01 September 2014

the real cost of giving.

We are often asked for money by complete strangers. Everyday, actually. It may be a child yelling, "Give me my money!" Or it may be our neighbor sending their child over to collect money for sugar. And plenty more.

On one hand the preponderance of such requests can become overwhelming, if not downright annoying. But on the other, each request offers us a chance to be charitable. 

When Ashley and I lived in the United States, our monetary charitable contributions were almost exclusively directed towards organizations. Each organization was well-established and boasted an impressive mission statement that we believed in and wanted to support. Our contributions were delivered electronically through automated monthly credit card transactions. Seldom did we see the face (in person) of the end recipient of our monetary gift. In other words, our charity was easy - effortless and, quite frankly, impersonal. 

But like so much, things are quite different for us in Tanzania.

Sure, there are a handful of local organizations to which we could send money, but many of them I wouldn't trust any further than I could throw. Most are barely skimping along, and frequently deal with internal misappropriation of funds. Automatic monthly credit card deductions? Hah! Yeah right.

But there is another way.

The opportunities for charity in Tanzania are face-to-face. Let me rephrase that: Tanzania reminds us that charity happens at the human level. Charity can be face-to-face anywhere. But here, we intentionally (and unintentionally) become involved in the lives of other human beings - human beings who are struggling to eat, send their kids to school, or stay healthy. 

We see the face of charity in Tanzania, but we only saw the cause in the United States.

But that doesn't make it any easier to be charitable. In fact, in some ways we struggle even more now to give. Why?

I boil it down to a ridiculous over analysis of the ramifications of giving to one in need. The thoughts go like this: If I give to this person…

  • I am just fostering dependency. 
  • I am not addressing the macro issue. 
  • I am not promoting a sustainable solution. 
  • I am reinforcing the stereotype that white people are walking ATMs.
  • I don't really know how this money will be used. 

And all of these thoughts paralyze me. 

They prevent me from expressing true, spontaneous charity when confronted with the brokenness before me. Often, I am left taking the safe approach more aligned with "how development work should be done," which means I wait and do nothing. Well ok, not nothing, but certainly not enough. I feel the urge to go further.

When addressing the accusation that the civil rights movement was "extreme," Martin Luther King, Jr. reflected that Jesus was an extremist and he wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, "So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremist we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love?"

It is time to be more extreme in my charity. By that I mean to stop over analyzing and relying on reason to justify the time and place for acts of charity. After all, reason would have told us not to move to Tanzania, and I think that reason can often have a self-centered skew. The very fact that rational thinking often stands opposed to spontaneous, from-the-heart charity tells me that I am on to something. 

In the course of the day, I confront real human lives. Many of these faces bear the stains of poverty. If I wait around for someone else to wash them away, will it be done? If I wait for my brain to justify the act, will it? No, and for that reason, I am choosing to act now.

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