Magazines, websites, newspapers, and maybe even church newsletters are already publishing their Recommended Charities Guide for the holidays. One of my favorite magazines recommends Ten Charities Worth Your Charity – with a list of nonprofits ranging from organizations fighting hunger and poverty to scholarships. The point is to match your personal interests (saving rain forests, saving stray animals, etc.) with solidly managed organizations: combining “Scrooge’s fiscal discipline with Saint Nick’s generosity.” Right.
I get that many of us want to offer our support to far away needs – especially when we see footage of post-Sandy destruction in NY or Haiti, and we don’t happen to live in NY or Haiti. But one of the problems with sending money only to those faraway, well-publicized places of need is that we can merely write a check or text a quick $10, feel good about ourselves, and then put the need out of our minds. This is not what Jesus was talking about when he charged his followers to care of the naked and hungry.
Yes, give to those faraway places of need, but give even more to the local needs in your particular neighborhood and community. And how do you find out what those needs might be?
HERE’S MY PITCH FOR THE INSTITUTIONAL CHURCH:
The Issue – All of our communities have social needs. There are refugees in some of our towns who need sheets and towels. There are students in our local schools who need winter coats. There are men in area homeless shelters who need socks and underwear. There are women in safe houses who need toiletries and work clothes.
The Bigger Issue – If we cannot personally name those needs in our communities then we are blind at best and merciless at worst. Or maybe we are just in our own personal bubble.
The Biggest Issue – If we are a faith community in a neighborhood/town/suburb/city and we do not personally know the needs of those in our local area, then we are missing the point, unless the point of our existence is to love ourselves first and foremost.
If you want to help your neighborhood, connect with a church.
Attention churches: if someone comes through your doors this week and says, “I would like to do something to help our neighborhood,” what will you have to offer that person? Note: Please don’t invite them to come to a New Members Class.
In two weeks, Thanksgiving will be over and Christmas Eve is a mere six weeks away. What if we committed to serving the specific needs of our neighbors before writing checks or texting donations or jumping into a service project we think would be fun – whether it’s needed or not. (**It’s important to ask what is needed before taking action. Many homeless shelters are inundated with cute child-sized winter gloves this season, when what they really need are wool socks for men or shampoo for the group bathrooms.)
Check out I Live Here, I Give Here based in Austin for ways one city decided to serve locally. We in the church could learn from this organization.