How good is your gift?
Australians give a lot of gifts – about $8.9 billion worth last year. But how good were they? A jaw-dropping $500 million worth ended up back on e-Bay within a month. Quite a few gifts are probably nestled somewhere in landfill because really, who needs a Star Wars themed toilet roll holder?
As people of faith, giving and generosity is central to our identity. We Christians are not only good at donating but at reliably providing mince-based meals in a crisis and giving our time for the school fete.
I have a hunch, though, that the early church saw giving as being about much more than ‘one off’ acts of charity. In Acts, “…everyone was together and shared everything in common, so that no one would have need.” (Acts 2: 42) This was not about giving ‘spare cash’ or ‘something for the less fortunate’. This was about choosing to live beside others as brothers and sisters, fully invested in their lives and well-being.
Nor was this something new cooked up by Jesus’ followers. The Torah had always taken the approach that community resources were to be shared with dignity. The poverty trap was to be avoided by keeping back part of the crop for harvest by those in need. All debt was cancelled and land redistributed every seven years so that families didn’t fall into a cycle of either spiralling poverty or wealth.
Life in Christ is not just about good giving. It’s about building long term relationships that care for people.
To be honest, it’s one of the reasons I enjoy working with our Uniting Church’s international partnerships agency, UnitingWorld. Sure, it’s a little awkward explaining to people that a ‘partnerships agency’ isn’t some kind of creative code for a dating website, but totally worth it once we get over that bit.
“So you actually know the people you’re giving the money to overseas through the charity?” I’m often asked. “Like, you know, personally?”
Some of them, yes. All our project managers here have solid relationships with the project managers they work with in Vanuatu, South Sudan, North India, Fiji or West Papua, and through them, the communities with whom they work. When cyclones hit, we get emails letting us know how people are coping, and we pray by name for families. We’re not huge scale and faceless. We’ve been working with these partners for over a hundred years, helping them face changing challenges of poverty, climate and the hunger for Christian teaching among communities who are turning to faith in huge numbers.
Partnership means we’re changed by this relationship. My visits to India, China and the Pacific have humbled, stretched and challenged me – our professional partners are smart, creative and faithful people from whom I’ve learned a lot. Their communities are resilient and vibrant and their physical needs are often overwhelming. How can this experience not demand a response – in the way I bring up my children, in my spending, from my faith?
This Christmas you’ve no doubt been inundated with offers to give gifts to ‘the needy’ and to remember those ‘less fortunate’ as you make your way to the mall. As one of the creators of the Uniting Church in Australia’s Everything in Common giving opportunity, can I encourage you to think about your gift this year as an opportunity to invest in a life?
These are gifts that represent a relationship, part of what it means to be God’s community. While $10 might provide chickens for a family in Zimbabwe or help seed peace in South Sudan, the gift is symbolic of much more. $50 could start a woman on a journey to leadership in the church in the Pacific. A journey you could support from start to finish through prayer and by visiting communities in Fiji who’ll benefit from her leadership. This is what it means to give through a partnerships agency like UnitingWorld.
Our identity as followers of Jesus is about more than a quick and emotional gift to the poor. It’s about being part of long-term relationships that allow every person to live life to the full.
Cath Taylor has a B Min, BA, Grad Dip Ed, one husband, two daughters, three cats and a job she loves, working for the UCA through UnitingWorld.