The Other 6

Why Give?

At a time when budgets have been pruned and purse strings tightened, the outpouring of generosity following Haiti’s devastating earthquake has been amazing.

Yet amid this overwhelming support I have also heard some comments (and confess that similar thoughts have crossed my mind) surrounding the point of it all: Yes, I’ll give, but what difference will it make? Haiti’s reputation for chaos and poverty prior to the earthquake makes people question whether change is truly possible. Yes, my dollars will provide food and shelter to the hungry and homeless, but in five years will Haiti still be the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere?

The more pessimistic I am about my world, the greater is my hope. 

This is not the first time I’ve had such doubts about the effectiveness of relief and development work. Sometimes it all seems so futile, as if all our efforts are a mere drop in the ocean. Consider these examples:

  • Bangladesh experiences repeated flooding. We grant funds to repair roads, de-silt fish ponds, and replant harvests. But what’s the point if those efforts will be destroyed in the next round of monsoons?
  • Educating girls sounds like a wonderful idea until their parents arrange marriages for them and the girls quit school at a young age to start families of their own.
  • Feeding the homeless. Yes, we can give them a meal today, but tomorrow they will be hungry and the meal lines will form once again.

Please don’t revile me yet. I share these examples to raise an important question: As Christians, what is the goal of our relief and development efforts? I argue that if we’re aiming for effectiveness and efficiency, we will end up disappointed and disillusioned. The work will never be finished, success stories will almost always be in the minority, and sometimes, despite our best efforts, we will fail miserably.

So what’s the point? Why do we invest in these efforts?  

Because.

Because we are to love our neighbor. Because it’s the right thing to do. Because it’s our calling.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t plan for success and strategize accordingly. Far from it. During my time volunteering in India and Bangladesh with the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, I was humbled by the incredible work of dedicated staff and volunteers that helps transform villages and slums, families and communities. Planning and setting goals for success is important.

All I’m saying is that our goal should not, first and foremost, be “effectiveness.” Our calling is to be faithful disciples of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus calls us to love, to give, to serve, “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with [our] God” (Micah 6:8). That is why we give to Haiti. That is why we support seemingly hopeless causes.

In a strange paradox of sorts, the more pessimistic I am about my world, the greater is my hope. As I realize my inability to save this world, my realization of our need for a Savior increases. Children starve, earthquakes destroy cities, and families fall apart; our brokenness reminds us that things are not the way they’re supposed to be.

By acknowledging that, we can celebrate when we see glimpses of God’s kingdom, when we see streams of that light shining through in our battered world. For we know what miracles these glimpses truly are!

When Julianna in northeast India, who had to drop out of school as a child after her parents died, learns how to read through an adult literacy class, I celebrate.

When the adolescent girls from a slum in Dhaka, Bangladesh, perform the skits and songs they’ve composed to share lessons on health, awareness, and advocacy with their families and friends, I celebrate.

When today, unlike on his initial visits, the villagers of Beldarchak warmly welcome Bablu Pramanick, Cluster Supervisor of the Child Survival Project in Jhakhand, India, as a trusted friend and eagerly apply his lessons on child and maternal health, I celebrate.

These stories of transformation proclaim hope and bear witness to fullness of life. They are gifts of grace and testify to the fruits of faithfulness.

So why do we give? Because. Because it is what we do and who we are.

About the Author

Antonia De Boer volunteered with CRWRC in India and Bangladesh and hopes to return in the future. She is a recent graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary with a master’s degree in cross-cultural studies with a focus on international development and urban mission.

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Comments

I admire your faith, commitment, and dedication.

Even so, your article raised some questions in my mind, particularly about results-based budgeting, and stewardship.

It seems like there isn't a day that goes by without some request for support for this worthy cause or that. I won't even go into the alarmism and scare-mongering that is often on display in such requests. But the sheer volume requires that I make some judgements about which causes to support and which to pass by. I have to admit that often my decision is either based on perceived effectiveness, or on a prior relationship with the person requesting the donation.

Is there another way to decide how to allocate limited resources? Similarly, can organizations which use other people's money for their charitable work be anything less than diligent in allocating those contributions? Can they use a standard other than "urgent need" or "low overhead" or "highly effective"? What would that standard be?

I would welcome, on these pages, some additional insights from those who have struggled with this tension.

As Christians, what is the goal of our relief and development efforts?
The goal should be to give you the opportunity to present the gospel.

Great article Antonia!

Your ideas make me think about places such as Northeast Brazil. Here, people are starving as they find themselves trapped on sugarcane plantations and suppressed by mercenaries with guns riding in the back of trucks. Wages are extremely low and alternative livelihoods unavailable without a fight.

What would development mean for these people?

If we don't have to focus our actions on results, then it becomes much easier to ignore the roots of much of the underdevelopment we see around us, which often comes down to issues of power. And since upseting the balance is usually dangerous, its often in our interest to ignore issues of power.

If our giving is truly ineffective, then we need to find a new way of giving that is effective rather than justify our same way of giving as part of who we are as a poeple.

To be clear, I think our number one priority should be effectiveness (regulated by basic ethics). This will push us to think and act rightly.

Anything less is to cheat the poor!

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