Hello Jack,I've been ...

Rachel asked:

Hello Jack,I've been volunteering in SE Asia for the past year and it's been a very rewarding experience. But I've had several people approach me asking me for money and support. There are plenty of worthy causes, but 1. I am volunteering and have no funds myself, 2. I have student loans to pay off, 3.I am worried about dependency. It seems all foreigners are viewed as bank accounts and potential supporters. I have had to discern who sincerly wants to be friends with me, and who only wants my money. It's sad, I'll get to know people and eat in their homes, then they'll pop the question, can you support me? It's hard to know how to respond. And any of the times I have given $ it creates this awful imbalance of the relationship where they treat me differently (as though I had power now) which I really don't like. If I am going to help support causes overseas, how do I go about doing this without creating dependency?

Jack Answered:

Rachel, the economic imbalance between us Americans and most people in other parts of the world constantly puts us in the situations you describe. You can now appreciate the “advantage” Jesus and Paul had of sharing the economic situation of most of the people they ministered to, and why Jesus told the 12 and the 70 to go on their “mission trip” without anything but the barest essentials.

There are no easy answers. Although you seem rich to your Asian friends, as an indebted student you can honest share the truth. Should you return as a missionary, although your American friends would consider you relatively limited in funds, you would be “rich” in comparison with the majority of your neighbors. Your house would undoubtedly have some conveniences others don’t have, your clothes would be more varied, your books, etc. Regardless at what scale you decided to live at, you would have more than many, and you do have friends back in the U.S. with great resources…

One cannot give to all who ask – there are just too many. But more importantly, as you mention, handouts create dependency and create barriers. Also, there are many charlatans. Does this mean that one gives to none?

Some suggestions:

1) Pray much about the issue, keep asking people who have experience, and search for helpful answers relevant to your cultural context.

2) Try not to give money directly. To beggars on the street, give in kind (some fruit, a piece of bread, something nutritious, etc.).

3) When we initiated a university student ministry in South America, we were often asked for financial help. We formed a committee of mature Christians as an advisory group. They knew their people and those who had the most pressing, worthy needs. When people asked us for help, we told them about the committee (without revealing their names) that was reviewing needs and where we (and others) invested our disposable income. This was very helpful. It got us out of the personal relationship situation.

4) Expect the same person to ask not only you but many others for help with the same thing. If you and your friends are all giving to the same committee, they can keep track of a situation like this.

4) Try not to lend money. People will rarely be able to pay you back and since they can’t, they’ll be embarrassed and will unconsciously develop animosity against you, when all you were trying to do was be helpful. Better to give a little than lend more.

Be prepared to make mistakes. But do your best to find solutions. The terrible needs of people will continue to break your heart. And the Lord does say, “Give to him who asks of you.” The issue is to try and give wisely. But it will always be complex and difficult question.

Jack

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