People need a Handup; not a Handout

One of the things I’m determined about in Africa is not to be part of creating a dependency among the folks we’ll minister to/with.

I’m excited about being part of hands up, not hand outs.


March 2005  Sumatra, Indoneisa

Goats, Boats, and Saws

From Hearts across the Water by Curt Iles

A hand up…. Not a handout


One of the Displaced Person’s Centers along Sumatra’s Northern Coast is named Garut.

It is one of many nondescript assortments of crude buildings, tents, and amassed people you find all along the coast.  It was not a village before the tsunami.

This new village of Garut consists of 300 families from five different areas.  The village leader explains that the residents all come from coastal villages wiped out by the wave.  They have come together here on higher ground to build a new life and a new village together.

This conversation took place under a large United Nations tent that serves as the village school, hospital, and meeting area.  I am simply an eavesdropper on the amazing conversation I’m going to relate to you.

The village leader sat down with Jim.  Jim is from an American aid group and has the wonderful but daunting task of allocating $16 million worth of tsunami aid throughout the affected areas of Southern Asia.

Beside Jim sits “C”, an American who has spent his entire life among the Indonesian people.  C’s as we will call him, job is to interpret this important conversation.

I’m sitting ten feet away playing dominoes with a group of children. However, I’m not going to miss one word of the conversation going on behind me.  I’ve been with Jim for two days and am very impressed with his spirit and vision.  He is going village to village to find out firsthand about the needs and how best to be good stewards of the resources available.

After some visiting and pleasantries, Jim asks the village leader what they need most.  There is a long silence as if the leader is going over a mental shopping list in his mind.  Then he replies in Indonesian.   C seems puzzled and asks a question back.  The village leader repeats his word.

C smiles as he tells Jim, “He said most of all they needs goats.”

Jim says, “Did you say goats?”

“Yes, he says if every family in Garut has 5-7 goats, they could make it.  This would allow them to have milk, food, and build large flocks.”

Everyone sat in silence for a few seconds.  I don’t know what the others were thinking but here was my thought:

Here is a man and a village that is not looking for a handout.

They are looking for a “hand up.”


But the village leader wasn’t through… There was another lengthy exchange between C and the Garut leader.

_thumbGarut Goat

C then turned to Jim,   “They would also like boats if possible.  The men here were mostly fishermen.  They lost all of their wooden boats in the tsunami.”

C pointed toward the sea which was about one kilometer away across the low land wiped out by the wave.  “Right now they are still too scared of the ocean to go back out on it, but they know they must, and will, go back to fishing.  You can’t fish without boats. They need boats.”

 Once again:  A hand up… not a handout.

The third conversation between the Indonesian and C was long and full of many gestures.  I don’t know about Jim Brown but I was nearly leaning in awaiting the next interpretation.

C smiled as he related to Jim, “He says they would love to also have cutting tools.  They do not have any tools to properly cut wood.  Saws and axes would allow them to cut firewood for use and sale.”

I could see in my mind these “industrious Indonesians” cutting and sawing up the fallen timber that was everywhere on the tsunami devastated areas.

For some strange reason I thought of Marcel Ledbetter with his lightweight McCullough chainsaw.   I wondered if any of these villagers had seen a chainsaw in action.

That was the extent of this conversation.  At this point it began to rain.  I’d already noticed that the area under the tent and around it had earlier been a barnyard. I knew this because the soil was rich with dried “barnyard fertilizer.”  Outside the tent the ground became wet, sticky, and smelly.  But that didn’t take away my strong belief that this village of Garut was going to be an oasis of peace, growth, and prosperity.

It was lunchtime.  A nearby tent was dispensing sealed bowls of Japanese rice.  A village woman checked off the name of each family as they received their allotment.  Everywhere in Garut there was a feeling of looking forward, organization, and teamwork.

Right about then is when something started burning a hole in my pocket.  That burning sensation came from a large gift of over $1000 sent by the children of Fairview High School in Grant, Louisiana.  They had instructed me to use it where it would help most.  All of a sudden I had a pretty good idea that those Fairview students were going to be in the goat, boat, and saw business.  It looked like a good investment to me.

When we returned to Jakarta I went to our Aid office and deposited this money.  I told the staff accountant to use it to buy “goats, boats, and saws” for the northern coast village of Garut.  It was my privilege to be the middleman in linking the two villages of Grant, Louisiana, U.S., with Garut, Sumatra, Indonesia.

People ask me, “Will you return to Indonesia?”  I don’t know the answer to that question.  I hope so.  But I know there are so many other places to go and see also.  But if I do, I know one place I’ll go…

And if you should ever go to the northernmost island of Indonesia- the large island called Sumatra, go to this village.  From the capital city of Banda Aceh head north in your vehicle toward the coastal mountains.  You’ll cross the river and then the canal.  As you travel along the one highway leading out of the city, you’ll have the beautiful Indian Ocean on your left and the foothills of the mountains on your right.  About twenty kilometers or so, just right past the curve in the road where you normally have to slow down for monkeys on the road, you’ll see a sign for a village called Garut.


I believe you will find a warm welcome there.

They’ll remember other Americans who have come before you.

And while you are in Garut do something just for me

Visit their goat herds and pet one of them on the head just for me

And especially for the students at Fairview High School

Grant, Louisiana

United States of America



  1. So I’m reading your blog in preparation for teaching a ladies Sunday School class at Palestine Baptist Church in Grant, LA. You know us well, Brother Curt, and I and my church family have been in prayer for you and Ms. Deedee for months. Anyway, here I am studying Jonah and reading your blog to imagine exactly why Jonah was so scared to go when God called him. I’m finding out that I am a ‘Jonah’. Your experiences and your journey… When I imagine walking in your shoes, giving up all you know, your close day-to-day fellowship with your loved ones… It’s too much I think. But then I remember the God that I love and that saved me. If and when He calls me, there will be none of this fear. He takes care of that, as I’m sure you can attest to. I praise Him on your behalf and on mine. Oh, and I have 2 boys who attend Fairview High School. I can’t wait to share this blog with them. God bless you and DeeDee and all who you meet on your journey for souls. 🙂

    • That is great. My prayer is that God will use the words of my mouth (and pen) and the meditations of my heart for His glory.

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