Something runs through your mind when you see that word.
Tin roofs? Crumbling concrete walls? Short term mission projects?
Now think of what our job as Christians is.
Exchange leaking tin roofs for waterproof shingles, clean up the garbage, patch the holes in concrete walls. And what better way to do these than on mission trips. For college students, families, and people who want to serve but are short on time and money, this is the best way to do it. My PLIA trip to Grand Junction, Colo., has been one of my favorite mission trips so far, and I feel like I’ve only just begun.
Recently though, through several interesting textbooks, I learned about a part of charity and mission work that isn´t always full of the feel-good emotion that drives many mission projects. One of them, Toxic Charity by Robert D. Lupton, has an especially strong opinion of just how much good these mission projects do. He sums up one of his major ideas early on in the book: “Doing for rather than doing with those in need is the norm. Add to it the combination of patronizing pity and unintended superiority, and charity becomes toxic” (35).
Since when did “patronizing pity” and “unintended superiority” become synonymic with charity? That kind of kills the warm fuzzies I was feeling before. I should be feeling good…the shelter was about to get inspected to decide if it would receive further funding, and the people I am writing about here in Nicaraga have the opportunity to really be heard. I didn’t feel patronizing or superior when painting the homeless shelter…did I?
After spending three days with families living in rural Nicaragua, I realized that there might be a reason behind the uncomfortable feeling I got after reading Toxic Charity. They lived off their own work, pressing the seeds of the corn, beans, and green peppers that would feed them for the year into the warm ground, and grinding the corn that we would eat in the form of tortillas for supper that night.
I realized that it isn´t our attitude that makes the difference between charity that´s toxic and charity that is helpful; it´s the very mindset that is the foundation of our actions. And this makes it even more difficult. We have servant´s hearts and hard-working hands, an attitude like that of Christ Jesus. We are giving people real roofs instead of ones made of tin and reinforcing crumbling concrete walls. So how can we not be considered helpful?
That’s just it. Our mindset is that we need to change people, change how they are living, because we know better. But my mindset changed after I became a part of the rural family, began knowing the people living on the outskirts of León enough to justify writing their stories.
That tin roof and pockmarked concrete walls?
That is my roof. Those are my walls.
And for however short a time I am here, these are my people. What I do is not charity because charity fades away in a shamefully short amount of time. What I do here is work, doing exactly what they do every single day. But this is what makes me able to feel a true sense of pride in the work that I have done here, and know that even though a room may still need a paint job and the roof still leaks, I know that through my trip I have truly become a part of something and made a difference.
Can you say the same thing about yours?