Lately I've been thinking about charitable giving. This is probably because of the super-cute address labels that St. Jude's Hospital sent me yesterday...a true update from the ones that I get from at least three other charities. I used to feel obliged to send in a check (even if it was small) every time I received one of these. Funny thing, though...before long it seemed that everyone was sending me labels, notepads, and even postage. World Vision is giving away free Third Day CDs if I would only agree to sponsor another child. I love Third Day...and their heart for doing this. I hope that they give away a ton of them.
For the past several years, our family has sponsored Clever Musakuma in Zambia who is approximately twenty years old...married and a father. So, technically, we are "grandsponsors." We keep sending the money...and we get correspondence from Clever's designated writer every year. Last year, he listed the reason that he was not in school was that he was "working to support his wife and child." Well, alrighty then.
Charity is defined as "the voluntary giving of help, typically money, to those in need" (thank you, http://www.dictionary.com/). I don't know if Clever is technically "in need" any longer as I was supposedly paying some of his educational expenses, but I'm not splitting hairs. I am fairly sure that the project in Zambia that I was actually supporting in his name probably still does. And I'm really okay with that. I'm not exactly "Sponsor of the Year" either. We don't send letters, care packages, or feel that we must board a plane to Africa to visit him. Some people do all of that. I just felt led to send the money...and so I do.
Other than St. Jude's and World Vision, I've also received requests to donate to money to three kids going on mission trips this summer, the local food bank, two veteran's groups, and my sorority's foundation. I saw photos from a huge annual breast cancer walk that takes place here in Montgomery that was last weekend on Facebook, and read an appeal from a friend who is doing the Susan Komen 3-Day Walk this Fall...and so I donated in honor of my mother. I've been given chances to donate at my local drugstore, grocery store, and bank over the past month or so to various organizations. Not to mention appeals for the earthquake in Japan, the blood bank, my sorority's annual philanthropy support (Children's Miracle Network...where I donated for myself and for my daughter). I can also check the box with my power bill to donate...and even had the opportunity to give part of my state income tax refund to one or more of the fifteen or so approved organizations by checking a box when I filed.
Sometimes I get frustrated because it seems that there are so many appeals and so little extra money for me to give! I look forward to the day when nearly every dollar I own isn't allocated somewhere for something.
Other times, I hear of someone getting practical by figuring out how to truly meet a need and being blessed in the process. They make something and sell it to raise funds to meet a specific need, or ask their birthday party guests to bring something for the local humane shelter instead of a present. Groups from work, the neighborhood, a club, or at church get together to sponsor a family during the holidays or try to help out someone who is in need. Personally...those are the ones I like. Occasionally, those stories make it into the newspaper or the Readers' Digest and I think..."How awesome is that?" Like the Tom's shoes guy or the people who take donations of eyeglasses, coats, blankets, or stuffed animals and find a niche where these items can be repurposed and people can be served.
I'm also far more inclined to donate to something when I see more effort than someone sending out an appeal for something like a mission trip and not even putting a stamp on the envelope. My opinion? If you don't put a stamp on your envelope...then obviously you don't believe that I'll give. I want to see a little more faith in me than that. If you really want me to give and you are passionate about what you are going there to do...ask me in person or call me. Offer to mow my lawn for a donation. Show me that this is more than something you are doing because it sounds interesting or it will look good on your resume.
Maybe that's harsh. Possibly.
In truth, though, I have sponsored nearly every kid that I know well who has asked me and one or two that I haven't. One was a kid who wanted to go to Zambia (Clever's home) and who was working to earn his expenses. He was to help build a school in a village. I wrote him a check because I was so impressed when his aunt told me about it all that he was doing to go because he was so passionate about it. He did send me a follow up letter, and I sponsored him the next year when they went back to do another project there.
I'm not able to be a huge giver...although I would like to be. I give what I can and what I feel in my spirit is what I should do. Sometimes I pass. I wait for that little whisper that tells me to give and how much to donate.
I really do love the photos or a note after they get home telling the sponsors about their experience. That makes me happy to have been a small part of it. I do not feel that I am called to be a missionary to a foreign land. Believe me...I've asked. But I believe that all of us are called to be missionaries where we live.
Charity begins at home, yes?
There are so many things in our lives that we take for granted. Clean water, electricity, air conditioning, insect and pest control, adequate food, and a place of our own. Most of us have the means and the freedom to travel wherever we want...when we want. We have multiple cars, lovely homes, stocked pantries, and most of what we need and a lot of what we want. Our storage buildings are overflowing and we waste more money each week on entertainment than some people need to live on in a month.
I understand all of that, and sometimes I remind myself how blessed I truly am when I am in the middle of a pity party or angry about something stupid. Which, unfortunately, happens more often than I'd like to admit.
One of the things I'm really working on is the fact that I tend to be cynical. I find it to be a very rare occasion when someone I come across really and truly needs help. I know that there are genuine needs all around us, but sometimes I just can't help thinking that someone is trying to sell me a bill of goods. Much like I've found that some very wealthy people act as if they are anything but...this is also true of people who have a genuine need. They try to make do and don't want to trouble other people for assistance. They seem to want to blend in. It is the people who make sure that you know how bad everything is that make me highly suspicious of their integrity. I mean, it may really BE bad, but since everything is relative...I just tend to believe the worst so I'm not disappointed by finding out that I've been fooled.
I'm really working that cynicism, by the way. It just seems that some of the "poor" people that can't feed their kids can somehow manage to have a cell phone, their hair coiffed, and nails done. Something about that just doesn't add up to me.
So, I suppose that St. Jude's will get their annual donation and huge kudos on the redesign of the address labels. I just wish that they had left the "Ms." off of the front of my name...but otherwise, they rock.
I don't know how you feel about charity. Maybe you are a bit cynical like me...or maybe you are involved with a charity that you know is reliable and making a difference. I hope that you are. I know that they are out there. A friend at church started a group for women dealing with breast cancer, treatment, and recovery. Other groups support homeless ministries that are bringing items that are truly needed or teachers who are using a lot of their own money to outfit their classrooms. I applaud each of these.
Because after all...that's really what we are here to do...God's work. Not ours, not what looks impressive...but what He would have us do. Because when we are following His direction in this...we are most likely to see something miraculous happen. I vote "yes" to miracles. How about you?