Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Giving without creating dependency (5)

My intention was to write some more about our work in Swaziland amongst people with AIDS, but then I read an article today which I thought was so excellent, that I decided to return to the issue of giving without creating dependency and then I will return to our work next week. The article I’m referring to has the title: Missions That Heal. If you are interested in the topic of how to give, then I would strongly recommend reading the article yourself.
The writer, Joel Wickre, chose as sub-title for this article: Ministering across the wealth divide means giving up our savior complex. And I think that this summarises one of the greatest problems that I have encountered in missions: From my own (relative) wealth I can afford to give hand-outs to those less fortunate, which they will obviously jump to receive, but ultimately I do not need to give anything of myself. Isn’t this one of the greatest problems in giving: as long as I can give from my wealth, clearing out my cupboards of excess in time for the next season when cupboards will be filled again to capacity with new clothes, I never have to connect to those in need. The change comes when I realise that I’m not the saviour of the people. I may be an instrument in the hands of God, I may be God’s representative, I may be, as we experienced, the hands and feet of Christ, but I’m not the saviour. When you realise this, then your attitude will also change.
Joel writes: I’ve seen this all over the world; poor people who understand that getting help requires appearing helpless, and rich people who unwittingly advance the helplessness of those they serve by seeing them as objects of charity, not equals.
I’m not sure if I have quite found the answer yet. I think I have become much more sensitive through the years not to advance the helplessness of those we serve. But I still find myself from time-to-time not sensitive enough for the people we work with. Sometimes I still prefer the short route of jumping in and doing something to make a difference, instead of sitting down and listening to the real needs. Sometimes it’s still easier to write out a cheque rather than to listen to the real needs of people.
I attended a conference some years ago at which time a lecturer from the University of Stellenbosch was speaking. He had done a lot of research on the problem of poverty and he shared an amazing thing with us. They had interviewed hundreds of poverty-stricken people and asked them the question: What is the single thing you lack the most because of your poverty? We all assumed that the number one answer would be money. To our great surprise the number one item on the list was neither money nor food. Their greatest problem was that they suffered from a lack of dignity! I can’t remember precisely, but the lack of money only appeared around eighth on the list.
I was totally surprised. I think I was shocked. But there was also hope in this answer, because I learnt that I could really make a difference in the lives of the poor by treating them with dignity. There is definitely a need for the extremely rich and for all kinds of foundations to make a difference to the plight of the poor. But “normal” people with an average income who may believe that they can’t really make a difference, can do so by learning to treat the poor with dignity.
But this is easier said than done….
For those of you who have dropped a note to let me know that you are praying for our ministry in Swaziland, I have a special request: As from Monday 16 July we will be starting with the training of a group of 42 new potential home-based caregivers in a fairly remote area in Swaziland. We would really appreciate your prayers for the week that we will be busy with this training.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007 - Posted by | Giving, Mission, Poverty, Swaziland

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