyed, and their futures have been stolen. It is heartbreaking work, but CFI tries to create a little hope in the midst of tragedy.

With Thailand as his base, Jacobson has worked with small Christian churches in Laos, which suffer from a variety of restrictions and controls. CFI has provided medical and financial aid while attempting to create economic opportunities by purchasing local crafts to be marketed in the U.S.

Before sending aid to the tsunami zone in Indonesia, CFI provided assistance to refugee camps housing thousands of Christians displaced by violence in the Moloccan Islands. Jacobson has assisted local pastors, highlighted the destruction of Christian churches, and aided asylum-seekers.

CFI has done much the same in Pakistan, helping persecuted families emigrate and providing loans to impoverished Christians. In Bangladesh, CFI is underwriting a training center for the disabled and blind and aiding victims of religious discrimination.

The organization has provided Bibles and food to Iraqi Christians and support for families of pastors imprisoned in China. CFI helped spirit a Christian family out of Iran, where non-Muslims are at enormous risk. Jacobson has plans to do much more, at least if the funds are available.

I’ve always been impressed with CFI’s range of activities–documented in a new booklet, “50 Ways to Help Persecuted Christians on the Front Lines” — as well as its willingness to be accountable. Jacobson travels constantly, seeking trustworthy local contacts.

He drops programs that don’t generate positive results. He has even returned money to contributors when he canceled initiatives that failed to meet objectives.

Obviously, CFI is not the only charity worthy of support. America’s “little platoons” are many and diverse and address vital human needs from the closest neighborhood to most distant nation. All deserve continued support even as we stretch to aid those caught by Katrina.

To whom much is given, much is expected, said Jesus Christ. That certainly is the case for those of us who live in prosperity and safety in America and other prosperous nations. We have much to thankful for and we should show that gratitude by helping those in need throughout our human community.