Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Are you discerning in your generosity?

There has been an increase in people wanting to do good abroad in recent years, and that is never bad. But the desire to do good can lead people down the wrong path if they're not careful -- they may do harm rather than good.

Of late people have been especially focusing on Africa, though it has gotten a certain amount of attention for a long time. We've been sending lots of money and equipment and staples (food, medicine) over there for some time. And it may be killing Africa.

Kenyan economics expert James Shikwati told Spiegel, "...for God's sake, please just stop." He says:

"[Western good intentions] have been damaging our continent for the past 40
years. If the industrial nations really want to help the Africans, they should
finally terminate this awful aid. The countries that have collected the most
development aid are also the ones that are in the worst shape. Despite the
billions that have poured in to Africa, the continent remains poor."
He says that aid money does not go where it is supposed to go, food shipments only deprive local farmers of their livelihood, and "[teaches Africans] to be beggars and not to be independent."

Of course, there are those who disagree with him. It's not my purpose to debate the topic of African aid here. What I want to discuss in discernment in our generosity. Jesus told us to give to whoever asks, but I don't think He meant for us to throw good money down a hole. When in doubt, give, and the Lord will deal with those who asked for money improperly. But "helping" people who don't need what you have robs those who do, and helping in the wrong way may harm the intended beneficiary.

We want to help, and we should, but before you give lots of money to a cause (any cause), you need to ask 1) whether they really need help and 2) whether they really need what you're offering.

Diane at Crossroads has been looking at this question as well.


Jon said...

I think you also have to consider if the person or group to whom you are giving is trustworthy. How do you know that what you give to Africans is going to the needy and not to a local warlord? How do you know that the guy with a sign on the street will use that money for food and not whiskey?

Mother Teresa disagreed with this idea, though. She thought that it didn't matter how the gift is used--only that you give. And to be truthful, she had a lot more experience at that than I do.

Two sides of the coin worth considering.

ChrisB said...

"How do you know that the guy with a sign on the street will use that money for food and not whiskey?"

I think we have to use our best judgement here (I tend not to give to people who look like they could work unless I have a strong gut feeling otherwise, which may, of course, really be nothing more than my mood). But I'd say the best rule is, when in doubt, give, and let the Lord deal with those who ask/receive dishonestly. But if we give carelessly, we're just wasting valuable and limited resources.