What I told my kids about the poor among us…

Do you give to beggars?
We pass 7 traffic lights between our house and school, and 7 beggars, 8 if you count the toddler accompanying the woman at the entrance to our local mall. Sadly, in South Africa, this is disturbingly commonplace. And just like you are suddenly more aware of how crooked your handwriting is when the teacher is looking over your shoulder, you are suddenly more aware of how crooked your society is when your kids are in the back of the car. Asking you hard questions.
Stats SA’s poverty report shows that 30 million South Africans live in poverty out of a population of approximately 58 million people. If these numbers alone don’t confront our hearts, then the daily confrontation with the poor among us definitely should.
But how do we teach and model to our kids the right way to interact with the socio-economic needs of our nation? Is it really to just randomly hand out money or food at every street corner? I don’t think so.
“She sets her heart upon a nation and takes it as her own, carrying it within her. She labors there to plant the living vines.” (Prov 31 v 16 TPT)
So here is what I’ve told the boys:

We MUST give, and we must give with joy: 

Our privileges and yes, our blessings too, are in our lives for the sake of others, not just for our own sake. We are blessed in order to bless! Our giving is not benevolence for the sake of assuaging our conscience or giving ourselves a (usually public by way of Facebook) pat on the back. According to God’s word, our giving is an act of both obedience (Heb 13 v 16) in response to God’s goodness, but also a joyful opportunity (Rom 12 v 7-8) in response to God’s love.
“God has given us two hands, one to receive with and the other to give with” – Billy Graham.
If we consider where God placed us, and what He placed in our hands, how could we not give? I have written before how I’ve tackled what I call the “burden of privilege” with my boys, so that they can deal rightly, carefully, generously, and intentionally with the privileges that are a part of their lives.

We must be intentional and obedient in our giving: 

As believers, our giving takes 2 forms. As citizens of South Africa, both my husband and I honor God by paying our taxes. A portion of our taxes goes towards social grants.  More than 17 million South Africans receive social grants, which is our governments’ way of bringing to fruition Section 24 through 29 of our country’s impressive Bill of Rights, which focuses on the socio-economic rights of citizens, including the right to social security. The social grant system is a verifiable, standardized system of care, and the grants available include the child support grant, older person’s grant, disability grant, foster child grant, war veterans grant etc. So already, by merely following the laws of this land, (and God’s command Mark 12v17), we are already taking care of the poor. All people may not be able to make all the choices I have the privilege of making, but in a welfare state, they at least have some protection offered by law.
The second way we respond to the poor is by our tithes and offerings, where we commit our first fruits to our church and it’s various ministries, including it’s outreach to the poor. At my church, as I am sure it is the case at yours, our social outreach is by way of focussed, intentional initiatives that take a long-term, holistic view of caring for the poor in both a physical and a spiritual way.

We must give to help, not to hurt: 

According to a study done by Solidariteit, 90% of beggars in the Twane area use the money they obtain exclusively for drugs/ addictive substances. They make an average of R500 a day. The fact is that when we give money to someone on the street, we are often under the wrong impression that this money will go towards really helping, towards actual material needs such as shelter, food or clothing. But for the most part, this is not the case. Even the clothes and food we give gets bartered and sold. And in our thoughtless giving, we seldom realize the damage we do.
In my city women begging with one or 2 kids in tow is also commonplace. Very often, these kids are “on loan” and not even their real children. In the case of these scenarios, the damage we do in our “giving” is actually far worse and far-reaching.  At my local mall there is a woman and a child begging on a daily basis. She keeps showing up with the toddler in tow because suburban housewives with their Woolies packets and their pampered guilt continue to happily part with a few bills on the way home from the mall.
They are under the wrong impression that they are making a difference, but they are in fact just keeping things the same, or making them worse.
By giving in that situation not only are we thoughtlessly enabling an adult to (ab)use a child for monetary gain (there’s a name for that you know! It’s slavery), but we are actually funding the long-term neglect and abuse of the child as a means to make money (and yes, there is a name for that too..it’s human trafficking). We are cooperating in depriving that child of his/ her basic rights as underpinned by our constitution to be educated, protected from exploitation and to be safe,  keeping that innocent out of school and enslaved, likely having a shocking long-term impact on his/her development. The adult has a vested interest in keeping the child on the street, out of any early childhood development centre (of which many free or funded ones are available in poorer areas) or school (where a parent can apply for exception from school fees) because she knows if she is there with the child, motorists and passers-by are more likely to give than if she was there without the child.
So what to do? I have engaged (together with the boys) where it’s been possible especially with women and children in these situations, supplying walk-in centre information for organisations such as MES, which does amazing work especially in inner city environments, and who have the facilities and infrastructure to help with paperwork for Grants, who have Early Childhood Development Centres, Employment programs, Shelters and the like. Instead of arming yourself with small change, arm yourself with information about reputable non-profits or charities that are active in your area. Most soup kitchens and feeding points also have referral and ministry systems in place that go beyond “bread alone” for those in need.
So here is a key question: Does what I give and how I give it keep people enslaved, or provide a way out for them?

 We can’t help everyone, but we can help someone: 

Having worked at an NGO for 4 years, this is a very hard reality for me to stand in. And it’s a struggle to not become overwhelmed by the needs around us. We can’t help everyone. That’s the bad news. The good news is that, especially if you are a South African, you don’t have to go very far for an opportunity to make a difference. In our neighborhood, at our school, in our kitchens, and on our street corners we are every day presented with multiple opportunities to have an impact, be an everyday radical, to leave things and people, better than we found them. And in all of those encounters, we get to reflect Jesus to the world. In all of these encounters God is always asking, “who can I send?”
If we feel like we should change the world, maybe we will be too overwhelmed to do anything. But if we see how we are uniquely placed to change things for one person, maybe we will be inspired enough to do something. As a family, we recently signed up as sponsors for 2 kids via Compassion International. It an amazing opportunity to expose the boys to what it takes to break the cycle of poverty and how we can play a role (however small) what holistic care looks like, and by helping 2 boys not dissimilar to my 2, the journey is both relatable, practical and impactful.
Key question: are the people I encounter/ in my sphere of influence, better off or worse off because of me?

 We must acknowledge the humanity in every person: 

Even though the boys now know that we don’t hand out money to beggars,  I try to model to them that we also make a point to greet every person that we encounter on our travels. Regardless of how far we have all fallen, we remain image bearers, and when we acknowledge a beggar by greeting them and making eye contact with them we are doing more than being polite, we are acknowledging our shared humanity, our shared brokenness, and fallenness. It’s both a restorative act as well as an affirmation of value. Their fall from grace might look different from mine, but fallen is fallen isn’t it? And our need for Jesus is the same. Because the gospel informs us that we are all poor. Of course it’s different types of poverty, physical, emotional, spiritual, but in each of those settings, our need for Jesus is the same. we are all in need of God’s grace and above all His deliverance, salvation, restoration and sanctification. Poverty is not the thing that separates us from the people we aim to help, it is, in fact, the one true leveler and the one thing we have in common.

We must continue to sow small seeds because many “ones” soon become “thousands”:

Acts of kindness are cumulative, and with our actions, we choose what we put out into the world. Whether we will thoughtlessly join the streams of negativity and hopelessness, or courageously resist, not allowing ourselves to become fatigued in doing good (Gal 6 v 9) is a choice. To help the boys choose to be a part of the solution, the good in the world, we use the Game for Humanity cards, the school version (there is an adult version as well). Have you heard of these? Every week the boys take a card with an act of goodness on it, for example:
  • Help with recycling at your school
  • Make a hungry child a sandwich
  • Help someone with their homework
Once they fulfill the action on the card they pass it on to another student, ideally the one they assisted, and so they spread good, one person at a time. It is a great way for them to see that they have control over their ability to infuse their environment with positivity, or the alternative, and to act responsibly within their little circle of influence to build on the cumulative effects of kindness and good deeds.
What I told my kids about the poor among us...
It’s tough out there. Doing good things takes a lot of bravery. But we don’t have to reinvent the wheels of response, opportunities are all around us. We are called to continue to choose empathy, even if it doesn’t come naturally because that is what Jesus did. I hope to raise children who are more deeply aware of the context they grow up in, of where they have been planted and why, certainly more so than I was as a white middle-class kid in South Africa. I don’t know if I will get this right but these types of conversations are a start.

This blog is an except from my talk about being and raising everyday radicals. For more on talks click here

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