Why I Don’t Give Things Away

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This morning I read a very interesting article called “How to avoid the Messiah Complex” by Joseph Sunde.  In it he explained that many short-term missions groups damage the relationship or ministry of the Missionary serving in that Country by meeting the physical needs of the people.

By itself that isn’t a bad thing…however it can create an attitude of dependency on the missionary to continue meeting physical needs.

When you roll in and hand out a bunch of soccer balls and candy to kids, it undermines the bridges of trust built through partnering and instead sends the message of easy “Aid” and spreads dependency. It makes it much harder on them when you leave when they wonder why this friend who has been staying with them over years never “gives them stuff.”

The article doesn’t encourage missions groups to do nothing but instead ” If you have gifts, only bring what they’ve asked and let them hand them out at a time they deem appropriate” in this way the short-term teams strengthens the ministry of that missionary.

As someone who serves in a mission field where you see poverty its hard to say no when people ask me for things, but I’ve learned its necessary because Missionaries cannot give things away.

As Mr. Sunde pointed out in his article ministries that focus on meeting physical needs fail in two ways.

  1. You cannot meet all of the needs
  2. And you create an attitude of dependence or even entitlement with the people
  3. The sad fact is in many places that sense of entitlement already exists so they EXPECT you to give things away

A few months after arriving in Barrouallie a young lady from down the street came with her sister and asked for a glass of water.  I brought them out and we sat on the porch talking for a while before she asked for some cooking oil as well.  It wasn’t my habit of giving things like this away (everyone would want cooking oil) but I decided to be kind and brought out enough for a few meals.  She looked at me incredulously and said “this is not enough!”

Think about that for a second

She is siting on my porch,

drinking my cold water,

and complaining about not getting enough free oil!  As you can imagine she ended up getting NO OIL but this illustrates why missionaries cannot just start giving things like oil away.

Now before you start picturing me as Ebenezer Scrooge sending hungry poor children away while living in luxury let me say I do provide for physical needs with one big difference.

I make them earn it

Today when someone in Barrouallie asks me for something (which often happens) my response is to smile and ask “why should I give you this to you?”  It’s interesting to see the look of confusion that would come in their faces after asking that question because they felt having a need was enough reason but of course it wasn’t.

  1. Instead help was earned by a willingness to do a job in return
  2. an instance of extreme need
  3. And most importantly obedience (a willingness to follow Mr. Johns rules)

It’s taken months but slowly people are starting to get it.

Last November a young lady came during my Bible club with children and noticed that I was handing out glasses of juice (koolaid) to some of them.  She asked for one and after being turned down was indignant “why can’t I have a glass of juice” she asked, I was getting ready to respond when one of the children told her “you have to earn Mr. John’s juice!”

In a way generations of missionaries (myself included) have created a culture of co-dependency with those who we are to reach with the Gospel.  Therefore its our responsibility to create a new culture that makes them earn juice.

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