Public Square

Charity – An Insufficient Conclusion?

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Every time an employer discovered Fadzai Nhamo was HIV positive, the door shut.

“Life was difficult for me when I came to Harare,” Fadzai said. When Fadzai speaks, she covers her mouth to hide her missing front teeth, a daily reminder of the brutal way she contracted HIV.

“I left my hometown after someone had beaten and raped me,” she said. Following the assault, a friend took her to a clinic in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. There she discovered she was HIV positive.

“When my husband found out I was sick [with HIV], he disappeared,” Fadzai said. “I did not have a place to live.”

After her husband’s abandonment, Fadzai was left a single mom, a stranger in a new city. With no place to call home, she moved from place to place with her children.

The Widow & the Foreigner

It is possible to debate many points of theology, but our faith clearly calls us to care for Fadzai, an individual who has been exploited and abused. She is the widow and foreigner so frequently mentioned throughout Scripture. When we hear the story of Fadzai’s mistreatment and understand the message of grace in Scripture, we are compelled to respond.

John, one of Jesus’ closest friends, asked the question,

If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?

James, the brother of Jesus, questioned,

If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

But the key question today is not IF we should help, but HOW we should help.

Charity – An Insufficient Conclusion?

Our eyes are open to the problem of poverty, but simultaneously, our eyes are open to the challenges of truly making a lasting difference. In Fadzai’s case, she received handouts from a local church, but the support eventually ended and she was right back in the same desperate situation.

“I had a big problem when the charity that I was getting my food from stopped,” Fadzai lamented.

Although charity helped Fadzai for a time, it did not change her situation or address the underlying issues of her poverty. She was still in tremendous need. Having learned no additional skills, Fadzai was in no better position to provide for her children.

Worse, it may have actually deepened her poverty and caused her to think less about her abilities.

For Fadzai and for so many others, traditional charity is a necessary stop-gap, but an insufficient conclusion.

A New Movement

Fortunately, this is not the end of the story for Fadzai. A savings program at a local church equipped Fadzai with the tools to set aside the small amounts of money that she earned and manage it effectively. She also received loans to start a business.

Through this long-term approach, Fadzai is now able to work, provide for her family, and save the money she earns. She says, “I have seen a real change in my life, physically and spiritually.”

There is a new movement rising to help individuals like Fadzai. A movement that sees the immediate need, but works to empower long-term change. A movement that recognizes that a job is superior to a handout. A movement that sees that although Fadzai is financially poor, she still has hidden talent and dreams waiting to be uncovered.

A movement that seeks to empower and unleash by giving Fadzai and others like her the dignity of meaningful work. I’ll cover more of this movement in future posts.

Is there a better long-term solution to charity? Leave your comments here.

Editor’s note: This is a continuation of our series of excerpts from IFWE’s book, For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty, which is available for sale here. This post was adapted from Peter Greer’s chapter entitled, “‘Stop Helping Us:’ A Call to Compassionately Move beyond Charity.”

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