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My Perspective on Begging & Gift-Giving

My Perspective  on Begging & Gift-Giving
by Stephanie Davis, 2002

Having done several foreign mission trips, and spent two months in Chile, I have been able to observe the phenomenon of begging and giving enough to form my own opinion. As a Christian, I realize it is God’s desire that I have compassion for the “least of these.” But I am not convinced that tossing about cheap gifts says anything about my compassion. After standing amidst about 50 pushing, shoving Salvadoran children all shouting “Regala me uno, regala me uno” (give me a gift, give me a gift) after a bag of goodies was opened, I realize that I am not touching their lives in a positive way. And I am certainly not teaching them any good characteristics. If anything, I’m teaching them to push and shove and shout.

Contrast this to the time I spent on the front lawn of a Salvadoran family drawing pictures in the dirt for their shy 5-year-old daughter, Katherine. She told me the Spanish names of the various animals, and later, her mother asked if I could put the pictures on paper, as the little girl would not let anyone walk on her pictures. I drew my amateur sketches on paper, and wrote down a Spanish children’s song that I knew and gave it to the little girl along with a small bottle of bubbles. The next day, the girl showed up with a small plastic jewelry box… a gift for me. It was the kind of thing you buy at the dollar store, but it was the best they had, their home having been destroyed in a severe earthquake a few months prior. I have since kept in touch with the family, and send pictures of my family and my pets, and pages from coloring books for Katherine to color.

What is the difference here? Whether or not it is personal. If the gift is personal, given after time spent together, it will be more meaningful than a random gift to a stranger on the road. If part of your purpose in visiting a foreign country involves distributing things, like hygiene kits or Bibles, be sure to spend time talking to the family you give the gifts to. Make sure they understand why you are doing it.

If you make friends with children, and wish to give them gifts, give them in small groups or better yet, individually. Explain that this is something special for them because they are a good friend. If you are in the midst of a large group of children, do not attempt to give gifts. You may choose to blow some bubbles, or bounce a balloon around. Or ask them to teach you a game, or teach them a game like Simon Says, or Duck Duck Goose.

Things that make good gifts;

  • For children: Stickers, pencils, balloons, bubbles, jump ropes, buttons/badges, coloring pages, colored pencils, beach balls, toothbrushes, sunglasses, plastic animals, ethnic dolls (ones that look like the children you plan to give them to), postcards, small flashlights, raisins, nuts, bouncy balls, marbles, jacks, small puzzles, small picture books, small stuffed animals,
  • For adults: potholders, hand towels, lighters, baseball caps, bandannas, hand lotion, notebooks, candles, clothespins, baby care itemsThings that do not make good gifts;
  • Anything with sugar in it (gum, candy, soda) – remember they probably do not own a toothbrush!
  • Toys of a violent nature (army men, toy guns, tanks, etc)
  • Caucasian dolls
  • Money
  • Jewelry (even plastic kinds)
  • American flags (encourage pride in their own country!)
  • One more thing… DON’T DON’T DON’T invite them to visit you in the US. Don’t even mention it. And don’t tell them you will come back to visit if it is unlikely. If you take an address and promise to keep in touch, DO IT. You want to build a relationship of trust an encouragement. They may not be able to write very often, due to high prices of stamps, and distance to a post office. But a postcard every once in a while from you can mean a lot. A Christmas card can speak volumes about your faith and about Americans in general.

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    Related posts:

    1. Transforming Third World begging
    2. An Argument For Giving to Beggars
    3. Gifts and Sharing
    4. Out of Africa
    5. Tourist written all over you

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