There is an old proverb that says “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”
There is a difference between a handout and a hand up. “Giving a man a fish” is purely charity—just providing money or food. “Teaching a man to fish” does more; it involves respecting the dignity and talents of the person in need of assistance. It might include teaching a skill or trade, providing a useful resource (e.g., grain or chickens), helping someone to find a job or create a business, or even micro-financing. There are times to just meet a basic need for someone (feed them the fish), but we must lean towards teaching.
Teaching someone to fish recognizes the way God created us. God created us for meaningful pursuits—not for idleness. Proverbs 14:23 says, “In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.” ” Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
At a local hospital in Papua New Guinea, I once met a man, his wife, and their infant twin daughters. Both the man and his wife had HIV. Fortunately, neither child was HIV positive, but they were only a few weeks old and had malaria. One of the babies had cerebral malaria and was in pretty poor shape. Over a few weeks, the children recovered and went home with their parents who were then receiving Antiretroviral Therapy.
I didn't hear of the family for about another year, but in that year a local aid agency had provided some basic business training and a small loan (micro-financing) to the father. He had begun a small shop in the market, had grown his business sufficiently, and had just begun renting a storage unit to trade out of (increasing both his security and inventory). He also was in good spirits and in good health.
For these people, their needs were met—they had the fish they needed that day (the medicine for them and their children)—but they were also taught how to fish. And provided the start-up capital to fish themselves. It worked. This is the recipe for success we all should seek.
There is joy and reward in work and productivity. It grants dignity to the impoverished—and to all of us. Work boosts morale, buoys up spirits, and gives us purpose.
There is more to be gained in providing the impoverished with the resources to put food on their own tables, than there is us in simply put the food on their tables for them.
Providing resources—and educating people in how to use them—is how we feed people for a lifetime. This is how we give a gift that keep on giving.
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