It was a bit shocking the other day, to hear another missionary telling a church, “We don’t do handouts!” Shocking, but absolutely spot-on.
Christ said, “The truth shall set you free.” Handouts, on the contrary, lead to dependency, not freedom. So we don’t do handouts.
We empower people. We teach them how to use the gifts God gave them, to improve their lives and free them and their children. If we help them learn to read, they can then learn to be free from AIDS, or a fear of AIDS. When they build their own water collection system, and their own water filter, it frees them from disease and from trudging miles to a dirty pond for water. They can raise healthier animals and better gardens, and make a better life for their family.We empower them by working with them to use the resources they already have.
If we gave them water filters, we might have a moment’s contact, from a benefactor to a supplicant. That’s not a good relationship for either person. The real need is not for filters or tanks, but for learning, and learning is a two-way street. When we work together to build a filter or a bottle-brick cistern, we all learn, we all have something to offer, and we all build relationships. When we have finished, the people who have built the filter or the tank or have learned to read can go back to their home and teach their neighbors to do the same.
We have certain principles which we use as a measuring stick, a canon in the classical sense, for choosing the work we will do in the community. This is the first: Can local people do this with materials they have or can afford? Put another way, will they need something from elsewhere (America, for example) or money from elsewhere in order to do this again? The answer must be that they can do this with their own resources, or it is not a worthy offering to them. Each thing we do must free them from being dependent; must enable them to help themselves and their neighbors.