Thursday, January 21, 2010

I Was Just Trying to Help!

With the extremely terrible and difficult situation in Haiti, many are reaching out to help their fellow man. Donations range from pocket change to millions of dollars, food, clothing, tents, diapers, and other immediate needs. However, like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and other disasters, some are sending food that spoils en route, fur coats and winter jackets to hot climates, and other items that are either not useful or actually hinder the aid efforts.

This article goes into a lot more detail about such issues. It's an interesting read because it shows that even good intentions can often times prove to be a hindrance in desperate times. Note this quote from the article:
No question, the two church-goers from New Jersey had the best intentions in the world when they arrived in Port-au-Prince this week to help victims of Haiti’s killer earthquake.

Trouble was, [best intentions were] all they had in a land where food, water, shelter and transportation are at a desperate premium, said Laura Blank, a disaster communications manager on the ground for World Vision, a Christian humanitarian aid group with long ties to the country.

“They seemed very eager and very passionate about helping the people of Haiti, but they didn’t have a ride to get out of the airport,” said Blank, who had to direct the pair to assistance.

It is described that 40,000 such people show up to volunteer their time at major disasters, but many times do not have the skills or resources to properly help. In fact, due to their lack, they oftentimes become part of the very group needing help!

The article goes on to discuss how a 59-cent can of tuna or veggies can be cheap for us to throw in a donation box, but due to its packaging's size and weight, it may cost up to 80-cents to a dollar of additional donations to send it. Whereas the aid groups who have warehouse contacts to buy in bulk for far cheaper than the average citizen has access to or ability to donate. It turns out that giving money to these larger organizations can be the most efficient way to help those in need even though these organizations have 5-30% of administrative costs taken out before help ever gets sent. This can seem counter-intuitive, but the average person needs to get all the facts before giving.

This is not to say that these aid groups want to stamp out the giving nature of people. Rather, it's how folks give that is most effective and helpful. When we give and serve others under any circumstance, we must prepare ourselves to give in a manner that's most helpful for those whom we're giving to. Sometimes our best intentions can make a situation less than ideal or perhaps pile on additional trials for those we're attempting to serve. The writer goes on to say:
From volunteer medical teams who show up uninvited, to stateside donors who ship boxes of unusable household goods, misdirected compassion can actually tax scarce resources, costing time, money, energy — and lives, experts say.

“Everyone wants to be a hero. Everyone wants to help,” said Dr. Thomas Kirsch, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Refugee and Disaster Response. “It’s not the way to do it.”

"Misdirected compassion"... Yikes. Good intentions are wonderful, but we must consider the needs and feelings of those we are serving before doing so. It's a popular notion to think, "Of course others want my help." But do they? We should ask ourselves several important questions before choosing the way we're planning on aiding others. What are all the costs associated with my helping? Do I need to factor in time, additional money and resources, even borrowing from the very people I'm planning on serving in order to help? Is my timing right, or should I hold off? Am I offering something they would find usable? Am I the best person to help in this situation? Will my help actually be a hindrance? Would I want me to help if I were in that same situation?

Please don't think that I want to stop people from giving. On the contrary, we're commanded by God to do so. Jesus Christ commanded us to love our neighbor and gave us plenty of examples of His own service to mankind. He gave us parables about serving others, including the good Samaritan. He warns us that those found not feeding the hungry, visiting those in prison, clothing the naked, etc. will not be in the Kingdom. My purpose here is to take those good intentions and transform them into the most effective force possible. Simply acting in any case with minimal to zero planning is simply unwise.

Consider some of these more common forms of serving... If you're entertaining others, have you planned and prepared enough in advance so you can have maximum time with them? Do you have enough food and room for all your guests to be comfortable? If not, perhaps a having a smaller group over or meeting elsewhere might work better. Perhaps bringing food you've prepared to their home might be better.

If having people stay with you for a weekend, do you have enough beds and bedding to house them? Will all guests have enough privacy for prayer and Bible study? Are there any issues with "appearance of evil" to others; not just to those in the church, but by our example amongst neighbors? Just because you're comfortable with the situation doesn't mean your guests are. It's worth it to ask in advance to be sure.

Purchasing food or necessities for someone? Perhaps checking with a friend or relative to verify that it meets their needs. They may not have the resources or abilities to cook certain things (us men can barely operate the microwave). Others may have dietary restrictions.

God tells us to correct one another in love, which can be considered a service if it improves our relationships, or stops one from breaking apart. Need to talk with someone about a problem? Matthew 18 describes how to approach someone who has offended us, not others. If this is the case, this chapter also describes the attitude we are to have; that of a child with the willingness to be gentle, yielding and understanding. If it's not directly an offense against me, then it's worth it to consider if I'm the one who should be doing the talking. Bringing it up would potentially make that individual aware of the issue, but it might spark an even bigger conflict that has nothing to do with me.

Similar to this notion is giving advice. I'm not sure of the origin, but my brother-in-law said it to me: "Is that what really needs to be said? Is now the time to say it? Am I the one that should say it?" There's a time and place for everything and we need to give extra thought to advising others (myself included here).

Service is a vital part of the Christian's life. However, the act of giving mustn't be a self-serving act with no consideration given to those we are helping. Many today give to get that "feel good" feeling or to be seen by others, and while I don't believe most of us think in that way, we may be too wrapped up with the idea of doing good that we fail to do so in the end. Take the extra effort to analyze the situation fully before launching into action giving heed to love our neighbor in the process. If you're unsure, pray about the situation. Pray about it either way, really. God desires and will turn us into compassionate and effective servants when we allow Him to.


Annette said...

I'd wondered about these types of things. Yeah, I may have two hands, but I don't know anything about disaster relief so I'm probably not the best person to be down there "helping."

Mikeesee said...

I've been reading through the gospels and Acts and keep coming across the concept of "alms to the poor". After reading some of the comments on Mr. Smith's blog about this--how it's giving after tithes and offerings and is highly respected, even commanded by God--I recognize even more how much we need to give. However, the Bible generally points us in the direction of our neighbor, not to people off in far-away lands. The good Samaritan came across the man lying near the road, similar to stopping when someone has a busted radiator or is in a wreck. That said, our world is much different than in Biblical times. Even Ezekiel gave news "in advance" about Jerusalem from Babylon asking his people to pray for their brethren and change their hearts.

A lot of this seems to have to deal with how compassionate we are towards others in their time of need. Then it must be followed up with some kind of action. I like the fact that the Church is setting up a fund for Haiti because we can help in some small way. We can also continue helping out local brethren, family and friends, area food programs for the hungry, etc.

The whole concept of keeping 3rd tithes "within our gates" rings true to some extent. We have no clue about the immediate needs of Haitians right now or how best to give it to them. Money may be all we can do, and even in giving it, we must check out the agencies we give to. But we can see and hear what's most needed in our local communities. In either case, I've been working on growing in compassion for these people in need (something not exactly native to my thinking). The next step will be better action...