A few months ago we were switching my office in our apartment with the guest bedroom to prepare for our intern named Lauren to arrive and have more space for her bedroom. As we were doing so, I put the books on my small bookshelf into a box to make migrating them to the new office much easier, and to make the bookshelf lighter when we carried it, mostly.
That’s when I noticed a big honking King James Translation of the Bible I had never noticed before. Since I never bought nor did I recollect ever receiving one, I just assumed Lili must have brought it with her into our marriage.
I asked her where she got it, since the name on the inside was not hers. She told me how years ago there was a mission team here that she helped serve alongside, and the team left behind a lot of items for her and the other Peruvians they ministered with. She also told me she’s never read it or used it.
I tried not to laugh.
Not because my wife’s English is stellar (she’s not embarrassed to admit that it’s not). But because knowing how obviously her English must not have been good back then, so why would a gringo (foreigner to Peru) even think of giving her a King James Bible as a gift knowing it would not really do her a lot of good?
I couldn’t help but think to myself “what on earth were these Westerners thinking? Not to mention this Bible was clearly well-used, and if it’s in a form of English that even the average English speaker doesn’t understand, why would it be useful to a Peruvian who’s still learning the language?
Using Charitable “Giving” to Throw Away Your Junk
My thoughts were stirred up about these kinds of things again when not too long ago, a missionary friend of mine who works for a state-side organization posted on Facebook that someone had left a box of basically junk on their doorstep. I can’t remember each item he listed, but one was a manual for a piece of software from 2003 that wouldn’t even work or be up to date if installed on a more modern Windows PC.
His Facebook status offended a few people who went the route of “God knows these people’s hearts and that they mean well.” But those of us frequently on the receiving end of junk that people could have just thrown away themselves understand this all too well. I mean come on, if it’s useless to you because it’s useless, period, then why is it suddenly OK to give it to an organization or to missions or even directly to a poor person? Please don’t guilt trip a mission or charitable organization for “not being grateful” for the junk you could have thrown away, but instead gave them the extra task of throwing away for you.
Do that yourself.
I know this topic hits a nerve with some because I saw a post in my Facebook newsfeed and when I shared it through my author page and have seen it get a lot of likes and re-shares than anything I’ve ever shared or re-posted. That and I’ve been reading through a lot of the comments the author has gotten on the post.
Here’s a piece that hit me:
“Why do we give others-often those in service to the poor or the poor themselves-something we wouldn’t keep or give ourselves?
Somehow collecting clothes for immigrants has become the perfect opportunity to get rid of stuff we don’t want and gathering baby items for new moms is the perfect excuse to toss out stained and worn clothing we wouldn’t dare use again. I’ve packed suitcases with beautiful donations, but mostly I’ve pilfered through piles of junk donated in the name of Jesus.
It’s time to stop giving our crap to the poor.”
Jesus said whatever we do for the least of these we do for Him. Would we give him the junk we give to the poor instead of throwing away?
Steve, this is all great but you don’t know whether the phone given away at the beginning of that article was working well before it got to that nation. Sometimes things get broken or damaged.
This is true, and entirely possible. But the point the author was making was about the attitude that people would be happy to give a gringo missionary an expensive new iPhone, but not waste it on a poor African.
Or what about when agencies are supposed to vet the items that are donated so that only the most useful are given to those in need?
Well, when I once worked in a plastics factory, during my shift I was tasked with taking the product out of the machine, checking it for defects and throwing away the ones that were useless. Then, I’d package the ones that were good to go. Rinse and repeat for eight hour shifts. Someone else in quality control would take my boxes and go through them by hand just in case I missed one and it got through. I didn’t just throw every part into the box and say “well, someone else is just going to check these anyway”.
Let’s not use “donations” as a way to dump our obvious garbage. Let’s not donate completely unusable items, thinking that having less money means one will accept anything. Or that “someone else sorts through them anyway”.
We Don’t Need To Give the Newest and Best Gadgets, But Ones That Carry a Charge Would Be a Good Start
My problem is not about if something isn’t the newest model, but I have removed floppy disks (do you even remember what those are?) and software for programs that haven’t been used since the 90s out of goodwill donation packages. You know, stuff that NO computer from the last decade is even equipped to use anymore. But yet someone “with good intentions” felt like giving these away to the poor.
Like I said, it’s not about if something is the ‘best’ or the newest. But what about the dignity of those receiving our junk? Jesus said whatever we do unto the least of these, we do unto Him. Could you look Him in the eye and hand him stuff from your throwaway pile?
Like the author of the post says,
The poor may not have wealth, but they have dignity. I’ve met people without electricity or running water who swept their dirt floors daily, pressed their clothes neatly, walked miles to work on muddy roads, dodging sewage and never had a speck of dirt on them. They value their own worth, we should too.
I couldn’t have said it any better, and I know these people over in Pacifico, our neighboring community as well who value the work they do in the same way.
Dignity is important and even dirt-poor mothers in developing nations work hard to keep their clothes clean, and that when you send throwaways, what does that communicate to them about their dignity? They work so hard to fight that feeling, and yet it comes flooding back when some well-meaning gringos offer their junk. I know people mean well when they say things like “what is trash to one man is treasure to another”, but seriously, if it’s trash to one person it’s probably trash to another as well.
Hear Me Out Before Throwing Your Rocks At Me
Now, I realize not everybody is going to appreciate where I’m coming from. Whether my words and motives here are misinterpreted or interpreted correctly but just vehemently disagreed with, here are a few things to consider. I admit I may be biased from having lived in a developing nation for over five years among people for whom the bulk of their possessions and clothing are donated. I have personal friends who wear clothes that are embarrassingly out of style (and have been for many years, maybe even decades) but well-meaning people have given them.
Did you know that in recent years the government of Peru made some changes to import/export laws and new and used vehicles that were imported into this nation could NOT be any older than 5 years old? The reason for this is that with Peru’s fast growing economy, the number of cars on the road expanded at a rate faster than the infrastructure has been able to handle and adapt to. As a result, the roads have gotten more and more crowded….with crappy throwaway cars. Cars that would not pass standard inspections in North America. Or here for that matter. A friend who explained this to me at the time said “Peru has become a junk yard for America’s old cars“.
I tried not to react when I heard that but I was embarrassed. Fortunately, this conversation was five years ago, and though the roads are even more crowded, there are also a lot of new cars on the road as well.
My mother, a pharmacist by career, told me that often times when medications reach their expiration date on the shelves in pharmacies in North America, guess what? They ship them to developing nations. Why on earth does something like medicine become not good enough for one person to take, but suddenly OK for someone else in a developing nation to take?
I have no idea, but my point is this: let’s stop treating the developing world like a garbage dump for the stuff we don’t want or that’s not good enough for us anymore.
I’ll close with the same proverb the author ended her article with,
“Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.”- Proverbs 19:17
In the meantime, I really wish I could encourage as many people as possible to read When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.
You can get the audiobook version FREE when you sign up for a 30 day trial at Audible. A membership gets you discounted prices on the book and credit to download one free book each month.
Click on the picture to get it or buy a copy directly from Amazon in the box next to it.
Blessings and fire on your head!