With thanks for your patience, here's the plan for this week's donation to an inspiring individual, and some other musings along the way.
This week I will be contributing toward Sharon Schmidt's trip to visit refugee camps in Africa. Sharon is a friend of a friend of mine. She is the Program Director of Welcome Home, a refugee housing community in Kitchener, Ontario. Out of a desire to understand the refugee experience more fully, she is planning this trip for next March. Here is an excerpt of how my friend describes Sharon:
"She has really helped people like me see that refugees are a lot like us. While they tend to be grouped with other needy people in our society, refugees actually have less in common with the mentally ill and the unemployed. Instead, they are often middle or upper class people whose lives are entirely disrupted by war and civil war -- and who find themselves in Canada, starting all over again. Sharon regularly recognizes the ways in which she can't begin to understand the refugee experience, and it has been her dream for four or five years to visit a refugee camp in Africa...She is definitely an inspiring person."
I've seen how my friend's life -- her time, parenting, spending -- have been impacted by Sharon's work, and it is my pleasure to invest in that impact in this small way. Have a look at Sharon's blog if you get a chance.
Yet even as I write this, I am given reason to pause at this week's choice. Three things have been jostling around in my head and I will try to make some sense of them here:
1. I've been reading Do More Than Give. Slowly. I haven't been allowing myself to read further quite yet, actually, because I'm stuck on an early chapter about the need to target one's giving rather than spreading philanthropy too thinly. Clearly this year for us has been about spread. As January approaches, what might that mean for our giving patterns? I've never been good at focusing -- I have an interdisciplinary PhD of all things! -- yet it appeals to me very much at the moment. I suspect that those who are single-minded do not waste much time, as I do, thinking about all the other ways they could be spending their resources. I'm not sure what form targeted giving should take for us. (And I've seen the joy that can come from a small but needed and unexpected gift given in many directions at once). I'm therefore grateful for the authors' encouragement to learn from the journey and let the focus emerge.
2. I've been thinking about poverty, personal responsibility and stewardship. If I am made aware of people who are in need (as I have been recently), should I give to them to meet that need even if I know that they have a history of poorly managing the resources entrusted to them? Likely many people experiencing poverty have a less-than-impressive track record of financial management. Are these particular people therefore being "penalized" because I know them better? Does the fact that I do know them well obligate me even more to give? At a bigger picture level, to what extent is my giving supposed to be tied to the recipients' "performance"? We expect accountability in charitable organizations (and are expected to do so), yet is it reasonable to expect the same from individuals? Is it poor stewardship or miserliness not to? My reluctance here has caught me off guard, to the point that I'm wondering what I'm really afraid of.
3. Just this morning, our pastor spoke about Jesus being the hope of the world. Not just hope for eternal life (which He is), but hope for the here and now. He put it in these terms: how would the world look different if Christmas had never happened? No churches, no Christians. No World Vision. No Salvation Army. No William Wilburforce. The most memorable part for me was an excerpt he read from the CBC's Brian Stewart -- a renowned foreign correspondent [and agnostic], who was addressing the graduating class at a Presbyterian college a few years ago. He remarked that he has never been anywhere in the world where Christ followers haven't gotten there first -- to respond, care, serve, make a difference. And he's been to some very remote places! I felt proud to be counted among their number when I heard that.
I don't know if these three threads will weave together or not -- soon, or ever. For now, I'm letting them percolate within me (how's that for a mixed metaphor!) and giving the money to Sharon. She is obviously a person of focus, who looks poverty unflinchingly in the face and who is committed to making a difference. When the threads don't knit together neatly in my life, it's inspiring to hear of others who are finding ways to make that happen. And I suspect that for them, it feels messy too. I guess it's just good to be on the journey together.