Editor's Note: The National Summit on Children at Risk held in Atlanta, GA, 9-11 November 2000, included many valuable discussion periods. Below are excerpts of insightful comments from participants on "appropriate giving."
Vic Jackopson, Hope Now, Southampton, England
Hope Now works with ten orphanages and two rescue shelters as well as seven of our own cottage homes. These homes are parented by Christians as an alternative to huge, impersonal institutions. We have in recent years taken on more major projects to address some of the ongoing health needs in orphanages. For instance, many institutions lack indoor toilet facilities and lighting for their outside privies. When temperatures reach 30 degrees below zero and an institution lacks basic indoor facilities, the alternative frequently is bedwetting, which is endemic in orphanages in any case. We have a program now that is headed by a pediatrician to combat bedwetting. We also provide industrial washing machines to alleviate the chore of hand washing. In one instance, we have built indoor toilet facilities with hot and cold showers, where before there was no hot water.
What I would like to add is the importance of identifying everything that is done that is caring, loving, and humane with the Christian message. We have seen many of our children, three of our directors, and other staff come to know the Lord. The importance of sitting down with children, even to teach them a song, cannot be overemphasized. I grew up in an orphanage for the first 15 years of my life and to this day I remember this song: "I'd rather be a little one climbing up, than a big one tumbling down; I'd rather be a little one with a smile, than a big one with a frown; I'd rather be poor and carry my cross, than rich and lose my crown; I'd rather be a little one climbing up, than a big one tumbling down." When I was eight years old I was taught that song by someone who came to visit me. Although I left the orphanage, lived on the streets, joined a gang, and eventually went to prison, I still remembered it. I am quite sure that the love expressed through that person who came to our orphanage was one of the reasons I eventually came to Christ. So value little things: Every expression of love is important.
Jack Stevenson, Mission Society for United Methodists, Hermitage,
When we go to the orphanage and they clap and thank us for bringing them gifts, we say the gifts are from Christians in the West. But they really come from God because God loves them. I always try to emphasize that the gifts are really from God.
Tanya Vinogradova, Mission Society for United Methodists, Khabarovsk, Siberia
One director shared with us that orphanage graduates do not realize that tea is not naturally sweet, that sugar has to be added. Orphans are just accustomed to having food put in front of them. I think that is why we are so excited about the sewing projects that give them some money. They learn they need to work, and if they do, they will be able to buy things for themselves.
Trent Timberlake, Mission Russia Outreach, Alpharetta, GA
I have been working to set up a computer lab in an orphanage to teach computer skills. This helps both boys and girls because it gives them a marketable skill by the time they leave school. At the same time I struggle with the question of the appropriateness of giving. When I contact orphanages in St. Petersburg I ask what are their needs. I receive long lists with everything from toilets to toilet paper to shoes and socks. So we try to discern what God is calling us to do. But the main reason we go is to share the gospel. Of all the needs, the gospel is the most pressing. I do not want our teams to be seen just as Santa Claus. I think the appropriateness of giving is a real issue. We in the West are so wealthy and have such a capacity to provide so much. The challenge is to give appropriately so that relationships are most important, not the riches we bring.
George Steiner, Children's HopeChest, Palmer Lake, CO
I think orphans have their own psychology: "I'm an orphan; I deserve to be taken care of; I deserve gifts; I deserve things that are given to me." And when they get out, guess what? That does not happen. I think there are some approaches we can take to change this dependency. Some of us have many volunteers traveling with us who, of course, want to share. But it concerns me when we have a group of 25 people handing out hair bows and candy bars in an orphanage, knowing that, in this chaos, some kids will get a lot more than others. One alternative at our camps, for instance, is to set up a camp store, rather than give small gifts to all the kids. The kids then have an opportunity to earn points by cleaning their rooms, attending sessions, and being on time to different events. The Russian teachers at the camp give points to the kids, who then can trade their points for gifts at the store. We are seeing this implemented in several orphanages as well, with points being given for good grades and for helpfulness with younger kids. In the end they earn prizes we easily could give them, but it is a better way to help them. Giving in a constructive way is a great struggle. In the process we need to focus on what is best for the kids, not what is best for us.
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© 2001 East-West Church and Ministry Report