Rethinking Charity

By Jason Anderson, Founder

The word charity is a lot like the word love. Both words are used in so many different ways that they almost cease to be descriptive of any unifying action or principle. Throughout my life I have viewed charity as any donation given to the poor, and thought of all organizations that work with people experiencing poverty, disease, or any other crises as charitable organizations. I am beginning to think, however, that just as many couples have had to learn their partner’s “love language”, we should all acknowledge different “charity languages”.

Growing up as a well-churched kid, in a middle-class home, with European heritage, in suburban West Michigan, charity carried some specific meaning within the language of my culture. In all the best ways, charity was a means through which we could show that we care. Morally, charity was considered a virtue that reflected good character, godly character. It was a means through which we could give back to the community and relate to the less fortunate. I learned through numbers of inspirational stories (many around the holidays) that the good feeling you get from giving is the best gift of all. This was my culture’s charity language.

Then came my exposure to words like social justice, empowerment, liberation, and restoration. I started communicating with people who did not share my culture’s charity language. These were people who wanted to communicate from the other side of charity. These were people who didn’t always want to be in the position of humility that made my giving possible. I was forced to wrestle with the idea that much charity is not designed to change the system that keeps the givers in positions of giving, and the receivers in positions of receiving. In many ways, charity is a language that communicates a disparity in power.

At Kenya Matters we want to learn to speak one another’s languages of love, charity, justice, equality and restoration. We believe that the calling of godly charity leads us deep into the nuances of sharing power as well as financial resources. Some of us have become more accustomed to using words like empowerment and restorative justice to describe the changes for which we are working. We strive for systems of power that might break down the dividing wall between “us” as the givers and “them” as receivers.

There is no simple solution. Instead, we wrestle and dream and challenge the paradigms that just make us feel good. We are engaging in complicated relationships with individuals and communities that must share (if not direct) the process of their own empowerment. We are challenging ourselves to quiet our voices and listen for the emerging voices of fragile hope and self-determination.

We think it’s a wonderful, beautiful, exchange of learning and teaching, giving and receiving, speaking and listening. Your partnership in this endeavor has been appreciated, and we look forward to the future.



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