A few years ago I visited a house church in Mysore, India and was blessed to give the Sunday morning sermon. There were about 25 precious Indian Christians in attendance.
That’s me speaking in that house church in India
When it came time for the offering I contemplated what to give. I wanted to be generous—the church didn’t have much. But how generous should I be? I decided to put two twenty U.S. dollar bills in the offering. Forty dollars seemed like a fair amount—much less than we give to our home church in the USA, but enough to help them along.
But was I ever in for an eye-opening.
On the train ride back to the city after the service, the pastor let me know what a big mistake I had made. “You created a problem today with your offering,” he explained. I was taken aback by his comment and wondered if he was joking. But he was quite serious. He continued to explain, “We have never received a gift so large before and probably never will again. Now the congregation will think I have wealthy donors in the USA who send money and that they will not need to give. Their tithes and offerings will seem small and unimportant compared to what you have given and they will be reluctant to practice stewardship.”
I was stunned.
I honestly thought I had given a modest amount that would be a blessing. I had no idea that I could be creating a problem.
Later I asked the pastor, “Who is the wealthiest person you know personally?” He said it was an Indian mission leader whom we both knew. When I asked why he considered this leader to be wealthy, he said it was because he owned an automobile. Well, I happened to know that the car he owned was an older vehicle that most Americans would consider a jalopy, and in fact at that moment it had broken down and was not even usable.
I now understand that the pastor was right; my giving helped create an expectation for dependence on “rich” Americans.
Since this incident I have studied and thought about dependency in missionary work and in other contexts. I have made it a point to be more thoughtful and careful about helping and giving in a way that might create dependency issues.
An unfortunate mistake turned into a good lesson learned.
There are other instances where we can create dependence. For example:
When parents do their children’s homework or chores. The child might get an “A” on the assignment, but what has he learnedWhen the government hands out benefits to people who could earn their way but won’t work.When churches hand out assistance to able-bodied people who could work but instead are working the system.
Am I suggesting that there are never legitimate needs for help? Absolutely not, and we need to meet those needs.
However, I am suggesting that before helping people we must carefully consider how our gift could affect the recipient—like I should have done in Mysore.
To help evaluate what to do in order to avoid dependency, here are some questions to ask:
Am I convinced that I am giving to a person who is truly in need and not just lazy or working the system?
How might my giving negatively impact this person’s motivation?
Is this person truly needy or just seeking a better lifestyle?
How might my giving create dependency?
What are my own personal motivations for giving or helping? (To assuage my guilt, to get them off my back, to impress someone with my “generosity”?)
If I give now but don’t continue giving, what will happen? Have I given a fish or taught them how to fish?
I hope these questions help you to evaluate when to give and what to give. It can be tricky.