Perhaps the most frustrating, and yet enlightening, moments in my life are when I realize that not everyone in the world thinks the same as I do.
Not all Christians think about theology the way I do; not all of my family members think about global connections like I do; not every "educated" young adult thinks about money the way I do; not every volunteer at Ciudad Nueva thinks about community development in the way that I have been trained to think.
But in this season of giving, never have I felt all the things that I have been exploring about social justice, community outreach, development, and empowerment, come to such a fore front.
This year, our outreach is holding a "Christmas store" in which we are seeking donations of items to serve as gifts-for-purchase for the parents and caretakers of our neighborhood. To me, and to most of our staff, this effort makes sense. We strive to get away from the "giving to the poor" mentality that oftentimes belittles and dehumanizes the recipients of the "gifts" of money, or Christmas gifts. Through our Christmas store (and our youth stores throughout the year), we hope to give families an opportunity to take their own steps in making Christmas giving happen in their household. Rather than simply giving out donated items at Christmastime to our families, we want to give the families - especially parents - a chance to pick out gifts for their loved ones, use their own money to purchase them at highly reduced cost, and give gifts that allow them to take ownership over how and what they give at Christmas.
However, not everyone is thinking this way about Christmas giving. I've encountered many people who are just flat out confused about the idea of a Christmas store: But why don't we just give these families gifts? Why trouble the families with selling gifts where they actually have to do something to be a part of receiving the gifts?
Our hope for the stores is to give the youth and families that we work with an opportunity to feel empowered, to take ownership, to feel capable.
There are many frustrations in hosting a store rather than just giving out gifts, including donors' disagreement; but in the long run, I believe taking those extra steps to go beyond hand-outs and to some sort of ownership--even $2 worth of ownership--will be beneficial and a small step towards the transformation of our community. And perhaps our single moms and tired dads will be able to feel a bit of that "good feeling" many "better-off" folks get when they send a check in the mail or give a basketball to the "needy" kid downtown. Except our moms and dads will actually know the recipients of the gifts pretty darn well, and perhaps that "good feeling" will have so much more meaning.
Now don't get me wrong - I highly appreciate those who do, in fact, send a monthly donation to charities of their choice, drop their change in the giving boxes at the check-out counter, or ship off a shoe box-ful of gifts to kids overseas. I recognize the need for charity and at times for "hand-outs." But I think our broken world is revealing that there is so much more yet to do.
My prayer and hope is that I myself can be patient and understanding with those who don't think like me - who have a desire to give, and want the youth and families of our neighborhood to receive Christmas gifts at no cost. I'm trying to remember the generosity and kindness in the hearts of those givers, while at the same time hoping for a transformation of their minds and hearts that can find a deeper balance between hand-outs and empowerment.
I cannot say that I have the "right way" of thinking, but I only know from my experiences and my learning that this is a step in the right direction.