By Norris Burkes
Published Mar 11, 2018

“Is your daughter’s nonprofit Christ-centered?” asks an American missionary here in the Honduran capitol of Tegucigalpa.

The man is among hundreds of missionaries headquartered within the comforting amenities of a big city. They represent various faiths, but most, like the one asking the question, are Evangelical.

Most do great work. They bring clean water into villages, build schools, care for orphans, and staff clinics with surgeons and dentists. Most understand that while Jesus saves, education and medical care add much to their cause.

This missionary’s question is likely innocent, but my Southern Baptist roots hear judgment. My daughter’s nonprofit is called Chispa Project. It creates small libraries in underserved schools, but it’s not about evangelizing the schools.

It feels like my inquisitor wants me to say, “You bet it is! We stock our libraries with boatloads of Bibles, Jesus stories, and salvation pamphlets.”

I strive to formulate an answer for my examiner, but draw a blank.

My mind drifts to the school we visited the day before. Prior to Sara’s arrival, the school library consisted of a dozen books from their teachers’ personal collection. Few books were in Spanish and most weren’t suitable to the children’s reading levels.

The school principal escorted us to each classroom. Most bulged with 42 students seated three-to-a-desk at desks designed for two students who made room for a third. A student was excused for the restroom, and I watched him head for the wooden outhouse where there was no running water.

Despite the bleak design, the school’s walls sprouted spirit posters boasting of the school’s dedication to reading. The principal led a student-cheer with snapping fingers that illustrated the name “Chispa,” which means spark in Spanish. During the cheer, the principal told the children that the Chispa Project books will spark their education.

Later in the morning, children poured onto the playground. They had no sports equipment, nevertheless, they squealed delightfully in their imaginary games. Kids climbed on and dangled from the small soccer goal posts on each side of the playground, while a few stared down the tall, white chaplain watching them from a bench.

Returning to the missionary’s question, I repeat it to myself. Is our work here Christ-centered? I think I must say, “yes,” because this is the place Jesus would be. This is the mission Christ put in our hearts.

An educational organization doesn’t become “Christ-centered” just because it incorporates theology into its written mission statement. After all, reading is reading whether you’re reading the Bible or a science textbook. Math is math because 2+2 has the same result when added by a Christian, Jew or atheist.

The Christian part, or the “Christ-centeredness,” comes not from the organization, but from the heart of the one serving. A nonprofit needn’t be parochial to be “Christ-centered.” Jesus taught that whenever we help ”…someone overlooked or ignored, that was me — you did it to me.”

“Yes, sir,” I say, regaining my confidence. “Chispa Project is definitely Christ-centered.”

I make that declaration because I’ve been here for 12 weeks and I can testify that the mission of the Chispa Project beats with the heart of Jesus who said, “Let the little children come to me … for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

The missionary returns a reserved smile, so I dare ask for a donation. He chuckles at my chutzpah to promote Chispa, but so far, no cash. Maybe he’s waiting to read our mission statement.

Read our mission statement or make a donation at Contact Norris Burkes at, 843-608-9715, Twitter @chaplain.