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  • Writer's pictureJohn Heers First Things Foundation

"First Things Foundation"

Sacrifice is the beginning of a meaningful life - by FTF Director John Heers

WE BELIEVE that sacrifice is the beginning of a meaningful life. WE REALIZE this ideal by living humbly, for two years, alongside locals in struggling communities. WE FUEL beautiful projects that originate as local ideas and unfold with love.


First Things Foundation was conceived as a way to remind wealthy westerners of what gives meaning to life and as a mechanism for serving the poorest among us. As a couple of men working in the aid field, we saw how do-gooders sometimes did profound damage to struggling communities. That damage wasn't always physical; things get built when the cash shows up. The damage was spiritual, resulting in local people and local economies becoming dependent on outsiders.

..."When we sacrifice our comforts, our way of speaking, our way of thinking, and immerse ourselves into local communities, something really cool happens. We discover wisdom in the Old World way of living and interacting."

But the existing aid paradigm also revealed a missed opportunity. The do-gooders with means, individuals and large non-profits, sometimes overlooked local culture and local ideas. This failure wasn't about being greedy or arrogant (though we saw it could be), it was usually about a failure to truly immerse where people hurt the most. True cultural awareness wasn't often the goal. Sharing in the suffering wasn't exactly the point. After all, that's a hard thing. It could mean getting sick. Or lonely.

But here's the rub. When we sacrifice our comforts, our way of speaking, our way of thinking, and immerse ourselves into local communities, something really cool happens. We discover wisdom in the Old World way of living and interacting. We begin to see clearly. And one of the things we see is that local people usually know how to fix local problems. Having immersed into a new way of thinking, we are in a unique position to offer these people direction, hope, someone to bounce ideas off of, and resources that they don’t have access to.

Stripped down and embedded into the local culture, the Field Worker becomes something like a bridge, with a foot in two worlds. We give momentum to local ideas by offering these people a chance to share a virtual table with creative and generous souls around the world. This, much like a heavy-laden feasting table, brings people together for the good.

All sorts of people are gathered around this table, sharing the common motif of sacrifice: the impresarios risk failure in pursuit of improving their lives or communities. Field Workers sacrifice two years of their lives to meet these folks and offer them hope. And our donors sacrifice capital and resources to bring beautiful ideas to fruition.


PHASE I: Immerse The first phase of a Field Worker’s two years is what we call the Immersionship. This is the time when we learn the local language, lend a hand to a few local businesses and get lost in the rhythm of the culture. The Immersionship is our way of establishing that we are in the community, not apart from it, or over it. Why not just get started on cool projects when we show up? The reason is that the cultural gap between the Field Worker and the local community is immense. The initial assumptions we have when we enter a community about its needs and the people we think we can trust aren’t always accurate. It takes a breaking down before we can build up. The main focus of the Immersionship is learning the local language. When we start speaking the language, putting on the words, intonations and gestures of the local community, it’s a sign that we are beginning to see things from the community’s perspective. Apart from language learning, building relationships and learning to live without usual comforts, what does an Immersionship look like? Here are a few examples of what Immersionship “jobs” might be: Teaching elementary school kids English in Chuinajtajayub (yeah, that's a town) and learning the ins and outs of education in rural Guatemala, while helping a student’s family with the raising of rabbits and other livestock. Helping a local community based organization survey rural African widow lending groups during the day and pounding dough in a bakery in the evening. Working at a few Appalachian food banks, packing boxes and delivering food stuffs to homebound folks. The Immersionship is sometimes tough, other times unbearable, but always a learning process that extends us beyond our comfort zone. Our motto during the Immersionship is go slow. Here are some stories from our Immersionships.

PHASE II: Collaborate and create The sacrifices that the Field Worker makes during the Immersionship fuel the collaboration and creativity during the second phase of service, the thing we call the Creationship. The Immersionship is a natural stepping stone to being a valuable asset to the community we are planted in. By the time we get to the Creationship we have begun to speak (and think) like the locals, we’ve made friends with people we trust, who trust us too, and we may have even met a few potential Impresarios – people with ideas and motivation for a project or business. Our bet is that every community has Impresarios. The Creationship is about identifying them and collaborating with them on what they need. We share meals or cups of coffee with Impresarios and use a whiteboard to talk them through their challenges and obstacles. For instance: a community project wants to get water out to a pueblo but doesn't have a way to write a grant for it. Or an entrepreneur is working on setting up beehives in several villages but needs a business model for establishing a supply chain. Or a baker wants to expand his business to a nearby town but needs a local business partner. We connect the water project to a donor in the US, we map out a business plan with the honey entrepreneur, and help identify potential partners for a baker. Our job is not to run or manage the project. We simply collaborate and fill gaps. Our Impresarios are active agents of their own projects, not useful project implementers of ours. We are a conduit for local ideas to come alive. Here are some Impresario projects we’re currently involved in.

THE KEIPI: Meeting at the table When the Field Worker connects with Impresarios and introduces them to donors and others who can help, and what started as an idea begins to take flesh, something beautiful happens. We think it starts looking like something called a Keipi. What’s that? The Keipi is a living tradition from the country of Georgia. It’s essentially what you get when a traditional dinner party and an ordered poetry exposition collide. People come together to share food and wine and make toasts to the things that make us uniquely human; things like love and family, humor and life. Around the table, individuals are made whole, communities integrated, and deep bonds established. We often say that our work is the Keipi, that the Keipi is a living icon that embodies the mission of what we do — or perhaps the other way around. It is the dross of an overflowing bounty and an intimate expression of the joy found in love and sacrifice. The Keipi can be found in all that we do: When we hire new Field Workers, we bring the First Things team to their home and perform a Keipi as a way of introducing ourselves. We offer our Impresarios forgivable loans from our Keipi Fund. We take folks on guided tours called Keipi Journeys. We’re even working on starting a Keipi Restaurant right here in the U.S. The Keipi table is the final creation of our work. But, of course, it all begins with sacrifice. For a better understanding of what a Keipi (or a Supra, the formal version) is, use this article as a starting point. But don’t just read about it, experience it! Contact us if you’re interested in hosting a Keipi.


Here’s how you can get involved as a donor, as a Field Worker, and as a learner.

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