Don’t get me wrong I have no real problem with charity. There are times when charity is appropriate. This time of the year charity is everywhere in Christmas hampers for the poor, volunteers at soup kitchens, or toys for kids. Sometimes people need, sometimes desparately need, a little charity. The problem with charity is that it rarely changes anything. Its easy for recepients of charity to remain recepients of charity or to become dependent on charity. We can create a power dynamic where the poor remain poor, and the giver, the priveleged remain the generous donor helping the the poor unfortunate poor. Actually we can start to feel very self important and proud of ourselves. Aren’t we kind? Aren’t we making a diiference? Would it be too harsh if I said that most of our giving around this time of the year is about us and not about those to whom we give? I have a creeping cynicism every year around this time of the ever increasing need. No matter how much we give there is always more need. Its like a big, vacuous charitable black hole.
Now I am not saying we abandon charity. I am not a proponent of a “pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps” mentality. But maybe we need a shift in our approach to charity. That’s why this year I am proposing that we give a hand up, not a hand out. We’ve all heard the saying, “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day; teach him to fish and he’ll feed himself for a lifetime.” In a simplistic kind of way that’s what I’m proposing. Let me give you two examples of what I’m talking about.
I have had the honour to be involved with Habitat for Humanity for the past 6 years. They are a fantastic organization that provides practical answers to the housing crunch that most of North America is experiencing. People mistakenly think that HBH gives people houses, but at HBH it’s about giving a hand up, not a hand out. They provide low interest loans and selected families work off “sweat equity” toward the building of their home. A home can make a world of difference to a family. It can instill a sense of pride and purpose. For children it can alleviate stress around living arrangements and provide a safe, long-term dwelling. There are many way you can give this gift. You can volunteer at a build, donate money, shop or donate at your local Restore, or use their Gift Builder Calendar . Why not give a hand up toward a family receiving their own home.
Another example is Kiva an organization that provides micro-loans to people in developing countries. Their website says:
We are a non-profit organization with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. Leveraging the internet and a worldwide network of microfinance institutions, Kiva lets individuals lend as little as $25 to help create opportunity around the world.
We envision a world where all people – even in the most remote areas of the globe – hold the power to create opportunity for themselves and others.
We believe providing safe, affordable access to capital to those in need helps people create better lives for themselves and their families.
So your gift of as little as $25 can help a woman in Bangladesh start a seamstress business or a young man in Nairobi to purchase a bike to do deliveries. Remember this is a loan and Kiva clients have a 99% repayment rate. So investigate more about Kiva and micro finance and give the gift of a hand up through a micro-loan.
I’ll leave the last word to James in his epistle that Reformer Martin Luther foolishly called “the epistle of straw”:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food,and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.