Here are the common things I remember hearing on the topic of money and resources growing up:
你真的需要吗？(“Do you really need that?”)
不要浪费. (“Don’t waste it.”)
太贵了. (“That’s too expensive.”)
Now, I never sat down with my non-Christian Chinese immigrant parents to discuss their specific worldview on financial resources, simplicity, and generosity – but like everything else – as a kid, you figure out pretty quick what is important and what is NOT. Thus, conspicuous excess, luxurious spending, and wastefulness were shameful practices. Also, acts of charity and generosity to those outside our immediate family was also treated with suspicion.
This is the context for my own journey in the Christian faith to reconcile the Bible’s teaching on money and my own upbringing of frugality and self-protection. I had inherited the lessons of prior generations – borne from a lifetime of being subject to violence, war, financial instability, and limited resources.
In terms of the values expressed on this blog — I found that my family had helped me develop the “muscle” of simplicity, but left the corresponding capacity to be generous in an atrophied state. It is only in recent years, that I have begun to work on this part of my life. And although I make no pretense to be a finished product, I feel I am closer today than when I started.
The current example: for Lent this year, my friends and I are raising money to build wells and provide clean water for villages in Tigray, Ethiopia.
Because individuals (typically women) walk around 3.7 miles per day to fetch water for their families, members of our group are also committing to walk this amount each day as well. It’s a somewhat different “take” on the traditional Lenten practices, but it is a small step for us to try to identify with our brothers and sisters, to push ourselves (and others) to be generous, and appreciate the abundance of what we possess. This exciting project seeks to raise enough money for 10 wells which may potentially provide clean water for about 5,000 people! As of today, we have raised enough for 6 wells (Every dollar donated will be matched by our small group)!
More information here: http://mycharitywater.org/project1040
Now, I could tell you how fun it is to be a fundraiser (not that fun), or to try and walk the required daily mileage (it’s okay), or to see people give generously (EXTREMELY cool), but for myself, I know that the muscle I continue to need developing is that of being rich toward God by being generous towards others. You would think that years of tithing to the church, donating towards worthy causes, and building wells would make giving money easier over time. Truth is, it’s tough. For Project 1040, Melissa and I committed to giving one-third of our savings towards the matching funds. And let me tell you – it’s still really hard to do for me. I’m still often plagued with nagging (but important) voices:
“Is this really the MOST effective use of this money?”
“Aren’t I supposed to be joyful? Why, then, does this feel so hard?”
“What difference will this really make?”
“I could be doing a lot of other things with that money!”
I wish I had better answers to these questions and internal dialogue, but one thing that has helped is to imagine the look on the faces of the women, men, and children in far-away Tigray when the first trickle of water emerges from the new well. I think about the kids who may have time to get an education; how many might avoid diseases and death. I think about the celebration that will ensue.
Sometimes I wonder how much easier it would be to give if we were firsthand witnesses to those for whom will benefit from our generosity. What if these people were just next door? Wouldn’t we act quickly and without reservation? Maybe what is atrophied for all of us is the capacity to imagine those in need as truly our neighbors. We, in some ways, are still stuck asking the same Pharisaical question: “And who is my neighbor?”
I hope you will prayerfully consider join us in our campaign to bless the people of Tigray, Ethiopia – our dear neighbors in Christ.
But even more, I hope you will allow the Spirit to infiltrate your imagination with visions of how a generous God can use you to pursue His purposes in the world.