Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Why I am giving a goat for Christmas this year...

Picture this, a town in an arid dry region on Northern Africa, water is scarce and the area poorer than you can imagine. Everyone who can has already fled to the richer towns and cities looking for work leaving behind young children, women and old people. There seems to be little hope. Food is scarce hope seems scarcer still.
Then comes along a group of travellers who bring gifts from the children of their countries and start giving them out to the poor children in the town. It is like manna from heaven and the children are excited and happy.
The older folk get to hear and come along to see. The Elders talk they are not happy that their children should get things for free but it is difficult to say no. Times are hard and they are poor.
The travellers talk to the elders and say they are only there to help. The Elders nod, uncomfortable but in the light of such simple pleasures it seems churlish to send the travellers away.
The travellers say they would like to stay and help educate the children to become doctors and teachers and skilled workers who will help the impoverished community. The elders nod and say this would be a good idea because it is good. But what the elders do not realise is that their children, their future and their culture will be pushed aside and in return for providing this bounty the travellers will demand that the children become good Muslims. All because of a gift some children in a Muslim country thought they would like to share with others less fortunate themselves.
It’s only a story but it seems pretty scary to take advantage like that.
But what if I said that a Christian Charity looks to be doing the same thing in that it offers relief to peoples all round the world and then peddles its beliefs to the very people it has just helped whether they are Christian or not? Isn’t that taking advantage? Doesn’t it make you worry? What if I said it is happening now and that last year I participated in this unknowingly. What do you say then? Is it shocking still?
The web site for Operation Christmas Child with it’s shoebox appeal says quite rightly that “religious items are not on our suggested list of gifts to put into a shoebox, as we want to be sensitive to the indigenous culture where shoeboxes are distributed and we also want to place an emphasis on education and fun. However, we welcome appropriate items such as Christmas cards or Christmas colouring books”
It adds that: “Christian literature is sometimes distributed with the shoebox.”
However, on the web site for Samaritan’s Purse the charity behind Operation Christmas Child things start to get me concerned. Samaritans Purse says it is inspired by the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37), which it says gives a clear picture of God's desire for us to help those in desperate need wherever we find them. After describing how the Samaritan rescued a hurting man whom others had passed by, Jesus told His hearers, "Go and do likewise."
Samaritan’s Purse has done so in it’s own way for over 35 years, it says it has “done our utmost to follow Christ's command by going to the aid of the world's poor, sick, and suffering. We are an effective means of reaching hurting people in countries around the world with food, medicine, and other assistance in the Name of Jesus Christ. This, in turn, earns us a hearing for the Gospel, the Good News of eternal life through Jesus Christ.”
OK I can just about cope with that but it starts to make me uncomfortable. I explore the web site further and I read about Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, who heads up the charity. He has recently visited Asia and wrote in a Newsletter about his trip.
“In the Philippines, where typhoons brought floodwaters so high that people were forced to their roofs for safety, we worked hand-in-hand with the country’s Operation Christmas Child leadership team to bring emergency aid to over 70,000 people. More than 350 local believers were mobilized to distribute supplies alongside our staff. In some areas, flooding left thick, knee-deep mud in many houses. With our support, church volunteers did the back-breaking work of removing the muck and debris, so families could move back home.
“Our motivation is not just to help people,” said a volunteer. “We want them to see the Savior.”
By now I am very concerned. I continued to read.
“When the Indonesian city of Padang was rocked by two powerful earthquakes, Christians traveled from towns several hours away to work with our team to provide relief. They loaded trucks with food and other supplies and drove through the night to reach the affected communities.
Padang has a long tradition of hostility to the Gospel. In fact, many of the residents are proud that there is no church in the area. Our partners, however, are committed to bringing the light of Christ to this dark place.”
I am not saying that Samaritan’s Purse is not helping an awful lot of people. I know it is but I just wish they had made it perfectly clear that the shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child were used as a conduit to further their evangelical aims.
I am sorry I do not like to feel used. I do not want my children to be used to further an evangelical organisation whose aims are to bring the gospel to the indigenous locals even if they do not want it. It’s not just evangelical Christians it’s any religious groups Muslims, Hindus and jews.
I have an awful feeling I am going to be slammed for this post and I have no wish to unduly upset people. I prefer to have a clear view about the charities I support.
I am not doing a shoebox this year instead my family is giving a goat through Oxfam Unwrapped one that will last far longer than just one day.


menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Slammed for this article? Nope not a chance by me. This is how the British Empire was built by ‘well meaning’ people going off to ‘civilise the natives’ by bringing Christianity to their lives. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Dr Livingstone who is famous for discovering Africa tried to convert as many indigenous people as he could to Christianity thus destroying their own cultural and religious heritage to some extent. There was a dreadful arrogance by Christians then that this was a religion that had to be thrust upon people otherwise they were heathens. It seems that the practice continues and yes, converting people to organised religion in return for help seems to be very unchristian altogether. Help should be provided as a matter of course and not have conditions attached to it. Quite shameful really. Great post.

Arosebyanyothername said...

I am not going to slam you. I wholeheartedly agree with you, Tattie. Help in times of need should be given without any strings attached - whatever they may be. When people are stressed and need food, shelter and comfort they are at their most vulnerable and maybe not able to exercise judgement about the other 'gifts' offered.

I had a goat last year given to me, and some trees planted which I was very happy with. I do not need any more 'things'.

Preseli Mags said...

No slamming by me either. I couldn't agree more. When I give 'aid' I want to give 'aid' not political or religious dogma.

As MOB says, great post and very timely. I applaud the goat gift - I've given Good Gifts ducks and Oxfam Unwrapped chickens as alternative gifts in the past - no 'strings' attached.

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

You're quite right and perfectly entitled to feel distaste for an underhand scheme like this .
Present giving is one thing and missionary work another ... a true present never has strings attached . Besides it seems grotesque to try and buy a child's soul with a shoe-box full of sweeties and little treats .
I like the idea of the Oxfam chickens and I'm sure the parents will too .

Peacock Feathers and Diamond Rings said...

I have given a shoebox to this scheme in the past and my Mother organises the scheme at her church.

The shoeboxes I have helped with do not include sweets rather gloves, scarves, hats, pencils, paper and a small soft toy to bring a small amount of comfort to children who do not have what our children have.

I am not slamming your post, you have every right to your belief.

Liz (LivingwithKids) said...

Hmm. I didn't know this about Operation Christmas Child, although thinking about it we always did it through Beavers and Cubs so maybe it should have been obvious (doh!). Also our shoeboxes were secured before they left and they always went to Romania. It's a dilemma because on the one hand the thought of children being given presents when they wouldn't normally receive them is a strong motivator for me, but on the other, I've always avoided organisations like Christian Aid etc like the plague for the exact reasons you and MOB have outlined. So while I totally agree with you that religion shouldn't be a condition of charity, I think I'd rather know these kids - who really have nothing - are getting some comfort, however small. I also think it's a fantastic way of encouraging our own pampered kids to think about others less fortunate. And the thing is that Christmas is a religious holiday (in theory) so it kind of makes sense that it should be a Christian organisation, I guess. And while we're agnostic in this house, I do realise that some people need religion. Like I said, a dilemma.

Peacock Feathers and Diamond Rings said...

Just to update, my Mum supports the Link Romania shoebox scheme not the operation christmas child scheme, in case that matters to anyone.

They have been asked not include Christian literature or cards. The childrens boxes include toiletries. The family boxes include things like screwdrivers, plasters, toiletries and useful 'household items', games, cuddly toys. Something for all generations of the family. It is apparently heartbreaking to see the list of 'requested items' which includes things like toothpaste.

Ladybird World Mother said...

Ooooh. This is a juicy debate. As a Catholic I obviously believe in God, Jesus Christ and the whole shebang. But I agree with you... gifts should be free. Without strings. Without expectation. Just because. I do get uncomfortable about 'pushing' Christianity right in people's faces. I let people know I am a Christian by being the best possible person I can be. It's not up to much, sometimes, but it's as much as I can do. And if I am asked a question then I will answer it. I think we need to be hugely careful about how we pass on the message. One of Jesus's commandments was to spread the word. I do this. It certainly doesn't involve shoe boxes. I send shoe boxes, and it doesn't involve Christianity (they go to Romania). It is in my daily life, in how I love people. Each person I meet in the day. Hard work.
But don't we all do this anyway? I think so.
Like I said, Juicy debate!
And well done with that goat... that's the way to make a difference. And THATS what its all about too. xxx

Pam said...

No slamming from me. I agree with you Tattie. You expressed it all so well.

Expat mum said...

I agree too. I have done a few of them in the past but I remember making sure that they weren't actually "preaching" or trying to convert the people they were helping. Of course I can't remember which ones they were. A lot of hospitals in the States allow you to make a donation to them in someone's name, which my in-laws do for our children's birthdays.

Tattie Weasle said...

MOB - it is exactly this that leaves me ashamed. And I am not saying that Christians are the only religion to do this - there is ample evidence that Muslims do it too.
Arosebyanyothername - Thank you. You are quite right gifts should be given no strings otherwise they are not gifts! I'd be very grateful and would desperateky want to please abnyone who helped me in such circumstances maybe its a dignity /pride thing too.
Preseli Mags - so right! Love teh idea of trhe chickens didn't notice that on teh web site I must be getting blind in my old age!
SmitoniusAndSonata - it does seem grotesque although I am sure the children don't see it that way and neither do the majority of the wonderful people who make up the shoeboxes. For them it must be the simple pleasure of giving and receiving and that I think is what makes me really cross that this precious thing should be hi jacked.
Peacock Feathers and Diamond Rngs - what thoughtful words and how very kind. The Link Romania appeal is a great charity and NOT like Operation Christmas Child. It is very confusing with all these shoebox appeals and one I think that needs to be clarified. The act of giving makes you feel so good I was just cross because what I had learned about OCC seemed to besmirch that. I think the Family boxes are wonderful!
Liz (LivingwithKids) - you are SO right and that is what caused me to think very very hard about putting up the blogpost inteh first place. The Boy and I loved doing it last year but it made me so upset about the evangelical bit. Strangely following this post I have been able to research more and more Shoebox appeals and I am delighted to say that there are loads of them and not just for OCC. There are ones to support our Boys in Afganistan, ones for children in UK hospitals, there are ones for local Hospices and ones for familes in Romanis all sorts NOT just OCC. So next year The Boy and I can have all the fun of doing one and have a clear conscience! I do love the blogosphere!
Ladybird World Mother - That's how it should be. By example.
Pam - thank you . I think there have been some wonderful replies too. I am glad I plucked up the courage to post!
Expat Mum - how very sensible to allow donataions in people's names. I will check out whethr Uk hospitals do that too!

mountainear said...

No 'slamming down' from me either. Help and generosity should certainly come without strings attached - and those organisations offering it should be more transparent about their motives.

Exmoorjane said...

Tattie, Tattie, Tattie - I have been SO bad.... haven't been on a blog for aeons...
I shouldn't be here either....:)

but really, that pic at the top of your page!! SOOOOO gorgeous.
Must catch up properly later.. jxxx

Heather said...

Things like this make me so mad and sick to the stomach. Help/charity should be given because you want to help - not because you want to turn people to your beliefs. The goat thing sounds great...I shall go and have a look.

Expat mum said...

BTW - award (if you lean that way) at mine.

Almost American said...

Excellent blog post! I have to admit, I mostly keep my charity more local - that way I know where it's going.

Tattie Weasle said...

Mountainear - I think I've gotten off lightly but that could be famous last words! Transparency, in all things where money is concerned whether it be taxpayers money or money we give to charities, seems to be order of the day; do you think anyone will catch on?
Exmoor Jane - Hello! Again!
Heather - the goat thing seems excellent and they do chickens and seeds and tools!
Almost American - Now there's sensible; go local even with your charities; excellent idea.

Go on you know you want to...


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