You Can’t Play Someone by Doing What They Want (a Story)

Once upon a time, a woman went to a park with coolers full of 100 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

She gave the sandwiches out to anyone who came to her. Some people took a sandwich and left. Some people took a sandwich and, a little while later, came back for a second one… or a third… or even a fourth. Some were children and some were adults. Some were dressed in rags and some were dressed in business suits. Some said ‘thank you’ and some did not.

After a while, she had given out all of her sandwiches and she left.

The next day, she came back with 100 more sandwiches and the same thing happened. Some people took a sandwich and left. Some people took a sandwich and, a little while later, came back for a another. Some were children and some were adults. Some were dressed in rags and some were dressed in business suits. Some said ‘thank you’ and some did not.

And again, after a while, she had given out all of her sandwiches and she left.

On the third day, as she was setting up her table and laying out her sandwiches, some other women who usually sat nearby came up to her.

They said, “We think you’re doing such a great think, giving out sandwiches to people who are hungry. But we’re worried that you’re getting played. Some people are taking a sandwich and, a little while later, coming back for another. Some people are adults who should be working for their food. Some people are dressed in business suits and could clearly afford to buy a sandwich. You really should be more careful.”

And the woman said, “No, no. You don’t understand. I’m here to give out sandwiches. Anyone who takes one is helping me do that.

“They’re helping me if they take a sandwich and leave. They’re helping me if they take a sandwich and, a little while later, come back for another.

“They’re helping me if they’re children. They’re helping me if they’re adults.

“They’re helping be if they’re dressed in rags or if they’re dressed in business suits.

“I cannot be played when people are doing what I want.”

And the other women left her, bewildered.

Right now, there is a movement in churches and nonprofits arguing that charity is toxic, that helping hurts, and that the entire nonprofit sector needs to be reformed to truly lift people out of poverty. These charity skeptics are telling Christians that traditional charity deepens dependency, fosters a sense of entitlement, and erodes the work ethic of people who receive it. Charity skepticism is increasingly popular; and it is almost certainly wrong.

Now available from Wipf and Stock’s Cascade Books imprint, Radical Charity: How Generosity Can Save the World (And the Church) weaves together research and scholarship on topics as diverse as biblical scholarship, Christian history, economics, and behavioral psychology to tell a different story. In this story, charity is the heart of Christianity and one of the most effective ways that we can help people who are living in poverty. Charity—giving to people experiencing poverty without any expectation of return or reformation—can save the world and help make God’s vision for the church a reality.

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