Chapter 3

To Whom Are We Giving?

“Daddy, all you need to survive is food, water, and shelter, right?” From the backseat the question was unprompted and made me smile. “Yes, that’s technically all you need. But I’m glad we have some of the other things we have. Aren’t you?” We had just returned from visiting family in Mexico. During that visit, we had opportunity to do some sightseeing and swam in some cenotes.

The drive to these beautiful deep-water wells often wound through Mayan towns. As we drove through, we saw some beautiful architecture and others that would perhaps barely qualified as shelter. It was the discussion of some of the homes in these towns that prompted the initial claim of the necessities of survival. Homes built of materials procured or scavenged from wherever they could be found dotted the roadside. No electricity, running water, no glass or even screens in the windows. Driving past in an air-conditioned van in the 104-degree heat forced me to imagine how hard life must be for those who called those places home. It was a shock to my sons that people lived in such ways.

That drive continues to introduce great conversations with my sons. We’ve been able to talk about not thinking that something is bad just because it is different, that people in different places live, speak, and act in different ways. That doesn’t make them less than us, or bad or pitiable, or dangerous, just different. And that to them, we would be different too.

But we’ve also gotten to talk about the fact that there may be some people who do need help, and that we don’t really need to travel to distant places to find people who may not have all they need to survive. We’ve talked about what, if any, might be our relationship with other people who may not have as much as we do, or have enough.

Seeing the Needs

Not all situations are quite as obvious as the man lying “half-dead” in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan had it easy in one way. There was only one need, and it was obvious.

Jesus didn’t just give up his equality with God for no reason. His sacrifice was for the good of all humanity. On several occasions Jesus explicitly mentions why he came. Particularly poignant for this conversation is Matthew 20:26b–28, “. . . whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (emphasis added). Jesus says that he came (became a human—released his right to be equal with God) to serve humanity and to give his life for their sake. Jesus says this same thing in another place.

When discussing how he could eat with a tax collector named Zacchaeus, tax collectors being considered among the worst of sinners, Jesus responded with a declaration of the object of his mission: “The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

There are many worthy causes and organizations to whom you can donate and with whom you can partner and serve. The problem isn’t need; it’s deciding where you should help.

This isn’t intended to tell you exactly what you should give and to whom. But hopefully it will help you think through the options available to you so that you can make informed and wise choices about where your time, skills, resources, and money go.

Local and Global Needs. One of the discussions we are having in our house is about the myth that those in need are mostly in other places. There is a subtle and dangerous belief that there isn’t any real need in the United States, “the land of opportunity.” This perception of both the United States and of other places can lead to some unhealthy views of the “other.” When we think that other places are needy, this can lead us to think that other places are worse than the U.S. and that if you are needy in the U.S. you simply haven’t tried hard enough. And if you haven’t tried (or if you’ve made some bad choices), then you don’t deserve help.

The truth is that there are needy people everywhere. Need is not restricted geographically or industrially. There are opportunities all around us to help. Some of those opportunities are created by the choices made by the person in need, and some needs are through no fault of their own. Our job is not to decide whether the cause of the need is worthy, but to help meet the need itself, wherever and with whomever it is found. The blessing of being able to partner with organizations is that we can help those who are far and near.

Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Needs. A question to consider is what breaks your heart? It’s not too much of a stretch to think that any place of legitimate need breaks God’s heart. God didn’t design us for want and didn’t intend for us to live in want. But in our sin-broken world, needs can be found in a wide variety of life.

What breaks your heart?

Approach this prayerfully. As you allow the Spirit to soften your heart and see the needs of the world around you, some of them may become more prominent in your mind and heart.

We can work with International Justice Mission to help free those in modern day slavery. We can partner with Wycliffe to help translate Bibles or with Gideon’s International to distribute them around the world. We can work with Habitat for Humanity to build affordable homes for those who do not have them. Our family is working with Compassion International to sponsor children. We can go to a local nursing home and spend time with the elderly who may not receive many visitors. Or work with the local homeless shelter serving meals. Perhaps you feel a burden for the youth in your area, so you volunteer to coach a sports team, or you help lead a small group of young people in your church in a weekly Bible study.

Your own church may be a good place to start exploring ways that you can serve. There are undoubtedly opportunities to give your time and talents within your church. Ask where help is needed. From internal needs to outreach programs in the community, the list of places to serve and needs waiting to be met is likely a long one.

There are places where some of the work has been done for us. The needs and the processes for meeting those needs have already been identified and set in place. The organizations that work in these areas simply need support in people and resources to accomplish their missions. But sometimes there are needs that require a little more work on our part to identify.

Seeing Your Neighborhood

Looking around our own lives and places, what opportunities for service can we identify? For example, I have many books from my time in seminary. The thought of giving them away hurts my heart. But I remember the hardship of buying them while attending seminary, those occasions where something else had to be given up to get the books I needed for class or for research and reference. Those books, though still valuable to me, may be more valuable to someone else. The option of not having to buy a book may free up finances for something else. Now that I am in a different life situation, it is time to consider how I might be able to bless someone with the books I found so helpful. To be honest, I haven’t given them away yet. I’m still struggling with the thought of parting with books. But the idea is in my head now, and I’m reasonably certain that it won’t leave until I follow through with it.

Finding places to serve and give is not difficult. There are daily opportunities all around us. Sometimes it is an obvious need that shows up in the moment as in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Other times we can identify the particular area where we want to be involved and make a plan for how to meet those needs, like Jesus carrying out the plan of salvation by giving up his place with God, serving, seeking the lost, and giving his life. It is okay to ask yourself what you are most passionate about. Different things will pull at different heart strings. There are plenty of needs to be met. We don’t have to feel guilty if we are not meeting all of them. Find the need and the opportunity that both breaks your heart and gives you the most joy to be involved with.