Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Grinch meets Santa Claus…

To be generous, or stingy? 

Recently a bunch of children were calling me a name I had never heard.  “Chiche!” they kept saying.  I had to go ask one of the RMI staff members what it meant.  It is a French word meaning “stingy”.  Wow, that hurt. It struck me deeply.  If I had known what they were saying, I would have tried to turn the conversation on them and share the free gift of the Gospel.

People come to our house constantly asking for help.  They are deep in “need”.  Need must be defined as well, but that is for another post.  They are indeed in need.  Some have honest stories of hardship. No food.  No ability to send their kids to school.  Can’t afford medicine.  Can’t afford to see the doctor. No work. No roof over their head.  Some will make you cry. Some lie, manipulate, or exaggerate in order to try and squeeze something out of us.  Yet, they are in need too.  Many times we give. Sometimes we don’t.  I hate that we can’t help everyone.  These are the hardest moments.  To be generous, or stingy (to be fair to us, stingy isn’t simply not giving.  Stingy would be not giving when we should).  Only the internal promptings of the Spirit guides us on each of these decisions.

Meanings of each of these concepts (generosity, stingy, need) are much harder to define here in a 3rd world context. But one thing is certain… handouts often confuse our message.  Am I bringing stuff, or the Gospel?  Am I coming to give stuff, or love people.  If handouts are my mode of operations, even based in a true desire to be generous with all that God has blessed me with, than the recipients of the message get confused.  My audience may often become opportunistic because as Scripture tells us, “the Love of money is the root of all evil”.  They are wired, just like me with my sin nature, to want stuff.  This giving and wanting/needing clouds the Gospel message.  In fact, it blocks the message.  At times I have been disgusted by the opportunism here in Haiti.  At times I have been disgusted at the constant hand out asking for something.  I can only give so much. Every person, if presented with opportunity, will tell me a sad story and ask for something.  They aren’t asking for the truth of the Gospel.  They are asking for a handout. 

For years here in Haiti, and all over the world for that matter, American missionaries have acted more like the contemporary gift giving Santa Claus than like Jesus.  Jesus brought the free gift of eternal life.  American’s have brought the chains and slavery of the pursuit of money/comfort/prosperity, or simply put, the love of stuff.  American’s have been generous, but also ignorant in their gift giving.

There is a delicate balance between meeting social needs, and presenting the work of the cross.  Missionaries for all time have debated this balance.  The Luasanne Conference popularized the debate years ago.  Stearn’s highlighted it in his recent poplular must read, “The Hole in our Gospel”.  The recent book by Corbett and Fikkert out of the Chalmer center “When Helping Hurts” hit the nail on the head.  Some denominational missions want to emphasize the story of the cross, salvation itself.  Some want to emphasize how social action is at the core of the Gospel message.  We will continue to debate this.  I am first hand experiencing the heart of this debate.

I pray I am not chiche.

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