Presence, not presents

For the first time in years, we aren’t packing shoeboxes.

Jana and I have packed many shoeboxes over the years. One year, we even went to the home of Operation Christmas Child, Samaritan’s Purse, in Boone, NC, to personally pick up supplies. But this year, our missionary friend in Ethiopia expressed concerns. Local churches in countries that receive the shoeboxes can be loaded with unreasonable costs to deliver them. The boxes might not get where they are intended or convey the message we hope. So we started asking questions.

Is it always a good idea to give a child a gift that their parents can’t afford?

Blogger Rachel Pieh Jones wonders if a shoebox filled with yo-yos and candy is really conveying a gospel message: “If Jesus were Santa Claus, okay. But Jesus is not Santa Claus and his message is one of humility, poverty, sacrifice, and the cross. We limit our thinking about giving to a monetary thing, stemming from our consumer values and culture.”

In his book, When Helping Hurts, Brian Fikkert tells about his own church, which had a ministry of buying Christmas presents for minority families in a poor neighborhood nearby. Members noticed that the men never seemed to be home when the presents were delivered. The church discovered that the men were making themselves scarce when the presents were delivered because they felt humiliated. The church, in providing gifts the men couldn’t afford, was reinforcing their sense of inferiority. What’s more, church members were upset that their generosity didn’t seem to change lives.

Brian Fikkert says that our consumer culture has led us to view poverty from a material point of view. The poor see their problems more in terms of broken relationships. A better solution for people who want to do something for the poor might be to find a way to come alongside parents and allow the parents to provide for their children.

God didn’t come at Christmas to give us stuff. He came to give us himself.

God with us, that’s the gift.

What if we took the time to build a relationship with a materially poor family?

What if we gave presence, not presents?

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