Living Social Justice

A blog about responding to poverty and injustice, everyday and in all sorts of ways

Confessions of an Amateur Giver

On the eve of our Warm Up Winter campaign, we begin to think about giving and what it means. Common Good Executive Director, Sarah Binos, shares some of her personal discoveries about giving in ways that don’t erode dignity. 

[Note: This video is a small excerpt taken from The full video can be found here:]

For the last few weeks something that a Common Grounder shared with me over a Sunday lunch has been ringing in my head. The thought was this: “The truth is that we are all equal in Christ, that at the foot of the cross we are united in Christ and through the gospel. The problem is that given our recent history, all South Africans will be tempted to erode this equality. White people will struggle with the temptation to feel superior to other races, and blacks in particular will feel tempted to feel inferior to whites. This will erode our dignity, and will cause our unity to crumble.”

We’re about to start our Warm Up Winter campaign, and this statement has put me in a state of deep reflection about how we give. Yes – I always give good quality items that reinforce that all people have worth, but in the process of giving there are many other ways that we can do harm.

If you watched the video clip above you would have seen that even the best intentions can lead to deeper divides and hurts. If I’m honest – I have been the Jo in that scenario. Instead of giving you a blueprint for giving (because there isn’t one!), I thought it might be helpful to share some of the mistakes that I have made in the area of giving – and hopefully this will equip others not to do the same! You may end up feeling like this call to be extravagant yet responsible stewards is just too hard, messy and complicated. But fear not – our next few blog posts will explore some really simple ways to rectify these mistakes. Our hope is that these posts don’t discourage you from giving but rather that they inspire you to give in a way that results in an increase of flourishing in our city.

Mistake #1: I have not prioritised building relationships enough as I try to live out Christ’s call to do justice.

There – I said it. Painful but true. While I have built friendships that cross the divides in our city, I have not taken enough time to truly understand my neighbours. To truly understand someone you need a level of honesty and trust to share deeply. In the context of friendship we listen to each other’s stories – stories that reveal past hurts, current needs, future hopes and aspirations. As we do life together we give to each other. Giving is safe when it’s a two-way affair. Giving is safe when a friend can tell you that your oversized jeans just don’t fit. When we are not in relationship with the people we are giving to they become our charity cases – which often results in the inferiority/superiority carrot being dangled.

A friend of mine is the daughter of a domestic worker whose employer paid for her schooling. As a result, she was afforded an opportunity she would never have had access to. However, the employer never connected with my friend. As a result, my friend grew up feeling inferior, and whilst she was grateful for the opportunities afforded to her, she felt like the charity case of a rich, successful donor. She accepted the gift, but deeply resents the way it made her feel. “Ungrateful”, you may be thinking. I think “grateful, but hurt” would be a better way of describing her response. My friend explained how much it would have meant if her donor had been more like a distant aunt – who checked in with her occasionally and saw her a person with hopes and dreams as opposed to a project.

Mistake #2: In my attempt to “fix things”, I have communicated that “I am the adult and you are the child”.

I think quickly. I speak quickly. When I give, I have at times attached a whole lot of unsolicited advice to my giving – without it having been requested. I hate it when people give me advice that I haven’t asked for! Instead of engaging, asking insightful questions and giving the person I hope to love the space to process and think through a way forward, I present a quick solution with a whole lot of uninvited advice. This can communicate the idea that I’m wiser, and that I know how to solve your problem better than you do.

Mistake #3: I have not listened and empathised enough.

Sometimes we see the broken things of this world, and then quickly think of ways to fix the brokenness. In our haste, we bypass the process of listening, understanding, and identifying with those in need, and instead jump straight to giving something that will hopefully fix the problem. A friend of mine replaced his domestic worker’s roof on her tin shack. The domestic worker asked my friend to use local members of the community to assist with the labour. However, my friend decided to cut costs and do it himself. Local community members retaliated by setting the shack on fire. In not listening attentively, I too have assumed to know people’s needs. Have you ever been given something you just really don’t need, but that the person giving it to you thinks it’s just what you need? It sucks. Because it communicates that they don’t know you very well.

Mistake #4: At times I have perpetuated cycles of dependency and bad habits.

Sometimes, the most loving thing we can do is to NOT give. I have given to street children where my giving perpetuates cycles of addiction and acts as a means for them to stay on the street. Bob Lupton in Toxic Charity says that ‘giving to those in need what they could be gaining from their own initiative may well be the kindest way to destroy people.’ Giving something material is often the easy way to help. Giving in a way that will move people from relief to development is much harder and more sacrificial. When I come across people in need I do not know (there are many in our city), I try to limit this one way giving to instances of relief only. When I feel burdened by an issue I give to organisations who have a track record of success in dealing with the issue.

I am still learning and will continue to do so as I better know and follow Christ. Some of these mistakes have been easy to rectify, but others are harder and require more thought and discussion. Connecting and building relationships with people across all the divides (race, class, culture) in Cape Town is perhaps the biggest challenge we face in this city. Thankfully we have Christ to lead and empower us – this has been my greatest lesson! Listen to the whispers of the Holy Spirit.

This is the second blog post in our Warm Up Winter blog series. If you missed the first one on why we should give, you can read it here. Follow our blog so you don’t miss out on the rest of the series! 

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2 thoughts on “Confessions of an Amateur Giver

  1. Marcienne on said:

    Sarah, what a great blog post! Thanks so much for sharing these learnings. I am also realising more how the context in which we live or rather do life (Cape Town, South Africa 2013) impacts our across-the-city relationships more than we first may realise. It’s so important to be conscious of thinking patterns and feelings (of ours and of others) which we don’t usually consider, when we think about responding to poverty and injustice – and giving during Winter, in this instance. Thanks so much for sharing, and for bringing the learning that God does in our hearts (and can often be difficult) to the fore!

  2. Pingback: The Not So Simple Life | Living Social Justice

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