From Charity to Community . . .

A lot of us give money and send stuff to “those in need” because we are touched by the stats we read in newspapers or the stories of human suffering we hear about in church. The problem is that statistics and news stories don’t move us to love; at it’s best it leaves us with feelings of guilt, or even fear. You need human contact to truly experience empathy and share a true sense of love.

There is a difference between charity and community - and in this context I mean the typical feel-good-hand-out type of charity versus compassionate caring community with those in need.

Charity is not unique to the church (everybody does charity, even the bowling club down the road). The church can do more, we can do community.

The alternative to "throwing crumbs to the poor" is not to throw chunks of bread, but to share a meal. To eat together. The homeless, the lonely, the poor and the suffering needs more than charity, they need a presence - Gods people to connect and to at least try to understand.

The number one negative emotion in most kids that come our way at the ECHO Community seems to be a deep sense of loneliness. Even after basic things like physical hunger has been addressed, a dark shadow of spiritual emptiness seems to prevail. You can often see it in their eyes.

A house isn’t necessarily a home and even the best meal doesn’t satisfy the deepest hunger. Kids need more than something, they need someone. Charity alone just doesn’t cut it.

Presence makes the difference.

Handing out blankets on a cold night or canned food to the hungry isn’t wrong (it’s better than doing nothing!), but while you’re putting in the effort, why not catch the whole compassion-bug? Wouldn’t it be great if in the process of handing out charity, long-term relationships could be established?

5 Core differences between the charity and the caring community:

· Something vs Someone: Jesus didn't send us stuff, He came himself (Phil 2:5-11). God didn’t only send us gifts and tools to sort out our mess, He gave us a Person to join us in our struggle - Presence. We should do the same.

· Short term vs Long term: There are sometimes great and often badly needed short-term benefits coming out of charity, but in the long term, charity without community tends to sustain dependency and poverty (often with the only long-term “positive” outcome the rich feels better about themselves). Don’t be surprised if short-term initiatives have only short-term outcomes.

· Guilt vs Love: My definition of charity is: giving a homeless guy a blanket on a cold winter night so that YOU can sleep better. Community, on the other hand, allows for the pains of real empathy. Where charity is often guilt driven, community is driven by understanding and love.

· Handing-out vs Sharing: It’s not so much about having a soup kitchen or not, but there is a core difference between just handing out food and sharing a meal. When caring is not handing-down but sharing (community), it has a way of making people feel human again, restoring their dignity. Caring works best when the "carer" is also in it for the learning - acknowledging his or her own need to grow.

· From a position of power vs From a position of vulnerability: Charity often happens over a distance from a position of comfort and security. Community makes you vulnerable, it demands a certain level of intimacy with those in need. We are called to move into the world of others – as Jesus did. One does not declare love by shouting from a distance, but by whispering up close. Our message of love will only be heard, when we are close enough to hurt. There is no love without risk, it is only believable when it is vulnerable. That is the message of the cross.

Shane Claiborne said the great tragedy of the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor.

Should individuals and businesses never donate food or money? No they should, but there should be a greater emphasis on supporting projects with a community character and less on sponsoring feel good charity hand-outs. It also implies that if you follow Jesus you can no longer hide behind the charitable endeavours of your business or church, you have to get involved in some way with someone on a personal level.

There is something beautiful, when a professor becomes the friend of a street child; when a business executive starts making friends in the squatter camp - it's good for both. Imagine what it would be like if every Christian in South Africa would make a long-term community type commitment with (even only) one person in need.

A lot of people are very passionate about Jesus. They wear Jesus merchandise, listen to Jesus music and have “Jesus is Lord” bumper stickers. They have a passion FOR Jesus. Few though, share the passion OF Jesus. His passion was people - He gave His life for them!

We are called to do more than just remember what He did and quote the words He said. Discipleship implies doing what He did.

While charity might have a place in society, we as followers of Christ are called to journey deeper. We are called as his body to carry His presence into the dark lonely spaces of human suffering.

Not only to hand out, but to connect.

Not only to send a light, but to be the light.

Not only to give hope, but to be hope.


Jaco Strydom


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