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Three views on giving money to the poor

BMS World Mission workers explain how they deal with this issue

Bethan and Gareth Shrubsole, BMS mission workers in Uganda, met Fred three years ago when they hired him to do some metal work. During the project he suffered a stroke which left one side of his body paralysed. Two years later Fred returned and he has asked the Shrubsoles for money nearly every week for a year.

This is just one example of a difficult situation many BMS World Mission workers face. What do you do when someone living in poverty asks for money?

The Bible does give answers to this question. In Matthew 25: 35-40, Jesus explains that acts of kindness done for the most humble in this world are done for him. Bethan and Gareth had these verses on their minds whenever Fred asked for help, so their answer was always yes.

'The Holy Spirit loves to keep tugging and making us better people despite our best efforts,' says Bethan.

There are, however, arguments against giving the poor money whenever they ask. One reason is that this approach is not sustainable. Another is that once money becomes a factor in a relationship, it can change the power dynamics.

'There is a fine line between reciprocity and exploitation,' says BMS Manager for Mission Partnerships Steve Sanderson.

Brian and Lydia English, BMS workers in Thailand, see more of the latter along the Thailand-Burma border. Children are sent out by their parents to beg. Some do so with babies they have rented, knowing that they will receive more money with the infant. The Thai government has recently passed a law that allows children found begging to be arrested and placed in state orphanages.

'We don’t want to perpetuate a system that could potentially lead these kids to being taken away from their families,' says Lydia. For this reason, and because the BMS partner organisation they work with prohibits giving money, Brian and Lydia give food and encourage families to send their children to the local immigrant school instead of begging.

BMS mission worker in Peru Laura-Lee Lovering believes that 'Christians are obliged to engage with the person in front of them and their need in one way or another, not just say ‘God bless you’, and walk away.' Laura-Lee gives money, food or medicine when she is able, but she has had mixed experiences with giving to those in her community. One woman has repaid every loan in full while another has not returned any of the money she received.

The Bible also deals with the thorny issue of loans and repayment. In Luke 6: 34-35, Jesus tell us not to loan money with the expectation of it being repaid, and then in Matthew 5: 42, he says not to turn away from those who ask to borrow money.

'We have been thinking a lot about what the kingdom of God is like and on what he would like his kingdom to be,' says Tim Darby, a BMS mission worker in Uganda. 'We never had a policy on giving or lending before, but when we looked into these verses we were challenged in our attitudes.'

Many of the people who asked the Darbys for money wanted loans to pay for school fees. Though they were cautious at first, they have chosen to help those who ask. 'We need to realise that this is one of the reasons we are here – to bring good news and kingdom living to the poor and marginalised.'

There are no simple answers to the big question of whether or not we should give to those asking for money.

'As followers of Jesus we want to respond to the needs of those in our communities who we regularly encounter,' says Steve Sanderson. 'It is often part of the complex reality of establishing relationships.

'However, in doing so, we face the issue of only alleviating their immediate problem without addressing their context of poverty. This is the value of organisations like BMS, because we aim to relieve the suffering of the community as a whole by tackling the causes and consequences of poverty.'

Please pray for those living in poverty around the world and the mission workers searching for the best way to help those they are serving. Donate today to BMS World Mission to address the root causes of poverty and suffering, as well as the symptoms. 

This article first appeared on the website of BMS World Mission and is used with permission 

Photo credit: Foto_Michel on Flickr


BMS World Mission, 24/11/2014
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