For the love of them…or us?

I recently read a great article about Toms. The shoes. But more so the real purpose of the company.

It’s a great idea, right? You buy a pair of shoes and they will give a pair of shoes to kids who don’t have them. I’ve seen kids with bare feet and gone on medical clinics to see them treated for hookworm and other things because of it. By golly, I will pay $50 for a pair of canvas shoes for a good cause! Who wouldn’t?

But, the article I read made a point. Even though this is a good cause (it is, no one is disputing that). It’s not really solving any real problems. Why? Because the company works from outside of the countries that are in need. They make the shoes, consumers buy them, and they are delivered to countries that need them. Who feels the best about what they do? The consumer. It’s a company model built around a good cause, but in the end it’s meant to make the consumer feel good about what they buy.

What’s wrong with that? Nothing. Intrinsically. But it isn’t solving the real problem…the reason the kids don’t have shoes isn’t that they aren’t available. The reason the kids don’t have shoes is that they are in poverty stricken countries where they can’t afford shoes. So, they get shoes. They also get rice and beans from a charitable aid organization, shoe boxes filled with well-meaning gifts once a year, but they are still living in poverty. Have we fixed the problem or have we simply made ourselves feel better?

I’m not saying any of those things are bad. In fact, quite the opposite! They are good things! Don’t stop supporting organizations that help underprivileged countries! They need all the help they can get! But is our help a momentary fix or a solution? That’s all I want to ask.

I recently read a post on my brother’s wall that basically said that sometimes it takes a cold cup of water from a person’s hand before you will accept the Living Water from their hearts. I get that. Meet a physical need to gain access to meet their spiritual need. Christ exemplified that. There is nothing wrong with that. But, the old Chinese proverb holds some truth, too – “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and you have fed him for a lifetime.” So the question I’m pondering today is this, in my good deeds am I simply making myself feel better for the day, or will their lives be different?

There is a time and place for every purpose under heaven. Solomon drives that point home. But, there are organizations that are making permanent solutions in war-torn and poverty stricken countries not just momentary fixes but hard core “We see this need and we are going to fix the problem not slap a bandaid on it.” I want to see more of this.

Toms could do more to make a difference, a permanent difference. They could teach the locals how to make their shoes (honestly, it can’t be too hard!). They could buy the canvas, the leather, and the cork from those people, and sell them very cheaply so that the poor make a profit… then those leftovers that don’t sell…they could be given to the kids that desperately need them. That’s just a thought. But the point is, one pair of shoes at a time is only going to last at the most a year. Whereas teaching them how to make the shoes and sell them, that could make a lifetime of difference to ailing countries. Like, Digging wells. This is a permanent solution. This makes a complete and total difference in the areas that get this privilege. We take for granted our easy access to water as we fling another bottle in our purse as we leave the gym, we don’t even think about famine or drought or the fact that the animals bathe and leave waste in the one stream we might share as a village…which is like 3 or more of our subdivisions combined. Organizations and missionaries that teach a trade in order to help villages to support themselves, not to live off of temporary handouts, these people are heros…life savers…fixers. Artists that take their time to teach African women designs for necklaces that they can make and sell to raise money to invest in their families and communities, this is life-changing work. Funding goats and livestock and corn and seed and feed, these are donations that are going to make a failing community prosper! These things will feed and clothe and aid multiple families and pass on hope and knowledge and wellness to the next generation. And, these are just a few roles of amazing organizations from medical to agricultural that are making life-restoring differences!

I will probably still buy Toms. And I hope you will, too. I’m not out to sabotage good works. I just want to ask the question, “Am I doing this for the love of them…or me?” I am not leading a crusade to fight economic injustice; I just want to ask myself the tough questions, the raw questions that get to the quick of my motivation because I want to see their lives changed for the better for GOOD not just for the moment. I don’t want there to be any doubt that the work that is done IS for them and not for me, and that the One that sent me provides not just for a day but for all eternity.


Getting my goat

Christians can be very proud. Have you deducted this? Have you seen any of this played out lately? One area that I find Christians particularly proud in is the area of charity. It’s kind of ridiculous, isn’t it? To brag about “good works,” isn’t that almost to negate them? It kind of leaves the message, “I didn’t really do this for you. I did it for me, but you get something out of it.” Or, this is the message that we are sending whether that is what we intended or not.

I was recently at the way too overwhelming local Chuck. E. Cheese when I saw someone with a t-shirt that read, “This shirt fed 40 people. What did your shirt do?” Okay. On the surface, I get the point. They gave some money or did some act of service or sacrifice, which was a good thing, to help feed starving people which is a very good thing, but the shirt portrays an attitude that negates the ambivalent nature of the giver. I don’t see a t-shirt that says, “I paid twice as much for my canvas shoes so that someone else wouldn’t go shoeless.” I don’t even think such a shirt will ever be made, or should be. And yet, I see Christians wearing t-shirts that make charity seem selfish. The argument could be made that it is to raise awareness for world hunger…well, wouldn’t a shirt that said, “Every 3.6 seconds someone dies of hunger. How’s that burger?” That would raise awareness and address gluttony in America, and guess what? No one gets credit…and someone looks twice at the burger they are eating. Perhaps that person paid enough for that shirt that 40 people were fed, but it isn’t boasting. No one knows but that person and God…and perhaps the little guy that handled the order. And, that’s okay.

In the Bible, Jesus tells us not to let the left hand know what the right is doing. He instructs us to do our good deeds in private. But, then no one knows what we did, so how will we find reward? Well, He goes on to tell us, “Your Father in heaven will see your good deeds and reward you.” Oh but, Leslie, people’s rewards are much more instant…yes, and far less rewarding. Which leads me to my next point, we somehow think that we deserve something for our good works. For instance, I mentioned my frustration at seeing this t-shirt to someone the other day, and I expected this person to take up my cause, after all, we are both serious about ministry! Instead, the response was to smile and say, “Heck Yeah, I have that shirt! I suffered through 30 hours of hunger to get it!” Wait. What? I know that my jaw had to have dropped open! Since when is sacrifice about anything more than…well, sacrifice? But, this person isn’t alone in this. Recently I saw a campaign for a popular Christian music group to build wells in third world countries. I was standing in line as one of the spokespersons for the group was telling about their initiative and that if you gave X amount of dollars you would get a free shirt and a CD. Commendable…until the person in front of me asked, “So what is the least amount I have to give to get the stuff?” Wait. I think we missed the point.

I’m not a huge John Acuff fan, but I do like some of what he says. I will never forget the blog he posted on “fasters” – those people that observe the spiritual discipline of fasting…not to be confused with pastors that get you out of church by noon every Sunday. (Ba dum pum.) Anyway, he was talking about the ones that feel the need to announce to the world what they are doing, when God’s Word clearly says not to make a show about it because that’s what the religious folks do and their reward is found in the praise of man. He quips about possibly telling the next person, “Man that stinks. Now that you told me that your only reward is what I have to say…so, way to go, bro! You fasted for no real reward!” (Not an actual quote but that was the gist.) Really! What kind of reward is that? I’d rather keep it to myself and simply have the reward of knowing that I sought God and denied myself food or pleasure in order to understand His will in my life. I admit though, I have announced before that I was fasting, but not in an effort to make myself look good, but rather in a desire to see others join me. In my mind, if one fasting can bring clarity to a situation then all members fasting can put it in the sky on wide-screen and surround sound! But, that is neither here nor there.

The point is this. Let’s not boast about our good doing. Don’t post on Facebook that you and your family bought a herd of goats for a village in Tanzania. Don’t tweet about how many kids you sponsor. Don’t wear t-shirts that make people feel bad that they paid $5 for theirs at Old Navy and didn’t serve any purpose than to cover up a hairy chest or a muffin top. Don’t publicize your good works and make Christians look worse in the eyes of others…who might actually do more good and don’t expect a reward. There are things that you CAN do to promote help and support, like: Post links to great organizations and encourage donations and gifts for others. Wear World Vision t-shirts and then answer questions when people ask if it’s a world-wide Optical service. Support your local food banks and feed the homeless in your city, or even volunteer time at a local shelter, but don’t expect a t-shirt…or even a pat on the back…but I can tell you this: the smiles from those you serve, the looks of humble appreciation or amazed gratitude, or the profound look of relief that there is another pair of hands to bear the load, those are gifts from God…and no one can take that away, and unlike a t-shirt, they don’t shrink.

Check out these great links, and please help those that cannot help themselves.

And if you want to read more of Acuff:  (You’re welcome.) 🙂