How Much Do You Want?

Normally a price tag tells us how much to pay. Even then, some are negotiable, like the price of a house or a car. We celebrate when things are on sale and love the feeling of nabbing a bargain. There are few feelings that are worse than that of feeling ripped off.  Yet, there are some things that many people are happy to pay full price for, or even extra.

  • Cleaners
  • Gardeners
  • Painters
  • Coffee

It depends on what we value as to what we are okay to pay for.

When it comes to giving money away, when there is no price tag, how do we know how much to give?

Many of us like rules and having someone tell us the right thing to do. We don’t want to get things wrong and end up with God being upset with us.

angry-jesus

Nobody wants an Angry Jesus.

So we search high and low for the rules of how to live and please God so we will be blessed because of our actions. If we do the right thing then God will like us, and if we are lucky, even love us. On the face of it, that is a nice notion, but in reality it is a horrible way to live and not at all how God works.

Some of the most difficult times that I have had in my journey with God is when He didn’t live up to my expectations because I didn’t get what I thought my good behaviour deserved. That sort of thinking hinders our view of who God is, and we start to follow rules in an attempt to not get into trouble with a scary parent type figure who lives in the sky somewhere.

God doesn’t want our behaviour. He wants our hearts. He cares less about what happens on the outside as He does about what is happening on the inside. Romans 8 talks about how believers now live according to the Spirit and not the flesh/law, because Jesus met the requirements of the law for us. We don’t need to obey rules; we are guided by the Spirit. This can make people uncomfortable because if we are not living by the rules then there will be chaos. But God is bigger than that, and His Spirit can be trusted.

So, how much money should we give to the church and other organisations/people? Many will say 10% as a starting point, based on the concept of tithing from the Old Testament (although I don’t see any comparative reference in the New Testament), some suggest 25-30%, and many others in between or even more. Don’t get me wrong, there is some wisdom to these numbers but ultimately any suggestion of what percentage you should give away is counterproductive.

Nobody can tell you what you should give. We are called to be generous with what God has blessed us with, plus we have the Holy Spirit living in us, so if you want to figure out how much to give, ask God. His Spirit will guide you. Then talk to some wise people about it. That’ll set you off in a good direction.

jesus-angry

 

3 Fears of Giving

What are you looking at?

I can’t read that phrase without an aggressive mindset. It is a classic ‘don’t bother me’ phrase and an attempt to push people away with force.

I have found that my aggressive responses come from a deep seeded fear. No matter what the issue most anger comes from something that I am afraid of. Whether it is a fear of being hurt, rejected, abandoned or isolated, anger is a secondary response to the emotion of fear that I feel first.

The Bible tells us that there is no fear in love, instead perfect love drives out all fear (1 John 4:18), which is great because love is the cure for hurt, rejection, abandonment and isolation. So it should be simple, love drives the fear of those things away and we don’t respond in anger. But when we don’t realise that fear exists within us, then it becomes a little more complex as we can subconsciously hold on to that fear and reject love. I have found it really helpful to ask at random times, “what am I afraid of?” Then to honestly answer that question and know that there is a loving God who won’t hurt, reject, abandon or force me into isolation if I am honest with myself. That is the first step to love driving out fear. (It’s helpful to verbalise this to someone trustworthy too).

The truth is that there is fear lurking in many areas of our lives, especially when it comes to giving.

So what is it that scares us when it comes to giving away our hard earned cash?

  1. That I won’t have enough after…

896 million people around the world live on less than 2 dollars a day, and Australia is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Comparatively we have more than enough. (Try talking to someone in a developing country about the concept of ‘leftovers’). It also doesn’t take much to change the lives of those living in poverty; through a small loan of $70 so a mother in India, Indonesia or the Philippines can start a business, feed her family and send her kids to school. You don’t have to fix poverty on your own, start small and test out how much you can live off after you give some away.

 

  1. That my money won’t go to what I want it to…

You can be very picky and choosy about what you would like an not-for-profit organisation to do with money when you give it to them. If there is a specific area of the world, or a type of project that you are keen to fund, you can ensure your money goes towards that area and a good not-for-profit will update you with reports on the latest goings on. Alternatively, you can be very picky and choosy with the not-for-profits that you give to – if you don’t trust an organisation, don’t give to them.

 

  1. That the organisation I give to won’t stop hassling me to give more…

This is a legitimate fear and well-founded fear and I have heard of a number of occasions where this has happened. The beauty is that all not-for-profit organisations in Australia have to comply with strict privacy regulations and complaints procedures. What this means is that an organisation cannot send you anything unless you have asked for it, and you have every right to ring up and tell them to minimise the mail/phone calls/emails, or that you only want to receive communication via email or to stop contacting you all together. If they don’t abide by your requests you can take the complaint to the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission, which governs all registered charities in Australia. This is the government arm which has the final say as to whether a charity is legitimate and should be registered for tax-deductable purposes. You are in charge of how much you get contacted.

 

These may be your fears, or you may have others, let me encourage you to name them and remove the barriers to giving back, and ultimately improving your life.

If only I had more…

How often has that thought passed through your mind?

“If only I had more money, then I would…”

I wonder how you would finish that sentence.

Save? Buy? Give?

I feel that the last one, give, would fall into that category for most of us. If I only had more money I would give to this charity. I would support that cause. I would give to the work of the church. I would fix the world. Maybe all of the above.

If only…

I have discovered that, as people, it is very unlikely that we will make a significant change in our character overnight. More often than not we are unable to just flick a switch and start doing something that we haven’t done before. Have you ever heard someone say, “I could give it up if I wanted to.” Be it smoking, excessive drinking, eating junk food or anything that isn’t good for us. We feel like we can modify our behaviour in an instant and pay no attention to the habits that we have formed over the years. But to make a change takes effort. It takes discipline and it takes time.

Want to be generous?

At some level, I believe we all want to give back and invest in something that is bigger than ourselves. But we can’t just flick a switch and start giving millions of dollars away when we retire

When we arrive at certain milestones in life, be it a better paying job, a significant birthday, a change in social status, retirement or winning the lotto, if we haven’t put things into place to become the person we want to be, then we will be the same person we were before. That might not sound too bad but it means that the aspirations we have will never be reached if we don’t take steps in the direction we want to go. If you are not generous with your money now, you will not be when you have more.

I see this philosophy at work in the parable of the three servants in Matthew 25.  Jesus tells a story about a master who gives his servants money to manage. The first one gets a certain amount, the second one receives less than half of that, and the third one receives a tenth of what the first guy got. The instructions were clear, look after it as if it was your own.

The first guy invested and doubled his money, the second guy did the same thing, but the one with the least amount was so caught up in what little he had, he hid it so that he wouldn’t lose it. He was afraid. The master was happy with the first two servants and entrusted them with more, but he was furious with the third guy because he didn’t even try. So the master took away the money he entrusted to him and gave it all to the first guy. I find it interesting that the master didn’t say ‘oh, you must not have had enough money, let me give you some more so you can do better next time.’ He just took the money away. The reason? How you behave when you have a little is exactly how you behave when you have a lot. It doesn’t matter how much you have; it is what you do with it.

Generosity breeds generosity.

What does all this mean?

If we ever think that being generous will be easier when we have more money, we are kidding ourselves.

So, if you want to be a generous person and give back and you aren’t currently giving, don’t wait, start now. Start small but be consistent and build a habit. Then if you start to earn more, give more. So when you become rich and famous, or win lotto, or somehow come into a large amount of money, giving back is ingrained and you don’t give it a second thought.

You can give to worthy charities, and the church and fix the world beginning now.

Generous God (but not selfless…)

Genesis 1:26-28
God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature
So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle,
And, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.”
God created human beings; he created them godlike,
Reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female.
God blessed them.

 

At the pinnacle of creation, God brings in people. He creates them, but not as an addition to what He already made. He created them to enjoy and manage. To participate in the life of His creation, and to participate in life with Him.

God put so much of Himself in to creating this world – because He is not one to do things half-hearted. He called it good. He was so pleased with it. Proud of what He had made. In light of that, it makes the invitation to include people and delegate authority to them so much more staggering. It is an incredibly generous gesture, from the heart of a generous God.

That’s how He created us too. As generous humans. It’s innate within us to be generous and thoughtful to the people and environment around us. It’s part of who we are and why we exist. As with anything though, if you ignore the generous inklings (perhaps you can read that as ‘the promptings of the Spirit’), then over time the desire for generous living can become easier to ignore and ultimately disappear from our character. That is how we find ourselves in a world with some who don’t appear to be generous at all. It can be fixed though; generosity breeds generosity.

Generous God, generous creation, generous people.

There is no doubt that things are not as they should be…but it is still good, with glimpses of heaven on earth.

I don’t see this creative and generous act of God as completely selfless though. I don’t necessarily see God Himself as completely selfless. He is relational and therefore He receives the benefit of relating with us and His creation. This brings Him joy. He receives because of His generosity. I wouldn’t call it payment or reward, more like fruit. Fruit that He knows is coming. Perhaps our thinking of how selflessness is an attribute that we should strive for, needs adjustment. I don’t see it mentioned anywhere in the Bible – it is definitely not a fruit of the Spirit.

This can change the way that we think about our generosity towards others. It releases us to be generous with reckless abandon and willingly receive the benefits, or fruit, that come our way as a result. We don’t need to shy away from it or be embarrassed because we feel good when we give. Not that feeling good becomes the sole motivation for generosity, but it’s ok to receive benefit for doing good, for being generous and thoughtful. This does not diminish the work that we do.

Occasionally I think of the dark side of relationships and how God reaps the fruit of that too. He endures the worst of it, as we do. Rejection, hurt, dishonesty, hatred, fear and misunderstanding – all at the hands of what He created. Because of us. It’s not all love songs and roses. Still, He is generous with love for us and we bring Him joy.

Would We Give if it Wasn’t Tax Deductible?

There is a short answer, a longer answer and a philosophical answer…

The short answer is “Yes and No”.

Yes we would but it probably wouldn’t be as much. Giving to organisations that provide a tax deduction financially assists those who are giving. People would prefer that not-for-profit organisations get their hard earned money rather than it ending up in the hands of the government through paying tax.

The Longer Answer

The longer answer is to do with the structure the Australian government puts into place. The Federal Government desires that its citizens make philanthropic donations to not-for-profit organisations because many of those organisations exist to complement existing government agencies or they can even fill gaps which government agencies are unable to get to. In short, the Australian Government likes it when we give and want us to do so. As a result, there are many organisations which are Deductible Gift Recipients, meaning that when we donate to them we can receive a tax deduction. To become a Deductible Gift Recipient an organisation must go through an application process and fulfil a list of requirements e.g. must have an ABN, be located in Australia and must fall within a Deductible Gift Recipient category

You can find a full Australian list here.

The benefit to us as citizens and donors is that we can be sure that when we donate to one of these organisations, they have been vetted by a government agency to ensure that they are legitimate. They aren’t perfect and we still have a responsibility to do our own research before we give but we can rest assured that the government is aware of the organisation and what they are involved in. Plus, there’s the tax deduction – that’s another benefit.

The Philosophical Answer

This answer is to do with selfless acts, and as with most philosophical discussion the answer is neither ‘yes’ or ‘no’. People wrestle with and debate the idea of acting in a completely selfless way; doing something good for someone without getting anything in return (whatever ‘something good’ means – this is up for debate itself, but for now let’s just sit with the definition of an action from one person designed for the benefit of another). The real question that gets asked is ‘if we get something in return for doing something good, does it cancel out the good that has been done?’

It doesn’t take very long to figure out that there is no such thing as a completely selfless act (perhaps apart from that time when God came to earth and died for us – but I think that even He received some benefit as a result… maybe that’s a topic for another time), because we get some sort of benefit from any good thing that we do. Whether it is a thank you, a smile, an award, a tax deduction, recognition or even just a good feeling. You can’t stop it. And if you could, the amount of effort required to ensure that you received no benefit from something good that you would be so exorbitant that it would make your life miserable. It all comes down to motivation – why we do good things for other people.

We want to do good for others for a variety of reasons – we might have a heart for a certain demographic of people because we have similar experiences, or we feel a responsibility to help, or our faith might drive us, or a desire to impress others, or it is something we do offset the guilt felt in other areas of life, or it is to feel good about ourselves. In reality, I think it can be all of the above at the same time. People are complex with conscious and subconscious motivations and it’s good to seek to find out why we do the things that we do, but I don’t think we will ever fully understand ourselves, not in the short term anyway. So it is a good idea to keep doing good things for people as we journey through our self-discovery. It is okay to get a benefit along the way…so make a tax deductible donation before June 30…

www.opportunity.org.au

 

Asking for Money is Okay…

These days, there’s a lot of work to do. Of this we can all agree. Whether your focus is on providing for yourself, your family, your future or looking to change something in the world that is not right, we all have a long ‘to-do’ list and limited time. The main issue is that there are few tangible indicators that tell us when we have achieved what we have set out to do. There is always something extra to work towards. More money to make, more security to provide, more protection to put into place, more awareness to create, more projects to start, more money to raise. There is always more.

For me, it has always been about providing hope and security for kids in developing countries. Within any community it is children, the elderly and people with a disability who are most vulnerable, and more often than not you can add women to that list. My heart has been to enable vulnerable children to reach their full potential in life, through getting the right nutrition, access to education and a safe place to grow up and engage their creativity. As a world we have come a long way but with 161 million children globally suffering from stunting due to an insufficient intake of nutrients, and 124 million children and adolescents who are not attending school, there is much to do.

I have highlighted recently a few things that hopefully give people a chance to ask some questions around giving money.  If, when, how, why and to what you give to is such a personal experience and I believe the worst thing that we can do is to not talk about it. The more we do talk about it the more we learn about giving and philanthropy. I once heard someone tell me that they didn’t want to hear any more about giving money – they had decided to give and they knew all that they needed to about it. A part of me died inside, not only because it was someone refusing to engage is a subject that I care about, but because this attitude is dangerous in all areas of life. If we ever reach a point when we feel like we have learned all that we need to about a subject then we have stopped living, and we have become proud and arrogant. There is always more to learn. So, we keep talking about it.

I ask people for money. That’s what I do. It sounds a little weird when you say it out loud but essentially that’s my job. A few years ago I had an epiphany that helped me to understand why I do what I do. Firstly, I fundraise because it is good for the people that I serve. I believe that all people deserve the ability to reach their God-given potential, and the organisation I work for are leading the way in ensuring that this happens.

Secondly, I fundraise because it is good for the giver. I have often mentioned that we are designed to give back and it is actually good for us to do so, so when I ask someone to give money towards life-changing, life-giving work, I am not asking for my benefit or for the benefit of the people we serve alone, but it is also for the benefit of those who give. If I didn’t ask people to get involved in this, then I would be doing them a dis-service by robbing them of an opportunity to engage in something that they will enjoy. The worst they can do is say no, and I’m okay with that. It means they have thought about it and made the decision that it is not for them at this time, but I always hold hope for the future…

Giving is a necessary part of life because in our world, a few people have most of the wealth and most people only have some of the wealth. We work to make things a little better and ask people to give to that.  I have come to the conclusion that it is okay to ask for money. And it’s okay for people to choose not to give. But it’s not okay to make people feel guilty about what they do or do not give to.

When God doesn’t want you to give…

Often people will talk about giving money to something with a matter of urgency, stressing that now is the time to give. I certainly think that there is a right time to give money and a wrong time. I also think that there are times when God doesn’t want you to give. I am not talking about God telling us that there are specific organisations or causes that might not be a good place to give money to, I am talking about what is happening inside us when we part with our money.

So here are two reasons that God doesn’t want your money…

1. If you are trying to get something…

As I understand the definition of witchcraft, it is when a person invokes, or conjures a being to do their own bidding. If we follow that through to its natural progression, then the act of witchcraft is possibly not too far away from our own doors. You may think that’s a bit of a stretch but if we give of our money to God through the church or other organisations for the sole purpose of receiving a benefit then we are attempting to conjure something through our own efforts. Giving is a deeply spiritual event, it is an act of worship. Out of that worship good things come, not because we earnt them, or bought them, but because God is good and he chooses to bless us and the money given gets used for some amazing work.

Simon the Sorcerer faced this in Acts chapter 8. When he saw Peter and John laying hands on people, who then received the Holy Spirit as a result, he wanted to do that to. He offered the disciples money so that he could receive the ability to do what they were doing (vs 18.). Peter then tears strips off him, saying that “his heart was not right before God” (vs 21) and he was “full of bitterness and captive to sin” (vs 23).

Really, his desire was good, to be part of spreading the love and message of Jesus to people, but his motivation and understanding about God was all wrong. He was known for being a sorcerer and he received a great deal of attention as a result, but when he saw some new type of ‘sorcery’ that he didn’t recognise, he wanted to be part of it to maintain the profile. So he offered to pay for it. Peter was quick to point out that God doesn’t work that way; God is a God of grace whose love does not depend on our merit.

If you have been around a church for a while, then you would probably know the concepts of how God sees people. He looks at the heart, He cares about what is inside and not what is outside, He cares more about what a person is, rather than what a person does. These are all nice things to say but if we don’t actually believe them then we can find that we try to buy God off or at least attempt to shape His opinion with our money. God doesn’t want that.

2. If you feel like you have to…

God doesn’t want to pry your wallet or purse open. He’s not lying in wait to rob us of our hard earned cash.

The Apostle Paul wrote about this to the Corinthian church

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Cor 9:7.

If you give money because it is the ‘right thing to do’, or you feel like you have to, then you need to ask yourself “Why?”, because it’s likely that you could be giving for the wrong motivation, and I don’t think God wants that for you. We are implored to give, but “not reluctantly or under compulsion”. If you are giving money, and hating it, stop. We’ve already talked about how God doesn’t need your money (previous post) and in this case I believe He doesn’t want it. Giving comes from the heart, if the heart is not in it then it’s not giving.

So how should we give?

Cheerfully

God loves it when we give. He loves it when we give cheerfully. If you are reluctant or feel obliged, God not only doesn’t need your money, He doesn’t want it!

The reason to give is simple. We give in response to what we have been given. We are blessed to be a blessing. We are generous because God is generous and we have been created in His image. The language we may use to explain that could be “I give because it is the right thing to do” or “I feel like I need to give back”, but the litmus test is the attitude, the cheerfulness.

Do we give because we are cheerful, or do we become cheerful because we give? I feel like it is the former, but if you are not cheerful and are thinking about giving, definitely try that and see what the result is.

Without Fear

We hear quite frequently that money is the root of all evil, but that’s simply not true. It is the love of money (1 Tim 6:10) that is the root of all evil. Money itself is just at thing that we can either use or be used by. The choice is ours. I don’t think there is an in-between. We master our money, or our money masters us. The way to tell is if we are willing to give it away…

Don’t get me wrong, being dedicated and detailed about your finances doesn’t make you someone who is being mastered by money, just like being ignorant about what and how you spend doesn’t make you someone who is a master over money. The way that we go about managing our finances is not how we judge this, but it is the heart that motivates the management. Don’t be afraid to be intentional about your money, we don’t need to be afraid of it is working for us.

All this being said, giving money is still a sacrificial act, even a painful one at times, but we brought nothing into this world and we can take nothing with us when we leave (1 Timothy 6:7). So, while we live, let’s do what we can with what we have been given.

God Doesn’t Need Your Money

I can’t remember his name, or even exactly where we were, but we were waiting for a ride somewhere in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne when he said it. “God has His own economy.” I never saw that guy again after that day – we spent the entire day playing basketball against some inmates in one of the local prisons and the only thing I remember about him was what he said to me that morning. We were talking about how things were financially tight and I couldn’t see a way forward. There were expenses coming up and I didn’t know how we were going to meet them (I’m not sure how we got to that point in the conversation so quickly) and that’s when he said it. “God has His own economy.”

He went on to explain his understanding of God, how He is not restricted by the things that we are restricted by. He isn’t confined by a low pay packet, or by a pay cycle, or a shortfall. If God wants something to happen, He will find a way to finance it and he can work outside of our understanding and bring money from places we never knew about.

That one phrase from the unknown guy as we stood on the side of the road waiting, challenged the way that I thought about money and the way that I thought about God. Even though it can raise some curly questions, it doesn’t mean that it is not the truth.

I believe that God is all powerful, all knowing and all loving. That is something that I learned as a child and it is something that I have had to wrestle with time and time again as I have grown up and faced all sorts of different issues that come our way as adults. My understanding of what His power, wisdom and love look like have changed over the years, but I still believe those things about God.

It struck me a few years ago that there was an element of arrogance that motivated me to do certain things that I considered “works for God”. This ranged from being part of the local church to giving money to the church and other organisations. One part of the motivation came from a place of responding to God’s goodness and my “works” were an overflow of that. But the arrogant part of my motivation spoke in a soft voice in my head and said, “If you don’t do this for God then no one will and God won’t be able to fulfil His plan.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe that we are all called to something special and that God has prepared some great things for us to do (Ephesians 2:10), but I realised that if I didn’t do the great things that God was calling me to, then God’s plan for the world was not going to fall apart. He wasn’t sitting in heaven watching earth on a TV, like we would watch a football game, shouting at the players as they make mistakes, seeing the game slip away and being helpless to do anything about it, as any spectator is. (Your TV yelling isn’t helping, so stop doing that, for everyone’s sake…)

This type of attitude is the deepest sort of arrogance because it suggests that God is only doing good things in the world wherever I am, or, at a stretch, perhaps He is doing good things with some other people that I think are good. But outside of that parameter He can do nothing. This suggests that He is solely reliant upon us to achieve something and if we have a bad day, then so does He. But God is not a spectator or coach watching the world and making suggestions on what might be a good strategy. He is so involved with His creation that nothing happens without Him being at the centre of it. What that means for us is that God does not require us to do good things in this world. He could feed the poor, negotiate world peace and heal all the sick in a moment. I absolutely believe that (which leads to more of those difficult questions).

The beauty in all of that is that whilst he doesn’t need us to do any of these things, He invites us to be part of it. He wants to use us. To be honest I don’t fully understand why, except that being part of what God is already doing on this planet has become my life’s purpose.

I didn’t wake up 15 years ago and discover poverty, nor did I discover poverty alleviation or the beauty and simplicity of microfinance. This has been happening throughout history and there is a special place in the heart of God for the poor (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 19:21, Galatians 2:10 to name a few). We see throughout history that God has used His people, and quite often He uses people who, by their own admission, wouldn’t be considered “God followers”, to bring about justice in this world. That is actually a gift for us; to know that our involvement in any good work is not necessary but we get to be involved anyway. It is a humbling reality.

It’s not only humbling to be invited to participate in what God is doing, but it is also good for us. We receive the emotional benefits from giving back, and God knows that, so He wants to ensure that we have the opportunity to receive from our giving. His invitation to give and be involved is partly for our own benefit.

Mostly, though, it is about obedience. I have heard that you can tell a person’s priorities by how they spend their time. I have also heard that you can tell their priorities by how they spend their money. I think both are true and they are a real reflection of who we are and what we believe is important in life. God calls us to give to the poor, not because He needs us to, but He wants us to be part of what He is doing, to be obedient, and for us to receive the benefits of giving.

I feel that it can be dangerous for someone who works for a not-for-profit that relies upon donations to function to then say, ‘God doesn’t need your money.’ The fear is that there will be some who will take that as a reason not to give. But upon reflection, if someone responds like that, then they were looking for an excuse anyway and my writing is not for them. The aim of this post is to come to a place where we are open for God to show us what He would like us to give to. God doesn’t need your money…He chooses to use it and us at the same time.

Perhaps He is asking you now to invest your time, money or resources to help families living in poverty transform their lives?

Here are some questions that come up after thinking through the ramifications of God not needing our money…

  • If God has His own economy how can He stand by and watch people suffer and die because they don’t have enough?
  • What does that say about God?
  • What does that say about us?
  • Why was I born in a developed country and the majority of the world wasn’t?

Some of these I don’t have an answer for, some I am working through possible answers but I am keen to hear what you think…

4 Reasons Your Help Isn’t Helping

 

I recently heard a great question – Do you want to go help, or do you want the people to be helped?

That puts things into perspective – and it helps you discover the true motivations for a potential trip to a developing nation. If the trip is more about you than it is about the long term effects you will have, that’s okay. Be honest about that. But also be honest about the risk of damage to the people living in the poorer countries you wish to help.

Here are 4 reasons why the help you want to give to the poor in the developing world is causing more damage…

 

  1. It’s not sustainable…

The worst thing about owning a house is the amount of work required to maintain it, and, depending on how handy you are, it can mean organising the electrician, plumber and roof guy to come and fix things as they happen to deteriorate. This is expensive and time consuming – but the benefit is that if you look after your house, it will look after you and it will not only hold or increase its value over time, but you can live in it safely, without the fear of things falling down around your ears. The greatest threat to a home is poor craftsmanship and water. When it comes to ruining your home, the latter is significantly assisted by the former. So when thinking about travelling overseas to build a house or a school or any sort of building for another people group, the following questions need to be asked and answered…

  • Is it helping? (see 4th reason)
  • Will it last?
  • Who will maintain it?
  • Are they equipped to maintain it?
  • Is maintaining a building the best use of their time?
  • How many local jobs could be created if it was built by the local community?

 

Often what is created is a feel good experiment that doesn’t last. And when it falls into disrepair and needs to be rebuilt, people raise money, fly over and build it again.
Sustainability has become a bit of a catch phrase in development over the years, and for good reason. It is vital in any work that gets done. If we want to see long term change, it needs to be based on sustainability. If none of the locals are receiving training and education as part of the process (and I mean real training and education, from a qualified person, not someone who has watched a few videos on YouTube) then the alleviation of poverty has become solely reliant on those who travel from distant lands as they rescue the poor, powerless, helpless people. If they decide to stop coming, people stop receiving help. In the long run that leaves them worse off than they were before because now they are dependent upon others and have not been given the opportunity to come up with their own solutions.

 

  1. It creates a messiah complex

Everyone wants to be a superhero. Deep down, we like the idea that our life has a lasting impact on those around us and that if we can be the reason that some people are alive now and are living a better life than they were, then ‘my work here is done’. It does our ego good. We love feeling needed. I’ve said many times that we are shaped to do good things for other people, and it is a positive thing to be involved in good works; the Bible implores us as we read in James 1 verse 27,

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

But if we end up thinking that we are the only person in the world who cares, and that through our efforts we alone can fix poverty, then we have become the Messiah to poor people around the world – in our own minds.

And it kind of looks like this – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jx0ZjAXWwQ

Wealth does not automatically equate to wisdom. People don’t need to be rescued. They need to be given the chance to fulfil their potential. Just because we have the means to fund something or to visit a place, it doesn’t mean we should automatically do that.

 

  1. It is damaging to children

Children are the most vulnerable in any community and they are the ones that get hurt the most when we don’t think about what we’re doing. Even those who seek to help children might indeed be harming them and treating them as a commodity. For example, just taking photos of children we meet when we travel to poverty stricken areas can turn their struggle into a tourist attraction which, apart from being unethical and an invasion of privacy, can lead to kids staying away from school to try and earn a few dollars by “selling” their photo. Children are not a commodity. Take photos, but do it respectfully and ethically. Seek permission from a parent before you make them the focus of your photo shoot. The same should be said for randomly picking up and hugging kids too. Let’s face it, if you wouldn’t do it in Australia then you probably shouldn’t be doing it overseas.

It can also stunt the emotional development of children. It’s not healthy for children to have groups of people come for short periods of time and build ‘life-long’ friendships with them, only to have them disappear without a trace and never see them again.

Plus, when it comes to orphanage tourism, children are put at risk of being trafficked to “become” an orphan – in Cambodia the rate of orphans has doubled in recent years and 72% have at least one living parent. Friends International puts it simply, “Your donation to an orphanage doesn’t help orphans, it creates them.”

 

  1. It doesn’t provide what people actually need

Rudd-Gillard-Education-Revolution

I cast my mind back to the Education Revolution from the Rudd government in Australia from 2007-2010. For one part of the program, the Federal Government put aside billions of dollars for schools across the country as a way to equip them with facilities required to ensure quality education levels for all Australian children. There was a catch though; there were restrictions on what the money could be used for, there was a time limit in which the schools had to apply for the grants and then another time limit by when the building needed to be started. Long story short, thousands of schools throughout Australian got brand new undercover multipurpose sporting facilities, usually the size of a small basketball court, which were not well thought out or even essential. But a decision was made at a national level about what was necessary for education. No one bothered to ask the schools, lest the needs of a primary school in Mandurah, Western Australia would be different to that of a secondary school in the inner suburbs of Sydney, New South Wales.

In the same way, when we think about what people living in developing countries need, isn’t it possible that what will benefit them the most is a little different from what we think they need, based on our experience in Australia?  The real question is, what do those who are living in poverty actually need? When we find the answer to this, and find out what is best for them then we look to find a way to initiate lasting change that brings people out of poverty and allows them to reach their full potential. More often than not, the only people who can answer these questions are the very people we are looking to help. And depending on who you talk to within the community, you may get different and sometimes conflicting answers. That is why it is best to communicate to all members within a community – older, younger, families, male, female to get an insight into the needs that they all have. After consultation with the community, come up with a plan which may include elements of sustainable access to clean drinking water (including sanitation and hygiene), better food production, healthcare, education and increasing social capital within the community. Building a school will not achieve all of that. Digging a well won’t do it. Nor will whacking a coat of paint on an orphanage. It may be part of the larger plan but why does it take white faces to do those things?

We think that a nice house is most important but perhaps the greatest need is a hand up – a small loan, an opportunity, some training which will assist in the journey out of poverty. If something has to be earned, if people need to work for it then it will do so much more than a simple charitable gift (although a generous gift is a great start!)

So, with all that being said, it’s important to note that I advocate for broad, extensive and systematic change within governments and communities around the world, to assist in alleviating poverty. I also advocate for helping the person right in front of you, and I believe that these two positions are not mutually exclusive.

But I want to build a house!

“Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” Old, over-used Proverb

There is this story about a guy who is hiking through a forest and he comes across this beautiful and fast flowing river. As he stops to admire the scene and take in the moment, he spots something in the water bobbing up and down, struggling against the current. He sees this small helpless figure being thrown about by the strength of the water, going under and popping up to gasp for air before going under again. The hiker drops all his baggage and dives into the water. As he swims towards the figure, he discovers it is a small kitten and he reaches out to grab it just as it is about to go under for the last time. He pulls the kitten close to his chest and swims back to the shore, and lovingly places the gasping kitten safely on solid ground.

Extremely-cute-kitten_large

Whilst sitting in the joy of this rescue and lovingly looking at the thankful kitten in front of him, he spots more movement in the corner of his eye. He looks to see another kitten struggling, just like the one he rescued. So without thinking he dives back in to retrieve it. In a déjà vu type moment, just as the kitten is about to go under for the last time his hand reaches out and saves it. But he doesn’t get all the way back to the shore before he spots another kitten rushing past him, then another, and then another. Soon enough the hiker is spending all his time and energy rescuing poor, helpless kittens from drowning in this awful river. So much so, that he doesn’t notice that 50 meters upstream there is a guy throwing kittens into the river.

The desire to help is strong. That is a good thing. Often our response is, instead of giving money, to fly overseas and be drawn into offering physical help to fulfil practical needs of those who seem to be much worse off than we are. There is so much need and we want the help we give to be immediate and practical. Although, often immediate and practical responses are not entirely useful, and can create bigger problems in the long term.

But we have this need, this desire to do good. There is something about getting stuck in and making a difference with your own two hands. I have heard people say “I just want to travel to poor countries and build a house”, “I want to start an orphanage”, “I want to dig a well”, “I want to see poverty with my own eyes”. The heart behind these statements is good. I applaud that response – by all means, travel, see the devastation that poverty creates and let it change your life and the lives of those around you.

For many, though, it can become more about the experience than the benefit for those living in poverty. Think about it for a moment… We want to get our hands dirty and feel like we are making a difference. So we travel to developing countries, connect with some people and build a house or a school or visit an orphanage to hug some children, take some selfies with kids who have different coloured skin and beautiful smiles. But there is no shortage of man-power in poorer countries. Often they have huge populations, so why do we think that when we go and build a house, or paint a building, or dig a well, we are fixing poverty?

There has to be a better way. We need to change the way we think about poverty instead of always thinking of it in terms of “aid” – which is a response to an immediate need, usually after a natural or man-made disaster or some sort of epidemic which has caused widespread destruction. This usually brings about an appeal and will lead to supplies of blankets, food, medicine and other necessities being dropped into a country to assist in their time of greatest need. Often people want to go and help out to give out the blankets, to be on the ground. This is pulling kittens out of the river. We connect with that. We love the feeling of rescuing people. It makes us feel good. And so it should. But this is only one part in the spectrum of need, which is the most commonly known, but there is so much more to be done when it comes to development and aid. The other areas can include education, advocacy in seeking policy change at a governmental level and agricultural development.

Take the cat story. It’s true that we need to rescue the cats, and often this immediate need can be met by someone who has the means to travel and volunteer some time. But mostly, we need to train cats to swim so that they can rescue themselves. We also need to stop those who are throwing the cats in the river, train other cats about the dangers of being thrown in the river and train those future cat throwers as to why it is a bad idea to abuse cats.

But most importantly, we need to train cats to be trainers so they can help their own species. I know it sounds a little ridiculous and it’s not the perfect analogy. Yes, we need people to be on the ground and help at times of great devastation, but if we are going to create lasting change, mostly we need to assist those living in poverty and suffering other injustices to be educated and empowered so they can work their way out of poverty. We need to find ways of advocating for them and using our influence to provide a level playing field for all people lest we end up in the river rescuing cats and become overwhelmed by the sheer volume and eventually drown in cat fur. Enough of the cat story.

Here are the main causes of poverty:

The Poverty Cycle– being poor and not having enough food to eat, causes you to stay poor and not have enough food to eat.

Low Investment in Agriculture – high transport costs, scarce storage facilities and unreliable water supplies leads to less food being produced and shipped, and higher prices.

Climate Change & Weather Phenomenon – disasters on the increase leads to food production on the decrease. This always hits the developing world the hardest.

War & Displacement – it’s hard to grow food when you are fighting for your freedom or fleeing for your life.

Unstable Markets – price spikes can make buying food impossible for many families.

Food Wastage – we produce enough food to feed everyone, but one-third of all that we produce is wasted.

To be blunt, travelling overseas to practically help those in need is not going to fix the issue or even make the tiniest dent in it. It may assist the person right in front of you, although, for how long and how effective it will be is anyone’s guess (and the topic of the next post…stay tuned!).

The real change that comes as a result of a short-term trip is in the individual who does the travelling. They can be overwhelmed by the reality of poverty and it can change their life for the better, and as a result the lives of those living in poverty (if that internal change leads to action for the benefit of others). And that’s okay. Let’s call it for what it is. But let’s not damage those living in poverty in the process.

There are plenty of stories from people who have travelled on a mission trip to go and build a house or paint a building, only for it to be touched up and fixed by the locals after the travellers had left. It was more for the people who were visiting and what they would get out of it than it was for the people they were ‘helping’.

Then there is the story of a mission trip to help some people in an area to clear some land, but the travellers didn’t know how to do it as well as the local people, and it turned out that the locals just wanted some white faces in a photo in an attempt to get some funding from the government to help boost tourism. They were helping, but not in the way that they thought they were.

You may have heard the term ‘orphanage tourism’ where orphanages are set up in developing countries with kids (who may or may not be orphans in homes) who are kept in squalid conditions sometimes to guilt tourists who come to visit to give money. It’s a money-making scam that hurts the children we are trying to help.

These are just a few stories of what happens when we travel to the developing world on a short-term basis to rescue the poor. It’s still good to travel and see the positive changes that we are working towards, but perhaps we should recognise that often the money we spend on travel could be more effectively put to use by organisations who save kittens as their profession (sorry – no more cats I promise).