A Problem

Okay, so I have a problem. A church/christian related problem, but I guess it could apply to work or schools just as well. It’s about Aid Agencies/Charities.

Now, I think you’ll agree, there are a lot. Wherever you go, there seems to be an opportunity, if not almost an obligation, to give to poor people. When there is a disaster, like the earthquake in Nepal, the High Street is full of people with buckets or selling sad looking cakes, all eager to part you from your money and send it to those in need. The motives behind all this bucket waving are undoubtedly good. My problem is, are the agencies that actually receive the money, the most efficient?

I started this saying it was a church problem because from what I’ve seen, churches are chock full of well meaning people who want to help alleviate suffering (which is good) and so start a charity. Not so good. Most people do not have the first idea how to best run an aid agency, however well motivated they are. I have laid out my feelings about this very clearly in the article ‘How to Choose an Aid Agency’.

My problem is that when someone, who is very nice, very Godly, very caring, comes to church and gives a plea for money, what should we do? My gut feeling is that I should stand on my seat and shout, “Don’t give him any money! He’s a nice bloke but a large percentage of the money will be wasted.”

I have learned, over the years (with much help from my family) that following my natural instincts is not always right. So I don’t. I sit there, fuming as I hear how his tiny organisation is working in 57 different countries. And I do nothing. I do not stand on my chair. I do not even approach him afterwards and ask him just how, exactly, his little charity ever checks that the money is being spent appropriately – does he live on an aeroplane travelling between countries, looking for fraud or misspent cash? Nope, I do nothing. Because I am not really sure what the appropriate response should be.

You see, these people ARE good people. They see a need and want to help. They probably do help a lot of people. My point is, if the same money went to a bigger, better run agency (like Tearfund or Oxfam, someone part of the DEC) then so many MORE people would be helped. By asking for money, they are diverting that giving from other places. They are, in effect, costing people lives. Yes, they might help 100 people. But if Tearfund could save 150, they have wasted 50 lives. It makes me angry. Too angry to trust myself to tackle it actually.

I know that God sometimes uses the people who are available, rather than those who are the best. However, there ARE good agencies out there. There are people who know how to provide aid in developing countries. To set up a small, inefficient agency is not kind, it is short-sighted. To continue running one, rather than handing it over to a larger agency, becoming part of something better, feels egotistical.

Imagine this: Someone comes to church and during a hymn they fall over, having a heart attack. I feel desperately sorry for them, I want to help, they are in a lot of pain. I also have my ABC first aid card. So I rush forward and offer to help. I don’t really know exactly what to do, but I have some knowledge and I want to help. Plus, I am better than nothing. There is a doctor at the back of the church. The doctor also begins to walk to the front. But my friends say, “Don’t worry, Anne is helping him.” The people know me, they know I am kind, so they want to support what I am doing. They ask the doctor to stand back, so I have room to work. They help to pass me the things I ask for. But at some point, shouldn’t someone say, “get out of the way Anne, there is a doctor here and they are better at this than you are.”

It is complicated because of God. When Jesus came, he chose eloquent men of learning to spread his message. Oh no, wait, he didn’t. He chose dirty old fishermen and Roman sympathisers. So clearly sometimes God does work through the people are perhaps not the best qualified.

How then do we know? If old-lady-Mildred-with-a-heart-of-gold wants to lead children’s work but does not have the first idea of how to talk to children, should we let her? Or should we tell her that no thanks, we would rather use Judy-the-qualified-teacher? If Bob-who-always-forgets-the-milk wants to be the catering officer, should we tell him no, we want Lorna-the-chef to do it? I have no idea.

I do know that if Judy-the-qualified-teacher is too busy, laden with other work, then God can use the kind-Mildred to form a bond with the class of children to teach them about Himself because I have seen it happen. I have also seen children who do not want to attend church anymore because the leader has no idea how to lead and the sessions are boring and irrelevant.

So, are aid agencies a different issue? Are we being foolish in saying ‘they are good people and they do good things’ and ignore that others could do it better? Is it okay to let people die because money is diverted away from the agencies that could do the most good? Or should we let people do what they ‘feel’ God wants them to? Another thing to bear in mind is the Parable of the Talents ( Matthew 25). If you have enough money to give some to help those in need, then you have a duty to do that wisely. Giving it to the person who speaks at church because it is easy, even though much of that money will be wasted, is lazy. It is a misuse of what God has given to you to use.

At what point is it right to criticise a person or a charity that is making mistakes? Yes, they are kind, yes they are Godly, yes, they are honest. But if there are better, more professional options out there, shouldn’t we lovingly tell them to butt out? I honestly don’t know. What do you think?

The link to my article is: https://anneethompson.com/how-to/how-to-choose-an-aid-agency-charity/