Keep Your Charity, We Want Justice: International Aid and the Role of “Humanitarian” Assistance

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (March 1994)

In November, the Grand Rapids Press ran an article entitled “`Time for Healing,’ North Says of Americans’ Role in Vietnam.” Speaking at the Amway Grand Plaza, North promoted his newest mission and his newest book. The article state that “North contends it is time to lower barriers and build bridges in that battered nation of Indochina where 58,000 Americans were killed and a half million others wounded.” Wait a minute. It seems that the article conveniently failed to include the several million Southeast Asians who were killed and wounded during the USA war, as well as the incredible eco-cide that was wrought by USA bombers (the word eco-cide was coined during the USA war in Southeast Asia to describe the incredible ecological destruction done).

North’s newest book, “One More Mission,” published by Zondervan, is his latest attempt at justifying the intentionality of the USA military in the war in Southeast Asia. In fact, half the book is devoted to North’s feeble attempt to articulate USA foreign policy as well as taking occasional opportunities to plead innocent in the Iran/Contra scandal. The latter half of the book does deal with his return to Vietnam, but solely for the purpose of denouncing Communism, praising the “persecuted” Christian community, and defending the need for more free (for some) enterprising in the country. The book jacket has other endorsements from mental giants like Cal Thomas and Rush Limbaugh. The end of the book includes a message, “How Can You Help?” These two pages are a pitch for International Aid, a “humanitarian” group that facilitated some of North’s trip to Vietnam.

International Aid (IA) located in Spring Lake, Michigan, was an outgrowth of an old World Vision project that used the warehouse that IA now occupies. In September of 1980g, IA officially became a separate entity. IA literature states that they have 5 main program areas; Development, Medical, Emergency Relief, Domestic, and Mission assistance. This means providing food, clothing, medical supplies, training, educational material, and personal care items for missionaries abroad. IA’s 1992g Annual Report states that “The US efforts complement IA’s global work. We have partnered with many US agencies and provided supplies that give hope to needy families, encouraging them to regain self-worth.” Having researched the relationship between USA agencies and Private Volunteer Organizations (PVOs), I was immediately curious about the connections that IA has. The fact that they endorsed a book by Ollie North is enough to make any sane person think twice, but I decided to investigate further.

According to Deb Preusch and Tom Barry’s book, The Soft War: The Uses and Abuses of US Economic Aid in Central America, “The phenomenon of private groups aiding counterinsurgency and counterrevolutionary campaigns supported by the US government is not a new one. Many of the leading figures and organizations involved in Central America played a similar role during the Vietnam War. Groups active in Central America like World Medical Relief, Air Commandos Association, and Project Hope were also active in Southeast Asia (pg. 89).” IA is currently involved in places like Bosnia, Somalia, and some Eastern European countries. IN order to understand their role in these places, it seems necessary to critique their past involvement in other countries. I will use Central America as a focal point.

IA states that they often provide “humanitarian assistance” to other USA PVOs working overseas. A report done by the Resource Center, base in New Mexico, says that “IA is primarily a warehousing and transportation operation, providing services to rightwing evangelical groups and occasional paramilitary groups.” The IA brochure entitled “Those we serve” lists literally hundreds of groups that do overseas work. It is impossible to investigate all of them, so I will choose to focus on two main groups and some brief information on connections to other groups.

World Vision

Started in the 1950s by Bob Pierce, World Vision has become the largest evangelical relief and development agency. Their 1987g budget was “over $145 million, with more than 20% coming from the US Agency for International Development (AID).” (Sara Diamond, Spiritual Warfare: The Politics of the Christian Right). IN 1982g the National Catholic Reporter investigated allegations that World Vision sometimes makes its fundraising objectives a higher priority than the needs of hungry people. Apparently World Vision aired a television documentary entitled “Crisis in the Horn of Africa” which, according to relief workers in Somalia, was “almost fraudulent” because World Vision was continuing fundraising appeals for emergency food aid months after Somalia’s food crisis had been alleviated.

In a 1979g issue of Christian Century, World Vision was charged with “having collected field data for the CIA in Vietnam.” This is quite possible since World Vision played a major role in the administration of refugee camps in the area.

Beginning in 1981g, World Vision was involved in an administrative role with the Salvadoran refugee camps in Honduras. Two of the other refugee agencies—CDEN and Caritas—objected to incursions by the Honduran army into the camps, but World Vision has remained silent about repeated human rights violations. Refugees testified that World Vision staff provided the army with regular intelligence reports and obligated them to attend evangelical services. Elements of World Vision collaborated with the most conservative faction of CEDEN to install conservative leadership of the pre-1982g CEDEN. So distrusted was World Vision that 19 Honduran organizations called on the government to throw the organization out of the country.

Wycliffe Bible Translators (WBT)

Started in 1917g, the Wycliffe Bible Translators (also know as the Summer Institute of Linguistics) was formed for the purpose of translating the Christian bible into indigenous languages. Over the years, WBT’s close working relationship with USA government officials and allied foreign leaders has the missionaries a reputation as “assets” of the CIA. This is the case with their work in the Philippines in the 1950g’s and Vietnam in the 1960g’s. WBT was given grant money from US AID to train rural villagers to read and write. To practice their reading skills the CIA gave the new literates booklets on how to use M-16 rifles and blow up bridges.

In 1978g, WBT prepared a dictionary for the Tzotzil people of Mayan Indian ancestry. “Anthropologists noted that WBT’s Tzotzil/Spanish dictionary eliminated the Spanish and indigenous words for ideological concepts that threaten the status quo; class, community, conquer, exploitation, oppression, repression, revolution, revolutionary, rebellion, most of which do exist in the native language (Diamond).” This kind of ideological manipulation and cultural interference has led many Latin Americans to call for the expulsion of WBT from their countries. In 1979g, a commission from Mexico’s College of Ethnology and Social Anthropology had presented the government with a reported that concluded that WBT is “a covert political and ideological institution used by the US government as an instrument of control, regulation, penetration, espionage, and repression. The WBT supports the expansion of capitalism in areas rich in nature resources, opening these areas to the capital markets and turning the population into a docile and cheap labor force (Diamond).” The area that the Mexican committee speaks of is Chiapas, the site of the present uprising of Mexican Campesinos/as known as Zapatistas.

In Guatemala, during the Rios Montt regime, WBT re-entered the Ixil Triangle. While their work involved bible translation into indigenous languages, they also served to propagate a vigorously anti-communist ideology. According to WBT’s Helen Elliot “Rios Montt heard that we knew the language and helicoptered us into Nebaj, and then we started distributing blankets, food, and tin roofing as well as setting up schools.” She said WBT served as “a bridge between the military and the people” (Preusch & Barry). In 1986g, WBT signed a contract with AID for its Integrated Rural Development Program for the Mayan People. Among other things, the project translated government and military documents into Indigenous languages. It is well-known and documented that these “model villages,” established under Rios Montt’s regime, were nothing short of concentration camps. Montt had the support of many evangelical groups, like WBT, to implement his genocidal policies. A member of Montt’s own church, El Verbo, says this of the Indigenous, “The Army doesn’t massacre the Indians. It massacres demons, and the Indians are demon possessed; they are communists” (Diamond).

Other Connections

According to the Resource Center study, International Aid provided supplies to Operation Blessing, a project of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). Operation Blessing is said to have a close relationship with the Navy’s Operation Handclasp, a project designed to enhance the image of the Navy. CBN also was notorious for supporting the Nicaraguan terrorist forces known as the Contras throughout the 1980g’s.

Another Michigan based organization that works with International Aid is World Medical Relief (WMR), based in Detroit. WMR was a CIA conduit in its secret war against Laos. The key player in this connection was Harry Aderhodt, a retired Air Force officer, who was head of the Air Commando Association. The Air Commandos have been known to supply weapons to the Contras and the Salvadoran military. The Resource Center’s report quotes an Air Commando newsletter in regards to International Aid, “they have been responsive to our every request.” It should be mentioned that Harry Aderhodt is the editor of Soldier of Fortune magazine.

Marantha Campus Ministries – This organization has worked heavily in Guatemala and El Salvador. During the 1980g’s they organized 70 pro-Contra demonstrations on USA campuses before a key Congressional vote.

Gospel Crusade – Between 1985g and 1987g this group transported over 100 tons of “humanitarian” supplies to the Contras. Gospel Crusade worked closely with FDN military leader Enrique Bermudez, a top ranking Somocista National Guardsman, who has been implicated as a conspirator in the 1980g assassination of El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero.

End Time Handmaidens – This organization worked with the mercenary group RENAMO in Mozambique.

Church of the Rock – Based in Texas, this group works with Paralife Ministries. Paralife has been known to provide ideological training to Salvadoran soldiers, encouraging them to massacre their own people. On one mission, Paralife evangelist John Stern toured eight military bases and spoke to over 3,700 soldiers. He told them that “killing for the joy of it was wrong, but killing because it was necessary to fight against an anti-Christ system, communism, was not only right but a duty of every Christian” (Diamond).

In early January I went to International Aid’s office in Spring Lake to talk with them about their activities and connections. I spoke with Dr. Jack Henderson who has traveled extensively with International Aid and is part of their executive staff. I told him that I had noticed a billboard they were running in Grand Rapids for aid to Bosnia. At that point International Aid had sent 21 containers of supplies to the war-torn former Yugoslavia. When I asked him about endorsing North’s book and his recent trip to Vietnam, he replied, “North is one of the most compassionate men I’ve ever met.” He also said that he had no problem endorsing a man involved in the illegal activities that led to the Iran/Contra scandal.

I asked Dr. Henderson about some of the allegations made from the Resource Center study of their organization. He told me that they did work with Air Commando “just once, but not anymore.” He also stated that the other allegations were “not accurate” as far as the other agencies mentioned earlier are concerned. I asked him if International Aid had any particular political position and he said “no, we have no particular political bent.” When asked about accountability to the groups they gave supplies to, I got no answer. It should be noted that the resource Center study also has a quote from the Christian reformed Church, “We believe that support of the contras is immoral, and are deeply disturbed by reports that International Aid, soliciting donations as ‘an interdenominational relief and mission service organization,’ serves groups terrorizing civilians and our own CRC relief projects in Nicaragua.”

International Aid also has quite a list of corporate donors. Among them are Meijers, Spartan Stores, Baker Book House, Eli Lilly & Co., K-Mart, Dow Corning Corp., Gerbers, and Amway. In fact, Amway is the largest donor. Apparently Amway provides a lot of cleaning and personal care items to International Aid in support of missionaries overseas. Amway’s connections go a little deeper, however. The vice president of communications for Amway is Nan Van Andel, the daughter of Amway co-founder Jay Van Andel. Recently, Nan was given the position of Chairman (sic) of the Board for International Aid.

The title for International Aid’s 1992g Annual Report is “enabling those who serve.” The question should be asked, who is International Aid enabling and what are they serving? Is their real goal to provide relief, training, and development assistance, or are they cooperating with USA counterinsurgency campaigns and pacification programs which subvert democracy and make people dependent? From all the research I have done, the latter seems to be the case. But don’t take my word for it, investigate for yourself. You can contact International Aid @ 17011 Hickory, Spring Lake, MI, 49456. Maybe you can get a copy of North’s newest book, like I did, for your library. I think I’ll put mine next to the Chomsky books.