My family was once given a very unusual gift. When my family was in Papua New Guinea, our guard and his family had been struggling financially and had been renting a place underneath a friend's house. Unfortunately, someone upstairs left the kerosene lantern burning, and by some accident the house had caught ablaze.
Although no one was injured, my guard's family lost all their possessions in the fire. We wondered how we could help. In the end we decided to give him kitchenware, bedding, and food. He was very appreciative and happily took the goods home with him to his new abode.
A couple days later on a cool, wet morning there was a knock at the door. Standing there was our guard, and in his hand was a small makeshift wire cage holding the most forlorn looking young pigeon I have ever seen. It was wet, bedraggled and frightened. Our guard had caught it when it flew (or fell) into his yard. He had decided to give the bird to give us as a pet for our three-year-old daughter, as a gesture of gratitude for the gift we had given his family.
To say I was dumbfounded would be to put it mildly. I had had no intention of owning more pets (we already had two dogs). I had no idea what diseases this strange bird might be carrying. But what could I say? My guard was standing there smiling, arm extended to hand me his gift of appreciation. I thanked him profusely and our family grew by one bird.
Nutmeat (so named by my three year old) became a fabulous pet. It was very tame. It would follow my daughter around the yard when she played. It would climb the ladder to sit on the trampoline mat while my daughter jumped (why, I do not know). It would sit on the top of the swing set while my daughter played on the swings. It would chew on the chalk while my daughter decorated our driveway with artwork. It even surprised us one Easter by laying us two little eggs! Little did I know how invaluable a gift my guard was giving me when he first handed me that poor, wretched little pigeon.
Have you ever wondered how best to offer charity while respecting the dignity and culture of the recipients of your compassion? I certainly have. I think the two most important lessons I learned from this experience are; learn and experience a culture before indiscriminately handing out gifts, and most people don't simply want a handout, but would prefer to either contribute or reciprocate in some way.
For example, instead of donating a toilet block and having it constructed by a fly-and-build team, why not donate the materials and have the community provide the labor? Rather than handing out money to the impoverished, why not buy their handcrafts? It was so tempting to say, “no thank you, you keep the bird,” but in accepting and loving my guard's gift, he didn't have to see himself as a helpless charity case, but rather as a valuable contributor to the mutually beneficial relationship between his family and mine.
However you decide to assist the impoverished, remember the counsel of 1 John 3:17, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”
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