NRP Team Leader
Over the last few weeks I’ve been giving some thought to charity–probably because I’ve been asking for it so much!
CHARITY::the act of financially giving to others in need
In the US, charity has become an industry–from saving the planet to helping abused animals and, of course, supporting all the political candidates and causes. All these needs and causes (and a thousand more) depend on the willful and intentional giving of funds that people have worked hard to earn.
For all our faults, we are a very generous nation. The concept of benevolence is deeply rooted in our fabric and is distinct from other nations.
In addition to all the causes, there are human needs that cry out to us for our consideration to help and monetarily assist. At any given time, there’s a family in our community that has suffered a tragedy–a house burns down, a devastating sickness, a crime against someone.
Giving money is a legitimate way to express the love of God to others.
However, I’ve wondered if sometimes money is a shortcut. A “pay as you go” compassion so we don’t have to get our hands dirty or interrupt our lives.
Years ago, a church wanted to purchase a home for unwed mothers and asked for my help and ideas on the subject. They seemed well-organized and properly motivated. In the course of our discussion, I asked a question that had a greater effect than I realized it would. It was simply–How many members of the church have taken an unwed mother into their home? The answer was none. As we dug deeper, it was apparent that despite a real need and good motives, until people opened up their lives and homes, opening up their wallets may be a substitute for real charity.
Of course it’s easier to give money to the guy on the street corner than to stop and talk with him and find out why he’s really on the corner. I understand some are there because they want what you work for, but they themselves are not willing to do the same. There are others, however, that life has ravished in some way and they need more than just lunch money. They need Jesus in the form of His body, the Church.
2 Corinthians 8:5 speaks of this understanding. “And this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God.” This is speaking of the funds they were giving to the church in Jerusalem because of famine.
I’ve realized that many in the church have a mercenary mentality as opposed to a missionary mentality. The mercenary side is just to send money and pay for someone else to do the work. The missionary side is to open our hearts and ask God what He would have us do–which probably will involve an inconvenience.
In our mission work, I’ve always tried to honor the principle of not just giving money, but forming relationships with those in need and those serving the need, and then trying to meet those needs around the vehicle of the local church. While the need, the pain, the brokenness may be temporary, our work is ultimately eternal. And, in most cases, while money may help the person whose house has burned down, it can’t help the trauma that goes with losing what money can’t replace.
The other challenge for us, because of the sheer onslaught of charity needs and requests, is the pragmatic side. Will it really help? Will it really make a difference? Is this charity going to further enable a person in destructive behavior? These are not unholy questions. In many situations, these are questions that need to be asked.
I think because of all of these factors, even though we have a culture of generosity (especially in the church), there is some prejudice in us about giving because we understand that in most cases the people we are trying to help are in the circumstances they are in because (to some degree) they have contributed to them and are of their own choosing and decisions made. This then requires discernment on how best to help. The truth is we also need to remember that all of us were in need of God rescuing us, and we each contributed mightily to our own dilemmas; none of us were worthy of the mercy we received.
On our second trip into Ukraine, the realization that the people we were helping in no way had anything to do with what had befallen them really hit me. Of course, I knew that intellectually beforehand. Yet standing outside homes that had been struck by missiles somehow made it clear to me that these people did nothing to contribute to their present desperate situation. Absolutely nothing. They were sitting at home one day, or hopefully not at home, when a missile from an angry nation blew up their life.
I think that realization is one of the things driving my heart. In a world where the word “victim” has been hijacked and misapplied, there really are true victims of tragedy who do indeed need our charity, who in fact have contributed nothing to their present desperate state.
I’ve been asked if we are only helping Christians. The answer is “yes” in that we are working through local churches–in part, because they are the most efficient and trustworthy avenue of extending help. But also because our mission is more than temporal–it’s eternal, and the most hungry people still need more than bread. They need the living bread that the church offers! “No” is the other answer, because these churches open their doors to their community and, without prejudice, are serving everyone who gets in line. They’ve gone into the small villages, irrespective of any connection to their church, and have offered the basic necessities of life at no charge. They have been unflinchingly evangelistic, reminding people that these gifts came from the hand of God and the people who serve God. Their appreciation to those who have given cannot be measured in any words.
I’ll be honest, I don’t usually give to the guy on the corner. This past week, there was a man playing a violin (and rather well, I must say) in our local strip mall. He had a sign telling of his crisis and, of course, a basket. I found myself wanting to give him a few dollars. I got out of the car and opened my wallet. All I had was a 20. I guess God just wants us to give what we have, so that’s what he got. If he's there again, we will have a conversation.
I think through all of this Ukraine stuff that God has tenderized my heart to a greater degree. And I think that’s a good thing.
So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.
You can join us in making history His-Story in Ukraine HERE.