Beggars and Bell Ringers

Salvation Army bell ringers are hardly thought of as ‘beggars,’ but a recent city council resolution in my city aimed at aggressive panhandlers in our downtown area has also limited how this worthy charity can ask for money.  Begging, it seems, is going to be regulated, at least in my town.

On my journey back to the US last week, I was in the airport in Brussels waiting for a shuttle bus to take me to another terminal when I found myself overhearing an animated conversation between a young ‘missionary family’ from the US, on their way back to Africa and an American couple on a vacation in Europe for the holidays.  Without being overtly rude, I listened with interest as the young missionary (presumably from an evangelical background) began to generalize the US as not caring about the world’s poorest people since we have the wealth to ignore them.

This is hardly a new argument, and in fact, the “my country sucks because we’re wealthy and the rest of the world is poor” mentality is almost viral when young, idealistic American kids go to the developing world for the first time.

After 38 trips to the African continent (and I actually lost count of all my overseas trips, including India several times, the Middle East, and elsewhere) I just can’t “hate” my country when I return home.

In fact, last year, according to the Charity Aid Foundation in the UK, the US became the most generous country in the world (rising from 5th place the previous year).  We gave over $200 billion to help the rest of the world last year.  That’s a lot of money coming from evil, consumer-driven capitalists!

At the same time, however, the challenge for us is to begin to give smarter!  A few years ago, I had the opportunity to write a book review for a national Christian magazine.  The book was titled, “When helping hurts,” which tackles the tough issues of unintentional dependency that results from well-intentioned, but non-strategic giving.

Generally, I don’t give to street beggars while in Africa – this might sound terrible, but the reality is, if I did, I would still be on the same street in Liberia because the line of beggars would still be there!  I give – both of my own money and my time and energy (as well as other people’s money since I work with a non-profit that asks all of you for money!) in ways that can help these folks develop a sustainable future beyond begging.

Think about your giving – is it ‘feel-good-motivated,’ or is it strategic?

And, throw in a few extra bucks into the Salvation Army kettle – they can use it!




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