Frida and Biene have both shown me two ways, too very different but compatible paths to follow. Sometimes the way to accomplish good can seem so complicated even when one starts from the basic message of Christianity - Love one another. So many conflicting messages and needs and directions on how to accomplish this simple act. So many who take this simple message and twist it into something ugly. Whether it's emails from Nigeria, phone calls, legitimate looking mail, or panhandlers - there is a lot out there to twist and corrupt simple acts of charity.
For a while now, I've turned my back on organized charities with their huge overhead. I asked myself - how much of what I give actually accomplishes its goal. Certainly, I know that charitable acts on a global scale do need the infrastructure to make it happen. But there is a part of me that responds most strongly to direct action. Simply put, I like the action of
Point A (me) -----> Point B (the need)
Frida talked to me recently about development and the need for sustainable resources and creating foundations for people to eventually sustain themselves. What I learned is often this means showing that simple respect between men and women plus education for boys and girls, is all that is needed for people to build their own strong communities. But what I've also learned is that this simple truism isn't so simple to teach or to learn. If it were, well - how different our world would be.
So, what can I do on a larger scale? What can I do on a small scale? The ways are filled with possibilities but there is one thing, on a small scale, that I won't feel badly about saying no to anymore and here is where Biene's words came into play.
We were talking over lunch recently and I recounted the story of being out with a group of women last month when two young men approached us. There were five of us seated around and outdoor cafe table and my back was turned so I did not see their approach. When this guy spoke, it startled me then it clicked what was happening. Here we were being hit up be two young men who definitely were capable of doing more with their lives than begging and in a flash I was just plain pissed. While everyone else was quiet and motionless, I just felt that anger come to life and I basically told them - No, God bless you, and get lost.
They left and I instantly felt guilty. You know the old adage about angels knocking and there might be Jesus? It didn't help either that I got teased about what I had done. So it was very on my mind. Biene's feedback was concise and to the point. Thank God for this hardheaded and wise woman. Her input was simply this -
Think of stewardship.
You are given gifts that are yours to do with as you chose.
You are responsible for discerning how to best spend those gifts.
Our gifts are infinite in number but so are the people out there who need. Some needs - many needs - are real and true. Many more are not. It is up to us to discern genuine need and in doing so we will more truly be able to love one another and more accurately recognize when angels are knocking at our doors.
And so, I have some answers now that make sense.
1. If you want to help globally, work with the big organizations.
2. If you want to work within your own community, find a group of like-minded people.
3. If you want to satisfy the desire for direct action - well, keep your eyes and ears open.
4. And always. ALWAYS, remember that our gifts are ours to spend as we choose.