Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Problem with Benevolence

Each year our church sponsors a major community benevolence event called Thanksgiving Blessings. Our goal is to give away 1,200 full bird turkey dinners, enough food to feed 5,000 people. Sort of biblical in its connotation, if you know what I mean…. The good people of Grand Avenue Baptist Church donate the money to sponsor these dinners. It costs $25 to sponsor one dinner. Do the math and that’s a giving goal of $30,000 and each year we have met that goal without a problem. Grand is a giving church. On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, our guests show up for one of two celebration services where I clearly present the gospel, which this is the real goal of the event. We want to earn the right to speak to our neighbors about the gospel of Jesus. We want to use a human need to open the door to meeting their spiritual need, there need for Jesus.

Thanksgiving Blessings is one of the greatest evangelistic events of the calendar year. I absolutely love it. People are so grateful and are not afraid to let you know it. The two celebration services are full of energy and life that I can only wish we had on a Sunday morning. And there is nothing like watching people give their life to Jesus. This year 38 people accepted Jesus as their Savior and Lord and 11 of them were baptized.

But Thanksgiving Blessings always creates a problem. While on the one hand the best of humanity is on display, on the other hand so is the worst. This year the following stories made their way back to my ears. In one instance one of our church members helped a family carry their turkey and box of food out to their vehicle…their brand new Hummer. Yep, that’s what I thought too. In another instance, two of our deacons walked several blocks with an elderly woman back to her apartment with her food. When they arrived they set the box and turkey on the kitchen table…along with three other boxes and turkeys, obviously from our early afternoon give away. But the one story that sticks out most to me this year involves a phone call we received Tuesday afternoon after our 1:00 pm service and give-away. A tenant in an apartment complex wanted us to know that one of our guests made it back to their apartment with their food and promptly sold it for $30. I suppose that’s smart business in a way, but then they turned around and used the $30 to buy pot. So did our church just aid in the purchase of drugs? The tenant then told us that this person’s mother was coming to our evening service for her food and had already pre-sold her box for $30. Wow…

This is the kind of stuff that can really taint your opinion of needy people and benevolence in ministry. Jesus told us that we would always have poor people among us (Matt. 26:11, Mark 14:7). That was true in his day and is certainly true in ours. Jesus also took time to meet many, many human needs such as hunger. In one instance Jesus fed 5,000 people (Matt. 14) and in another he fed 4,000 people (Matt. 15). I wonder about those mass feedings. In my way of thinking people are people no matter what time or era they live. I can very easily see people taking fish and loaves and shoving them under their robes and going back for seconds. Can’t you? And is it crazy to think that some didn’t run off to sell their bounty for profit or for something more? Yes, I think that the problems with benevolence have always been with us. In fact all social justice is wrought with examples of abuse. And that is ultimately why Jesus came, not to save us from hunger but to save us from ourselves. Any church that endeavors to simply feed people without presenting the gospel is falling short of why it exists as the Body of Christ in the first place.

We cannot become jaded by the never-ending stories of those who take our charity and use it for profit. We must instead remember the faces and names of those who came for food but left with so much more, they left with Jesus.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The people of Grand have been obedient to what God expects of them.
The disbursement of that food after it is given is not for others to say.
That would be like if we gave someone
$100.00 and followed them to the store and said, "No you can't buy that, it is not healthy You must just buy fruit and vegetables." What happens after it is given is between the receiver and God. God will take care of the people who get unjustly.
Keep up the great work you are doing, Jeff.
Love you guys.
Sarah Weller