By Dr. Sas Conradie, Coordinator Global Generosity Network
The front page of the monthly newsletter from my church in a small town in England says it all: ‘A double spread on the launch of Foodbank is an ideal example of the church being the instrument of blessing in its local setting.’ Yes, one of the latest crazes in UK churches has come to town – giving out food. Surely this is one of the best examples of generosity in a community, you would say. We should all be giving food to those in need in our community. But what about when the most needed food items requested include sugar, sponge pudding, rice pudding, instant mash potato and tinned fruit? These are actually food items that I try to get away from in our house! And then people ask me to show my generosity by buying these exact items to ‘help local people in crisis’ yellow lights start to flicker about this form of generosity.
The yellow lights begin to turn red when kids tell me how their classmates are drinking alcohol because their parents allow them to drink. The lights turn brighter red when children do not want to go back to school because of bullying, or when people move out of our town, not because people do not have enough food to eat, but because they do not want to mix with kids who have little interest in learning and rather fight with each other while other kids video them. And I come to a total stand still when people say ‘I will pray for you’ but never say ‘can you come to our house so that we can pray with you’. Think about that – there is a big difference between ‘praying for’ and ‘praying with’.
Before you contact my superiors at the Global Generosity Network – I am NOT saying that giving food to people in need is wrong. Definitely not! Jesus says in Mathew 25:35 ‘I was hungry and you gave me food’. But I do believe that giving food can become an excuse to neglect generosity that addresses deeper causes for the lack of food. Especially in our context in the UK where there should be no reason why anybody should go hungry given our social care system.
My point is that the focus on lack of food can disguise much more difficult problems. These problems require a deeper, even sacrificial generosity than is required to give a few tins of sponge pudding to somebody in crisis. One example is dealing with addictions – whether drug abuse or alcoholism – before they are passed on to children who will fall into the same trap unless the cycle is broken. Another is helping those with an inability to handle finance. People do not know how to spend their income properly and then fall into the hands of loan sharks when they go into debt to finance their lifestyles. Another is overcoming marriage and family breakdown or helping people who have come out of prison and need support. People in those situations need Christians to visit them, care for them and support them. Not just to give them food that will actually sustain the problem. The problem is that we can believe that by giving food you can say at least you have done something without ever getting too much stuck in the problems of others.
Jesus is saying in Mathew 25:35 and 36: ‘I was a stranger and you took me in; … I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me.’ This is what I believe people in our town really need. They need people to talk to them, visit them, support them to get rid of their addictions, help them with their marriage problems. Help children with their learning and education. Jesus is clear that we cannot go to heaven if we have not visited and cared for the sick in our midst (Mathew 25:44 and 45). But that takes a more sacrificial generosity than to just write out a check or give away a few food cans. It means engaging with people – giving our time, our energy, our love, our emotions. This is a generosity that can change people when they see people care for them and be with them. This is the generosity that I believe our town needs from Christians and what towns across the UK need.
I thank God that His generosity was much deeper than giving people tinned pudding. I thank him that His generosity is expressed in John 3:16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son’. God gave sacrificially. He gave Himself. That is why we are changed. I pray that Christians in our town will start to express that same sacrificial generosity that God showed. That is real generosity that will transform people long after they became hungry again when the tinned pudding is finished!