Options: Better than Teaching a Man to Fish in the Desert

Today’s post is by Jerry Elmer, a long-time friend of Spirit in Action.*

Glory Tembo sells boiled fish in the Manyamula market (Malawi).

Glory Tembo, who received a SIA grant in 2006, sells boiled fish in the Manyamula market (Malawi).

Most everyone has heard the old adage, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” It sounds very profound – until you realize that teaching someone to fish is relatively useless if he lives in the desert.Recently, I’ve been in a sort of desert, myself, advising an organization building a homeless shelter on the southern-most edge of Santa Clara County, which comprises most of California’s illustrious Silicon Valley. With county population about 1.8 million people, some seven thousand of them are homeless. For eight years I was one of them.

In his book, The Hole in Our Gospel, Richard Sterns, President, World Vision U.S., says, “What I have discovered in my travels to more than forty countries with World Vision is that almost all poverty is a result of lack of options. It is not that the poor are lazier, less intelligent, or unwilling to make efforts to change their condition. Rather, they are trapped by circumstances beyond their power to change.”

When I read this, I was sure he was talking about the homeless problem right here in California. I realized that World Vision and our budding homeless shelter were trying to help people address the same problem: lack of options.

But it appears Del Anderson figured that out a long time ago. And although I have never seen it stated in so many words, he founded Spirit in Action to increase people’s access to a range of self-help options. He realized that by creating options for people – giving them choices – you give them the opportunity to make their own way in their own environment.

Del started out sending people seeds to grow vegetables and fruit, which they could use to feed their own families or sell for profit (Remember Oral Roberts’ seed-faith? Here it is in action!). Then Spirit in Action began giving small business grants so people could choose their own businesses and path to prosperity. Here in Silicon Valley, our shelter will include a job training center in cooperation with local businesses, as many of the homeless have no marketable job skills.

James said, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2: 18-26). So along with World Vision, Spirit in Action and our homeless shelter work to the same task. And the options we create – they’re in the works. I have faith. How about you?

*Editor’s Note (2/22/12): This post originally included a link to a book written by Jerry Elmer. The author has now taken this book off the market because of a problem with the publisher. He does not want people to buy this book.

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6 Responses to “Options: Better than Teaching a Man to Fish in the Desert”

  1. Boyd February 21, 2012 11:07 am

    Thanks Jerry! This is a wonderful post!

  2. Dennis Johnson February 22, 2012 10:36 am

    Right on, Jerry. Thanks for your article.

  3. Diane Bush February 22, 2012 10:51 am

    Great article Jerry!

  4. Gloria Knapstad February 22, 2012 12:03 pm

    Thank you, Jerry, for sharing your thoughts so clearly.

  5. marsha johnson February 22, 2012 1:58 pm

    Jerry, I really appreciate the power of your personal experience, and how it has opened your heart to serving others whose options are limited. It sounds like the Golden Rule, to me!

    Thanks and blessings,

  6. EB February 22, 2012 2:06 pm

    Excellent article! I’ve heard a working-class friend describe her upbringing as living with poverty of vision (as well as of resources).

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