Offering Help Without Diminishing Dignity
It is easy to see the danger of creating dependency as a giver of aid. What is not so easy to see is the damage to the dignity of the recipient who is made to feel like a second-class person. The Old Testament principle of gleaning is one of the interesting ways through which the needs of the poor were provided. First, the landowner was required to leave the grain for the poor to pick up. He was not to pick up the grain and hold a free distribution program. It is important to note that the poor had to contribute productive labor into the process. Their back-breaking labor in the sun preserved their dignity. They had earned their day's food and no one else had the right to tell them what to do with it. They had contributed to the process of provision. Much of our Christian aid does not allow for the receiver to work.
No Chance to Boast
It might have been more efficient to have the harvesters do all the work, pick the field bare, and then distribute. It would also have given the owner of the field more of a chance to boast about his giving. Where the poor are put in a position to work for their living, the owner can hardly boast. This sorts out the motive for the work: true compassion or mere prestige? Are we willing to be co-workers with the recipient or is there lingering prejudice? Only when this question is answered can we start thinking creatively about developing a work component to aid.
Most current work/aid programs are mid- or even long-term projects. One can help set up a self-supporting publishing house by injection of capital and training. Long-term farming and cottage industry can be developed in the same way. But how does one incorporate this work element into emergency aid? This is more difficult and may in some cases be impossible.
Attaching Cost Doesn't Make Help Less Holy
One part of the problem may result from our attitude toward money. In the evangelical world we often consider a thing to be more holy if it is given without cost. We stamp "for free distribution only" on it and are shocked if someone has sold it. Perhaps this is one root of our problem. We provide capital in many forms (books, food, clothing, building materials), but then cut off the wealth creation potential by insisting that people may not use it because of our well-founded fears that someone will be corrupted by it. The alternative takes time and demands a higher degree of commitment on our part. It cannot be done by merely taking supplies and dumping them. It means a commitment to long-term relationships, to mutual accountability, and to the surrender of prestige and sovereignty.
Reprinted with permission of the author from CEMF News 3 (Spring 1996):7.
Marsh Moyle is director of SEN Slovakia, Central European Mission Fellowship. For a catalog of CEMF resources contact:
LaHabra, CA 90632
SK 810 00 Bratislava 1, Slovakia
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© 1996 Institute for East-West Christian Studies