Global Orphan Population

orphanpopulationmap4Several years ago, one of my friends put together a blog on orphans, as orphans are very close to her heart. Although I cannot say the same, I had taken several mapping courses in college and had wanted to apply my mapping skills to something socially active, so I pounced on the chance to construct a Sqlite database that contained orphan population data for each country.

What was most astonishing was that the data did not already exist. UNICEF publishes these kinds of statistics, but for half of the countries, it seems, there was no data on the orphan population. In my database I started recording the sources of each figure because metadata and accuracy are so very important when building out maps like this. And I don’t believe the problem is happening at the UN level, I believe it is happening at the state level. We cannot be sure these administrations have the budget or even the resources to accurately assess these statistics.

To be fair, tackling any statistic about an entire country must be incredibly difficult. Statisticians rely on data models to produce reasonably sound estimates, but actual person-by-person counting is impossible. Statistics may be easier to gather as the information age continues to blossom, but the United States can’t completely force people to submit their information in the census. The IRS is probably the only government structure with the budget to come close to forcing every individual to file their information, but even they do not have the budget to audit everyone.

All this to say, gathering statistics is extremely difficult. And I have seen widely varying figures for these orphan statistics, too. Some people disagree on the definition, and some countries disagree on who counts as a nation state! The United Nations list differs from the CIA World Factbook.

And, for those familiar with relational databases, the join in my query likely does not perfectly match the country names in my dataset. I found this out with the Democratic Republic of Congo, where one source had “Congo (Democratic Republic of the)” and the other had “Democratic Republic of the Congo”. Apparently there are a few ISO standards for each country, but getting people to adhere to those–to even know about those–cannot be an easy task.

I may look for a way to open-source my data table. Scouring the internet for figures on each country is not easy. Tackling each continent separately is probably a better approach.


It is generally considered bad practice to include more than five or six ranges on an Equal Interval map such as this, but I chose to break it down into groups of 500,000 because there is so much variance in the data. There are several enormous outliers, such as India and Kenya, and I did not want to mash these together with countries that actually have significantly fewer orphans.


Survivor’s Guilt

Many people in the United States Church are mistaken in thinking that we somehow have more time than people elsewhere in the world. I’ve known several church-aholics who get angry when others don’t share their dedication to being a part of everything. There’s this idea that because we have so much in the US and because life is so easy relative to the people’s lives we hear about in Haiti or South Africa or Nepal, that the only way we can show God we are thankful is to neglect life and spend every free minute studying a language, witnessing, or doing service projects.

I call this “Survivor’s Guilt” due to its similarity to what many combat veterans experience when they return confused from war not knowing why it is that they survived and their friends died. We, similarly, don’t know why we were born here. Philosophical musings aside, those of us who read the news and the stories of suffering usually feel a need to do something; too often the truth is that we can’t do anything.

It’s hard working 40+ hours per week, and we may not work in sweatshops in China, but we do work a lot. Life here is not cheap and perhaps we have too much entitlement, but overcoming our own culture requires extreme effort, and I don’t ever want to downplay that. I have worked at reducing my possessions for the past 8 years, and even though my friends agree I don’t have very much, there are still things that I want.

Let’s be perfectly clear: We do not have any more time than anybody else. Yes, we have more money and generally more comfort, but our wealth does not extend to our time.  I don’t believe that God expects us to come home after 8+ hours of work just to do “his work” for the rest of the day, every day of the week. Perhaps “His work” is really just being there for our families (also downplayed by many people in missions). Does the Bible not talk about rest? And what happened to the Sabbath? We don’t talk about that. We use logical fallacies to guilt people into busyness. “If you truly loved the Lord, wouldn’t you dedicate every waking hour to Him?” Apparently that means watching a movie or playing a video game is out.

Speaking of, I used to play video games. It was my rest in the evenings. And then I got hooked on knowledge and learning, but I justified this because it was a ‘good use of time’. Until this past week when I realized that I hadn’t played some of my favorite games in years because I’d trained myself feel like any time is wasted that isn’t used to learn something or accomplish something. The other day I finally forced myself to play, and it has been a great relief.

I get caught up in language. At the same time that I’m answering my call to work with information security and software development, I’m thinking about how I need to be learning a foreign language, planning something overseas, learning how to teach better, etc etc, to say nothing of wanting to invest more in my friends, go camping more often, get out more, and find a girlfriend. I have really not given myself any rest. I work with a Burmese refugee family every other week to help them learning English. It seems wrong that I don’t consider that enough. It’s like my pride demands I “accomplish something greater”. Whatever the hell that means.


So here’s my plan: 1) study what I need for my career. Dedicate this to Lord, and make sure I’m being generous with the proceeds, because this line of work does come with good proceeds. 2) Make sure I am staying in Christian community. 3) keep working with the Burmese family. They may already be Christians, but they are still my ministry. 4) I would be a happy camper if I could get through chapter 8 of my Nepali book by next summer. That requires only an hour or two each week.

Super Missions Man

I’m not super missions man.

The hardest part about quitting my job is feeling that all of my time must be dedicated to studying programming, security, and technology in general. I have books on Nepali and Arabic that have been languishing on my shelf from even before I left my job, but I feel that studying them is even less of a reality now. Don’t get me wrong. I love studying computer stuff. Heck, it’s why I quit my job, so I could pursue those areas of technology that most intrigue me. But let’s face it, there is another part of me that is dying inside.

I want to be careful how much I share in this blog because I want my friends to know me face to face, and I want them to get the privilege of seeing the real me, instead of all my stories existing publicly. However, I would like to share a little bit of this story.

At the end of a serious of spiritual events spanning several years, I found myself on the final hurdle of college majoring in Anthropology. The subject was the perfect fit for me, and I soaked it up. Even the classes that were less interesting I still valued. I figured that certainly God would call me overseas, and I even remember a few times pacing the geography section of the library praying for the right book to magically stand out. Nothing ever did.

Instead, God brought me to technology, beginning with my last job. I had the aptitude and even some experience, and I went a little crazy on how much I wanted to learn. That job is the reason my student loans are all paid, too. It was important enough that God asked me to stop working with a refugee group my friends at church and I were working with, and it’s why I left my job now. It’s also why I’ve been studying my brains out for the past month. It’s pretty clear that this will likely play a very large role in my life.

But I’m still interested in culture and world missions, even though none of this has allowed me to go overseas. It would have been easy to save up $1500 to go on some mission trip south of Texas, but the calling was never there, so I never went. And having never left the country, I guess it’s no wonder that I feel nobody takes me seriously when I say I’m interested in missions. Sometimes I’m jealous. My missions friends seem to have such purpose, but I can’t play God’s hand for him. I know better than that at this point in life. It drives me insane. I’ve worked with five ancient languages, two modern, I know my grammar and phonology, and I excel at memorizing complex scripts. “I can do this, you fools!” But the calling isn’t there. So I keep waiting.

So I guess here’s the deal. Do you want to be involved in missions? Prepare for nobody to care. Prepare for there to be no glory. Prepare for others to think you are a complete idiot. Prepare for them to think you need to be involved in every ministry available, prepare for them to question how seriously you take your faith, prepare for them to completely ignore you when you say you are interested in going on an extended short term mission trip (that’s a painful one, you will not get that story here). But here’s the deal: you do what God calls you to do. Don’t make up shit so you can feel righteous and holy. Don’t assume that God is asking more than he is. Don’t mistake your desire for adventure as a desire for outreach.

Most importantly, don’t think that you can’t make a difference just because others don’t believe you can.

I’m not super missions man. I’m just a guy. A software developer. And God can use me in whatever way he sees fit. And I want that.

Just needed to get that out. Maybe next post I’ll discourse on language, or maybe even post the map I built several years ago. You know, something related to what I created this blog for.