In November, along with Bishop Sid and Kathy Haugen, I visited our partner church in Argentina—the Iglesia Evangelica Luterana Unida (IELU). In part the visit was to continue to strengthen our partnership relationship, but it was also to fulfill a fiduciary responsibility to make sure the funds we have sent to support ministry were spent as reported.
One of the visits we made was to the congregation of San Juan Bautista in Comodoro. The community of Comodoro was hit by major flooding a couple years ago and the church was in the part of the city most devastated by the water and mud, leaving them with three feet of mud to clear out of the church.
Surrounding communities responded to the disaster by sending clothing; bags and bags of clothing. The problem was that the congregation hadn’t even finished cleaning their building. As they were able they began sorting clothing in the space available but were overwhelmed by the task and the fact that they had no system to get clothing to people in need. In the end, the donations rather than alleviating hardship became themselves a burden to a strained community.
That’s why when the devastating fires took place in Fort McMurray, we didn’t ask for donations of material goods. We collected money through Canadian Lutheran World Relief. Working with the synod and local partnerships, we found ways to meet the needs of the community in ways that did not overwhelm them or add further burdens to their already overloaded systems.
In Deuteronomy 26:1–2 we read: When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name.
Here there is an understanding that the gifts that you share are to be from your best. Giving thanks to God with offerings to the church or to those in need is to be a first response.
What does it mean then when we give what we do not want or what we feel is disposable instead of giving our best? What does it mean if we give only after all of our needs are taken care of? How generous is our generosity? How can we make sure that our gifts or our help is appropriate to the needs and capacity of those in need?
I don’t pretend to have all the answers. But here are some things I try to practice in my generosity.
I decide at the beginning of the year what my tithe will be and how I will distribute it. I don’t let additional personal expenses pull me off course. In this way I try to keep God first. When emergencies come up, I make an extra gift, above my tithe.
When I give a material gift the first question I ask is, “Would I like to receive this?” If I wouldn’t use the item in question, I don’t give it to charity.
Finally, wherever possible I prefer to send cash to recognized agencies who will evaluate how to use the money to address real needs that won’t burden those in need. I trust them to purchase locally rather than pay to ship my materials to another country.
How generous is your generosity? What are you doing to grow into the generous disciple God is calling you to be?
National Bishop Susan Johnson
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada