Washington Post article
September 5, 1992

Course Work in Compassion

Graduate Student Organizes Missionary Efforts for Orphans

by Carey Kinsolving

Although Christine Carr is a year shy of meeting the requirements for a doctorate in education from the University of Maryland, she already has gained major points in courage, charity and compassion through her work with children in Central America.

Carr’s credits include washing 100 sheets by hand; removing a bean from a child’s ear with tweezers; scrubbing uncounted lice-infected heads; treating eye sores; surviving a hurricane; learning Spanish; going without electricity, running water and toilets that flush; riding buses packed with people, packages and animals; and enduring the dengue fever.

Carr describes her spiritual odyssey this way: “Eleven years ago I said with conviction, ‘Jesus, I believe.’

“Eight years ago I said, ‘Here I am, Lord, send me.’

“Four years ago I said, ‘Okay, Lord,’ so I began freeing myself from professional and financial obligations so that I could serve in an orphanage outside of Managua, Nicaragua.”

With no mission boards, support team or co-workers, Carr landed in a war-torn country where the Sandinista government was hostile to “Yankees.” But to the orphans, some of whom had distended stomachs due to malnutrition, Carr was more than welcomed. She was loved. The children’s clinging hugs and bright faces were all Carr needed to know she was where God wanted her.

Carr describes her mission as threefold: To share the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection and to demonstrate the principles of the Bible as a way of life; to meet the basic needs of the children, thereby increasing their ability to learn; and to provide teacher training in host countries.

Since 1988, Carr’s organization, Heart of the Matter, which she operates out of her one-room studio in College Park, has shipped clothing, school supplies, personal hygiene products and medicine to schools and orphanages in Guatemala and Nicaragua. Much of the clothing comes from children in Washington area schools who donate what they have outgrown.

Carr has spent the last three months training 300 teachers in and around Guatemala City. “The teachers have told us how grateful they are for the training, because they no longer are just dictating information,” Carr said by telephone from Guatemala. “Now the children are learning and participating.

“Our emphasis is teaching [teachers] how to teach children how to use the values that are expressed in the Bible to make decisions and how to apply them in real situations.”

Friends often join Carr in her studio near the University of Maryland for prayer. Or they attend packing parties at her parents’ house in Odenton. After boxes are packed for shipment, the group prays that somehow the boxes will reach their destination.

This time, however, Guatemala-based Avia Teca Airlines flew 46 boxes of clothing, medicine and school supplies for Carr’s summer mission at no charge. Such supplies are put to good use in the village of Coban, 250 miles east of Guatemala City. Seventy-five children meet in a bamboo shack with a dirt floor on the side of a mountain, and the typical first-grader is 10 to 15 years old, Carr said.

That Carr is a determined woman becomes clear to all who cross her path. Her intensity and enthusiasm are so compelling that a lunch with a journalism graduate student left the student almost ready to abandon her studies to join Carr for this summer’s expedition.

The grad student’s eyes began to swell when she gazed at the smiling faces of children in Carr’s photographs. The student, who asked not to be identified, said she felt that a stint with Carr would bring her into contact with the real world as opposed to the one created by press secretaries and political pundits.

Julie Wilkinson, 27, joined Carr on an expedition to Guatemala, and she said the experience changed her. “I now find myself back in my comfortable surroundings at home, trying to sort through all that I saw and learned in Guatemala. Like many people, it would be easier to just turn away and become consumed by the American lifestyle once again.

“But in reading my journal, I am reminded of the people we met and the 650 families we worked with who lived in wood, cardboard and sheet-metal ‘houses.’ These people were lacking the necessities of life in many areas, but these people, especially the children, still have hope and joy, and they still have their faith.”

Wilkinson, an education major at the University of Maryland, taught school in the mornings and worked afternoons implementing a health-care program for 650 families.

“I wrote in my journal that if everyone just had the opportunity to see one of these kids and look into his face, perhaps the world would be much different,” Wilkinson said. “Well, I had this opportunity, and I pray that I can live up to my responsibility.”

Washington Post article
August 1, 1992

A Close-Up Critique on Homelessness

Author Says Aid Programs Should Stress the Spiritual

by Carey Kinsolving

Two years ago, Marvin Olasky, a University of Texas journalism professor, went undercover to experience the services available to the homeless and the attitudes that characterize Washington’s social workers.

As he moved from shelter to soup kitchen, no one asked for his real name, no one asked about his family, no one asked how he became homeless.

Although all his physical needs were met, including swimming privileges at a downtown pool, his spiritual needs were ignored. Olasky calls such treatment inhumane and lacking in compassion.

“A lot of the war on poverty has failed because it’s really been a war against God,” Olasky said. “Anti-poverty programs have left out the spiritual and have often discriminated against groups that want to have a spiritual emphasis.”

While eating a free lunch in a downtown church, Olasky asked one of the workers for a Bible. “A bagel?” she asked. After he repeated the request, the worker informed him that she did not have any Bibles.

In recent weeks, Olasky, 42, has appeared on numerous talk shows explaining how private Christian organizations of the 19th century waged a more effective war on poverty with fewer material resources. The current welfare system, he says, is driven by a false form of compassion that often does more harm than good. It’s an impersonal kind of compassion that fails to distinguish between the deserving and the undeserving poor.

“There’s nothing shameful about being poor,” Olasky said in a Washington interview. Things can go wrong: People lose their jobs, get sick and often are innocent victims; for example, children of alcoholics and drug addicts. They are certainly deserving, he said.

But the undeserving poor need a kick in the pants rather than a pat on the back, Olasky said. The 19th-century Christian social worker assumed that any able-bodied person “with good values could get out of poverty,” he said.

The findings of Olasky’s research are contained in his new book, “The Tragedy of American Compassion.”

The book has sparked debate among some authorities on the modern welfare system. Robert Bothwell, executive director of the National Committee for Responsible Philanthropy, said Olasky’s view of the 19th century is “romantic.” In a recent panel discussion of Olasky’s book at the Heritage Foundation, Bothwell said a return to the 19th-century idea of charity is impossible because of the sociological and economic changes that characterize modern society.

Bothwell said that families are smaller today; that people are more transient, resulting in a narrower sense of community in neighborhoods; and that technology has changed the way people communicate. “Life is far more complex now,” Bothwell said.

Olasky concedes that society has changed but maintains that the nature of people remains the same. Hence, the problem of the modern welfare state is a theological one, not a sociological one, he said.

Christian social workers of a century ago practiced tough love because they held a biblical view of people: sinful, created in the image of God, but not beyond God’s redeeming grace, Olasky said. That view contrasts with “the social universalist idea that all you do is give people material things, and they will be wonderful.”

Olasky warns of a “compassion backlash” rooted in frustrated taxpayers who sense that tax dollars are being wasted on paupers who choose not to work. That backlash often results in another anti-biblical approach to dealing with the poor, he said, “the social Darwinist idea of getting rid of the undesirables.”

One of the keys that made Christian programs of a century ago so effective was “affiliation,” or helping the destitute to restore family and community bonds that, for whatever reason, had been snapped.

He said the welfare system begun in the 1930s maintained some earlier Christian values by promoting the idea that it was much better to have any kind of a job than to be on the dole.

But in the 1960s, attitudes change. “There was a real push for anyone who was eligible to get onto a program,” he said, and it became shameful to take an entry-level job.

Olasky cited Washington’s Gospel Mission as an example of an organization that exercises true compassion because it addresses spiritual as well as physical needs.

“We believe anyone can put a new suit on a man, but only the grace of God can put a new man in the suit,” said the Rev. John Woods, executive director for the mission.

When the homeless come to the 150-bed mission, Woods, 64, frequently asks a question he has borrowed from Jesus: “Do you want to be made whole?” Woods said he often receives cool responses from talk show hosts when he says 50 percent of homelessness is a moral problem.

Accountability is often the key to getting people back on the right track, Woods said. The mission requires those who stay to attend three meetings a week and to submit to random drug tests. The mission staff tries to find jobs for its occupants. The unemployed work two to three hours a day at the mission.

“A gospel mission is the only place a guy can come in blind drunk and retire 25 years later as its executive director,” Woods said. The Gospel Mission is part of the 450-member International Union of Gospel Missions. Many of its member directors initially came to a mission seeking help.

Lack of self-esteem is a major problem with the homeless, Woods said. Through Bible studies, he teaches them: “In Christ, we’re somebody. There’s no need to be trapped by the past. We can move forward to become all that God destined us to be.”