The season has begun! And for those with big hearts, questions arise about who can be helped this Christmas. How can we give generously to those in need? What a cause for celebration, when Christians live counter-culturally. But as our thoughts go toward the poor, I think we often create an unhelpful dichotomy between us who have and them who need.
This dichotomy seems to grow as our mailboxes are flooded with gift catalogs and opportunities to donate in the name of our loved ones. Some of us respond hoping to replace season greed with generosity or as a gentle reminder to our children to be grateful for the number of gifts under their tree. There are a multitude of motivations at work in us all. And don’t get me wrong, I love the opportunities to give meaningful gifts as our love overflows into generosity toward the least of these. But, it is a cause for self-reflection. How do we view the person on the other end of this gift? Even if only in our hearts and prayers, are we entering in with them into their suffering and struggle? Do we see them as fellow image-bearers of our Creator, full of worth and dignity? Or do we see “them”? Those who live and look different. Those over there, who need my used items, while I get something shiny and new.
“[Jesus] disallows defining the world as Us/Them,” said Kent Annan. “My experience is that the Us/Them is real, with profound differences. Yet for me, shared life and Jesus reveal even more profound unity in which we’re all transformed into Us, and all into Them.”
This challenge to see ourselves all as ‘Us’ introduces additional questions to ponder. Do we choose the organization to give our donations based on the cuteness of the bunnies in the catalog pictures? Or do we ask questions about the organization providing the bunny? Do they have proven and effective programs providing resources along with training and transformational development so the family can multiply the gift into a small business or sustainable way of providing for their children long term? Do they come alongside the community, working with them and not for them?
If we are sending items overseas, is it truly helpful to them? Has the community identified the gift as a need? Or did someone decide they needed it? In West Africa, families long used a tree root to clean their teeth. Their dental hygiene was met by a natural resource which was readily available. Until well-intended gifts brought in a one-time toothbrush and toothpaste. Families shared this resource from the West among five or six people for months and months. With no access to replacements, hygiene decreased by the day. Let’s acknowledge we don’t know what is best for other people. Let’s pray for wisdom and seek organizations who partner with communities to provide what will help without hurting.
There are many excellent organizations to get involved with. Easy to recognize because they are ready to share with you what makes their program different. The ones excited to explain their model of empowerment and change. Let’s overflow with love this holiday season, give generously as Christ has generously given each of us and be filled with the joy of offering a fragrant offering to Him. But let’s also seek to make the us/them into all of Us, asking ourselves hard questions in prayer and thanksgiving to the one who offers wisdom and discernment. Let’s give gifts that communicate dignity to the recipients.