Sunday, January 12, 2014

Toxic Charity

A friend recently asked me to describe our house in Dar, and I was telling her that we have a three-bedroom house, but are surrounded by families who live in one room.  Not one-bedroom houses, one room houses with no plumbing.

She said something like, "Wow, it must be a struggle to be surrounded by so much poverty."

Oh yeah.

Then she said, "And you never really get used to it, do you?"

You have no idea.

If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know that it's on my mind all the time.  All The Time.  

Being back in the States hasn't changed that.  But it has been interesting to observe the "other side"--the side of the givers--the churches, the people, the children who empty their piggy banks, who donate clothes and food, who fill up shoeboxes and send them to children all over the world.

And I see their hearts and how they long to help.  And I see how they deeply desire to impart a spirit of giving and compassion in their children.  It's wonderful and inspiring to see from this side.

But I struggle.  I struggle, my friends.  Because I see the hearts of the folks here, and then I see some of the results of their kindness there, and it's just not producing the results that they would anticipate.

"In the last fifty years, [Africa] has received $1 trillion in benevolent aid.....Country by country, Africans are far worse off than they were a half century ago."

I struggle because I don't want to sound judgmental.  These are lessons that I have learned, that I have been forced to learn.  To learn the hard way.  And these lessons have so completely changed my life, my perspective, that I desperately want more of the American Church to get it too.

Consider this, my friends:

"[A]s compassionate people, we have been evaluating our charity by the rewards we receive through service, rather than the benefits received by the served."

Read it again.  Please, my friends, go back and read it again.

I resisted this statement the first time I read it. My heart got defensive.  When I want to help the poor, when I give money or stuff or time, it's not about me; of course it's not about me!  And maybe it's not entirely.  But how often do we really sit down and contemplate or discuss or ask questions about how our programs or food or donations really are benefiting the poor?  Or is it more about what lesson it is teaching our children about compassion?  Or how satisfied it makes us feel?

This is what I am going to ask you today.  The purpose of this post was actually to give you a book review of this book, because he says it much, much better than I ever could.


My favorite book on this subject is still When Helping Hurts, which I have reviewed previously.  That book changed my perspective entirely, and I recommend it first.  But Toxic Charity is shorter, a quicker read, and more practical, so if you want a place to start, this is a great one.

"Yes, many of our motives are noble.  We want to invest in the lives of others.  We want to expose youth and adults to the needs of a hurting world.  We want to engage people in life-changing experiences.  Some of us are motivated by the teachings of Jesus--to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and show compassion to the oppressed.  

Often, though, we miss the big picture because we view aid through the narrow lens of the needs of our organization or church--focusing on what will benefit our team the most--and neglecting the best interests of those we would serve."

Please, my friends.  I plead with you to read this book, to consider these issues.  If you are a church leader, it's extremely important.  But really, this book is for anyone who has ever engaged in charity work--whether it be serving at a homeless shelter, donating items to a food pantry, or filling a Christmas shoebox.

Once you've read it, let me know.  I'll love to discuss it with you.  Because I'm still learning too.


(all of the above quotes are from Toxic Charity)

P.S.  In the next couple of days, I am going to post some ideas I have about helping to develop a heart of compassion for the poor in our children.  I know this is heavy on a lot of mama's minds, so I'll let you know some of the insights I have gleaned by living in two worlds.

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