Should we give locally or internationally?

By Blogger Daryl Geffken

Daryl Geffken

I used to work with middle school students. One of the things I’ve realized over the years is many people seem to look for this age group to be immature, lazy, selfish or otherwise incapable of engaging society in a positive manner. I used to tell my students to never make it easy for others to stereotype them. Given this, you may or may not be able to imagine my frustration at a comment after an article was published in the news a few years back. The article highlighted the efforts of our junior high ministry, which had fasted for 30 hours, raised $30,000 (one of the largest amounts in the nation) for World Vision, and served alongside eight local ministries. The comment was this: why should we care for those elsewhere when there is so much need in our own community? It seemed this comment negated the importance and value of the students’ efforts.

Over the past 13 years I have engaged in regular work with impoverished and marginalized people. In a lot of places: Spokane, Seattle, Bremerton, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Tijuana and Northern Kenya. Locally, I have been a part of organizations with long-standing relationships with Cup of Cool WaterUTF (Under the Freeway), Mission Community PresEn ChristoAlberta HouseUnion Gospel Mission and Catholic Charities.  I have worked with World Vision International and their United States division in a variety of ways. I have succeeded and failed in implementing local service opportunities for teens and their mentors, researched local and global disparity and the systems that enable it to continue. I am eager to see a decrease in the opportunity gap everywhere.

Why am I bringing this up? To shed light on my background before I raise the following question: Why is it that seemingly every time I raise issues of global disparity one of the first responses is a reminder that poverty exists here in Spokane (or wherever else I was living at the time), often with the suggestion that local needs should be prioritized above all else? Is it a perceived need for fair airtime, or something else?

Women struggling with poverty in India/Flickr photo by s_w_ellis

Personally, I don’t get it. I don’t get the comparative statements; I don’t get the advocacy that says here is better than there, or vice versa. I’m being sincere when I say that I would like to learn from other viewpoints. To answer my question, some have pointed to the progression of Acts 1:8 as if there was some normative sequencing or priority to sharing God’s love with people based on location confuses me. The statistics for both areas regarding growing disparity in nearly every part of the world point to resource distribution, levels of involvement and apathy that are disgusting and unnecessary. They are still only statistics, however. Stories drive action. Stories provide a connection point.  I have been with people as they garbage pick for dinner in Spokane, Seattle, San Francisco, Tijuana and Kenya. I can’t say any of those experiences was more palatable for my psyche than the other. More importantly, I can’t say one person’s suffering and stolen dignity has less value than another, near or far.

I suggest there is a responsibility for those of us with the ability to access this post. We have a responsibility for local service and global impact. Yes, both. We cannot escape the globalization of our local living, which means that we are complicit in what is occurring beyond our region, state or nation (if you believe those human boundaries are still applicable). Likewise, we cannot live with integrity if we care for “the world” but ignore the needs of our local community.  Actively loving others, whether distant or local shows us that we are connected to and responsible for one another.

It seems for students, at least, getting them out of their comfort zone and away from the familiarity and distractions of their daily lives allows them to engage with others in a whole new capacity. For some, this can be a one-time foray into the world of the underprivileged. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the summarizing thought, “I’m just so grateful for how blessed I am!” As if that is the intent of the experience. For me, these experiences serve two goals: first, a milestone that points to a location and moment in time that God is real and at work in human life. Second, a training event that shows students what they do in one location can be continued on in their lives. As we prepare to leave we begin the work of bridging the context. Bringing them home and pointing to avenues that we might have overlooked earlier; places where we can connect and learn and contribute.

I must engage poverty and disparity. I must decrease the opportunity gap. There is an element of this I can touch: local people, local ministries and local political systems. There is an element that is more distant: people, ministries and political systems. These arenas have different needs and different solutions, and that must be respected. Some will be drawn closer to one arena than another based on their experience and their connection with the stories of others. But, I’m curious, is it unreasonable to expect action in both?

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13 responses to “Should we give locally or internationally?

  1. I think getting anyone to do anything these days is a miracle and anyone who deflaits enthusiasm for allieviateing suffering is shooting themselves in the foot. Goodness extended is better for all…abroad and at home. There’s plenty to complain about, decry, be dissilutioned with or point at that is wrong in this world. $30,000 is amazing and should be celebrated.

    I think most criticism comes from stingy folks that would rather tear down than build up. The devil always has an abundance of advocates.

    That said, I think there is also alot of biblical and logical thought to the idea that humanity often steps over what is right in front of them on the way to ‘worship or witness’ somewhere else.

    The biggest idea of Jesus, and the most radical was that the Kingdom of God was in…their midst.

    There is something deeply difficult about contextualizing my life in God into the actual life I am living day to day. There is something afoot within us and without us that wants to project the mission…out there. It’s more exciting to go somewhere and do something than it is to ‘be’ something.

    We are a globe trotting world now and the emerging generations can be everywhere at once and yet can struggle with being present in the moment.

    We all grow cold to the need around us and that is one reason why there will always be need for apostles. People who are sent…people who go. Becasue we humble folk always tend to lose interest in our neighbors untill someone shows up that seems to love them more than we are doing.

    It’s God’s provoking plan at work.

    It’s not either or…its both, in my mind. In today’s world we can do all the above…help local and extralocal. Live it and go do it.

  2. Well said, Eric. Here’s the ten million dollar statement: “It’s more exciting to go somewhere and do something than it is to ‘be’ something.” Holistic loving of God and loving of others is very, very hard to find. Thanks for your response. How is hunting for a new coffee shop going?

  3. No, it is not unreasonable to expect love lived out in action both here and there. Thanks for the reminder that living in mission is never about me and my blessing. That conversation will likely come up next week and the weeks that follow. The Kingdom of God is indeed in our midst. Thanks for expressing the deep reaches of your heart.

  4. Mike, thanks for your comment. I will be praying for you all this upcoming week and beyond. I’ll miss driving those roads with you!

    Love God, love others

  5. Why couldn’t we focus on all fronts? Think the question in internally flawed when it draws a line in the metaphorical sand to pick one or another. Our focus can be on many fonts, as you have demonstrated so well with your walk in life. We can raise money, support, awareness, and any other method of action that may be required by individuals or organizations to help love others.
    Maybe the focus shouldn’t be on those who are least likely to donate their time or money to uganda but rather on the ones who are called to do just the opposit.
    I agree with you that our society tends to focus on the here and think that the there is for another day but there are also many others in the same social element that have chosen to take on the “there” with passion, persistence and a Godly diligence.
    In closing, the calling that Christ has blessed us with can be used for the greatness of his kingdom, to reach others, both local and international. I think some are called to use their resourses and blessings in one way while others are called to use them in differnent ways. While still others (those without the fullness of Chirst) are called (unknowingly) to be examples of what the world really is and why we as Christians are called to be generous with our talents, time and resourses.
    Well done Sir.

    • Ben, thanks for the props. I think that holding up the positive examples is one of the best routes to change, and then bridging their reality to the reality of others who are not currently involved. Hope you are well!

  6. booksflutterby

    I have a friend who’s a missionary in Paraguay. When I mentioned this to a couple of people, their response was something along the lines of, “Good for her, but what has she done for people here in her own country?” Well, plenty. Where shall I begin?

    My friend has felt called to serve people in whatever U.S. city she lived in at the time and in foreign lands (various countries in Africa as well as Paraguay). She’s done both. I’ve felt called to serve the city I live in, but I’ll give to organizations that help other countries. In my opinion it isn’t an “either/or” thing. Need knows no boundaries.

    I know for some people it is one or the other. That’s fine as long as you don’t discount what someone else is doing to help others, simply because it isn’t what you’ve chosen to do. Help is needed locally and worldwide. I’m thankful different people are called to serve different populations. Imagine if we all felt as if we should be serving only our own city. How many people in other places would be hungry, thirsty, without homes, jobless, etc? Reverse that and imagine what our cities would be like without all the wonderful hearts who help those in need locally. Both types of servants are needed.

    • Thanks, much. The aspect of valuing the efforts of others seems key in what you are posting. Clearly, people are connected to their passion by their relationship and story-sharing with others.

  7. I agree with “booksflutterby” in that I believe our call is not an “either/or” but a “both/and.” Having said that, I remember when at 20 I moved from my hometown of about 2600 people to Washington, DC and in short order became very aware of poverty and homelessness. In a phone call about three months into my new life there, I naively asked my mom, “How come we don’t have homeless people in places like Raymond?” She gently replied with, “Think about that” and proceeded to remind me of a few elderly men we knew only by local monikers as opposed to their real names much less their real and personal stories. It was another year before I returned for a visit, but it was remarkable to me that I began to see what poverty looks like on the whole as opposed to being a “big city” or “out there” sort of concern. And it changed everything about my faith and life journeys as I engaged in human and social services as a sizable element of my unfolding ministry. Without minimizing the story of Jesus who implied he couldn’t go home and be heard as the Messiah/teacher he was, I think we are called to go where we must to have our eyes (physical and soulful) opened to what it is our hands, our feet, our minds, and our hearts can do to live into “Thy Kingdom come on earth as it IS in heaven…,” not as it will be.

  8. I think along the lines of “booksflutterby,” that our call and response to serve–to love God and our neighbors–is not an “either/or” but rather a “both/and.” Daryl’s words reflect conversations we get to hold frequently as we see many in our local communities struggle and know that in far away places, there remain deep needs as well. The post also reminded me of a shift in my own thinking years ago when at 20 I moved from my rural hometown of 2600 to Washington, DC. I found myself surrounded with visible struggles of poverty and homelessness that I had never imagined. In a call to my mom at about three months into my life there, I asked, “Why do you think we don’t have such poor people in Raymond?” She gently responded with “Think carefully” and then reminded me of a few people we knew only by local monikers, not knowing them by their given names and knowing nothing about their stories. A year later I returned for a first visit “home” after 15 months in DC, and I saw so much more than I had ever seen while growing up and living there. My faith and life journeys changed significantly because I moved away and then upon return visits, I could see things so much differently. Mostly I’ve realized for me that in ministry I am called to love God and love my neighbors, to serve in such a way that we live into the prayer Jesus taught, that God’s kingdom would come to earth as it IS in heaven, not as it will be. So, long and short of it, serve where you are … serve where you are called. It’s all for the good of loving the Holy and those created in the image of the Blessed Presence.

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