Back in April, I was asked to take part in organizing the Mozambique side of a learning tour for Canadian Food Grains Bank (CFGB-the organization that funds the sand dam projects). So over the past six months, I have had quite a few meetings with the CCM offices involved in hosting the group. In one of the emails between myself and the coordinator on the CFGB side, he asked on behalf of participants if we have any ideas for gifts that people can bring for the communities. I replied that I would talk with the CCM extension workers and get back to him.
So, in October, Joel and I sat down with the extension workers to plan the visit in to a sand dam community. I brought up the question of appropriate gifts and after a long discussion, the consensus from the extension workers was that it would be better if the group did not bring any gifts. Gifts, they thought, would complicate their working relationships with the community members and any future interactions between the communities and foriegners (including MCCers). They also said that gifts would cause division in the communities because those who did not receive a gift would be jealous of those who did and could harm relationships between community members and outside workers in the communities.
This week the learning tour is here. Due to some health issues, I am in Beira for the time being and Joel with the MCC rep are leading the tour. Joel texted the other day to ask if I would lead a discussion during the ending retreat about how giving is not always good.
Giving, we are taught, as children is good. It is better to give than receive. So how can giving not be positive? In North America, we give for all sorts of things...Christmas presents to the person who delivers our mail, collective gifts from staff to a boss for his/her birthday, checks to charities during a crisis, food to soup kitchens, hostest gifts when we go to someone's house for dinner or a weekend, not to mention, birthday and christmas and wedding and anniversary gifts to loved ones. Giving is part of our culture. So, it seems so counter intuitive to not give, especially when we visit another country, especially one that does not have as much as ours.
Joel and I struggle to know what to do with our tithe. Our annabaptist upbringing tells us to give it to our local congregation where we are involved. However, after almost two years with this local congregation, we've stopped giving our tithe there. The money (just a part of our tithe) that we put in the collection plate was four times larger than the rest of the offering. Our offerings allowed the church to do things that they would not have been able to do if we were not there and based on comments we heard, we ascertained that without a foriegners' offering, the church did not carry out its duties.
A comment that we have heard from visitors is that this is the only time I am here and so it is the only time I can give something away. It's hard to come from North America and be confronted with the poverty that is here in Mozambique. It's hard not to feel guilty about it and yet, is guilt a reason for giving? It's a reason, but is it honoring to God or to the person who will receive? Do we give to ease our conscience or to better others' lives?
How do we be generous in the face of poverty? We struggle with that question so much. How do we give in a way that will not perpetuate oppression? How do we give in a way that works at alleviating larger issues that create difficult situations for individuals? Will we be asked why we did not give to beggars when we stand before Jesus? I wonder that when I say no to a beggar because I'm in a hurry or just don't feel like giving that day.
For those who are on the CFGB learning tour, I want to thank you for coming. Thank you for coming and seeing what life is like. So that you can go back home and tell others. Thank you for donating money to CFGB so that it can fund projects like the sand dam and food security projects, that will impact a large number of people's lives and make systemic changes for the better. For those who give to your local congregations, thank you! Thank you for believing in the church and your church's ministries, whether locally or those that they send to missions. For those who give to organizations like MCC, thank you for giving money so that we can support projects like the Anglican education project that supports preschools in rural Mozambique where preschool children learn their alphabet before going to school, or projects like the United Church of Christ's savings group project, where the women's groups of various congregations are starting savings groups to better their own lives and reaching out to people in their communties.
It's a continual struggle. How to be generous and not create dependency or false expectations for the future or ease my guilt or give into the system that keeps people poor.