How to Give Aid…Without Shaming
Their ministry adopted a “Toys for Tots” drive during the holidays. Churches would gather presents, then bring them to people in the under-resourced part of town. As they entered homes to hand out the gifts, there was a common response. The kids would be excited to get new toys, but the fathers would slip out the back door and leave the scene. The indignity of not being able to provide for their own children was too much to bear. They felt replaced as the father. The mothers sensed some of the shame, but were willing to endure it for the sake of their children.
So instead, they turned “Toys for Tots” into “Pride for Parents.” The same toys were brought into a store front and priced at a discount. The parents could come and purchase Christmas gifts with their own money. If they did not have the cash, they could work at the store to earn store credit for a gift. They were the ones giving a gift to their children, and glad for the opportunity to do so. (This story is my summary. Click here to read his Christianity Today interview.)Christians with financial means are often eager to help the materially poor. But however well-intended, some development projects and aid efforts can easily magnify the recipients’ shame.
Two Haitian ExamplesI was recently in Haiti teaching at a Bible school for Christian leaders. Before talking about evangelism in honor-shame cultures, I shared how we Christians must proclaim God’s honor with our entire lives (not just our words). I retold Bob Lupton’s story above, then asked, “Can you give an example of a development or aid project in Haiti that inadvertently shamed people?” Haiti is a country known for its many development projects, so the conversation took off. Here are two stories I caught via the translator.
1. There was an aid worker who brought gifts to a Haitian orphanage. In an effort to make it fun and entertaining, they tossed the gifts to the children, and had them wrestle for the gifts. Then one of the adults said, “If you want to give the children a gift, then hand them a gift like a respectful person. Or perhaps you could ask some questions, and give a gift to the child who answers correctly. But, don’t have them fight like animals over the gift.
2. An organization wanted to feed children in a particular village. They set a large area to feed to children, but the area was central and visible for everyone else to see. As a result, nobody wanted to go there because they would be seen by others as taking handouts. According to the Haitian pastor telling the story, they could have provided meals in a different location or put up some barrier so people were not eating openly in public.