Friday, October 6, 2017

Conventional Giving, 'Campaign' Giving And Compassion-Based Giving

"And when he saw him, he felt deep compassion for him."
In one of Jesus's best known gospel stories, it was a despised enemy Samaritan who took time to offer personal care to a person in dire need.

We tend to malign the Levite and the priest who "passed by on the other side", but they actually were a part of a long standing conventional relief program. As members of the priestly class, they received and administered tithes and offerings meant to maintain them and their fellow "clergy" and also to help the poor.

Every third year, according to Deuteronomy 14, the customary tithes from the people were to be stored locally rather than brought to Jerusalem, and Levites, immigrants, and orphans and widows were to "eat and be satisfied" from that source.

Thus the Levite and priest in the story were likely actively engaged in this form of welfare, but felt they didn't have the time or the means to render aid in this instance.

I thought of this in light of the recent SOS (Sharing Our Surplus) Campaign promoted at the September 29-30 Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale. An SOS Giving Booth was set up at the event to encourage people to give cash, check and credit card contributions in addition to helping the Mennonite Central Committee meet relief needs through our purchase of food and other items at the Sale.

The total SOS money raised was over $35,000, which many thought was quite respectable for this first try. And while I would have wished for a far larger amount, I too was truly grateful for the many people who took part.

What I missed hearing at the event were conversations about the plight of the 2.5 million refugees for whom the money was being raised. Most of the talk was about the great items and good food available at the sale, and about updates on moneys being raised at the SOS booth and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, on each of three sides of the 12'x12' "refugee tent" set up outside the main building (with MCC kits and information about refugee needs) were signs that read, "Millions of refugee families are forced to live in tents no larger than this one for years on end."

Yet I heard no one saying anything about this being outrageous and intolerable, no one telling their children about how terrible it must be like to have to live in tent cities like this.

So yes, the entire Relief Sale effort did take us beyond conventional giving through our regular channels, but did it represent a truly compassionate response?

Or was it just a part of yet another "campaign" to see how much money we could raise?

I guess I'll have to let God be the judge of that.
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