Five years ago we partnered with our church in something called Mission Christmas. A group of us decided to adopt a family and buy them everything they needed for Christmas. A Christmas tree with decorations, food, gifts for the entire family, and lots more. We were all so excited to gather the goodies and deliver them one Saturday afternoon as a “surprise blessing”.
I imagined we would drive up, the children and their parents would come running out, eager to receive the material blessings, and they would ask us why we were there and we could tell them about Jesus and we’d all live happily ever after!
Talk about idealism.
Here’s how it really went down:
A car full of white people drove up to their house. When we got there, a group of men were out front in lawn chairs hanging out, drinking a case of Budweiser. We got out to greet them and ask for the father by name. A man quickly left to go into the backyard and everyone else acted as if they had no idea who the man was. We then went inside to greet the mother. Again, eager for the hugging and appreciation, we told her who we were and why we were there. She stood quiet, in her kitchen, almost with her head hung low as we brought in bags of groceries and a giant Christmas tree. The children came running out of their room so excited to see us, and then stood there and watched with their mother as we brought in bag after bag, gift after gift, in awkward silence. We tried to make small talk and get to know them, but between my broken Spanish and their broken English, it was just well, awful.
We drove away, and I looked I at my husband and said, “that felt weird. Why was that so weird? Why did the dad run away from us?”
To which my husband said “we just humiliated him in front of his friends and entire family.”
My heart split in two. Because he was right.
I had no idea how disrespectful and humiliating something like this must be for a father. And we not only did it to him, but right in front of friends and his own children.
In that moment, I changed my mind about the whole “adopt a family” Christmas giving thing. I realized that is a very awful way to actually love someone in Christ for several reasons.
#1 It’s prideful. “Here we are! Rich white people are here to save you and give you everything and you can call us your heroes!”
#2 It’s disrespectful. We had not thought about how these parents might feel about “receiving” this unexpected blessing. Or how it made them feel to know they were less fortunate than us and if we bring them stuff, they’ll feel better.
#3 It’s materialistic. It’s assuming that the “poor” are the people who can’t afford stuff. And our western way says the way to help the poor is by giving them stuff.
#4 It’s unhelpful. Things like this really just make us feel better about ourselves. We post pictures of the “poor” family we blessed that Christmas and share it with everyone to boost our ego. When in reality, if we were standing next to them inline at the grocery store, we’d have no idea who they were.
So this experienced changed everything for me. It made me realize that while the giving may seem good, we may even have good intentions, it’s a little bit of a blind spot in our culture’s eyes as to what is really helpful and encouraging.
It’s also changed the idea of “Mission Christmas” for my church as well. Why not empower the parents themselves to buy gifts and be the heroes rather than the rich white people from a different neighborhood?
SO some things to think about this holiday season as a way to be a blessing . . .
Is your giving/outreach helpful or hurtful?
Does it foster relational health between others or tension?
Is your giving really about blessing someone else or making you feel better?
Is there a different way besides materialism that you can bless someone?
Is there a way to give that promotes dignity rather than shame?
Do you have a relationship with the person you are giving to? What if the better way to bless is not with presents, but with presence?
These are things I will be asking of myself as I give this holiday season. And LORD forgive me of my pride, my distorted thinking, of what a “blessing” truly is. Knowing that in this Christmas season, you LORD Jesus are the greatest Gift of all.
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1-4)
“ For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)
*For more resources on how giving can be helpful, rather than hurtful, check out these books and articles:
“When Helping Hurts” by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
“Compassion, Justice, and the Christian Life” by Robert D. Lupton
Kim Feil’s book review on “Toxic Charity” by Robert D. Lupton