On 27th August 2016 I presented on a panel (with Emily Petty of The Children’s Society, and Susan Barry of Christian Aid) at Greenbelt festival. The title of this post was the question we were addressing.
Here is what I said:
As followers of Christ we are called to help people in need. Jesus demonstrated this throughout his ministry and the parable of the good Samaritan is an example of how practical Jesus makes it – help the person who others ignore, give them what they need – whether that is medical help, money, shelter or transport.
In Matthew 25 Jesus tells us that as we help people – with food, drink, shelter, clothing, medical treatment, comfort and companionship when they are in prison – it is as though we are helping him.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
So helping becomes an act of worship – both holy and practical at the same time.
But, we cannot all provide practical help directly to those in need.
We may not know who to help, we may not have the skills we need – we aren’t all social workers, or nurses, or people who can dig wells! We may not be able to travel to other parts of the UK or to countries thousands of miles away – where the need is, we may have responsibilities at home – children, elderly parents, jobs, church life which means we are short of time.
It can be difficult to help someone, although we want to!
I often think of it as though there are two isolated groups – those who can help, and those who need help.
What is needed is a bridge that connects the two together. I see charities as that bridge. They effectively take the hand of the person in need, and the hand of the person who can help, and they bring the two together. Without charities, those in need, and those called to help, can be like islands – separated by oceans.
But to be that bridge – charities have to a) alert those who can help to the needs of other people, and b) provide those who need help with that help. So they are a conduit.
Some of the recent negative publicity about charities and fundraising may be rooted in charities having lost sight of this – that all we are is a bridge – the important bit is not us, but those who can help, and those who need help. Charities need a humility about who they are.
People who give to charity aren’t just giving money. They are ministering love, care and compassion to someone in need. As they give, they are worshipping Jesus Christ.
They are effectively a behind-the-scenes missionary – expressing the love of God to someone in need, although that is often in very practical ways. It is this that sometimes charities have lost sight of. That giving begins in the heart and is a way that a person lives out their calling. It’s not just about money.
For charities to be the bridge, they must tell the person who can help about the need of another. And sometimes hearing of need and being asked to help can be very painful. Charities expose us to the lives of other people and often their stories are heart-breaking. I believe that as charities we must tell those stories and we must ask for help – not for ourselves – but for those we are called to help.
I have wept in the office as I have read about a person who needs help because their situation is so dreadful, but I feel called to express that to God’s people and not to hide it. This is what is at the heart of fundraising.
But if I just tell you the story of a young woman with leprosy who I met in India – whose family tried to kill her for having the disease, without telling you that you can help her – and others in her position – then I’m just cruelly exposing you to her pain.
It’s when I ask for help for her, that I am bringing you and her together in a beautiful relationship of giving and receiving. So asking you to help her and people like her is wholly ethical. Not asking is unethical. Asking enables the person who can help to give, and the person in need to receive. It enables the charity to be the bridge between them.
As people give to help others, they are allowing fragments of heaven – God’s kingdom – to break in to really dark situations and lives. Like rays of light breaking through the clouds. So giving is a calling, an act of worship, and a way that God’s kingdom is enlarged.
I want to finish with a practical and a spiritual point
There is a common misconception that if a donation is not directly used to help someone in need, it is being misused/or not helping the people it was given to help. So if a donation is used to help pay for fundraising this is improper use.
But in fact fundraising is a donation multiplier! Every £1 used for fundraising at The Leprosy Mission in 2015 generated £5 for people in need. So fundraising grew a donors gift to achieve much more. This is in line with what Jesus talks about in the parable of the Talents – to use what is entrusted to us in the best possible way.
Giving is good – very good, and so is fundraising!