Giving and the Holidays

It’s about a week till Christmas and everyone is in a veritable frenzy of activity. A brief look at my Facebook newsfeed reveals the parties, shopping, exams, and other things people are trying to get done so they can enjoy themselves come that special day. One thing that is hardly ever mentioned however is the topic of money. And I’m not just talking about all the gifts that are being bought. This time of the year is vitally important for charities of all stripes who are desperately trying to meet their bottom lines before the year is out. People are most generous this time of year and of course you can make sure you get that nice tax break if you write your checks in time. As someone who has raised a small, if significant sum of money over the past three years to fund my time overseas as a missionary, I can say money is a dicey subject. As a Christian I think it is even tougher to deal with.

Firstly is the idea of tithing, that is giving ten percent of all you earn to some  type of charity, or commonly, your church. This rather basic Biblical, Christian concept of giving  is surprisingly not well known or ignored in my experience. I remember a few years back explaining tithing to a good non-Christian friend of mind. He couldn’t wrap his mind around it. 10%? of every paycheck? That is a lot of money! I forget what he thought might be appropriate but he was probably thinking that 1-3% would be more tolerable. Christians are expected to give a larger piece of their money than many in society. I realize many secular folk give much more than 10% and many Christians simply don’t tithe, but this has been a big part of my experience so it bears mentioning.

Secondly, is the number of people who are asking you for money. Around the time I started fundraising for my year in South Africa, it seemed like tons of my Christian friends were getting into short-term missions as well. It seemed like every month I was getting a new letter or email for someone’s trip. Some of these people were just acquaintances, but many were close and dear friends. I really wanted to support them all in doing something meaningful and also similar to what I was doing, but how? You can’t give money to everyone right?

Recently there was a good op-ed in the NY Times about giving and how to be careful of shady organizations that use more money for overhead than whatever their “work” is. Each major religion was singled out but it was especially troubling for me to see big “Christian” organizations misusing peoples funds.

My first major point of this entry is being charitable need not mean being stupid. Do your research. Give to organizations, ministries, and people who you trust and care for.  My second point might seem a bit contradictory but it hit home for me so I think it is worth noting. Best advice I ever recieved about giving is as follows,

“Just once give money away without forethought. Just do it without any planning or concern or care.”

Now again, I don’t think the point of this was to be stupid and unwise with your money. Supporting a bad charity or group does nobody any good. However I think the underlying point is incredibly sound. The work of charities, organizations, ministries, schools etc. is vastly more important than my own material well-being. To be able to live without a constant thought or care for money I think is an incredible blessing and very difficult for those of us living in the relative wealth and comfort of America. I know I am not there yet by a long shot. But if I could leave you with one thing this holiday season it is this: the money you give away will do far more good than any amount you keep over the course of your life.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and have a blessed New Year!

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Impact South Africa

Many of you know that I spent almost all of 2008 in South Africa. During this time I was an intern for the ministry Thrive Africa. It was an incredible year. If you want to see what I did there and the impact it had on my life you can check out my blog from that year at: http://mattinsouthafrica.blogspot.com/

Since I left in December 2008, Thrive Africa has experienced some unbelievably difficult pressures on their ability to operate their ministry. The most obvious is the economic downturn that hit the states. Thrive Africa relies almost solely on generous donations from and partnerships with people and churches in North America. If the donations stop, Thrive will shut down. It’s that simple. And lately the money has been drying up. They have started a capital campaign to raise $80,000 by this summer. You can get all the lowdown at: http://www.impactsouthafrica.com/

Let me be very clear. I believe in Thrive. I believe in its vision, its mission, its leadership and what it is doing and it is without a doubt effective. These guys aren’t out there helping poor people to make themselves feel better. They are attempting to change the face of a nation and thereby a continent with life changing spiritual and leadership education. And to my knowledge they are the only long-term organization doing this in a township area of roughly 2 million people. You can find out more information about thrive at: wwwthriveafrica.com

This is bigger than just keeping a few North Americans in Africa. Thrive employs over 50 nationals on a full-time basis. In a country with an unemployment rate of nearly 25% this is a big deal. They teach thousands of students every year in local schools about important and taboo topics such as leadership, purpose, sex and AIDS. I personally visited an orphanage on a weekly basis when I was there. I was able to watch kids grow and learn as we spent time, played, taught and loved them.

If the money stops, if this capital campaign fails, all that is over.

I am a competitive person. When I am part of something it becomes my team. I want to see it succeed and do well (you could even say “thrive.” I’m sorry I couldn’t contain myself.) This was true when I was doing high school sports, collegiate sports, with ESI now, and of course with Thrive. Four of my fellow interns are long term staff with them now. I want them to be able to fufill their calling from God with Thrive.

What can you do? Pray and Give. The websites above indicate how. I know many of you don’t have the personal experience I have had at Thrive so you have to trust me on this but please. Give. It will truly make all the difference. Can you imagine what it must feel like having a vision to change a country and the only obstacle is money? The soil is fertile, the workers are there and continuing to come. All that is needed is the senders. To help with this campaign Thrive has recently set up an online store where you can buy, amongst other things, African-grown fair-trade coffee. Proceeds go to Thrive. You may not care about South Africa. You may not KNOW about South Africa. But I bet someone in your life likes good coffee. Check out http://www.thriveafricastore.com/

This is important. And you can help. Give to Thrive Africa today.