sometimes it’s messy work

messy, art, beautiful, non-profit work

Written by Dan King

Christ-follower. husband. father. author of the unlikely missionary: from pew-warmer to poverty-fighter. co-author of activist faith: from him and for him. director of family ministry at st. edward's episcopal church. president of fistbump media, llc.

October 10, 2012

messy, art, beautiful, non-profit work

Art is Messy Work by Mollie Donovan Burpo

[serialposts]Paint streaks decorated the legs of his jeans. As he came out to greet us, Richard held a paintbrush in one hand and a piece of his artwork in the other. As we discussed the success of the microloan experiment he was a part of, it was obvious he loves his work. His artwork reflects the community and culture in which he lives. But one look at him and it’s easy to see that art is messy work.

When you look at Richard’s story it’s very easy to see what success looks like. And it looks like something that’s easy to duplicate.

After talking about his situation, we spent some time sitting in the open-air, unfinished area of an addition he’s making to his house talking about other development projects like these. The discussion focused a great deal on what the ‘right’ way is to do this kind of work, and what role should the church be playing in that work.

One member of the team reminded us that the United States is the most generous nation in the world, and within the U.S. it’s the church that is consistently the most generous group of people.

So I’m not going to sit here and tell you how much the should be doing. The church has the right heart, so the question is more about how we make sure our efforts are having the impact they need to have to do the most good.

When we look at Richard’s story it’s easy for us to give a big thumbs up and say things like… “Yes! That’s how we do it!” If it worked for him, then it should work for everyone else, right?

And that’s how we tend to approach charitable work in our culture. Find the right formula and mass produce it to distribute to as many others as possible.

What if Richard took this approach to his art? Isn’t it the unique qualities about each piece that makes art work so special?

As we progressed through the day, we discovered a similar theme emerging in the work being done by Help One Now in Haiti.

Our next stop would be in the Pétionville Tent City. We spent some time talking with Pastor St. Cyr about the needs they have in his community. He shared his heart for ensuring that the children could all get an education, and that adults could get better job skills training.

After hearing him pour out his heart, it quickly became clear to me that what worked for Richard probably isn’t a model that would work well in the Tent City community that St. Cyr  is working to develop.

I also know that over the next couple of days our team will be visiting other projects that will show more ‘personalized’ needs. Each of these projects follows a very different model to serve very different needs.

Like Richard’s artwork, orphan care and community development projects are very messy. And in the end, when each piece is created with the individual creativity that it deserves, then something amazing and beautiful can come from it.

And that’s why Help One Now relies so heavily on the local leaders on the ground in Haiti to determine what the needs are, while we come alongside to support and encourage. It’s not about the fancy American NGO coming in and implementing their cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all master plan for success.

There may not be an easy answer to give to everyone about how things work down here in Haiti, because the answer will likely be… it depends.

Relief and development work in Haiti is messy. And when done right it results in a masterpiece leaving us in awe of the beautiful, redemptive work that God can do.

child sponsorship, Haiti, Help One Now, Compassion, orphan, poverty


  1. Shelly Miller

    This is such an important thing for our churches to know Dan. It’s been our experience working in Rwanda, both with coffee, microfinance loans and other things we do to help. We serve a God who is infinite in His abilities, He rarely does the same thing twice. I’m not sure why we think He works that way in third world countries. Enjoying following all of you to Haiti, living vicariously through you. Perhaps I’ll go one day and do the same.

    • @bibledude

      Yes! Yes! Yes! Churches need to hear this stuff, and if they don’t want to preach it themselves, then I’m happy to come share it with them… they need to be encouraged, and learn how to focus their efforts.


  2. pastordt

    A big YES to this message, Dan. We serve an infinite God and the ways in which help will come are infinite, too. Praying for all of you!

  3. Sandra Heska King

    Messy but marvelous when we let the Master work through us. Praying…

    • @bibledude

      That’s exactly what I saw unfolding before me… it’s amazing and beautiful!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

sometimes it’s messy work

by Dan King time to read: 3 min