If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

paul

by Paul Young

If you give a mouse a cookie…he’s going to ask you for a glass of milk. Do you know that children’s story? It was a favorite for my kids and, apparently, several million others as well. If you haven’t read it recently, ask a child to borrow their copy. It will take only five of the best minutes of your day. At any rate, I was reminded of the story during my last planning visit in Haiti with Pastor Jean Claude.

As with most children’s classics, the simple charming storyline belies the serious messages embedded within. In the story, Boy gives Mouse a cookie, but that gift leads Mouse to ask for a series of other things (the glass of milk, a straw, and so on). By the end of this very short story, Mouse is back to asking for a cookie again, and any innocent joy of giving has long since worn off. I think the story popped into my mind because it relates to our efforts in Haiti.

Mouse cookieCertainly, at first, there is something very rewarding in helping someone smaller and less capable. It is also uplifting to share in their delight of discovery of new things. But it must be pointed out that these new gifts are not really part of Mouse’s world, and they can lead to problems.

Typically, our donations to the Fond Blanc orphanage are helping with some pretty basic needs that would otherwise go unmet. That sort of gift is Biblically mandated and would make anyone feel good about serving the poor and needy. At first, anyway.

As the Cookie story makes clear, it seems any donation is just going to prompt a request for something else. Figuring out how we deal with those second and third requests is our own Cookie story in Haiti. Well meaning people can still cause big problems if their beneficiaries simply become dependent upon them. Pastor Jean Claude continually reminds everyone that the goal is not to “feed a man a fish, but rather, to help him become able to fish for himself.”

The children in the orphanage can be as endearing and lovable as Mouse in the story. But there is more to life than cookies and milk, and part of our work is discerning the appropriate boundaries for our generosity. When are we providing the essential foundation for their healthy development, and when are we contributing to Haiti’s 200 year history of dysfunctional dependence on outsiders? It is not always easy to see the answer to that question.

At the Fond Blanc Foundation we tend to obsess over the critical shortages of necessities, but we obsess just as much about the risk of fostering dependency. We are blessed to be able to give the kids the occasional cookie, but we insist that they must learn how to get their own glass of milk.

The Cookie dynamic can also backfire on even the most dedicated missionary. It is so easy to get jaded when you can’t see the benefit or evidence of previous contributions, and every inquiry is met with just another request for more. In the winepress of a dependent culture, even the best fruit can turn to vinegar.

The Fond Blanc Foundation is not immune to such challenges, but as 2015 draws toward a close, I think we can say that we have found a good balance. We are still able to find a servant’s joy in trying to meet the real needs of the kids, and we continue to refine our process for working there in ways that protect the stewardship of our contributions. Haiti may remain chronically needy, but it is encouraging to see a safe foundation of essential help slowing forming under these particular children. These children have a chance at a better future, and we are dedicated to serving them in a manner that will not let them get caught in the cycle of always asking for another cookie.

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