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Transformative Charity

June 9th, 2014

Toxic Charity: Another Perspective

Over the next few weeks we will have a short series of guest blogs that touch on many of the same questions I've raised while discussing toxic chaity in my last few blogs. Today we have the first part of a blog from Access of West Michigan Hunger Response Director, Emma Rosauer. There are many different viewpoints on Bob Lupton's thoughts and it is exciting to see what others think. I hope you enjoy the first part of Ms. Rosauer's blog and that you will check back for part two.
- Bruce

Not long ago, I met up with a young lady who had a brilliant idea for me. As she excitedly handed me a stack of papers with detailed graphs and charts, she explained that she was planning an event to benefit Access. She laid out her plan – to host a 5K run that would raise funds to fight hunger locally. She would garner support through tapping into congregations and media outlets, marketing the event and donating funds to Access and another non-profit organization that works with food insecurity locally. Her expectations were that I would give her a place to land the event, supply her with congregations and potential sponsors and connections to media and volunteers.

Her enthusiasm was high and her thoughts were well organized, I was impressed with the amount of planning and time she had spent crafting her idea. But after she had made her presentation I wondered how to respond; she had created an event that we did not need. How could I explain to her that we already host a Hunger Walk that relies on congregations to raise funds for local and international agencies? Or that we promote the Fifth Third River Bank Run as we are supported by that event already? Or that during the anticipated time frame of her 5K run that we will be promoting another campaign of our creation? There was much context that this woman was missing, and she would have learned that and saved time and energy if she had simply asked me how to best get involved in our work. But instead of coming as a learner, she came with brilliant ideas.

Now, if Bob Lupton and I were pals we would have a great chat about this. He might chuckle and ask me how it feels to be on the receiving end of charity. For that was what this instance was – toxic charity. Imagine this woman in the form of church volunteers, bringing a brilliant plan to the streets of Grand Rapids, wondering if people facing poverty and hunger wouldn’t mind ascribing to the plan someone else thought was best for them? Yikes. It sounds a bit silly when we put it so frankly, but the hard to swallow truth is that much of charity work has been structured based on the uninformed ideals of high income people groups seeking methods of benevolence.

Certainly, observing that several families in a certain neighborhood find it hard to get a meal is compelling, or noticing that kids at school don’t have enough to eat is heart wrenching, but it is at the crucial point – awareness – that our methods of charity have gone wrong. It is here that we ask the uninformed question: “What can I do to change this?” Seems harmless enough, in fact it seems heroic. But it is at that point that we believe that we hold the key, the answers, the solutions, and that our one peek at a problem explains it in entirety. Instead, if we hope to extend transformative charity, we must step back, assess out motives, context, and understanding, and begin to ask different questions.

Bob’s voice rings true again as he states that “we miss the big picture because we view aid through the narrow lens of the needs of our organization or church – focusing on what will benefit our team the most – and neglecting the best interests of those we would serve.” Our personal needs, or those of our organizations and churches, often seem so right because they are truly compassion driven. But what we neglect to realize is that compassion can be self-serving. Because we see a need and believe that we have a solution, we are driven to an action that may actually be harmful even though it is originated in sacrifice and kindness. 

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