It’s one of those buzzwords people involved with our line of work are throwing around a lot these days.
Books like When Helping Hurts and Toxic Charity have become staples to any cross-cultural worker’s library. We are all learning, through trial and error, that empowering trumps charity; investment beats handouts; and that long-term solutions don’t often come in short-term packages.
I live in Haiti- a place where dependency reigns. It’s said that we have the highest number of NGOs per captia in the world. The help is helpful, to an extent. But the plethora of easily available aid has some wondering: Are we really helping Haiti or are we just creating a country full of dependent people?
I’ve been a cross-cultural worker for 4 ½ years. My husband and I moved here just a few years into our marriage, now we have a family of five. Our time here has been challenging, but fruitful. We’ve grown a lot and for that I am thankful.
As cross-cultural workers a lot has been given to us. People have helped us with moving costs, travel expenses, medical bills, purchasing a vehicle, daily living expenses, and even the adoption of our two oldest children. The amount of gracious people who have supported my family is numerous. Really, we have been so blessed.
Being on the receiving end of the giving spectrum, however, has never been easy for me. Often, I don’t even know how to look the giver in the eye. It isn’t that I feel ashamed. It isn’t even my pride. What troubles me is fear.
You see, I work with young adults in Haiti for a living. As teens age out of the orphanage system they can come to us where we help them prepare for life as adults. Without family support systems, the youth I work with have no choice but to learn how to be independent and to provide for themselves. Because of this, a majority of our program’s standards are shaped around breaking the dependency cycle.
I spend my days training young Haitians how to be independent. And although I strongly believe in the principles I preach, I have recently begun to question my validity because I, too, am dependent.
And that bothers me, worries me even. My whole life is dependent on the generosity of supporters in the States. My ability to feed my family, pay my rent, and send my kids to school is dependent on the gifts of others. I often find myself questioning:
Am I going to become too accustomed to living off of financial gifts?
How different am I than my Haitian neighbor who depends on foreign aid?
Will I ever be able to not have to ask for help?
A few months back I took a trip home to the States with my youngest son, Jake, who is just shy of six months. While there I ran into a financial bind. As my parents lovingly took out their checkbook to offer assistance I broke down in tears. “I love that you want to help me,” I wept, “But I don’t want to be a charity case.” They persisted and knowing I wouldn’t be able to help myself, I accepted their gift. I was dependent, once more.
Asking for help has never come easy for me. Living as an overseas cross-cultural worker has made it even harder. Regardless, I have to accept that this is my reality right now. This is where God has placed me. This is a season in my life where God wants me to have faith in the church and be reliant on their giving. Ultimately this is a season to be dependent on Him.
I recently received an email from one of our organization’s donors. After thanking him for his generous donation he quickly replied by saying, “We are only passing on the blessings God has given to us.” His message was simple, but it stuck with me all day. The financial gift we were about to receive belonged to God; He was just using this donor as a means to get it to us. This thought gave me peace- peace to know that every dollar I have ever been given has ultimately come from Him.
I am not sure if Haiti will ever be able to stand on its own without the need for foreign aid. Even if they could, I am not sure they will ever be given that chance. As a cross-cultural worker here, I pray to never take our support for granted. With every dollar given to my family, I pray to only become more humble. And I pray, above all, that my attitude will be an example to all my Haitian neighbors.
What about you? Is your family dependent on the support of others? How is God using this season of your life to shape you?