Four obstacles to raising relief funds

May 29, 2018 by

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As a part of an initiative last year to increase funds raised at our Virginia Relief Sale for Mennonite Central Committee, some of us came up with a plan to solicit cash donations in addition to the money raised from food and auction sales.

In a moment of madness a year ago, I even suggested we could raise $1 million, more than double our usual total, by having 5,000 wage earning sale attendees (of the more than 10,000 total persons who come each year) plan ahead to spend an average of $200 each and to add an average of another $200 as an outright gift. That would, for many, be a doable $400 gratitude offering, less than 1 percent of their income for most.

Realistically, I was quite sure that would never happen, since most would feel they could never afford this much, which would require others to make much larger investments to achieve a $400 average. But I remain convinced that we have way more than enough wealth in our community to be able to do that and far more. Compared to the needs of most of the recipients of MCC assistance, we are rich beyond imagination.

As it turned out, the Sharing Our Surplus giving table brought in over $40,000 at the sale, which many felt was a good start, and in fact amounted to more than 10 percent of the total sale money raised last year.

But that still represents only a fraction of what a community like ours could do. We could easily raise multiple millions without it causing any actual hardship on our part.

So why is that kind of beyond-the-tithe outpouring of generosity not likely to happen? I can think of four possible reasons:

1) Our sense of personal entitlement

It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to persuade people like us to voluntarily give up our power and privilege. That doesn’t mean that we can’t be motivated to give more generously, but only as long as it doesn’t diminish our assets or reduce what we have saved for a rainy day or for our retirement. With the help of our financial advisors, we carefully plan our giving so we will continue to add to our net worth every year of our earning life, and not to subtract from it.

But that level of giving on the part of wealthy North American and European Christians will never make more than a dent in world problems like hunger, disease and homelessness. In the Mark 8 account of Jesus feeding the masses, he asks his followers to make available whatever they had, creating a miracle of generosity that not only allowed everyone to have enough but to enjoy seven baskets full of good bread left over.

2) Our competing spending wants and “needs”

At some level most of us are exceedingly generous givers, but we do the bulk of our giving at Walmart, at the local mall, on Amazon, at gourmet restaurants, at local car dealerships and at travel locations near and far. And most of us have dreams of other future investments we want to make as soon as we have the means — a lakeside cabin, new living room furniture, an expansive renovation project, a wished-for business venture, an RV for a retirement travel, etc., adding to our ever-expanding wish lists.

3) Competing appeals from other good causes

It’s hard to generate relief funds from congregations in the middle of their raising millions for building programs or who are trying to pay down their debts on past capital projects. Church-related institutions like schools and retirement communities are likewise forever adding to or renovating their facilities at levels that require millions upon millions of dollars. Compared to the needs of refugees living in tents in the heat of summer and in the cold of winter, appeals for air conditioning and other renovation and expansion needs promoted by our church-related institutions always seem to deserve the greater priority. These ‘needs’ are close at hand and involve people and causes we have a greater sense of connection with and loyalty to. Besides, many have development departments that are into full-time fundraising, something refugee communities don’t have.

4) Lack of first-hand awareness of needs

I have no doubt that if homeless refugee families were desperately fleeing into our area from surrounding states and setting up makeshift shelters in nearby fields, that we would be mobilizing all possible resources to help them. Seeing real people by the thousands having to live in tents and relying on food and water brought in by outside aid groups would move us to a far different level of response. Or one night spent in such circumstances ourselves due to displacement and the loss of all of our possessions by flood, fire, war or some other disaster would completely change our perspective.

But do we have to have something terrible to happen to us in order for God to get our attention?

This summer some members of our community are taking part in one of several two-week mission trips to refugee sites in Jordan and Turkey. We should each arrange to meet with some of them afterward in order to get a better up-close-and-personal look at the plight of refugees living in today’s versions of concentration camps.

In light of the four obstacles mentioned, it may take something like the Pentecostal power of a violent rushing wind and of heads on fire with the Holy Spirit to break us out of the grip of our culture of wealth and ease. As someone has noted, the good news is that God has all of the treasure needed to feed and house everyone. The bad news is that God doesn’t normally pry it out of our wallets and our bank accounts.

Harvey Yoder is an ordained pastor and member of Family of Hope, a small Virginia Mennonite Conference house church congregation. He blogs at Harvspot, where this post first appeared.


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