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Erring on the Side of Love
Probably like most of you readers, I've always been a sucker for disaster stories. Everytime I watched TV as a teen and a story about some massacre came on, or some typhoon, and I saw children suddenly orphaned, my heart went out to them.

I wanted to adopt a ton of them. I wanted to go there. I wanted to help.

Today, I'm in a position to help, at least financially. We've travelled to an orphanage in Kenya several times, and we're going back this year to help with medical work and with microbusinesses. I believe in trying to help people.

But, at the same time, I'm quite aware of the complexities of aid. I believe, for example, that giving money to corrupt governments only makes governments more corrupt, and actually ends up worse for the people in the country. I think most charitable giving should be through NGOs that train people how to care for themselves.

That being said, I've also read a ton lately about how some areas of the world are just write-offs. They don't do the basic things for themselves, and then expect people to come and help them. They make it harder for aid workers. They become violent, and then put the aid workers at risk. We're seeing it in Haiti right now, where many people are shooting doctors and aid workers and creating such a risky security situation that some aid workers have to pull out.

And I've read a number of articles (and been sent a number of articles by email) about how Haiti really is a basketcase, and what it needs is tough love. It needs to smarten up and take care of its own problems, because it's never going to get better when other people keep rescuing them. I've read the same thing about Africa: we should stop helping, because by helping, we're making it worse. We're enabling Africans to stop caring for the orphaned children, because they know we'll step in. So we're absolving them of all responsibility, and we're perpetuating the cycle. And not just that: we're allowing a society to continue that in all likelihood will become a threat to the Western world in a number of decades.

Isn't that depressing?

I mean, honestly, I've been heartbroken by the earthquake in Haiti, and I have given money. I have friends in the military who are there right now.

And I find it very difficult to read these essays saying that we should make them look after their own problems. Now, to be fair, in the case of Haiti, most are arguing that we should tend to the basic medical needs, and then get out. They're not saying we shouldn't help in the immediate aftermath. They're just saying that's all we should do. That at some point the nation needs to learn to care for itself.

I understand this. I really do. But it seems to me that what this fails to take into account is that people can't just care for themselves and improve things when there honestly isn't any money and worse than that, their fellow countrymen are oppressing and abusing them. What is an 8-year-old child, alone on the streets, supposed to do? The answer I get when I ask people that question is that it's tough to leave that 8-year-old, but we must, because the more we step in, the more we absolve adults of responsibility and perpetuate the cycle.

What makes them think, though, that if we left the country alone, it honestly would improve? I don't think it would at all. I think it would disintegrate into horrible war and genocide. But they think that's okay, because the people are doing it to themselves.

I've never been able to live with that. It seems to me that if someone is hurting, and we have the capacity to help, we have a moral obligation to do so. God has given us these resources for a reason. And yes, they may grow up to be horrible people. They may grow up to be very anti-Western and to pose a threat to us. But how do you stand by and let children be raped, or abused, or starved?

To me, it's analogous to an abused child here in North America. We wouldn't leave them to fend for themselves, arguing that when they grew up they'll likely be violent anyway. We try to help them because it's the right thing to do. And the reason it's the right thing to do is because it's the loving thing to do. And I would always rather err on the side of love.

I do know it's complicated, and much aid that's been given to the world over the last few decades has exacerbated the problem. But I think the people complaining about aid to these places don't see the changes that are occurring, especially in Christian ministries. The focus of most aid, and of the missions teams I've been involved in lately, has been to build indigenous businesses; to help people with microbusiness loans, and teach people how to support themselves. It's not just giving money away; it's training people.

It doesn't always work, because the culture in many of these places has to be changed away from pessimism, irresponsibility, and, dare I say it, laziness. But the churches on the ground are doing a great job of that. I heard some of the most amazing sermons in Nairobi, berating the congregation for not getting involved in politics, for not trying to change things, for not staying faithful to their spouses, and getting too caught up in materialism. It was great!

Jesus said that the poor would always be with us. We will never solve poverty. We will never solve these natural disasters that occur with amazing frequency and severity. But perhaps the reason the poor will always be here is to remind us that we have an obligation to love. And we need to love. We need to love strategically, and we shouldn't do anything that exacerbates problems. But I do believe in love. And when I'm standing before Jesus, I don't want to give Him all the reasons why I didn't love--because it was such a basketcase it deserved it, and it was to teach the people a lesson, and it was to let the state fail because it was already a failed state--I want to simply be able to tell Him that I did what I could, because I knew I was His hands and His feet here on earth.

Maybe that makes me naive. Maybe it makes me part of the problem (I've been told that numerous times lately, too). But I'd rather err on the side of helping children than err on the side of being disengaged because it makes me feel intellectually superior.

I hope that makes sense. And right now, I will say a prayer for the children of Haiti who are lost, and without parents, and hurting. It is too much pain to bear, I believe. I'm glad we have a God who does not turn His face, and who does not treat us as our sins--or our nation's sins--deserve. We have a God who loves and cares, and may He always be our model.


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At 9:24 AM , Anonymous Melinda said…

Well said! What it all comes down to in the end is that we are the hands and feet of God. We are His vessels and we move at His command. What did He command us to do? "Love one another as I have loved you" and "Care for the widows and the orphans".


At 10:38 AM , Blogger His Love Extended--Julie Gorman said…

This comment has been removed by the author.


At 10:40 AM , Blogger His Love Extended--Julie Gorman said…

Awesome post Sheila...erring on the side of love can never be wrong. Great site and again a great post.


At 11:32 AM , Blogger Shana said…

Ok. This is a complicated one. I too try to help when I can in these disasters. But i do feel like it is wrong that we can have a telethon and raise 57 million dollars for Haiti but we still have homeless and starving children in our country. I think we should help our country first. I don't mean to sound selfish but there are a lot of problems here in our own towns and there are so many children here that need food and clothes and a safe place to be. I do love and care for all people and I am not saying don't help I am just saying charity starts at home. This is a hard one though.


At 6:35 AM , Blogger Tonia said…

This post makes me think of one of my favorate quotes. I don't remember where I first heard it but it has become my motto: "If I ere, let it be on the side of kindness".

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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