Magazine article Insight on the News

Jacobson Converts Faith into Action; Why Jim Jacobson of Christian Freedom International Delivers the Word of God and a Gospel of Self-Reliance to Christians Persecuted in Any Corner of the World

Magazine article Insight on the News

Jacobson Converts Faith into Action; Why Jim Jacobson of Christian Freedom International Delivers the Word of God and a Gospel of Self-Reliance to Christians Persecuted in Any Corner of the World

Article excerpt

Jim Jacobson travels to the most dangerous places in the world armed only with medicine, Bibles and good will. But he's not a typical Third World do-gooder. In pursuing a business model best described as non-nonprofit, Jacobson's group, Christian Freedom International (CFI), has chartered new territory in the field of humanitarian assistance whose goal is enabling persecuted Christian refugees to attain true self-sufficiency.

Jacobson grew up on a dairy farm in Michigan. He left his job as a high-school teacher to work in Ronald Reagan's White House. Today, CFI (www.christian ffeedom.org) does everything from distributing much-needed medicine in Indonesia to smuggling Bibles into wartorn Burma. He sets up schools in Pakistan and works on asylum cases in London.

But perhaps Jacobson's most ambitious project is to change the lexicography of relief work, in which the word "refugee" no longer is synonymous with poverty. To that end, Jacobson has positioned himself as a sort of middleman, marketing to the world the ethnic handicrafts and wares of the persecuted. This not only raises money for the refugees' cause, it provides them with a stable and independent future by integrating them into the global economy. INSIGHT recently caught up with Jacobson at CFI's headquarters in Front Royal, Va.

Insight: Your organization takes medicine and other aid to some of the most dangerous places in the world--the Sudan, Burma, Pakistan and Indonesia. Where is it most dangerous now?

Jim Jacobson: It is very hard to make such comparisons, but I think most recently we had some hairy experiences in Pakistan. We were by the Khyber Pass this spring and got into a really awful situation in which Afghan refugees began to yell obscenities at us.

Insight: Why?

JJ: For being American, for being Christian. You have to expect some of that. But then a mob started to assemble and we had to rush to our truck and get out of there. Of course, we had no weapons or any means of self-defense.

Insight: What took you to Pakistan?

JJ: We were there to set up a number of projects in Christian communities--Christian slums really--mostly at the brickyards in which Christians are forced to work at backbreaking jobs.

As always, we delivered medicine and were establishing some schools. We have a long way to go because Christians in Pakistan are second-class citizens. Many of them can't go to school, which means that more than 90 percent of them are illiterate. So we need to teach them some skills if they are to become self-sufficient.

Insight: CFI sometimes is described as a Christian nongovernment organization (NGO) or a human-fights group. You like to say that CFI is a non-nonprofit. What do you mean by that?

JJ: What we are trying to do is to make a breakthrough in the way help is provided to places where people are marginalized and persecuted.

Today, what most organizations do is something they call "welfare-poverty relief." In this country, that's when they simply go in and get people dependent for everything on outside organizations and outside assistance.

By doing that you break down their desire to work, their desire and ability to have any kind of productive life. They go from persecution or dependency to dependency and oppression. It's a miserable existence.

Insight: So you are trying to break that cycle of dependency?

JJ: Yes. We try to get in ahead of the United Nations or other large organizations and offer education and training. We help them manufacture marketable products and then we help them bring their products to a marketplace in the United States or in their local community.

Insight: Do you provide equipment, expertise?

JJ: A little of both. For example, we'll supply them with little ovens so that they can make and sell naan [bread] on the streets and things like that. …

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