This $3 is what one neighbor offered us last week after we asked her if she could contribute to the project's cost as we took down a dead tree at her home. That $3 is all that she had, and she insisted we take it after we told her that she should keep it if she was down to only a few dollars in reserve. We've learned a lot about love, generosity, kindness, suffering, and most importantly, dignity. The more and more we try to facilitate relationships and not just complete projects, the more we've come to understand the role of dignity in relationships. Taking this $3 from Bonnie was an act of preserving dignity and developing a relationship.
At NeighborLink we believe in the generous grace that the Lord offers each of us free of charge through a relationship with Jesus Christ. It's with that belief that we developed the mission of NeighborLink 10 years ago. We offer our our services free of charge to anyone that asks for it. However, we've learned that telling someone what they have to offer (money, materials, time, etc.) isn't needed robs them of their dignity. It's sends a message that we don't need them or what they have. That is not good enough. This $3 is just a percent of what that tree costs to remove, but to Bonnie, it's a equitable exchange because it's all she had.
We are often oblivious to this situation and don't have this position as our intent, but we need to begin being aware that this happens. We need to be better at getting to know the homeowners we help and ask them whether they have anything to contribute to the projects. We need to learn whether we're coming alongside them to help them, or if what they need is for us to do it for them because of their limitations. We never force someone to participate, but we don't want to miss the opportunity to partner with them to solve problems.
This is such a sensitive subject among charitable organizations and especially faith-based organizations that believe their goal is to give everything away. Only when we engage in relationship will this idea become clearer in our minds. As we continue to learn about what it truly means to be "neighbors" with those we help connect to projects and who seek assistance, we're going to continue taking $3 for projects from ladies like Bonnie who insist we take it. We'll promise to put those dollars to good use by helping those that can't contribute anything. If you ever volunteer with NeighborLink and someone insists on giving you money, take it and tell them that it'll be given as a donation and will go to helping others who can't give. Then let us know and we'll coordinate to get that from you.
I encourage you to ask what the recipient has to offer on your next project, especially if there is cost involved or even if it's just whether or not they have family who can help out. See what happens when you engage them in that way.
This situation reminds us of this passage in Mark...
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything--all she had to live on."