I have been putting off writing about humanitarian aid for a long time. In truth I think about it everyday. As the director of a humanitarian aid organization in a very poor country (9th from the bottom on a recent UN list) I live and breath aid. But what kind of aid is 'humanitarian'? Does it distract from our goal of spreading the Gospel? We have all heard the guilt sermons that end promptly at 12:00 that caused us to weep and mourn our selfish ways but somewhere between the front doors of the church and the 'all you can eat' buffet line our resolve was lost. Many of us give money generously. Many of us are concerned for the plight of our fellow 'man'. Most of us don't know what we are supposed to be doing about it or even if it has anything to do with the assignment that Jesus has given us.
Brent Myers in his very excellent book 'Walking with the Poor' says that the nature of poverty is relational and the cause of poverty is spiritual. This means that we are poor because we don't relate to each other well so as to work together, and our relationships are broken because our relationship with God is broken. For example, down in a village that a friend of mine was working in they complained that they walked five kilometers to get water. They wanted him to do a water project and get some wells dug. Seemed simple. But my friend is smarter than that. He did some investigating. It seems that they used to have a water system in place. A couple of years ago they had a fight with the village upstream and they cut off their water. The village did not have a water problem, it had a relationship problem. To take it home to the West you see in the midst of an affluent society men and women on the street. They are homeless with nowhere to go and live miserable lives. The governments and societies of the West are wealthy. Why not just give these unfortunate individuals lots of money? You already know the answer. It won't help. Money does not solve the real problem. They are poor because all their relationships are broken. Sure that guy lives under a bridge, but he has a brother with a condo in Florida that he hasn't spoken to in years.
So, how do you help him? Firstly, I do believe in humanitarian aid. If the guy is hungry we have got to feed him. But we need to realize that that is not real help. The guy is messed up. His relationships are really broken and he has no idea how to fix them. Usually he doesn't want to fix them. There is a village south of Minas Tirith near Belfalas that was heavily hit by the civil war here ten years ago. Another friend of mine went to a wedding there. As he sat at the table with the whole village in attendance one of his local friends explained the situation. "That guy over there killed my father in cold blood one night. The family over there stole all the furniture out of that other family's house when they fled the fighting. We are all sitting here at this wedding together but we will never trust each other. We will never work together."
What would you say to that?
Well, I hope you do know the answer to that question. Jesus. We hold in our hearts the only one who can give forgiveness. And friend, if you don't have forgiveness you can not give forgiveness. His love is the only thing that can break the lies that hold us down. The enemy has been about decieving for thousands of years. He is pretty good at it. That is why we believe that we can not trust. We can not forgive. We can not love. We will get taken advantage of. Who will look out for me if I don't look out for myself. We have to stand up to those who are against us. We can't let people take advantage of us. We believe all this. And then Jesus comes along. He doesn't insist on his own way. He doesn't condemn. He is not afraid of what others think. He loves unconditionally and when he is threatened he dies rather than raise a single fist.
Everything in me tells me it shouldn't work. But love alone is what will conquer death and hell; Even your own death and the hell we have created right here in our own communities. This is why humanitarian aid is beyond formula. If we give selfishly we accomplish nothing even though our project is flawless on paper. If we choose wrongly at every turn and mess up the whole project yet we love people deeply the project becomes a success. He has protected us from ourselves many times- when our hearts and motives are right.
I will try and tell some stories that illlustrate what I am not saying very well. The bottom line is we must love others. How we get to the bottom line is a long and terrible ordeal some call sanctification.