Talk to anyone who identifies as a Christian and you’ll likely hear stories of travels to other places to help those in need (i.e., mission trips) and/or a desire to help others–particularly children who have no families to call their own. It’s the reason many people travel to other countries and spend time in orphanages–or send money to other countries to build an orphanage or a school or some other likely much needed outpost for a marginalized part of the population.
Those same people will have wonderful stories to tell and will describe how those experiences impacted them individually as well as the hope that they made some type of difference wherever they were. Although there’s a lot of good in all of that, perhaps it’s not all it really could be.
In A Twist of Faith: An American Christian’s Quest to Help Orphans in Africa, John Donnelly explores what it means to offer aid (regardless of your motivation) in places which we perceive need it most. Mixed in with Donnelly’s own research into foreign aid–specifically to Africa–is the story of David Nixon, a well-meaning carpenter from North Carolina who raises money to go to Malawi and build an orphanage. As the project stalls, Nixon learns what it means to listen to the Malawians describe what they need and how to make it happen. Nixon comes to understand that listening to and understanding those from this new (and very different) culture means putting aside his preconceived ideas and plans, taking a different approach, and bringing change and hope to another part of the world–and himself.
Donnelly intersperses his own research (to include interviews with Nixon and others in aid organizations working in Africa as well as his own travels to Africa) with Nixon’s story throughout this book. Clearly written and engaging, this book points out the frustrations Americans can experience in trying to accomplish something big in another country (e.g., fundraising, clearing government hurdles, working with local people in country) as well as how our aid is perceived by those who receive it. It brings to light that we make mistakes along the way–chief among them being the short-term nature of the work we do which is usually attached to our own agenda. Instead, Donnelly’s book implies that best practice includes consulting with and working alongside those who live where we want to work, including them in every step of the process, and staying in it for the long haul–however long that may be.
At times, I lost interest as Donnelly shifted to discussing data and numbers regarding foreign aid–although that information is important given the context of this book. Incorporating Nixon’s story, though one example of this process, illustrated both what not to do as well as what to do in ways those numbers could not. This book was thought-provoking and challenging–especially for someone who has fond memories of those short-term mission trips as an adolescent and young adult.
Note: Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.